Do you think you’re ready for that trip of a lifetime? Whether it’s study abroad, an international internship, work experience overseas, or just a well-deserved beach session on some exotic island, the amount of preparation you do will make a big difference in your experience. Take the extra time now to prepare and plan, so you can have an amazing time no matter where you go. Wandering through side streets and munching on local delicacies sounds like a lot more fun than worrying about why your phone won’t connect to a foreign network.
For your airport trip, here is a checklist:
1. Get a passport.
Get your passport application started several months before your flight, especially if you need a visa, before you start collecting colorful stamps.
It’s usually pretty easy to apply for a passport, but bureaucratic obstacles can make the process take longer. (P.S. If you’re a student, ScholarTrip offers discounted airfares!)
A passport is typically applied for in person at a passport agency. You will need to provide proof of citizenship, an extra form of identification, and recent photocopies of your documents.
To prevent passport theft, keep a copy of your passport’s front page with you when you travel, and leave another at home with someone you trust.
You can also double-check your passport’s expiration date if you already have one! Most countries won’t let you enter if your passport expires within three to six months of your trip, even with a valid passport. A trip can change in a moment, so who wants to be stuck in Uzbekistan or Belarus (or even France) because their ID has expired? – According to Jeremiah Erasga, Content Director of Flightradar Online.
2. Get any necessary visas.
Visa requirements vary from country to country, but the process is time-consuming and tedious.
Find out if a visa is required by your destination. If so, what kind of visa will you need? In 60 percent of the world’s countries, visas are required for every stay, most of which are regular visitor visas. You may need a student visa for studying or interning longer than a short semester. If you wish to work abroad (though you may be able to do so without one), you will need a work visa.
There are also countries that approach the above differently. In the United Kingdom, you will need to declare several Tiers of visas, while in Australia, you can apply for a working holiday visa. This necessary evil comes in many forms; find out which one is right for you.
While waiting in line at the bank, consider how long it can take government institutions in several countries to process your visa application. According to Sofia Hamberg, Content Director of Flightradar UK.
3. Visit the doctor.
Getting a checkup or teeth cleaning in a foreign country can be tedious, not only because you don’t speak the language, but also because the “office” is a cluttered corner of someone’s living room. Get a medical check-up and a tooth cleaning before you run among the lions and eat those gelatos without worrying in the back of your mind.
Make sure you check any necessary vaccinations that you might need, which are more common in third-world countries. These include diseases like bird flu, chikungunya, dengue, malaria, typhoid fever, or zika. Believe me, these aren’t fun and will interrupt your planned trek to Machu Picchu or hike up Kilimanjaro. Get on top of your shots! Try not to leave this until the last minute either, as some vaccinations need a week or two to kick in fully (plus, who wants to board a plane when their arm feels like it’s swarming with medical bees?).
There is a great website from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that provides the most up-to-date information about vaccinations.
4. Find out how to communicate with home.
When you’re on a trip to get away from it all, knowing that you have options to reach out to family and friends back home is always a good idea (for when you get bitten by a mosquito or end up in a dentist’s chair). When you call Mom and Pop, you can also let them know you have reached the other side.
There are often ways to get access to the internet and communicate with friends and family without having to carry around a phone card or devices. Try free services that you can use with an internet connection (such as Skype or WhatsApp) anywhere in the world. (Some GSM phones are SIM-card approved, which means that you can switch it out in every country.) If you’re not thrilled with the idea of buying and carrying around a phone card, check into the SIM card capabilities of your phone. (Some CDMA phones might be a bit more tricky.)
5. Get insured.
Make sure you’re covered, whether it’s health insurance, baggage protection, or travel insurance. An organized program usually offers you the option of purchasing an insurance package; these are excellent options if you do not have your own international coverage.
In the event you find yourself in the hospital while abroad, you may be faced with a hefty bill. If you become ill or injured while abroad, health insurance or travel medical insurance can cover these bills. The cost of lost baggage, delays, interruptions, and cancellations can be offset by trip insurance.
6. Develop a budget.
Research your monthly expenses, such as accommodation, food, transportation, and entertainment, if you plan to spend extended periods abroad as a student or volunteer. Make an educated guess about how much you will spend on hotels, excursions, dinners out, etc., if you are just taking a personal trip.
Make sure to take more money than you expect to use. Not only will two glasses of vinho verde turn into three, but emergencies and unexpected opportunities will pop up at any time.
For cash-only purchases (street carts, bus fares, independent shops, tips), you might want to use your credit card abroad more often. ATM fees add up quickly! – According Sean Philips, Content Director of Ship Tracking.
7. Learn about your destination.
You’re probably going to experience culture shock (they eat what?!). It doesn’t matter how cool and open-minded you are, you’ll probably experience it. It’s always best to be prepared so you can explore and enjoy your stay abroad rather than flipping through new guidebooks. Research the places you want to visit, the festivals you will attend, and the events you can participate in before you go.
In a traditional country, you might need to pack clothes accordingly. If someone greets you with three kisses on each cheek, you won’t gawk like a fish.
Learn a few basic phrases in the language of the country where you will be staying. Hopefully you will pick up many more words while there, but at least coming with a “ciao!” will make a good first impression.
In Nepal, you won’t need make-up, in Madrid, in Botswana, you won’t need your baseball glove, and in Ecuador, you can buy cheap sweaters. To prepare for your trip, do research beforehand to determine what you need to bring (such as mosquito netting) and what you can buy at a reasonable price. Don’t forget to leave enough room in your luggage for souvenirs, too!
If you aren’t going to spend your entire time in a resort, you’ll likely have to walk quite a bit on your travels (weekend trips, at least). No matter where you are in the world, be sure you have a backpack that is sturdy and easy to carry around, whether you’re in the bustling streets of London or the dense jungles of Brazil.
Be sure to pack sunscreen, a camera, and patience!
When you have organized paperwork, completed bureaucratic procedures, dusted off your high school bilingual dictionary, and wrapped up everything you need, you’re ready for adventure! As a savvy traveler, you’ll embrace whatever comes your way, be open to growth, and get the most out of the experience. Don’t forget your passport!