Planning a trip abroad is exciting, but there is a great deal that you need to think about as well if you want your trip to be successful. Whether you are planning your first, fifth, or fourteenth trip abroad, here are some fundamental questions you should remember to ask yourself before traveling to any foreign country.
What are the country’s entry requirements?
You’ll always need a passport to travel outside of the United States, of course, but often there are additional documents to consider when traveling to a foreign country. You may very well need a visa, for example; and there are just as many procedures for obtaining a visa as there are countries that require you to have one. Be sure to verify what the country’s entry requirements are months in advance before travel. If you will need a visa, begin the application process as early as possible.
Are there any travel advisories I should be aware of?
Don’t forget to check if any travel advisories might apply to your destination country, especially if you are traveling to a developing country. The U.S. State Department keeps a running list of travel alerts and warnings on their website.
Will I need any vaccinations beforehand?
This is an especially important question to ask before traveling to a developing country, but vaccinations may very well be recommended for a common tourist destination as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps a running list of destinations and required vaccinations on their website.
Should I use cash, a credit card, or both?
You’ll need money to get around wherever you go, of course, but money usage varies significantly from country to country. You can travel Iceland completely on a credit card, for example, while for travel to Cuba you must come with all of the cash you’ll need for your entire trip—and then exchange it once you get there. Be sure to check what you’ll need, keeping in mind that a credit card often gives you the best exchange rate. Bonus tip: It’s a good idea to contact your credit card company before your trip so as not to set off any “alarms” when you start making purchases abroad.
What is the exchange rate?
On a related note, it’s essential to find out what the exchange rate in the country is and how economies between your country and the destination country compare. Is the exchange rate currently in your favor? Are accommodations, public transportation, gas, or food going to be particularly expensive? Are you going to feel “rich” or “poor” there? Knowing the answers to these types of questions will help you keep better track of your expenses. Plus, it can help you set better expectations in terms of how much the trip will cost overall.
Are there specific laws I need to be aware of?
This is an absolute must. Even if you’re used to living a certain way in your home country, you simply need to abide by the laws in your destination country if you want your trip to go smoothly. Travel forums are a great resource here, as you can get special tips and insights from fellow citizens of your home country. Do your research before leaving so you know what you can and cannot bring, where you can and cannot go, what you can and cannot wear, etc.
What should I know about the culture?
Knowing a few things about the culture of the country you are visiting can be just as important as knowing about the different laws in that country. Not only can it ensure for a pleasant trip, but it can also help you blend in as you are traveling, despite being a tourist. Is there a particular dress code that you will need to adhere to? Are there certain phrases or gestures that are considered offensive? How will you be perceived as an American? This another place where travel blogs and forums are a great resource.
Will I be able to keep in touch with others?
What is the internet access like in your destination country? Are certain websites blocked? How about using your phone while abroad? This is especially important to consider if you are traveling for work. Your company might operate on fully cloud based ERP, for example, but if the internet access in your destination country is lacking, you’re going to be out of luck. Be sure to do your research beforehand and see how travelers most commonly navigate limited communication access.
What is the time difference?
The time difference between your home country and your destination country can have a major impact on your trip. For destinations where there will be a significant time difference, consider building an extra day or two into your trip to make up for the time you will spend re-adjusting your internal clock. Knowing the time difference can also help you as you maintain communication with friends, family, and colleagues back home.