If you are traveling internationally and do not have a passport, apply for it at least three to six months before your trip. The U.S.Department of State website (www.travel.state.gov) will walk you through all the steps to obtain a passport. If you DO have a passport, check the expiration date. Heads up: I was turned away from a flight to Kenya because my passport expired in three months and Kenya requires a minimum of 6 month validity.
Other Travel Documents
The Department of State’s website is an encyclopedia of other important travel info like necessary visas, travel warnings, health services and alerts, transportation and more.
Make sure you have necessary vaccinations to travel abroad by going to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, http://www.cdc.gov/travel. You will probably need to get those shots four-six weeks before your departure date.
Carry Copies of Travel Documents with You
It is unlikely that your passport will be lost or stolen, but if it is, you’ll need new photos and copies of the missing passport. Make two photocopies of the first two pages of your passport. Leave one copy at home in a file folder, a book, under a cookie sheet, someplace accessible by a friend or neighbor who has access to your house but not out in the open. Take one copy on your trip, but do not carry it in the same bag or pouch as your actual passport. Take two passport-sized photos with you.
Carry Copies of What’s in Your Wallet or Purse
Photocopy the credit cards and ATM card you are taking with you (take only one or two credit cards), your health insurance card, driver’s license (it’s advisable to have a second form of ID when you travel abroad), airline ticket, itinerary, emergency contact phone numbers at home. Store this info in your suitcase (however, not in the same place as the actual passport and cards).
Notify Your Credit Card Company
Call the customer service number on the back of the credit card and alert them to your travel plans, especially if you are leaving the country. My Visa card suddenly became inactive in Florence and it took a couple of expensive long distance calls to reactive it. Good going Visa, I’m glad they were looking out for me.
Check your phone plan. Some plans and phones work internationally, some do not. If yours does, you can purchase a temporary plan with “roaming” charges and continue to check voice messages, text and emails. Accessibility and charges vary wildly, so it’s imperative you check with your provider before you leave home or you could end up paying as much for a phone call as a ticket to the Louvre. And remember, this applies to Mexico and Canada travel as well. You can also purchase a phone card once you reach your destination or insert an international SIM card in your smart phone. Coming soon: Staying Connected for more information on phones and internet.
Medications, Glasses, Contacts
Take an extra pair of prescription glasses, extra contacts and ample contact solution. Make sure you have enough prescription medications for your trip. Many travel experts insist you should carry your prescription meds in their original bottle because the drugs could be confiscated by an overzealous customs/immigration official. I have never followed this rule because I like to put my vitamins and RX drugs in tiny plastic bags to save space. In three decades of globetrotting, nobody, nowhere, no-how has ever cared. Put together a Just-in-Case for unexpected medical issues that always seem to crop up in the middle of the night.
Buy bright baggage tags or tie a piece of neon ribbon to your suitcases. This will make it easier for you to find your bags on a carousel and makes it less likely someone will pick up your suitcase by mistake. Put a copy of your itinerary and your home contact information inside your suitcase. If the suitcase is lost or stolen, this will help the airlines forward or return your bag to you. (You notice I said “suitcase” singular. See Packing Tips.)
Get a small supply of foreign currency (more if you’re arriving on the weekend) from your bank.
Leave a copy of your itinerary with a friend or relative.
Leave detailed instructions for your house or pet sitter (coming soon For the Housesitter.)
Notify your home security company the dates you’ll be gone.
Advise a trusted neighbor that your house will be empty.
Arrange to have your newspaper and mail stopped or picked up if no one is staying in your house.
If your trash/recycle bins are full, ask a neighbor to put them out and retrieve them after pickup.
Prepay bills or arrange for payment.
Set a timer for outside and inside lights or arrange to have a neighbor turn them on and off.
Put valuables in a safe deposit box.
Back up your computer files.
Confirm your flights 72 hours before departure.
Set the thermostat.
If your car is staying in the garage, remove the garage door opener, lock the car and hide the keys.
Turn off the coffee pot.
Double-check all window and door locks.
Set the security system.