I traveled out of the country more than seven years ago, so I haven’t thought for a while about the extra preparations that are needed. I’ve thought about the lure of going, but not about preparing to go. Someone I know is leaving the country for the first time, though, so I was reminded recently about some of the things that you need to make sure to do.
The very first thing to do is research the country you are thinking of going to visit. You’ll want to know how safe it is, whether or not English (or some other language you know) is spoken there, and what requirements and recommendations exist. If you don’t speak the language, make sure to learn a few important phrases. Knowing the social customs can make the trip much more enjoyable. Knowing the laws of the country is a very important part of being safe. Have you ever seen the movie Return to Paradise?
Of course, you’ll need a passport book or at least a passport card. As far as I know, that’s a requirement for entry into all other countries. Even if you can enter another country without a passport, remember that you need your passport to re-enter the United States! It can take time to get it after you send in the paperwork, so allow at least 6 to 8 weeks. It’s possible to get it faster, but it’s also more expensive. Make sure to visit this link to find out about things like passports, visas, and any other requirements. Some countries require (or recommend) specific vaccinations, and some of those need to be done several weeks in advance.
One bit of information that I found to be invaluable before my first trip out of the country was to take a plug adapter for the outlets. Many other countries have outlets that don’t work with our type of plugs. A simple thing like not being able to charge your phone or camera can really put a damper on your experiences during your travels! Also, be aware that many other countries have 220 volt lines, which are too strong for some of our electronics. Plug a hairdryer into a 220 line, and you might completely fry your hairdryer. I’ve heard conflicting information about using a voltage converter to protect your electronics. This might only be an issue for older electronics, but it’s worth checking into.
For cell phones, I’ve read that international calls are ridiculously expensive. Buying a local SIM card and a calling card might be your best option. Some people have recommended using MagicJack; order one, plug it into your laptop while you’re home, and get a local number to use when out of the country. Some countries have blocked this, so check on that first. Of course, there are always options such as Skype for some occasions.
You definitely need to plan ahead when you are traveling to another country; trying to be spontaneous might ruin your plans unless you already have your passport and are going somewhere with few entry requirements. I strongly recommend allowing yourself at least a month or two to do your research and complete all required tasks. I also recommend taking a camera or at least a cell phone that takes pictures to share and preserve your memories of your trip.
Traveling to another country is an amazing experience, and is unforgettable.