I’ve done a fair amount of international travel over my life. Most of my relatives live in England and Scotland and I traveled there frequently as a child. Into adulthood my favorite travel spots changed and I prefer Hawaii, California, Nevada and Latin American countries. We used to be able to cross from Canada into the United States with no ID, and then over the years we had to produce something to prove citizenship like a birth certificate. All that changed on 9/11 and we need passports even for quick day trips in the car.
Travel is usually meant to be a relaxing experience, and when we travel to new countries and discover we’ve forgotten documents, it can turn into a nightmare. Here are my 14 tips for International travel that you should have on your checklist:
- Know where your passports are
Don’t be a fool and keep your passports in your safety deposit box at the bank. One time a couple came into the head office of a financial institution where I worked, and they were flying to India that night. Their passports were in the safety deposit box of a branch that was closed on Monday. The man offered to pay whatever amount of money it would take to have staff open the branch for them to get in. We contacted the business manager, but he said the vault is on a timer and couldn’t be opened until the following day. Before you pay any money for an international vacation, make sure you have your passport in hand and put it somewhere you won’t lose it. Like your sock drawer.
- Check if you need a visa
Some countries require visas that have to be purchased or issued prior to entering the country. Other countries can issue a visa at the border crossing or point of entry. When you book your trip, check your visa requirements. Canadians can check the Travel Advice and Advisories web page and Americans can check the Americans Traveling Abroad website.
- Traveling with children
If both parents aren’t traveling with the children, this can be a challenge because the country you’re departing from may suspect a possible kidnapping. In most cases, it’s just a case of bad planning. Too many sad stories of grandparents taking the kids on a Mexican vacation and being refused entry due to missing documents. At the very least a notarized letter of consent from the absent parent(s) must be produced. Information on required forms can usually be found on the web pages for visas. Read my article No Departure, No Refund on how I saw a father traveling with several kids be refused entry into the United States.
You might require certain shots plus proof of vaccination before visiting some countries. Links for more information on health requirements can be found on your country’s web pages for visas and other travel information. You can also check with your doctor. Although vaccinations might not be required for entry, it’s a good idea to take precautions against diseases like malaria and hepatitis.
- Local currency
For some countries you need to order local currency in advance from your bank or a currency exchange. You might be able to exchange your American currency in some countries you visit. Canadian currency is more difficult to exchange – even in the states! Avoid currency exchanges at the airport because they have outrageous rates. Years ago it was smart not to leave home without your American Express traveler’s checks, but these days they’re not widely accepted. It’s easiest to use your bank card at ATM machines. but be aware before you travel how much your bank dings you for foreign transactions.
- Call your credit card companies
Before you leave on a trip, call your credit card company and tell them where you’re going so they can put a note on your account. When credit card issuers see a lot of foreign transactions they might think the card is stolen and put a hold on it. Or worse, your card might not be set up for foreign transactions until you phone in advance and request that. These days there’s a lot of credit card fraud in foreign countries.
- Make sure someone knows your plans
It’s just good sense to let someone know where you’re traveling to and when you expect to be home – unless of course you’re eloping to Las Vegas! In addition to letting someone back home know your plans, you can also leave a note in your hotel room or car with that day’s itinerary. You may even need to register your trip if your country has a travel advisory for your destination.
- Research transportation
How will you be getting around? Plane, train, automobile? Do a little research before you leave. Sometimes you can get a deal when you buy train passes in advance. When you arrive at the airport, do you know how to get to your hotel? Do they have a shuttle? Is there a bus? Will you take a taxi?
- Book your accommodation
On the same vein as knowing how you’ll get around, book accommodation at least for your first night. You’ll be tired from your trip and want a good night’s sleep and a shower. If you’re the type of person who wings it as you go, that’ll be fine for the rest of the trip, but for the first night you arrive in a strange city you’ll want a hotel room booked in advance.
- Plan your activities
Even if you’re a fly by the seats of your pants type of person, you’ll want to have an idea of some activities to do at your destination. You might even need to book in advance to avoid disappointment when you show up at the attraction. For example, Macchu Pichu has a daily limit of tourists, most who’ve purchased tickets in advance. You don’t want to show up in a strange country with no idea what you’re going to do when you arrive or get turned away at the gate.
- Buy travel insurance
We never think we need any kind of insurance until it’s too late. Do comparison shopping on different insurance policies. You don’t want to end up in a hospital in a foreign country with a whopping big bill. Likewise if you’re in a car accident the day before you leave on vacation, you’ll be glad you have a cancellation policy and can get your money refunded.
- Pack your medicine
Even if you don’t have prescription medicine, you’ll want to pack motion sickness pills, pain killers, and cold medicine for those unexpected minor maladies.
- International driver’s license
If you’re planning to drive in a foreign country (not including Canada or the USA) it might be a good idea to get an international driver’s license. It’s a small booklet written in multiple foreign languages and you’ll need a passport photo. I got mine at the BCAA before I headed to Spain, and you should be able to buy one at AAA or your auto club.
- Power adapter
Power plugs are the same in Canada and the states and a few other places. In Europe, Asia, and Australia the electricity is different and you’ll need a power plug adapter so you can charge up your phone, camera, and other electronic devices. You can buy one at your local drugstore, hardware store, or from Amazon. Disclosure: if you click the link below and make a purchase from Amazon, I’ll receive a small commission for the referral.