You’ve got a brand-new passport and are thrilled about your first foreign adventure. Whether it’s driving up to Canada or flying across the pond, a little preparation will make your trip go smoothly. Follow these planning tips for first-timers from Kathy Wood, co-owner of Wood Travel in Schenectady, New York.
Notify your bank. Before you leave, inform your bank and credit card companies when and where you’ll be traveling. “You don’t want them to see activity in a foreign country and lock down your card due to suspected fraud,” says Wood. Also, ask your credit card company if there’s a foreign transaction surcharge, which is usually two to three percent of the sale. Not all cards charge this fee, so it may be worth shopping around ahead of time to find a card that doesn’t.
Pack light. “It’s not pleasant to lug a giant suitcase from place to place because you seldom wear everything,” says Wood. Instead, pack one small bag on wheels with mix-and-match outfits. Everything should coordinate with everything else or don’t bring it. Pack raingear that stows easily, such as a poncho, and two pairs of comfortable walking shoes.
For your carryon, choose a backpack that holds your glasses; a change of undergarments; a toothbrush and other essential toiletries and your prescription medications (in their original bottles to prove what they are) in case you end up stranded without your luggage. Also bring a lightweight jacket or pashmina, reading material, and nonperishable snacks such as granola bars or nuts.
It’s smart to pack common over-the-counter medications. There’s nothing worse than feeling miserable in your hotel room in a place where you don’t speak the language. Suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include antidiarrheal medication, ibuprofen or acetaminophen, antacid, antihistamine and bandages.
Limit electronics. Will you really need your laptop, tablet, e-reader and smartphone? “You want to enjoy the country, not your electronics,” says Wood. Bring only what’s essential, such as your smartphone, and make sure the charger is compatible with the electric current where you’re headed. Call your mobile carrier ahead of time to add an international plan temporarily to avoid surprises on your next bill.
Leave copies of your itinerary and passport with family or friends. Bring a copy of your passport with you, in case the original is stolen, because it will be easier to replace. The U.S. Department of State also offers the new Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which allows you to register your trip so the nearest Embassy or Consulate can contact you to keep you informed about safety conditions in your destination country or in case of an emergency.
Learn about the culture. Log onto the country’s official travel website, talk to your travel agent or check out traveler posts on sites such as Tripadvisor.com. “It’s fun to know something about the place where you’re going, and you discover what’s acceptable or offensive to your host country,” says Wood. Enjoy the diversity. One of the reasons we travel is to encounter another way of life, so embrace it. “Things will be different,” says Wood. “They won’t do things the way we do. That’s why you’re there. New experiences are part of the joy of travel.”
By Arricca SanSone