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Education Center » Navigating the nuances of international travel

Navigating the nuances of international travel


Planning an international adventure can be thrilling. Whether you’re dreaming about lazing the day away on a tropical beach or strolling along the Seine, make sure to plan ahead so you can relax and enjoy the ride.


Check your passport. Before doing anything else, make sure you have a current passport. If you don’t, research how to get one and what deadlines apply. Bear in mind that some foreign countries require your passport to be valid for three to six months beyond your departure date.

Once you have a current passport, make two copies of it—one to leave with a trusted friend or family member who’s not traveling with you, and one to carry in your luggage (separate from the passport itself).

Gather other travel documents. Scan the State Department’s list to find out if you’ll need a visa for your travels. Inquire with your destination’s embassy to find out if you’ll need an International Driving Permit (IDP) if you plan on driving during your vacation. An IDP can be obtained through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the National Auto Club.

Get your shots. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find out whether the country you’re visiting requires specific immunizations and documentation.


Plan for your bills. Coming home to late fees on top of jet lag would be a real drag. Depending on how long you’ll be traveling, pay your bills ahead of time or schedule them to be paid automatically through your bank’s online banking service.

Consider a house sitter. Knowing someone’s keeping an eye on your home while you’re away can be comforting. A house sitter or a trusted neighbor can help with things like trash collection while also ensuring your house looks lived in and well-tended.

Hold your mail. If you don’t have someone picking up your mail, place a temporary hold so that it doesn’t pile up and attract thieves. You can do this at your local post office or online.

Plan for pet care. Cats or fish might fare just fine with a friend checking in on them every day or two, but you’ll likely need to make arrangements with a dog-sitter or kennel for canine companions. Remember that kennels will require your pets to be up to date on their vaccinations.


Check your health insurance policy. Your health insurance coverage may not extend overseas—for example, Medicare does not. If you’re not covered, you may want to invest in emergency health insurance on the off chance that a costly medical issue arises during your travels.

Alert your bank and credit card companies. Let your bank and credit card companies know you’ll be traveling so they don’t suspect fraudulent activity and freeze your account during your trip. Many financial institutions can be notified through their online banking service.

Also find out if your credit card company charges foreign transaction fees so you can plan when to use local currency versus your card. You might want to save your credit card for larger purchases and use local currency for smaller items like snacks and postcards.

Lastly, find out if your bank has international partner ATMs to minimize extra fees.

Know your security challenge questions. If you’ll be using a computer you haven’t logged into before to access your bank accounts, you’ll need the answers to your security challenge questions. Sounds simple enough, yet a Google study revealed that a staggering 40% of its English-speaking U.S. users couldn’t recall the answers to their security questions when they needed to.1

Consider an RFID-blocking sleeve. Newer passports and many credit cards now use radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, or “chips.” Some security experts caution that electronic pickpockets could capitalize on RFID technology by using a discreet scanner to “skim” or steal your personal information. Consider purchasing RFID-blocking sleeves or wallets to protect your data.

Consider travel insurance. While the idea of coughing up extra money for trip insurance may be unwelcome, when it comes to international travel, it’s worth a second glance. While many Americans have experienced disruption in travel plans due to weather, health, natural disasters or transportation problems, only 38% of those people are likely to be protected by travel insurance.2


Buy foreign currency ahead of time. Start your adventure with some cash in hand so you can grab a pastry or taxi without having to find a currency exchange right away. Purchasing foreign currency in advance can also be less expensive and less of a hassle than buying it abroad; you may be able to order it online through your bank or an independent currency exchange agency.

Attention clotheshorses! Overpacking not only weighs you down, but it can weigh your wallet down, too. To avoid paying extra fees, limit the number of bags you bring, and make sure they don’t exceed your airline’s size and weight maximums.

Here are a few tips to help you pack smart:

  • Stick with a color scheme: A limited color palette lets you mix and match pieces to create multiple outfits from fewer pieces.
  • Hit the laundry room: You’re likely to have access to laundry facilities at some point during your journey. The small extra expense—and lighter suitcase—is often well worth it.
  • Downplay jewelry: Leave your valuables at home in favor of a few, less expensive costume pieces. Pack them in a jewelry roll, which will protect them as well as save suitcase space.
  • Shoo the shoes: Statistics show that women pack an average of eight pairs of shoes for a seven-day trip—and won’t wear them all.3 As long as the footwear is well thought out, three pairs should provide you with just the right number of options while keeping your suitcase manageable.
  • Fit it all in: Compressing packing bags shrivel your clothes into tiny, tight bundles that take up minimal space. Packing envelopes and cubes can also help you organize better and fit more into your bag—and leave room to bring home a few souvenirs!
  • Want more help? Check out the multitude of videos available on sites like YouTube that provide great tips and step-by-step tutorials on packing smart.

An international adventure can represent a significant investment of time and money. Make the most of yours by spending a little time covering your bases before you take off.

Learn more and take action


1 Google, "New Research: Some Tough Questions for `Security Questions,'" 2015.

2 AAA, "More Americans Protecting Their Vacation investments With Travel Insurance," 2018.

3 Holiday Hypermarket, May 2014.


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