Some people have been traveling internationally for as long as they can remember, and it’s like second nature. For others, though, traveling internationally isn’t something they’re accustomed to or have ever experienced. Prior to this year, I was a part of that second group of people, but in 2023 I experienced international travel for the first time. If you’re preparing for your first international trip, there’s a lot to take into consideration before you set off, so here are some tips to keep in mind as you plan.
A passport is the #1 thing you need in order to travel internationally. Without one, you probably aren’t going to get too far. Because of how long it can take to get a new passport in the mail, you should start the process of applying for one as soon as possible.
As of March 24, 2023, the U.S. State Department says routine processing times for U.S. passports can be anywhere from 10 to 13 weeks, and this estimate doesn’t include mailing times to and from a passport agency or center, which can potentially add up to 4 weeks to your total wait time. Even the latest expedited processing time is estimated to be 7 to 9 weeks, which is a bit faster but still requires some advanced planning.
If you’re like me and never had to apply for a passport before, the process can seem a bit daunting. Thankfully, the U.S. State Department has everything you need to know laid out for you on their website, which I highly recommend utilizing when you’re ready to apply for your first passport.
Even if you’re going on a cruise and don’t think you will need one, it’s still highly encouraged to have a passport regardless. While it’s true you shouldn’t need your passport to get off the ship at various ports, you could end up in situations where you’d need to have a passport.
For example, if you get off at a port and accidentally don’t make it back onto the ship by the required time, you could be left behind in a foreign country and forced to arrange for travel plans back home. Additionally, if you experience a medical emergency while at a port and need to receive care at a local hospital, you’d want to ensure you had an international form of identification.
If you purchase items from various countries and want to bring them back home with you, you may need to declare them with U.S. Customs Border and Protection once you return back to your original port and would need to have a passport to do so.
Whether it’s your 1st or 50th time traveling internationally, consider whether there are any vaccines you should receive before traveling to your destination. For example, in March of this year, I had the opportunity to travel to Guatemala with 7 of my coworkers on a corporate service trip with School the World to help build a new school building in a remote community of Guatemala.
Because I could have been exposed to diseases that aren’t as prominent in the U.S., I scheduled an appointment at a local travel clinic to receive any vaccines and medical advice that was relevant for my specific destination. I was able to conveniently get a Typhoid vaccine, prescription medication in the event of stomach illness, and an insect repellent kit, along with a lot of useful information related to my destination.
It’s always important to consult with your doctor or a medical professional before traveling internationally to make sure you’re as prepared as possible against any potential illness or disease. Some vaccines may not be available at your primary care provider's office. For example, the need for Typhoid vaccines is not very common in the U.S., and my family medicine doctor doesn’t keep them in stock at their office. I visited PassportHealth, which has more than 270 travel clinics throughout North America, to receive all my necessary immunizations prior to my trip.
If you’re planning on doing any shopping on your international trip, you may want to consider exchanging some money for the local currency of your destination. One of the best ways to do this is by visiting your local bank. While there will certainly be places for you to exchange currency in different countries, you’re likely to pay the lowest exchange fees at your local bank at home. And this way, you already have your money ready to go once you arrive at your destination.
Often, the smaller, local vendors you come across on your trip will only accept their country’s currency. If you plan to do any shopping at local markets or shops, having that country’s currency on-hand will be important. Another slightly less practical reason for considering currency exchange before your trip is simply because it’s fun to see what currency from other countries is like! It’s one thing to see pictures of other countries’ bills and coins, but to physically hold it and see it firsthand is a unique insight into the culture you’re visiting.
I will say, several of the bigger establishments I visited while traveling internationally did accept credit cards. Having your credit card with you is definitely a smart move; just make sure to notify your bank or credit card company before your trip so you don’t run into any issues.
Depending on where your international travels take you, you’ll likely come across people who don’t speak the same language as you. The countries I’ve visited so far this year have all been primarily Spanish-speaking countries. While it isn’t necessary to be fluent in the language spoken at your destination, it’s important to make sure either you or someone in your group knows enough of the local language to get by… or at least where the nearest bathroom is located.
One great tool to consider downloading on your phone before your trip is Google Translate. This app will give you access to dozens of different languages right at your fingertips. The app even gives you the ability to take a photo of text in a different language to be translated in the app. If you’re going to be traveling somewhere without cellular service or internet access, you can go one step further and download Google Translate for offline use. This will allow you to translate, even without cellphone service or a Wi-Fi connection.
A fun way to prepare yourself for experiencing another language is by using a language learning app such as Duolingo. If you’re looking to brush up on old skills or start from scratch learning a language, Duolingo is a fun way to increase your vocabulary in a variety of languages through games and quizzes.
Last, but certainly not least, it’s imperative that you have the proper insurance coverage in place before leaving for your trip. Many people aren’t aware that their domestic health insurance plan may not provide coverage outside their home country. Because of this, having a travel medical insurance plan is key to making sure you’re protected in the event of illness or injury while traveling internationally.
IMG offers a variety of travel medical insurance plans to meet your medical needs as well as travel insurance plans that protect your health and your trip costs and travel expenses. You can compare plans and get a quote today by entering your trip details on the plan page.
About the Author:
Carly Miller is IMG’s Public Relations Specialist and has worked with the company since 2021.
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