So you’re finally headed on that overseas vacation that’s been marked on your calendar for months now. Congratulations!
Before you embark on your hard-earned trip, you’ll have to jump a few necessary hurdles so your trip can go off without a hitch. What kind of hitches, exactly? Well, the kind that includes a block on your credit card or struggling to make a phone call without being charged a month’s rent for it.
Here’s a list of everything you need to accomplish before your flight finally takes off.
Call your bank
Before you leave the country, make sure you contact your bank to inform them that you’re travelling overseas. Why? It’s simple — so they won’t interpret any foreign transactions as fraudulent and block your card from making purchases.
The easiest way to accomplish this is to call the number on the back of your credit card and give them both the dates and location of your trip. Some banks will also let you set this up online if you’re phone shy.
Exchange your money
You’ll definitely need some cash on your trip, as fees on credit and debit cards can rack up quickly. Some banks charge a foreign transaction fee — around one to three per cent of your purchase — anytime you use a credit card. Worse, banks may charge international service assessment fees for ATM withdrawals — anywhere from one to five dollars.
Save yourself from the foreign-fee headaches by bringing cold, hard cash. How much exactly? According to Maria Hart, an executive editor of hotel review site Oyster, generally, the rule of thumb is to have anywhere from the equivalent of $80 to $150 on you on any given day — if you’re visiting a city, that is. In a metropolitan area, it’s likely you’ll have access to ATMs and have the ability to obtain cash, unlike more remote areas, she said.
“If you’re going to a more rural place, calculate how long you’ll be between metropolitan areas or airports (with access to an ATM) and dole out $100 - $200 per day, per person,” she added.
And it’s probably best to keep money your money in a safe place, especially if you have a big stack on you. “If you’re carrying several hundred dollars on you, don’t put it in your wallet,” Hart said. “Get a quality money belt, tuck it under your clothes, and carry the bulk of it there. I’d also squirrel away a few bills in another spot like inside the zippered lining of your suitcase. Don’t make it easy for pickpockets to nab your vacation funds.”
Saving on travel is all about flexibility, says the anonymous editor-in-chief of the luxury travel site Andrew Harper. He told Lifehacker about a few reliable ways to watch for discounts on luxury travel, one of which will make you feel like a complete master of the universe, which you already know because we spoiled it in the headline.
If you have leftover currency and you’re a coffee fanatic, you can load it on a Starbucks card to use back home (as we’re previously written). Alternately, you can ask your bank if they’ll accept it for exchange (they should, but it depends on the currency).
The days of rushing through an airport like an old-timey sheriff at high noon — loose coins clink-clankin’ around in your pockets — are over, my friends.
How much should you be prepared to budget for an entire vacation? Well, that depends on a number of factors. You should take into account meals, transportation, activities, and souvenir costs per day in addition to big costs like airfare and hotels. You can also use NerdWallet’s calculator to find how much money you might need to save for your trip.
Get an international phone plan
Back in September a story emerged about a couple that was travelling in Bali and ended up in a scooter accident on their way back to their hotel. Their phone with a local SIM had died, and their only way to call for help was to post on Facebook using a phone tied to an American SIM — a Facebook post that helped them find help and ultimately survive.
If you want to avoid racking up phone fees quickly, the first thing you should do upon landing is turn on your airplane mode or turn off your cellular data. This will make it so you’ll rely only n access to wifi (assuming you haven’t yet bought an overseas phone plan). Yes, you can likely survive a trip on wifi alone, but in cities where it’s hard to come by, you might struggle to hail an Uber.
You can also contact your phone provider and request an international phone plan, but this often comes with the caveat that you’ll still have to conserve your data (meaning you’ll have to restrict your time on Instagram).
The true trick to beating those pesky fees is using WhatsApp. A message on WhatsApp requires much less data than a text sent via your phone plan; you could feasibly send thousands of messages within WhatsApp’s plan without ever hitting your limit.
You could also buy a local SIM card or prepaid phone at your destination. It’ll take some extra legwork (you’ll have to find an available store), and SIM cards aren’t compatible with all phones. “Generally, you will get the best deal if you wait until you are there to buy it, but of course you can research plans before you get there,” Kaplan added. “In many cases, a local mobile phone provider will have a store or kiosk at the airport where you are arriving, so if you’re prepared, you can know just where to go when you land.”
Buy a power adaptor and converter whenever necessary
Do you have the appropriate power adaptor for your hairdryer or phone?
For the most part, the world’s outlets run on two voltage settings: 110/125V or 220/240V. Look at your device (usually on a tag) and compare it to your country’s voltage settings. If the destination’s setting is too high for your device, your equipment might burn out. If it’s too low, it won’t perform as well or will cause damage.
You can also buy a travel converter, which will convert the outlet’s voltage settings to fit your device. You can find a bunch of joint adaptor/converter plugs on Amazon. A lot of gadgets now are also “dual voltage”, meaning they can work on both settings (meaning chargers for your smartphone or laptop are probably fine). On something like a hairdryer, you’ll see this noted with something like “110-220" on its tag.
Make sure your passport is valid
Is your passport valid for at least six months? While some countries may only require that your passport is valid through your stay, a number of countries require that it’s valid for much longer, according to Kaplan.
“Not all countries have the six-month requirement, but you should follow it regardless because you never know what kind of detour you will have to take,” he added. “For example, maybe your flight home cancels and the airline re-routes you a different way, and you find yourself with a long layover in a country you didn’t plan to visit, unable to get to the hotel they offer you because you’re not allowed to leave the airport.”
And to be safe, you should always make sure to get a photocopy of your passport whenever possible. Why? In the event you lose it overseas, having a copy will make it significantly easier to prove your identity.
If you do lose your passport internationally, bring your photocopy to the closest Australian consulate or embassy. At the Consular Section, you’ll be asked to fill out a passport application and take a new photo. You can usually obtain an emergency passport within 24 hours for travel purposes.
Check for visa requirements
Before you head on vacation, find out if you’ll need a visa to visit. Check Visalist to see if your destination requires one and how to sign up for one. It’s usually a painless process, Kaplan said, but you often have to complete it before your trip.
Some destinations may also charge you upon leaving or entering an airport, sometimes referred to as a “visa” fee.
About to head out for the airport? Here’s a quick checklist of things you should ask yourself before you take off:
Is your flight on time? Download your airline’s app before your flight, so you can stay informed of any delays (there’s also the added benefit of changing seats quickly if you’re trying to get out of the middle seat). Or just check the airline’s website.
Is your flight really delayed? Know your rights to compensation for significant delays, as we’ve previously written about (and if you’re headed to or from the EU, you’re likely guaranteed cash during a long delay, according to EU law)
Do you have a confirmed seat? If not, and you’re about to leave for the airport, you’ll have to address it at check-in (often times, airlines give up seating arrangements to airports when it’s really close to departure time). If you have a few days before your flight, use the airline’s website or contact them directly via phone.
Do you have a food allergy? Make sure you’ve included a meal request in your passenger information on the airline’s website at least 24 hours before your flight. If you’re concerned about being overseas with a food allergy, look up restaurants ahead of time to be safe.
Do you have a snack or entertainment for the flight? Buy a book or snack before you get to the airport (it’s often cheaper). While you can’t bring liquids through security, you can bring a refillable water bottle in your carry-on to fill up at an airport water fountain.
Do you have a “smart” bag like an Away? Remove the battery pack and place it in your carry-on. Bags with unremovable battery packs are banned and airline attendants will ask you to remove it upon check-in.
Is your hotel confirmed? Find your emailed confirmation. Better yet, print it in case you don’t have access to wifi and need an address. If you’re staying at an Airbnb, contact your host to let them know of any significant travel changes that would cause an unexpected arrival or delay. They’ll want to know this so they can anticipate when to exchange keys.
Have you learned any basic language skills for the country you’re headed to? Might be good to know some simple conversational expressions, like ‘hello’ or ‘thank you.’ A good guidebook should incorporate this, as well as the basics of tourist hotspots.
What’s the weather like? Check the forecast before you leave so you know what to bring in your carry-on, like a coat or swimsuit.
Phone, keys, wallet! The trifecta of necessities. And your passport! Have a good time and don’t forget to send a postcard!