6 Tips to Prepare for International Travel!

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6 Tips to Prepare for International Travel

6 Tips to Prepare for International Travel

Do you have any international travel planned for the end of this year or already planning next year’s travel? We are big fans of traveling internationally as a family as we feel it is so important to broaden your understanding of cultures different from your own by experiencing life abroad, whether it be for just a week or if you spend several weeks or a month traveling abroad. When you travel, it opens your eyes to all of the people & diversity in our world to better understand the diversity within our own country.  For kids, it really puts learning into action – being able to visit places they are studying in history, literature, art, music & more helps education come alive for students.

Learning about other cultures is something we are passionate about in my family, as we frequently host exchange students from other countries & look for opportunities to travel abroad & visit new countries. My husband is the international student coordinator at his high school where he teaches and he has organized & participated in a number of international field trips with his students over the years. They have visited everywhere from Costa Rica to France to China.

I had the opportunity to chaperone one of those trips a year ago to the Dominican Republic with his students. When you travel with a large group of students, you really have to be very well-prepared and ready for anything, so preparation before the trips is extremely important. So, we have both learned quite a few tips on how best to prepare for international travel & what are the most critical steps to take when you get ready for your trip, from our own travels as well as planning trips for groups of students.

I wanted to share the 6 tips we feel are the most important after you book your trip & get ready to travel abroad, whether you are brand-new to traveling internationally or if you need some refreshers on international travel for an upcoming trip! Let us know what tips you would suggest if you are a seasoned international traveler.

Check Passport Dates & Visa Requirements Early

Dominican Republic Beach

Cabarete Beach in Dominican Republic

If this is your first international trip requiring a passport or it’s been years since you have gone, definitely take care of your passport early, especially as you get closer to the busy summer travel season. You need a minimum of 6-8 weeks, but I’d definitely recommend taking care of this as early as possible. Even if you think your passport is not due for renewal, definitely pull it out a few months early to check the expiration date.

Remember that when kids are under 16, passports are only valid for 5 years, so don’t delay getting those passports checked out & renewed if needed for your kids, too. If you have a last-minute trip planned, there are options for expedited passports as well, but those can get pricey, so get it done early.

You will also want to research whether any of the countries you will be visiting require a tourist Visa. You can look up the country on the US State Department list & you can search by country & it will show you any travel alerts for the country as well as if a tourist Visa is required, vaccinations,  etc.

Visit a Travel Clinic Before you Travel

Pacific Medical Center Travel Clinic

Photo Credit: Pacific Medical Centers

If you are traveling to a new country, definitely make sure to check out which vaccines or medicines you should receive before your trip.  This is one of the checklist items you should do soon after you book your trip to give yourself plenty of time to prepare. The CDC website recommends you should get any vaccines or medications at least 4-6 weeks before your trip as some of the vaccines or medications may take a few weeks to become effective, so you want to be totally protected in plenty of time before your trip.

For those of you who are located here in the Northwest, the Pacific Medical Centers Travel Clinics are a great option to consider before any international trips. They offer comprehensive travel services for both adults & children, as well as having all of the necessary services all in one location, so you don’t need to make multiple stops when heading to the travel clinic. Just visit one of their 3 locations & you will have all of the services you need for your travel check-up.

Photo Credit: Pacific Medical Centers

Here are the types of services offered at Pacific Medical Centers Travel Clinics:

  • Complete pre-travel exams – you want to make sure you have an exam before traveling internationally to get the a-ok with your health so you don’t run into any problems while traveling.
  • Immunizations
  • Malaria Prevention tips & Medications
  • Tips for combating Jet Lag and sleeping adjustments
  • Country-specific advice
  • Safe food & water suggestions
  • Injury prevention & what to do when you’re away from home
  • Medication Suggestions

They do offer the following services at each of the locations so you can get everything taken care of in one location without having to make additional stops:

*On-Site Pharmacy, Lab & X-Ray
*Early morning, evening & weekend (Renton only) appts to accommodate every schedule
*Free parking (valet available at Canyon Park)
*Online appointments

Locations for Pacific Medical Centers Travel Clinics:

  • Beacon Hill  – call (206) 621-4504, Hours and driving directions for Beacon Hill are here.
  • Canyon Park  – call (425) 412-7200, Hours and driving directions for Canyon Park are here.
  • Renton – call (425) 227 – 3132, Hours and driving directions for Renton are here.

Note: The Travel Clinic does charge patients directly for services. However, some insurance providers will pay for travel vaccines and medications.

Research options for communication with international travel

Louvre in Paris

Louvre Museum in Paris

Before you travel internationally, you need to think about what type of communication abilities you will need – both in-country as well as with family or friends back home in the US. Depending on where you are traveling to, you may be able to get by with using free wifi for all your communication needs. If you’re traveling in Europe, you will find a lot of free wifi locations in the major cities such as at hotels, coffee shops, museums, restaurants, & more. Just make sure to download any maps you will need if you are driving/walking before you head out for your day, to access the Google maps feature. Then keep your phone in airplane mode while you are in the country, so you do not receive any phone calls or texts that you could be charged international roaming rates.

If you will be relying on internet hot spots, think about using an app called “What’s App?” which is great for free communication when you have internet access. It’s basically a messenger app service, but it allows texting, phone calls & video calls. We like What’s App because it is the most universal messenger program we have found to work in a large variety of countries (multiple family members have used it in African countries, we’ve used it in the Dominican Republic, Europe & China).

If you will need to have phone and/or internet service while you are in the country for communication within the country and/or communicating with people back home, the first step is to call your cell phone provider & find out what the rates are for the countries you will be visiting. Some cell providers may have low rates for international roaming & even free texting in other countries (depending on the country). {Just be prepared that the internet data speeds may be very slow for international use when using these plans.}

However, if rates are going to be high, here is another option to try for lower rates. First, make sure your phone is unlocked. Then, you can purchase a pre-paid SIM card once you reach your destination (definitely research this first to make sure this is a good option & you will be able to find a reputable place to make your purchase). You can often purchase a local SIM card at the airport for the most convenience, a local convenience store or electronic store. You then purchase local pre-paid cell phone plan. The internet speeds are typically the highest around the area.

The downside is that you will have a different phone number. But this can be a very inexpensive option if you are able to find a reputable place to purchase a SIM card. My husband purchased a local SIM card at the airport in Senegal when he was there for a few weeks with a group of teachers. He then was able to communicate with the teachers & his host teachers easily throughout his stay using his local plan (he relied on the free internet to use the What’s App for communicating with us in the US).

Let your Bank know you are Traveling & Bring Cash

Senegal Nature Preserve

Nature Preserve in Senegal

A day or two before you travel, make sure to contact all of your banks and credit card companies to let them know of your travel plans if you will be traveling internationally. If you do not contact them first,  they could put a hold on your use of your debit or credit cards for suspicious account activity. If you are traveling on a weekend or just with the time difference, it could be a pain for you to have to get a hold of your bank after the fact if there are issues.

Even if you do call, sometimes there may still be a mixup where they freeze your spending (we’ve had this happen), so I’d also recommend having a spare debit or credit card with you thru a different bank/company just in case your main account has any issues.

I’d also recommend changing some of your currency before you head overseas in case of any issues with your card. We ran into the problem in Germany that many of the local restaurants only took cash and it was not nearly as easy as we thought to find an ATM or bank to get cash (they would have random weird times to shut down in the middle of the day). So, we will definitely bring a little cash with us next time or hit up the ATM as soon as we get there so we always have cash on hand.

Obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) if needed & Research Car Insurance

Neuschwanstein Castle in germany

Neuschwanstein  Castle, Germany

If you plan on driving on your international vacation, research ahead of time whether you will need an International Driving Permit. Many countries do require this, especially in Europe, so it’s a good idea to be prepared & get this before you leave.

Check out the US State Dept website to see if you need to purchase an International Driving Permit & they will have all of the details on whether your country requires it & where you can go locally to purchase your permit in person .  When we traveled to Germany, Austria & Switzerland, we went to our local travel office & were able to take care of this permit using 2 passport photos, our Driver’s License & a $20 fee.

You’ll also want to contact your car insurance carrier & ask about their coverage internationally. If your insurance does not cover the countries you will be visiting, you could check the rental car’s insurance coverage, but also look into whether you need to purchase additional insurance just for your trip.

Make copies of important items & travel plans 

Panda in Chengdu China

Chengdu, China

It’s always a good idea to plan for the worst to happen & then you are prepared. Before you head out on your trip, make sure to make copies of any important documents. Make copies of your passports and visa.  Also, go thru your wallet & only bring the cards you will need for your trip – and then make copies of all of those cards (Driver’s License, debit/credit cards).Then, make sure to keep a copy of all of these in your safe at home, but also think about giving a copy to a trusted family member or friend. Another idea is to email the documents to yourself or upload to a file sharing service like Dropbox, so you can easily access them if needed (I would just delete when you get home from your trip for security reasons.)  In case your wallet or passport gets stolen,  you want to be prepared with copies of everything.

I’d also recommend printing off copies of your travel itinerary and places you will be staying to give to a family member or friend as well. This is good to do in case of an emergency.


Do you have any international trips coming up? We’d love to hear where you are traveling! 

6 Tips to Prepare for International Travel

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