International travel can be a headache — often literally — if you’re not prepared. On the other hand, it is easy to go into hyperdrive and start worrying about every little detail and over-prepare, typically with the same results.
The key to traveling abroad is preparing yourself and your family the right way. Take it easy, ask around for advice from people who have been to your destination, and get ready for your trip by focusing on the essentials.
These five tips will help you dodge stress and travel abroad with the worry.
1. Start documentation early
If anyone in your family needs a passport or a passport renewal, start that process as soon as you possibly can. Getting a passport can sometimes take months, so this should be one of your first steps.
Depending on your destination, you may need other types of documentation, too. Focus on fulfilling all legal requirements long before you start packing.
Book your flights, rental cars, and tour packages well in advance, too. Sometimes the best options need to be booked a year out, so you can’t start too early. Print and take with you all supporting documents in case of snafus.
2. Pack light
When you’re packing, it can be tempting to throw supplies for every possible eventuality into your bags. However, more stuff doesn’t really make you more prepared.
There are far better options for packing for your trip: Study the climate and your itinerary, then pack as lightly as possible. The benefits are manifold. You’ll have fewer chances to lose luggage, and carrying your bags from place to place will be less exhausting.
Light, simple luggage will also keep thieves from being attracted to your bags and any goodies they may contain. Leave all the fancy stuff at home and use simple, multi-purpose items and clothing that will make your trip more enjoyable without making it too costly or burdensome.
3. Use electronic data whenever possible
Electronic data has several advantages. It’s difficult to lose, it can’t be stolen easily like paper documents, and thanks to today’s smartphones it’s often very easy to access on the go.
Choose electronic whenever possible. Use electronic boarding passes if your airport offers them. Email yourself copies of key identification information that can be readily accessed if you lose paperwork and need to take care of some legal issues in a foreign country.
Focus on electronic means of payment. Not only are credit cards faster than traveler’s checks, they tend to offer better exchange rates and fees. Pay online for reservations and/or packages, and keep the amount of cash you take extra low.
4. Prepare your health
First, check to see what your health insurance or travel insurance policy covers. You may want to buy supplemental coverage if you’re worried about health issues.
Second, investigate requirements and recommendations for healthy traveling. Do you need any inoculations? Do people often suffer allergies in the cities you are heading to?
Finally, pack medication for issues that may crop up on your trip, from lower back pain to migraines.
5. Have emergency contacts prepared
Keep a list of emergency contacts both on your phone and on a printed hard copy. This list should include family contacts and government emergency numbers.
If something does go wrong, you can call an embassy to get advice or help. In general, try to stay away from posting details on social media. The instant communication can be tempting, but social media is also an unfortunate way of letting unscrupulous people know you won’t be coming home for a long time, which could leave your house vulnerable to potential burglars.