International Travel Help

A Hop Across the Pond: Traveling Internationally

If, like most of us, you never spent your childhood summers in Europe or trekked around the world after graduation, then traveling internationally can be a daunting experience. Vacationing in the U.S. means deciding whether to stay at the Westin or the Best Western and whether to hit the beach or mountains. Foreign travel, on the other hand, means preparing documentation, seeing a doctor, eating strange food and trying to communicate in a strange language. A lot to think about, but fun, right? Definitely, as long as you’re well prepared and open-minded about your experiences. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Passports and Visas

The first thing you’ll need, of course, is a passport. All foreign countries require a passport for entry, even Canada and Mexico (who previously allowed U.S. citizens to enter with only a birth certificate & photo ID) will begin requiring passports in the near future. The U.S. Department of State has outlined these regulations:

1. Passport or other accepted document required for all travel (air/sea) to or from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Central and South America.

2. Passport or other accepted document required for all air and sea travel to or from Mexico and Canada.

3. Passport or other accepted document required for all air, sea and land border crossings.

Depending on where you live there are several places that can house a passport facility. Post Offices, Courthouses, some travel agencies and libraries are all authorized to process passports. Check with the U.S. Department of State, for a listing of the nearest facilities in your zip code.

Bring along two passport sized photos (obtainable at Kinkos, Sears or AAA), proof of U.S. citizenship and a valid form of photo identification. Make sure to allow for at least 6 weeks between your passport application and your departure date. If you already have a passport, make sure it is valid for at least 6 months after your return from abroad.

In many countries, a visa is not required for U.S. citizens traveling less than 90 days. In countries that do require a visa, you can typically fill out a form upon arrival for a small fee and receive a one month visa. Some countries in Africa and Asia require visas prior to arrival and for that, you’ll need to pay a visit to the country’s nearest embassy. Travelers staying longer than 90 days in any one country must procure a visa through a work or school program.

Once all of your documentation is in order, make copies of your passport, identification, itineraries or any confirmation papers you may be traveling with. Keep the originals on you at all times and keep the copies safely locked in your hotel room.

Staying Healthy

Before you leave, check to see if your health insurance is valid outside of the country. Most policies will not cover you when traveling abroad, and you will need to purchase separate travel insurance. Policies are pretty reasonable in price as long as you are traveling for less than 30 days, and give the added bonus of some luggage protection as well. You can purchase travel insurance through a travel agent or look online for a company like Travel Guard or Travel Insure.

You’ll also need to pay a visit to your doctor’s office and let them know where you’re headed. They will be able to advise you of any preventative immunizations or medications you’ll need. For travel to certain parts of South America and Africa, you’ll likely need typhoid and yellow fever immunizations as well as a malaria medication.

The best way to stay healthy when traveling abroad is to eat at reputable establishments, drink bottled water and brand name beverages, wear sunscreen and bring along insect repellent.

Acting like a Local

If you’re not off to visit long lost relatives or a friend studying abroad, then by all means get a guidebook. Any will do, but you’ll want to make sure the book you choose has some key information. Most guidebooks will provide entry requirements, health risks and information about the location. Look for a book that also includes some key phrases in the local language and advice on how to get around in the country. Another thing to consider is the type of traveling you’ll be doing. Looking for adventure? Books like Lonely Planet or Moon Handbooks are always a good choice. Traveling with children? Look for a book specifically designed with children in mind. Hitting the big city? Often you can find books such as Time Out with updated information on the latest restaurants, clubs and exhibits.

Decide prior to departure how you’re going to travel in the country, whether by bus, train, rental car or other means. In some instances, it may be cheaper to purchase a train pass or bus tickets before you go. Europe, for example, has an excellent train system and offers passes at a discounted rate from the United States. By deciding how you are going to travel and sketching out a rough itinerary, you’ll be able to determine the safest and most economical means of getting around.

Keep Out (of this country)

The U.S. government issues warnings for traveling to different parts of the world. These warnings can stem from health concerns or unstable governmental situations. Check the U.S. Department of State, and the National Center for Infectious Diseases, for recent warnings.

Getting There

Most airlines have their own major carriers (British Airways or Virgin for England, Qantas for Australia, Cathay Pacific for China, Japan Airlines, South African Air, Air Canada and so on) and even if you book a flight on, say, American Airlines you may end up on one of these carriers. What does that mean for you?

  • Price: it may be best to check with some of your destination’s major carriers for deals first. Also, using tools such as Expedia and Orbitz will give you a breakdown of the lowest published fares. Another option for deals on international flights may be a travel agent specializing in that region. Agents can sometimes negotiate special rates to certain parts of the world. Flight Centre, a travel agency originating in Australia, has shops around the world and offers a guarantee to give travelers the lowest fares on international travel. This may mean some work for you, as you’ll want to search around to get an idea of the fares first, but if price is what you’re after it may be worth it. Students can check with STA, another world-wide agency specializing in student fares, for great rates on long-term visits.
  • Frequent Fliers: even if you book a flight through another carrier, you may still be able to get credit for your frequent flier miles. Most airlines belong to an alliance, such as Star Alliance or One World Alliance, which partners international airlines for travelers. You can check with your preferred airline to find their international partners.
  • Service: can vary widely from carrier to carrier even in the United States; however, most major international carriers will offer instruction both in English and the local language, will feed you on long flights and provide the basic comforts and amenities. All coach cabins are small, but you may find a little more room on planes designed for international travel.

Bon Voyage

Now that you know the ropes, it's time to get out there and see the world. Choose your destination and make sure to go during a season you'll enjoy. Check for rainy seasons or times heavily populated by tourists. Pack good walking shoes, a rain poncho or umbrella (even paradise can have rainy days, no need to spend them in front of the television), comfortable clothing and sunscreen. Enjoy, and remember that sometimes, the journey is the destination.