So you've booked your dream vacation and you're counting down the days until take off. Now what? Here are the top 5 things you should do prior to take-off.
1. Travel Insurance/Trip Cancellation Insurance
If you booked your trip through a travel consultant like myself, he or she probably told you about the importance of purchasing a travel insurance/cancellation policy for peace of mind. If you're traveling domestically and already have a health insurance policy you're mostly in the clear. However, if you're traveling abroad, it makes sense to take out an insurance policy as the quality of medical care and facilities abroad can vary and they sometimes won't treat you unless you can prove that you can pay for their services. With travel insurance, you'll have that peace of mind.
On the other hand, if you've invested a substantial sum of money on your trip you may want to take out a trip cancellation policy in case of unplanned scenarios prior to your vacation. If you break a leg, or worse, prior to your departure date you may be able to recoup all or some of your trip expenses should you need to cancel. Coverage and policies vary so it’s best to do your research or talk with your online travel professional.
2. Visa Requirements
If traveling internationally it is important to check the visa requirements for the country that you are visiting on the US Department of State website.
A lot of countries have agreements with the US that don't require you to obtain a visa but there are many that do. Some visas can be obtained on arrival at the country you are visiting but unfortunately some require additional planning and must be acquired prior to boarding a plane. If you work with a skilled travel professional they can help guide you through this process.
3. Get Vaccinated
Again, if you're traveling internationally, it's important to confirm which vaccinations are necessary for the country you're visiting. To find out more information on vaccine requirements you can check out the CDC website.
Careful planning is necessary when getting vaccines as certain injections need to be completed at least 30 days prior to travel, if not longer. A lot of people skip this step however it is important if you want to remain healthy while traveling abroad. The good news about vaccinations is that once you are vaccinated from certain illnesses you won't require the vaccination again for your next trip. Most vaccinations last anywhere from 5 to 10 years and some offer lifetime protection.
4. Check for Travel Alerts and Warnings
Before traveling internationally it's also a good idea to check The Department of Homeland Security website prior to leaving. The website provides helpful information on short term travel alerts in the country or region that you may be visiting. The site also provides longer-term travel warnings for the places that you may simply want to avoid to remain safe.
If you are traveling for an extended period of time it is also a good idea to register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program with the US Department of State. This program registers you with the nearest US embassy or consulate and notifies you of any safety or security information in your destination.
5. Call Your Financial Institutions/Confirm Fees
To ensure that you have access to cash and your credit cards abroad it's important to inform your financial institutions when you will be traveling. Otherwise you could be in for an unpleasant surprise when you try to use your credit cards abroad. Trust me, I speak from firsthand experience!! I called my credit card company before traveling but didn't inform them of all the cities that I'd be visiting during my trip and my credit card was denied during my layover at the Dubai Airport. It is a best practice to include all countries you will be stopping in, including layovers. Another best practice is to include a day or two buffer after your return date to account for any cancelled or missed flights.
Bonus tip: Get a second checking account! This tip applies especially if you're traveling solo or with friends and not necessarily with a significant other that you share accounts with. For my trip to Thailand I opened a separate checking account to avoid paying fees when taking out money. While shopping at one of the many malls in Bangkok I stopped to take out some money and unlike the ATMs that I was used to back home the machine held on to my card during the entire transaction. After the machine dispensed my money I walked away happy to have avoided paying surcharges. That happiness what short lived when I realized upon arrive on Koh Samui that my debit card was back on the mainland. Thankfully, I had the debit card from my regular bank so I still had access to liquid currency while traveling and all hope wasn't lost.
In 2007 I decided to move to Paris for seven months and I ended up staying for almost three years (that's a whole other story). When I first broke the news to friends and family most were very excited and happy for me and promised to visit. My maternal unit on the other hand was having none of it. She even told me outright that I wouldn't see her again unless I came back to New York.
A few weeks prior to leaving my maternal unit excitedly showed me her first ever passport but insisted that she wasn't going to use it to visit me (yeah, ok mom). Fast forward to the spring 2008 and the maternal unit was planning to be visit me in Paris for almost three weeks. I don't care how amazing your relationship is with your mother is, three weeks alone with no buffer and no plan could be disastrous. So plan I did!
I came up with an itinerary that would show her all the amazing sites Paris has to offer, including climbing the steps to Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur and the Arch de Triumphe. From Paris we would travel to Rome for a few days where we encountered a transit strike and managed to haggle a deal on a new wheeled suitcase from a street vendor. We ate gelato almost every day, saw all the amazing sights and she even encouraged me to take a very much prohibited photo of the Sistine Chapel. After Rome we headed to Barcelona a city which the maternal unit absolutely fell in love with. She tasted her first paella, enjoyed strolls along Las Ramblas and was blown away by the colors, scents and different produce at La Boqueria Market and we both viewed in awe the breathtaking architecture oh Gaudi.
On our flights back to Paris, after about 10 days of travel she was already asking where we would be going next. This from the woman who had never traveled internationally previously and had no plans to visit me in Europe. And with that initial trip we've started a tradition that has taken us to Greece, Croatia, Morocco, Turkey, Vietnam, and Tanzania. Some people may find it odd to travel with one's parent as an adult but these trips have been life changing in so many amazing ways and I wouldn't change it for the world.