7 Steps for Stress-Free International Travel

If you’ve never traveled internationally, or it’s been a while since you have, you may be busy checking passport validity, getting visas, and brushing up on basic phrases in a foreign language. While you’re busy with all these plans, some of the “small things” can fall off the radar until it’s too late. Never fear! We’re here to help you expand your to-do list to include some easy steps you can take to provide you peace of mind, de-stress your trip, and make your experience more positive.

1. Get your home and pets in vacation mode.

Securing your house and a great place for your pets is peace of mind number one for me. If I don’t have to worry about whether our little pup is being treated well or if our house has a giant “No one’s home” target on it, I feel much better about leaving. We’re fortunate to have family that lives in the area that will step in and help us on both accounts. We have house sitters and dog sitters a plenty, which is lucky for us. However, if we didn’t have family nearby, we know we can count on our neighbors to keep an eye on our house and contact us (and the police) if anything is amiss. When it comes to our dog, our only baby, we would do research and site visits before we left him just anywhere. Be sure you give thought to these tasks with plenty of time for research and planning if you’re as particular as I am. If you don’t have pets, and you’re not as concerned about home security, there are still little things you can do to keep from announcing to the world that you’re not home. Consider investing in a few timers and placing lamps, even your television, on them. It gives your home that “someone’s home” vibe without much effort at all.

2. Put mail delivery on vacation.

And on the subject of preventing your home from looking abandoned, holding your mail is a great way to keep your overflowing mailbox from broadcasting your absence. When I was younger, I remember my mom going down to the post office to put in a hold request, and then returning to the post office when we got home to collect the undelivered mail. Well, this isn’t my mother’s mail hold any more. A quick trip to usps.com and less than five minutes, and your mail hold is scheduled with the option to have all accumulated mail delivered on the last day of the hold. Total time saver, and we don’t have to bother our neighbors to collect the mail daily. A mail hold is especially useful when your travel plans last longer than a week, as ours frequently do.

3. Make your phone worldly.

If you want to be able to stay in touch with friends and family (NOT work!), an easy way to do that is to add an international data or texting plan to your existing contract. You can add international calling to your plan as well, but we’ve never found it worth the extra cost. With most people communicating via text these days, and apps like Viber and Magic Jack, it’s a little unnecessary. With our service provider, we’re able to add international data and texting capabilities to our plan just for the month(s) we’ll be traveling, so it’s not a long-term commitment. Call your service provider the month before you travel to check into getting this added if you’re hoping to stay in touch. (Or, pretend you never read this and go off the grid, using lack of service as an excuse for why you didn’t answer that work email or respond to the thirty texts your best friend sent about the latest season of The Bachelor.) It’s definitely worth it—the expense of using a cellphone internationally without adding a plan can become as large as your trip (a lesson learned from an aunt who used her cell phone without an international plan while on safari in Kenya… yowza!).

4. Have card, can travel.

This is critical if you’re planning on using your credit or debit card on the trip (which, these days, who isn’t?), be sure to contact your credit card company and bank. This is actually true now even for even intercontinental! (I learned the hard way—I tried to use my credit card two states over on a road trip, and it was declined. I called the credit card company, and they said they considered it fraudulent because it was two states away. Huh?!) Most credit card companies and banks have reporting capabilities via their website, or you can call the 800 number on the back of your card. Be sure you report any stops along the way in addition to your final destination(s). A layover in Belgium could be less fun if your credit card is declined when you’re in the process of buying a delicious waffle or drool-worthy chocolate.

5. Get that cash.

This is a less common practice these days, but it can make landing in a foreign country a little less stressful. You don’t have to worry about standing in line at the currency exchange booths that may or may not charge high exchange rates. Instead, you can step off the plane, grab your bags, and go. While credit cards are a primary pay method, having some cash is helpful for tips, street vendors, and other cash-only situations. We always like to have at least a little cash on hand, and our bank usually charges less than a percent transaction fee.

6. Become an internationally-known driver.

If you’re planning on renting a car and driving in a foreign destination, an international driver’s license is handy. Some countries require it for anyone planning to drive a rental car, while other countries will accept your US driver’s license. You’ll want to check your destination to see what form of driver ID is acceptable. However, the process to apply and receive an international driver’s license is so easy that it’s worth getting one regardless of the policy in the country you’re visiting. A walk-in visit to your local AAA branch will have you walking out with an international driver’s license in as little as 15 minutes. Visit their website ahead of time to complete the application, and bring it, your driver’s license, and $20 permit fee to a convenient branch, and voila! You’ve gotten an added layer of identification and protection that’s good for one year.

7. Leave adult responsibility behind

This is something my accountant husband always has on his list, thankfully, because I would not think about this until it was too late. When we travel for weeks at a time, the chances that bills will come due is greater than if we’re just gone for a week. About a week ahead of travel, Tim will go online to check the bills that will come due while we’re gone and schedule automatic payments through our bank for those bills that aren’t already automatically paid. For fluctuating expenses, Tim will guesstimate the payment, always erring on the side of too much. If he overpays, our account will just be credited for the following month. It’s not like you can’t pay bills online from most destinations that have an Internet connection, it’s just that your connection may not be secure if/when you remember to check on the bills. When you’re having so much fun and seeing so many amazing things, it’s easy for real life to slip your mind. And why not let them slip your mind? It makes vacation a lot more fun. 😉

We’ve been checking through this list ourselves the last few days in prep for our next big adventure. Are there any we’ve forgotten? Let us know in the comments section!

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