15 Things You Forgot (Besides Packing) Before Going Abroad
Your secret survival list for an easy transition abroad.
As the days until you leave for your next adventure abroad continue to shrink, you might find yourself checking things off your to do list one by one. In addition to packing clothes and other necessities, there’s another list of to-do items that you should remember to complete before jumping on your plane for the adventure of your lifetime.
1. Double check your passport and check visa requirements. Before you leave, it is a must to check the expiration date of your passport. The State Department and other travel experts recommend that your passport will expire no earlier than six months after your trip, just to be on the safe side. In fact, some countries have updated their requirements so they won’t even let you in if your passport expires in six months. This means you’ll want to check the data early enough so you can order a renewal in time. You’ll also need to check individual visa requirements for each country you plan to visit. Typically, as long as you’re not working and will be in the country for less than 90 days, you don’t need a visa.
2. Call your credit card company and notify them about your travel plans. Although the U.S. was a bit slow on the uptake, we’ve luckily started implementing the chip-and-pin card here like much of the rest of the world uses. If you don’t currently have one before you leave, talk to your bank about getting a complimentary upgrade. An RFID protected case would also be helpful for this card to guard against thieves stealing your information from the card. Choosing a credit card that waives international transaction fees is also incredibly helpful.
3. Set up a separate debit card and checking account for study abroad. I did this last time I traveled to Europe and found my bank (Wells Fargo) made it incredibly easy to set up and then close my new account upon my return. It gave me a peace of mind and I had my parents transfer money to my account as needed throughout the trip. That way, even if I happened to lose my debit card or had it stolen, it was separated from the rest of my hard-earned money and I didn’t risk thieves stealing my information from wifi logins.
4. Make photocopies of all travel documents and itineraries. In addition to placing an extra copy of my passport in my carry-on bag and other necessary itineraries, it might be useful to use a cloud drive as a backup as well. Not the fluffy white things you’ll fly through, but the Cloud with a capital C. Before you leave, save PDF versions of all reservations, tickets, and other important documents in your Cloud account just in case you need to access them on the spot. Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and Yahoo Dropbox are all free Cloud accounts you can set up and have access to anywhere with an internet connection. Just be careful with storing personal information on the Cloud since someone might access your account when you connect to a public wifi spot.
5. Order euros (or whatever currency you need) to take before arriving. It’s a much better option to order the country’s local currency before you leave for your trip from your bank. *DO NOT EXCHANGE CURRENCY AT AN AIRPORT, TRAIN STATION, ETC.* unless you have to–you will lose money. Fees tend to be much higher and exchange rates much worse compared to your bank. Plus when you first arrive, you never know what you might need to buy that will require cash instead of a card. Although credit cards tend to be pretty standard around the world, cash is used much more often abroad than it is in America.
6. Weigh the pros and cons of purchasing a travel pass. Many travel blogs and pins constantly remind you of the beauty of purchasing a rail pass like a Eurail Pass for Europe. However, while you might hear plenty of people raving about how much money they saved with the pass, it is not for everyone or every trip. For example, if you plan on staying local in a single country, it might be better to look into the country’s rail pass, like the Carte Jeune in France for 18-25 year olds. Remember that there are different country, travel time, and types of trains restrictions on general passes like the Eurail Pass. For example, you might not be able to book a seat on a high-speed train since it’s only available for purchase that day, or you have to pay a reservation fee on top of the pass cost. And these passes can get expensive–they typically start at $330 or more. It might be cheaper to buy point-to-point tickets beforehand, rather than buying a rail pass. If it does work for you, just be sure to order one plenty of time before you leave, since most passes need to be delivered to the U.S.
7. Check medical insurance and vaccinations. Some universities will cover student medical insurance while abroad at low prices. Check with your local study abroad office if you’re still a student going abroad. If your university doesn’t have a provider already contacted, they usually have good resources to point you to. If not, check with your current provider or look into travel insurance companies. Also be sure to visit a doctor and check for any additional vaccinations that you might need while travelling specifically for each country.
8. Consider buying international minutes and data. These days, nobody goes anywhere without their smartphones, even to the bathroom. International plans might be worth it depending on how long you’re going abroad and where you’re going. For me, a one month study abroad program where my school and homestay had wifi did not seem worth it. Even for the two extra weeks I traveled afterwards, I didn’t think a $40 monthly plan from Verizon was worth it with only 100 text messages and 100 MB of data. After talking with my parents, I decided to rely on wifi instead and use data only as needed. Plus, wifi is quickly growing to be a common feature of businesses, especially in Europe.
9. Download wifi-based messaging apps. Not to get into the whole iPhone vs. Android debate, but having an iPhone does come with some advantages when going abroad. For example, you can still send texts to family and friends with iPhones through iMessage just using wifi. However, even if your phone doesn’t initially come with this feature or you have to deal with that one friend who makes a group message green (you know who you are), there are plenty of free text messaging apps available for download to your smartphone that only need wifi to connect with others like WhatsApp, Viber and WeChat.
10. Set up a Skype account. Using Skype or FaceTime can be a primary way of talking with family and friends besides texting. Making FaceTime Audio calls on your iPhone (using wifi) are also a great way to make a pseudo phone call to a friend or family member for free.
11. Clean up phone storage for pictures and music. Sadly, iPhones really do not have enough storage to hold pictures and music and other apps. So, try downloading all pictures, notes, and contacts to your computer that you won’t need for your trip and deleted them off your phone. This should leave enough storage for new pictures and a little bit of music to listen to while travelling.
12. Purchase extra cloud storage for your photos. In addition to a general clean up of your phone, I highly recommend purchasing additional cloud storage space for photos while abroad. I upgraded from the free 5 GB of iCloud storage space to 20 GB for the month I was abroad for only $0.99 a month, and it helped me save a lot of important memories I didn’t want to lose. Plus, when you come back and download all the pictures for safe keeping, it’s pretty easy to downgrade to the free plan again.
13. Pay your bills. Thankfully, I don’t have too many bills to deal with while I’m abroad, but I made sure to pay off all of my university, credit card, and any other bills I had before I left. I can’t imagine anything worse than coming back home with a big pile of bills and late fees to tackle after catching a 12-hour redeye flight.
14. Buy a gift for your host family. Many people suggest buying a gift for your host family (if you’re staying with one) that is unique to your home state or country. It shows your gratitude for them for offering their home up and shows them what your life back at home is like. Plus, it’s a good space saver in your suitcase to make room for the things you’ll buy while abroad. Popular items include postcards of your city, tshirts, coffee mugs and other small trinkets.
15. Check your luggage. Finally, it’s time to start packing! Make sure to double-check your suitcase and bag for any sharp items, liquids, and extra things you can leave at home to save space and weight. You do not want to explain to a TSA agent how you just forgot to remove scissors you forgot were in your suitcase. If you plan to fly for weekend travel dates while abroad, make sure to check their baggage and weight restrictions as their measurements are often stricter and different from American airlines. Particularly for discount airlines like RyanAir in Europe, the fees they tack on for overweight and oversize luggage can jack up the price so it’s actually not a cheaper flight for you. Make sure all of your clothes are clean, rolled tightly, and packed up, put your liquids in the regulation plastic bag, and you’re good to go.
Now, go see the world!