You are super excited! You’ve booked your first trip abroad. You have your tickets, the most fabulous place to stay, and you have your list of what to do and see all ready to go.
There is nothing more exciting than that first international trip. I remember when Charlie and I took our first trip to Honduras. We had no idea what we were doing much less what we needed to do when we arrived there or returned home. It was at that time that I realized I did not do my homework on international travel and everything that goes along with it.
Now that we have traveled internationally multiple times, we are old pros! Not really, but we do have some tips on ways to make your time in the airport go a little smoother as well as rest a bit easier during the trip. Who wants to be stressed on vacation? Not us!
1. Share Your Plans
My mother-in-law was quite a world traveler for many years. She had traveled to China, Russia, Nova Scotia, Costa Rica, even the Galapagos Islands. Every time she traveled, she would send us a copy of her itinerary since she was always on a tour of some sort. That put us at ease knowing that should something happen, we knew where she was at any given time during her trip.
That being said, share your travel plans with a close family member or friend. When traveling abroad, you cannot be too careful, and should something happen, it’s important that someone knows your plans. Even if your family cannot reach you directly, they can contact the location where you are staying and get a message to you.
Another tip that I cannot stress enough is to take a picture of your passport with your smartphone and email it to yourself and your emergency contact. Imagine being in a foreign country and losing your passport! Ugh, what an awful thought!
How would you get home if you didn’t have a passport? Sure, you could go to the embassy in whatever country you are in, but you still need a way to identify yourself, and many people don’t take both their driver’s license and passport when traveling abroad. Being able to pull up the image can make a difference in how long it takes to get a replacement and be able to move along with your vacation and make it home easily.
2. Use Mobile Passport App
Who likes to stand in the U.S. Customs lines at the airport after a long flight? M.E. – said nobody ever! That is why you need to download the Mobile Passport app onto your phone or tablet.
Mobile Passport is an app that allows you to forgo the paperwork that is typically needed to re-enter the U.S. by uploading the needed information from your phone or tablet directly to U.S. Customs. It is currently at 25 airports and three cruise ship ports in the U.S. and continues to expand every month. Once you have set up your identity, you only need to make changes in your passport information changes due to marriage, expiration, and so on.
While you are on your flight home, you enter all the information into the app as if you were completing the Customs documents that you normally get towards the end of the flight. Once you are at the gate, even before you get off the plane, you log into wifi, upload the information to Customs, and head to the re-entry area. The great thing about Mobile Passport is that while everyone else is standing at the kiosks entering their information and waiting, you are zipping through to the next available agent and for entry.
The app is completely free and can is available for apple or android products through the app stores. You can read more about the app at MobilePassport.us. It’s super easy and a definite timesaver for sure.
We have used it on every international trip we have been on and cannot say enough how great it is to pass those long lines at the airport when we get home.
3. Pre-Entry Registration
The more destinations become tourist hotspots, the more modernization their airports go through, including their Customs area. I can remember our first trip to Roatan and how shocked we were at the condition of their airport. It wasn’t deplorable, but it wasn’t state of the art. Over the years, the airport has been slowly improving.
Many countries, including Honduras, now give travelers the option to pre-register for entry before they even get on a plane. Some even require it, such as the U.K. It’s a great program that, in essence, helps the process go faster once you get to the customs agent in a foreign country. In Honduras, for example, we have pre-registered for every trip, and our time spent in line with customs is minimal.
While there is no one-stop-shop online that covers every country and their entry requirements, there are ways to find out it the country has pre-entry registration options. By doing an online search for immigration and entry rules for the country you are planning on visiting, you should be able to locate whether or not that country participates in the program. You can also locate the information through the country’s immigration office website.
4. Learn Basic Words
Do you know the old saying, “When In Rome”? That holds true when it comes to travel. While it may not be feasible to learn an entire language before you take your trip, it is helpful to learn some basic words.
Many times, those who work in tourist destinations speak both their native language as well as English and maybe one of a neighboring country. What about you, the traveler?
I have always been one to over-analyze things, Charlie can attest to that. This is one case, however, where my overthinking comes in handy. Consider this, you’re sightseeing in the country, far away from the high volume tourist area and you get sick and need a doctor. Do you know where or how to find one? While the symbol for medical assistance is universal, the language is not.
Knowing a few basic words in the native tongue of your destination can not only be helpful but also endear you to the locals. Locals love hearing tourists speak their language and make an effort to converse with them. Learning basic words such as doctor, police, bus, phone, and so on can come in handy. Not to mention, you can sometimes find the best places to eat by asking the locals.
5. Currency Exchange
Nothing can ruin a dream vacation faster than money issues. Whether it’s running out of money or finding out after you arrive that your destination does not accept your form of currency. That is why it is always a good idea to do some research before you depart on what currency accepted at your destination. Travelers Checks are also a good idea if you do not want to travel with a credit card. Most are protected if lost versus if you lose your cash, it’s gone forever.
While many large cities may accept the currency you carry, whether it’s the U.S. dollar, Euro, etc., you can’t be so sure that the little village you are visiting will. Some of the smaller villages and towns may not accept foreign currency as they may not have the capacity to convert it. Perhaps they are remote and don’t have a large city nearby where they can sell the currency. That is why it’s always a good idea to have some of the local currency with you, so when you go to buy that perfect souvenir, you don’t run into any issues.
The same goes for credit cards. While the larger resorts and cities will pretty much be good taking major credit cards such as Visa, Mastercard, and Amex, those small-town merchants may not even have the capability to process them. Not to mention, they may not want to give up the processing fee that goes with each transaction. They are, after all, small-town merchants just trying to make a living.
Ultimately, the only thing that makes the difference between having an amazing trip and a stress-filled trip is preparation. With a little planning and some research, you can have a relaxing vacation filled with beautiful, stress-free memories.