Travel Tips

Your Checklist for International Travel

Locations in this article:  Mumbai, India Paris, France

Preparing for a big international trip means getting credit cards and foreign money in order. But smart travelers know you also need to prepare for anything. Contributing writer Margaret Magnus has been traveling internationally since the 1970s and has visited 24 countries. She’s been delayed by a volcanic eruption, foiled by an Arctic freeze, and even fell off a camel in the Sahara Desert

While she and her husband prepare for a hiking trip through the Czech Republic, Hungary, and the Balkans, she narrowed down the top five things smart travelers must do when planning for a trip abroad. 

Banking & Credit Cards

moneyIf you’re an international traveler planning on using a Visa or MasterCard, you already know to call customer service to tell them of your travel dates and the countries you are visiting. You don’t want the inconvenience of your credit card being denied.

Generally, we use credit cards for most of our transactions, and take the cash we think we will need for our trip. However, for our upcoming trip to Eastern Europe, many of the smaller restaurants, museums, and tour guides prefer cash. Some will even give you a cash discount.

We made another call to our bank to discuss our travel plans, fees, and the daily cash limit for the ATM to make sure we’ll have access to cash during our trip. Also, it could help to identify your bank’s “partner banks.” Using a partner bank may eliminate or reduce some of your ATM transaction costs.

Speaking of cash, for Visa or MasterCard you can set a PIN number for your credit card to get cash while traveling. If you do, ask about interest rates. We got quotes ranging from 19 percent to 25 percent, and the interest starts immediately. Amex cardholders have a Global Assist Hotline program to call if you need cash or help while traveling more than 100 miles from your home base.

Speaking of credit cards, some cards charge foreign transaction fees and others do not. It may behoove you to get a credit card that does not have these fees.

Credit Card Registry

In the “be prepared” category, it is important to take the domestic and international customer service and/or fraud telephone numbers for your credit and bank cards in case they are lost or stolen.

Better yet, find a registry and register your credit cards, passport, visas, and driver’s license. That way, if anything is lost or stolen, you only have one phone number. I chose 1-800-Hotline, mostly because it is easy to remember the phone number. Now, before we go on a trip, I call or go online to make sure all our information is correct and up to date.

International Calling

PHoneNow that phones are more than phones, it seems almost impossible to travel without one. Otherwise, how will I easily get the directions to this out-of-the-way restaurant that comes highly recommended? What if there is an emergency and my husband needs to coordinate a medical evacuation? That actually happened when I fell off a camel in Morocco.

We researched several options for international phone calling, and ended up on getting an international package from Verizon for the length of our trip. By the way, we extended the international phone end date to beyond the actual end of our trip. We never know what could delay our trip—such as an Arctic freeze in the Southern part of the US (2014) or a volcano erupting on Greenland (2010).

Speaking of smartphones, I added all contact information for our hotels, tour guides, and credit card numbers in my phone contact list.

Also, I doubled checked the information on my smartphone charger to make sure it could handle different volts and packed a set of adapters.

Travel Insurance

When you need emergency medical care and/or medical evacuation insurance or trip interruption insurance, it is worth all the years you paid for it and didn’t use it. When I fell off a camel in Morocco, the air evacuation alone was $24,000–that was by private jet with medical personnel. The insurance company coordinated all the medical care and transportation from the Sahara Desert to the American Hospital in Paris.

Plus, we were reimbursed for two weeks of travel we had paid for and couldn’t use for three people.

We never travel internationally without travel insurance. It could be something exotic like a camel fall in the Sahara or something ordinary like slipping in the shower in Italy. Ask for recommendations from your tour company, your travel agent, or go online and shop around. Don’t skimp on emergency evacuation.

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a service for US citizens traveling abroad to register their trips with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Yes, it is giving the U.S. government more information about me, but then again, if there is a terrorist attack in my hotel, I want the U.S. government to know I’m there. We enrolled in this program because we stayed the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, India, in the early 1990s and 2000s.  Fortunately, we missed the attack on that hotel in 2008, but it gave us the impetus to take this step.

To read more about being prepared before you travel, check out:

By Margaret Magnus for