Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or just starting out, it’s easy to forget the many to-do’s that must be completed before traveling. We have to make sure all of our reservations are confirmed, coordinate transportation, flight times and, make sure we’ve packed everything amongst other nitty-gritty details. But, as I’ve been perusing the various travel groups I’m a part of, I’ve noticed people neglecting, forgetting or just unaware of some of the most important tasks. I wanted to not only list out those crucial to-do’s, but reinforce why they’re important and outline any necessary steps.
1. Understand Passport Validity Rules
The biggest and most costly thing I see people overlooking is the expiration date on their passport. As a general rule, your passport should have at least 6 months of validity when planning to travel. Meaning, your passport must not be set to expire before 6 months after the final day of travel, so if you’re planning to travel in March 2019 but your passport expires in August 2019, most countries will not permit you to travel. You will be permitted to book your trip or even purchase a visa, but you will either be turned away at your gate day of travel or if by some small chance you make it on the plane, will be sent back to your home country immediately upon your arrival. This mistake becomes costly as you either have to forfeit your entire itinerary or rush to get an expedited passport which has a $60 expedited service fee on top of normal passport fees. This rule is in place so that travelers do not extend their stay in a foreign country beyond their passport validity.
As a clarification, your passport does remain valid until the date of expiration, but as you can see above, that does not necessarily permit travel, which begs the question, “how does it even make sense?”
This easily avoidable mistake just begs for your attention to detail, knowing what country you’re visiting, their passport laws, and your expiration date. Processing for a new passport, when not expedited, typically takes 4-6 weeks so factor this into your planning.
Click HERE for a list of countries that follow the six-month passport rule as well as steps to renewing your passport and other important rules that certain countries have regarding passports. There are some countries that only require 3 months of validity post-travel and some countries simply request that your passport be valid upon entry, a quick google search of your destination will keep you well informed and over-prepared.
2. Check The Vaccine Requirements
There is so much controversy currently regarding vaccinations and vaccine requirements, this platform does not seek to debate or encourage, instead inform travelers of different vaccine requirements or recommendations so that they can make their own, well-informed decisions. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) lists vaccination requirements for travelers on their website. Every time I am planning a trip I review the CDC’s recommendations for my own health and also to be sure that whatever country I am visiting does not bar travelers who do not have the required vaccines.
Visit the CDC’s Website, found HERE, and determine what country you are visiting and optionally, what type of traveler you consider yourself. The website will then display a list of required and recommended vaccines, with descriptions each, why it is recommended, and other important details or information. There is also a disclaimer to speak to your primary care provider/doctor. The bottom of every search will also display other health and safety tips, including travel notices and, a healthy travel packing list.
Find HERE a list of countries that require the Yellow Fever vaccine for entry into their country as well as other vaccine recommendations and requirements. Some countries like Angola require a yellow fever certificate be presented in order to gain entry into their country, in addition to other requirements that may be applicable, like visas.
3. Understand the Visa Requirements
A quick google search or visiting the US Dept Of State Site will outline all important details of the country you’ll be visiting, including whatever the visa and entry/exit requirements are. Some countries such as Russia, have an extensive and time-consuming visa process while others don’t require a visa from US travelers. Some visas are more expensive than others and some must be applied for and purchased before your travels while others are purchased upon arrival to destination. When visiting Cuba, I arrived at the airport 3 hours early in order to clear airport security and wait in line to apply for and receive my Visa. When planning to visit Egypt, I applied for and received my visa in advance, but had the option to purchase upon arrival at the Egyptian airport.
Visas range in their price ($10 USD to over $100 USD) and also in their length of validity. Not having the proper visa requirements can bar your entry into your destination country.
4. Set Up a Travel Notice With Your Bank (credit card)
Most banking institutions have some sort of fraud protection to protect themselves and their consumers. If they notice suspicious transactions, such as an unfamiliar location or unusually large amount, they have the ability to decline transactions, leaving many travelers without access to their funds. Though this is extremely frustrating and inconvenient, it is understandable why these institutions do this. To avoid this, I set up a travel notice with two of my travel cards EVERY single time I travel. Whether I am going domestically on a work trip or abroad for vacation, I notify my bank. Though it is still possible to have some purchases declined after alerting your bank, the likelihood is significantly less and you’ll have less hassle.
How Do I Set Up a Travel Notice? Dependent upon your bank you can do this easily either via a phone call or online/mobile banking app.
I have, what I’d like to consider the best travel card available, Chase Sapphire (Use my link to sign up if you’re interested, or check out my post on travel cards HERE), and so I can use the app to set up all of my travel notifications up to a year in advance. You simply indicate your travel dates and any countries/cities/states that you will be visiting during that time period. I also have a PNC credit and debit card that I use as a backup card and I can either use their mobile banking app to set up an identical travel notice or call their customer service number.
I’ve been with travelers whose cards have been declined because they neglected to notify their bank and it was not fun for them or for me, who had to cover their expenses until they could straighten out their situation.
5. Register with the US Embassy
This is most certainly a personal choice, I know a lot of travelers who forgo this option, but it can be of good use. The US Embassy has created a free service, Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) for US citizens and nationals to register their upcoming travels. Travelers who register through STEP can be more easily reached and accounted for in the event of an emergency such as natural disaster or civil unrest. The Embassy sends important information on your destination country’s conditions and any important updates that will help to determine travel plans.
This can be useful especially for those who are traveling to or through war-torn countries or areas that are high targets for terrorism, though, unfortunate incidents can happen anywhere. To register your next trip, please visit the link HERE.
Note: Most of the situations described above would NOT be covered under normal travel insurance policies to receive reimbursement to rebook flights, for missed excursions or other travel incidentals.
Traveling and travel planning should be an enjoyable, learning experience full of new experiences, different foods, and connecting with new cultures, it should not be stressful. Following the tips outlined above should, as a part of your travel to-do list, help ease and organize the process.