8 Things to know before you leave for your trip abroad
I recently went on "holiday" in Ireland and Scotland. My husband, his family, and I went to visit my sister-in-law who is living in Dublin for work, and did plenty of sight-seeing over the course of the 10 days we were there. Our destinations included Dublin, Howth, County Wicklow, The Cliffs of Moher, and Edinburgh, Scotland, to name a few. As a travel newb, (My international travel before this trip included Montreal for Space Camp in 9th grade and a service trip to Jamaica in college) there were a few things I learned along the way and in retrospect that may be helpful to you if you are planning to travel internationally. These 8 items are by no means an all-inclusive list of things to know, but it is a start.
#1. Apply for your passport far in advance. This is probably a no-brainer to most, but it’s one of those things you don’t know until you know. It takes 6-8 weeks for a passport application to process, but it is risky to wait until the last minute on the off-chance that something goes wrong. When I applied for my passport, I got my rejected application back three weeks with an additional page to fill out (I lost my student passport from 2009 and never reported it missing). Then, I had to send it back out and wait an additional 6-8 weeks. Had I not given myself enough time before my planned excursion, this small error would have been a disaster. Give yourself plenty of time so you don’t have to stress about it.
#2. A power adaptor and a power converter are two different things, and you may need both. An adaptor fits into foreign outlets (which are shaped differently than American ones) and allows you to plug anything in. If you don’t have an adaptor, you won’t be able to charge anything. If you are planning on bringing a hair dryer, flat iron, or curling iron, you also need a converter. A converter is different than an adaptor, because it actually changes the voltage coming out of the electrical socket. Without a converter, your hairdryer will quickly become a flamethrower. Not really. But maybe. I spent about $30 on a set that included both an adaptor and a converter, but if you only need the adaptor you can get one on Amazon for less than $10.
#3. Exchange your currency at the bank before you leave. I had100 US dollars in my pocket when I landed in Dublin when it dawned upon me that my dingy American currency was no good to me in Ireland. Luckily, international airports have currency exchange booths but they charge a fee (sometimes as much as $15-$20 USD) so you lose money in the exchange. If you can, go to your bank before your trip and exchange your currency there in order to avoid heightened exchange fees.
#4. If you plan on using credit/debit cards, make sure your bank knows you are going abroad. My husband and I learned this one the hard way. Within 48 hours of being in Ireland, all of our cards started getting declined because the bank flagged our international spending as “fraudulent.” Although I am grateful our cards are frozen when the bank suspects fraud, in our case, there was no fraud, just my husband and I trying to enjoy a few pints at a pub! If you tell your bank beforehand where and when you plan on traveling, you can avoid this debacle.
#5. Select your plane seats ahead of time. Oftentimes airlines charge a small fee to select your seats ahead of time, and if you have flying anxiety like me, it is definitely worth shelling out twenty bucks to be able to sit next to your loved ones (and ensure you aren't sitting next to someone with smelly feet or a habit of taking up more space than is theirs). If you wait until the day of, chances are you won’t be able to sit next to anyone you know. The time you want to look out for the option to select your seat is either during initial booking or checking-in the day before.
#6. Arrange for a phone plan overseas. This is another thing I neglected to do as a travel novice. When we landed in Dublin, I pulled out my phone to Snapchat my mom (obviously), but nothing on my phone was working. It was like the bloody dark ages! If you want international data, you need to either buy a Sim Card or arrange with your carrier (preferably ahead of time). I ended up not being able to use my phone much while abroad, which ended up being a blessing in disguise (though mildly inconvenient at times.)
#7. Figure out how you could get medical care if you needed it. This one may seem excessively cautious, but given my recent experience I will definitely be doing this in the future. The second day of our trip, I woke up with strep throat (let’s face it-airports are basically international cesspools). I started to panic, but luckily in Dublin it was easy to find a walk-in clinic, and a few hours and €100 later, I was on my way to Howth with penecillin in hand. Had I not been able to see a doctor, the whole trip would have been ruined for me.
#8. Consider investing in travel insurance. I’ll admit, this is not something I would have even considered before this trip but unfortunately, the airline lost my checked luggage on my return flight and I have yet to be reuinted with it. I have been in constant contact with the airline (ahem… Norwegian) and my bag has still not been located. I’m starting to get the idea it was cast into the abyss. Aside from all of my clothes being in there, my most-worn shoes, toiletries, hair products, etc….my brand new Macbook was in there too. Ouch.
Happy Travels! Now for some pictures from the trip: