BEFORE YOU LEAVE
Buy Travel Insurance. You've just spent thousands of dollars on your vacation. What happens if you or a member of your group have to cancel or interrupt your trip because of illness or a death in the family? Most medical insurance providers don't cover you outside the United States. Travel insurance gives you peace of mind. If you have medical insurance, car insurance, and home insurance, then you should purchase travel insurance for the same reason-coverage in case something does happen.
Make a things-to-do checklist. There are a lot of things to remember before going on a trip so it's best just to write them down and check things off as you get closer to your trip.
Check your Passport expiration date. Make sure that at the time you go on your trip, your passport has at least six months left on it before it reaches its expiration date. Some countries may not accept your passport if there are less than six months left before it reaches the expiration date.
Check to see if a visa is required. For U.S. citizens, some countries require a visa in addition to a passport. There are fees for visas and they can take several days to obtain, so allow yourself enough time.
Consult with your doctor regarding recommended vaccines. Check the CDC page that is listed on the Travel Resources tab. Possible shots/vaccines/pills include those for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Tetanus, Yellow Fever, Typhoid Fever, Malaria, and the flu.
Check your medicine cabinet. Look at the expiration dates of your medicines and if they've gone past their expiration date, replenish them.
Weigh your luggage. You can purchase a small luggage scale at your local luggage store or use a scale you currently have at home. Most airlines charge you for the first 50 pounds and charge you an additional fee for luggage over 50 pounds. It's best to allow yourself a few pounds for gifts/souvenirs.
Take Non-stop vs. Direct flights. Non-stop flights go from Point A to Point B with no stops in-between and are the fastest way of getting to your destination. Direct flights will have at least one stop. The flight # doesn't change and you don't have to change planes but you are still making at least one stop. If you have to change planes, then it's a connecting flight. Non-stop flights may be more expensive (which is not always true), but they are the least stressful option.
Make sure the name on your travel documents matches the name on your passport and driver's license. If not, you may not be allowed to leave or enter a country. This is especially important if you've recently been married or divorced.
Check the electricity requirements. An adaptor plug is usually required in a foreign country. You may also need a convertor/transformer but these are usually not needed to charge smaller items like smart phones or camera batteries.
Use a money belt. The best money belts are the ones that go under your clothes, making them inaccessible to pickpockets. Don't keep any cash, credit cards, or smartphones in your back pockets.
Exchange a small amount of foreign currency. Airports probably have the worst exchange rates so exchange a small amount of currency at your local bank before you leave so that you have enough for cab or bus fare when you arrive. Once you arrive at your destination, compare currency exchange rates at your hotel, banks, and at stand-alone currency exchange places.
Bring lithium batteries (for cameras/camcorders) with you on the plane. Airlines will not permit lithium batteries to be checked in due to potential fire hazards. Keep each battery in a separate plastic bag and tape over the terminals.
Bring extra batteries and memory cards. If you're going on a long vacation, how ever many memory cards you think you need for your cameras/camcorders-double it. Even though you will most likely be able to charge your batteries, consider bringing extra batteries as a back-up.
Buy some cargo pants. Cargo pants have two front pockets on both sides. The lower pockets make it convenient to carry camcorders and point-and-shoot cameras with you.
Invest in some noise-cancelling headphones. They can eliminate much of the plane noise that you normally hear, adding to your music listening pleasure.
Call your credit card companies and bank. Let them know where and when you'll be going on vacation so that when new credit card charges or cash withdrawals appear on your account, they won't think your cards were stolen.
Get an international phone plan. You can pay a certain amount for phone calls, texts and internet which will save you money in the long run. Be careful about using local Wi-Fi when you travel. It's easy for people to steal your information from your phone or laptop so try to avoid doing any financial transactions on these devices.
Lighten your wallet. Leave at home any cards that you won't be using, whether it be department store credit cards, AAA card (if you're not renting a car), grocery store cards, etc.
Pay your bills in advance. You don't want to have any overdue bills when you get back from vacation so as much as possible, pay your bills before you leave.
Hold your mail and newspaper deliveries. You don't want your mail or newspapers to pile up while you're away because you're advertising that you're not home. If you're gone for a week or more, it's best to go to your local post office (or do it online-USPS Hold Mail) and have them hold your mail (they will do this for up to 30 days). Call your newspaper delivery service as well.
Change your thermostat settings and unplug electrical outlets. If you're not going to be home for an extended period of time, why pay for electricity and gas that you're not going to need? Unplug appliances and devices that use electricity. Shut off the heat (unless your pipes will freeze) and air conditioning (unless mold may be an issue), or at least raise or lower the temperature settings for your heat and air conditioning.
Arrive at the airport three hours before your international flight, two hours before your domestic flight. After 9/11, when security was tightened, the government recommended arriving three hours before international flights and two hours before domestic flights. This time frame has since been relaxed but why take a chance of being late and having to run through an airport? Get there early and just relax.
When going through the security line at the airport, put your valuables in plastic bags and then put them in your purse or backpack. Don't put them in the bins for all to see as this may tempt your fellow passengers to steal them.
ONCE YOU'RE THERE
For long trips, try to schedule your arrival at night. You are most likely to have jet lag when you arrive at your destination. Rather than arrive tired in the morning or afternoon, try to arrive in the evening so you can go right to sleep and not miss out on any sightseeing.
Avoid eating at franchise restaurants. You just traveled thousands of miles so why eat at a McDonald's or KFC when you can do that three miles from your house? Part of the fun of traveling is to experience new cultures which includes sampling the local foods.
Don't drink the water. When in doubt, drink bottled water. Drinking tap water in a foreign country can cause upset stomach. Don't forget to order drinks without ice cubes and avoid salads because they're washed in tap water. Keep your eyes and mouth closed while taking a shower. If not, it will have the same effect as drinking the tap water. Don't rinse your toothbrush with tap water. Use bottled water to rinse your mouth and to rinse your toothbrush.
Ask the hotel front desk for restaurant recommendations. Also ask them where the hotspots are as well as the areas to avoid.
Ask the hotel to type out your destination/street address in their native language. This way the cab driver or the locals can help you get around town easily. Don't forget to grab some of the hotel's business cards so getting back is easy.
Be aware of your surroundings. Consider not wearing your watch or expensive jewelry in public and always be cognizant of people who are standing close to you. Always keep an eye on your valuables when you leave your hotel.
Divide the city up when sightseeing. Since your time is valuable, you don't want to waste time going all over the city to see the sights. Try to see the attractions in one section of the city at a time so that you are using your time efficiently.
Pace yourself. Don't try to see everything in one day. See the most important sights first. You may even consider taking an organized half-day or full-day tour of the city if you don't have a lot of time in that particular city.
Take a day trip. There are so many great things to see just a couple of hours outside the city or town where you're staying.
Put the map away. Sometimes, you just have to walk around a city without a map and that's when you run into things you never expected.
Learn to say "Hello," "Goodbye," and "Thank you" in their language. Many locals appreciate it when foreigners attempt to communicate in their language, even if it's just a couple of words. Consider bringing a small translation book or get a translation app for your smartphone.
Don't post pictures from your vacation on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. If you do, you're just advertising to strangers that you're not home. Wait until you get home to let people know about your great trip.