My Four Must-Dos Prior to International Travel
Leah Walker January 21, 2013

I’ve been traveling non-stop the last three months, and I’ve come to realize that preparing to travel is one of the things I dread most right behind cleaning bathrooms. Bleh!

After so many trips, getting ready to leave my house has pretty much become second nature. Now that I have a doggie au pair, dropping my two off with my dad or brother is one less thing to worry about. But before I can grab my passport and my overstuffed bags, there are just some things that I must do before heading to the airport.

Adjust the Mobile Phone Plan

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If traveling internationally, this could be a costly thing to ignore. I’ve heard horror stories of four-digit cell phone bills. If you’re like me then you’re addicted to your smart phone. If I use it like when I’m at home, there will certainly be costly surprise waiting. Not only do incoming and outgoing calls cost more when traveling abroad, but so do text messages and data. Data is the main culprit when it comes to a high bill.

I protect myself against exorbitant bills when I travel by checking with my carrier for their international calling discounts, text messaging, and data plans. Normally I add them for my trip and cancel them when I get back. The cost is often prorated. Even though my bill is higher because of the additional services, it still doesn’t equate to what I would have to pay had I not added them.

Another way I am able to cut down on my mobile phone bill when traveling abroad is to buy a cheap phone and a SIM card in the country I’m visiting. I use companies like SimSmart PrePaid for an inexpensive way to make phone calls while in Europe. Having a spare phone with a pre-paid SIM card has saved me a fortune over the years.

Take Care of the Mail

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I have a slight paranoia when it comes to my mail. I don’t like it left in the box since that’s pretty much a sign to thieves indicating I’m not home. I always make sure it’s taken care of prior to leaving town. If I’ll be gone for a short time then I’ll have a neighbor pick it up. For longer trips, I’ll stop my mail with the post office. They can hold delivery from three to thirty days. I can choose to pick up the accumulated mail in person or they will bring it to me. I simply grab a yellow mail hold form at the post office or do it online. It’s that easy. The only hard part is sifting through all my stupid junk mail.

Contact Financial Institutions

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Last year I was in Las Vegas and I forgot to create a travel notification for my debit card. After I lost all my money at the blackjack table, I made a trip to the ATM. This should have been an easy task, but the withdrawal was flagged as suspicious activity and my account was frozen. I spent 30 minutes on the phone with the bank getting my account unlocked. Luckily I was still within the country. If this occurred internationally it would’ve been more difficult.

It’s so important to create travel notifications with any credit or debit cards you plan on using on your trip. Basically you’re letting the companies know when and where you will be traveling. By doing this, banks will be less likely to look at your activity as suspicious when your card is being used in the places you’ve designated. Always get the emergency contact number for the country you’re visiting just in case. If you’re traveling domestically, the number on the back of the card should suffice.

Pay Bills

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Nobody likes to get bills, but a late charge makes them that much worse. I pay all bills that will come due while I’m gone prior to departure. If a particular bill requires being paid by check then I stick it in the mail. Although, I pay about 95% of my bills online so it’s pretty easy. For varying bills like electricity, I get an email with the amount due and then I pay the bill online. For fixed bills like insurance, I will schedule a payment. Automatic withdrawal is a traveler’s best friend.

Even though I’m a total ball of stress prior to leaving, I know that if I’ve taken care of these four things then I’ll have less to worry about and my trip will be that much more enjoyable.

What are your must-dos prior to travel?

Leah Walker

Leah has a marketing management company specializing in strategy, content creation and implementation for luxury brands and destinations. She's also a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. Leah documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. She sometimes freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, USA Today 10 Best, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel and wine ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's lived in Paris for four years, and was awarded additional time with a Passeport Talent visa renewal. Though, her talent for speaking French is abysmal.

46 Comments

  1. Simple but certainly essential things! Traveling full time these sort of things have to be dealt with on the road! My poor mother deals with my mail (but it’s getting less and less as I get more digital) and I have to keep fairly regular contact with my bank back home! My mobile phone plan changes every new destination… I have a small bag of chips now :).

    1. Remember that Seinfeld episode where Kramer bricked up his mailbox so they couldn’t deliver anything? Yeah. I’m so thinking of doing that. Bless your mother. 🙂

  2. Excellent tips Leah!

    What I always do is buy travel insurance cause you never know what can happen. I also make 2 copies of my passport & main credit card. Just in case!

    I then enjoy every minute of the trip 😉

    1. I hate to admit this, but I’ve never bought travel insurance nor have I needed it. I have taken a photo of my passport so it’s on my iPhone and my email. Somewhere I have a copy printed. Good reminders…thanks!

  3. Excellent tips! I got caught out on a trip to Mallorca once. Could not get my card sorted out for half of the trip! What a pain. When I came home, I signed up for another card (VISA got cancelled – it was the only card I had!). At least with 2 cards, I am less likely to be left high and dry!]
    Happy travels.

  4. Very Helpful! I usually rent a phone for my trips, but I am going to try and get by with my own this time, so I’ll need to get the data adjusted. Gotta figure out the whole SIM card thing for iphones, too…

    1. Just buy a cheap phone and switch in and out different SIM cards. As for the iPhone, I’m pretty sure you have to jailbreak it to change SIM cards. I won’t do that with the one I’m using, but once I upgrade, I’ll keep the old one and jailbreak it for travel. Don’t quote me on any of that iPhone info. I’m just pretty sure that’s how it works. If you find out then let me know.

  5. Fab tips! Letting the bank know is always key and so is having different credit cards (literally think Visa vs Mastercard vs Amex) as they are not always accepted everywhere – I even have 1 with lower limits which I take to specific destinations, just in case.

    Insurance is key too. And packing 😉

  6. So responsible actually calling your banks! I never think to do it, and luckily so far it hasn’t been a problem. I’ve definitely had cards frozen, but thanks to having more than one I have always been able to pay and then make it to a computer somewhere to call the bank over Skype.

    1. Yeah, it’s such a pain in the rear to have to make all those calls. Now I just do it beforehand. Knowing my luck there wouldn’t be anyone around to bail me out and pay my bill.

    1. That’s usually the thing I dread most. AT&T always wants to sell me high-speed internet while they have me on the phone. Drives me nuts!

  7. Great tips! I always forget to call my credit cards, and fix my phone. My mom always yells at me because I usually get stuck somewhere with no cell service. Like Hong Kong, and no way to reach my friends in Thailand….

    Oh, well, these are the experiences we learn from, right?

  8. Great advice. One more thing… BACKUP. If you take any medications or have prescription glasses, for example, carry two sets – one in your carry-on and another in your checked bag. What makes you think you won’t lose your carry-on? A money belt for a second set of credit cards is handy. And how about using your old passport to leave at certain attractions? When in Bejing, visitors to Mao’s Masoleum have to leave their passports (when I was there). I did – very scary, but I did get it back. Wouldn’t do it again…

    1. Spot on about the medications. I’m pretty sure I would not visit something rather than leave any passport. That’s just too scary, especially in some place like China.

  9. These are great tips! I’m always really on top of my bank cards-that can ruin a trip fast. However, when I lived in Spain and had a Spanish bank card, I called them before my first trip out of the country to let them know I’d be traveling, and they couldn’t figure out why I would do such a thing!

  10. All great tips, and I have some to add as a parent: if traveling without your child(ren), make sure you leave all important numbers (doctors, etc.) with the sitter/family member who is looking after the kids while you’re gone. Also, sign a waiver allowing the caretaker to make medical decisions for your child(ren) in your absence (if you choose to do this, a simple form can be found online and printed). Creating/updating a will might be a good idea, too, however morbid it is to think about…

  11. when we went to switzerland, it was the first time i remembered to contact my phone provider and change my plan- saved me SO MUCH MONEY! great tips, leah! xo, the wino

  12. When went to Guyana, I was talking to my financial institutions while I was boarding the plane. I got it done, but I sure wish I would have remembered a little bit beforehand. It is less stress that way.

    1. I did that on my way to Costa Rica. I was wrapping up just as they were telling me to turn off all portable devices. Talk about stress.

  13. Great tips.
    And sometimes, for me, I brought cheaper phone with me while traveling. At least it can call and send text message.

    1. Yeah, I bought a cheap phone in China and then just replace the SIM card as I travel to other countries. Works like a breeze.

    1. You’re so right about being able to mingle with the locals. They’re much more inclined to include you if they don’t have to make international calls/texts.

  14. Good tips, Leah! I also get a pet sitter and… make sure my place is de-cluttered & bed nicely done, so that I’m less depressed when I come back to reality. 🙂

  15. Leah, I am a stickler about the mail and about the mobile phone plan (though another option is to only rely on wi-fi which is more readily accessible in European and Latin American countries, but I also am addicted to my phone so I also do change my rate plan – it works well and they do pro-rate). On the call the financial institutions, I used to do that until each of them told me on more than one occasion that I did NOT have to let them know. Maybe I use better financial institutions? 🙂

  16. the local phone has been a big help… for a while i even kept a mexican phone all year round., but now i often buy a little international data, calling, and rely on wifi.

    as for those institutions… that’s a lot of phone calls, i assume after a while they know you are a traveler….

    anyways good reminders… stay prepared, Craig

    1. Sometimes the institutions figure it out, but there are some places that just set off an alarm like Brazil or Vegas. I’d rather just make a phone call than be without money in a foreign country.

  17. This was an incredibly helpful post but the one thing I couldn’t take my mind off of was your Leah Travels iPhone case! You should probably sell those… along with the patches for your jackets. I’m not kidding! I’d buy!

  18. It looks nice, thanks for the tips. But I think I have no time. Maybe buy a cell phone first.
    магазин мобильных телефонов

    1. Buying a cell is a good idea. I’ve been known to just by the SIM card and use the same phone throughout my trips.

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