While I am absolutely ecstatic to be leaving the country for the FIRST TIME EVER, there is a lot to do to prepare for my (hopefully) life-changing summer abroad.
Since I am from Ohio, attend college 30 minutes away from my parents’ house, and never went on exotic oversea vacations while growing up, I have no experience with international travel and had no idea how to prepare for my first excursion abroad. As it turns out, THERE IS A LOT MORE TO WORRY ABOUT THAN JUST THE OBVIOUS “HOW WILL I FIT MY WHOLE LIFE INTO TWO SUITCASES?!” PROBLEM.
Below is the list of all of the things (not including packing, booking flights and accommodations, etc.) that I had to do before leaving the country for the first time:
My Comprehensive List of Things that Nobody Reminds First-Time International Travelers To Do:
- Get a passport
- Knowing that I wanted to do some type of study abroad, I got my passport during my freshman year of college. However, I still needed to find it, sign it, make copies of it, and use the information on it to buy plane tickets.
- Purchase International Health Insurance
- CISI (Cultural Insurance Services International) provides study abroad students with health insurance that can be used abroad.
- Purchase luggage to meet airline size requirements
- In order to get the cheapest deal on flights, I have lots of layovers and I am flying with four different airlines, all of which have different carry-on size requirements.
- Sign up for frequent flyer programs
- Again, because I am flying with four different airlines, I signed up for four different frequent flyer programs so that I can earn miles to use in the future.
- Apply for a VISA
- Every country is different, and the VISA requirements can be found on the State Department’s website. It turns out that in South Africa, US citizens don’t need a VISA for trips lasting 90 days or less.
- Bring enough prescriptions to last the duration of the trip
- I contacted my health insurance company and they implemented a “vacation override” in order to cover the costs of three months worth of my prescriptions.
- Get vaccinated
- The CDC website lists required and recommended vaccinations for each country. SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS. Additionally, don’t wait until the last minute to look into what vaccines you might need. For example, the rabies shot requires at least 30 days to get all the required boosters to ensure it is effecive, Hep A and Hep B require multiple doses, and typhoid is four doses of a live vaccine that must be refrigerated, taken every other day, and completed a full week before possible exposure.
- Download the International SOS App
- International SOS notifies you about current events and anything happening in the country you are traveling to.
- Sign up for STEP
- The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service provided to US citizens by the Department of Defense. It notifies the nearest US embassies that you are traveling abroad.
- Purchase power adapters for chargers, etc.
- When used with their smart chargers, Apple products are dual voltage, but you still need an adapter so that your plug fits the foreign outlet.
- Inform your bank that you will be out of the country
- If you don’t let your bank know that you will be traveling abroad, your card will most likely be declined in the foreign country that you attempt to use it in.
- Convert currency before leaving
- Airport exchange rates are more expensive, so its a good idea to convert some money at your local bank before leaving. The bank has to call in and have the foreign currency delivered, so it takes a few days.
- Find the contact information of the nearest US Embassy
- This could be helpful in case of emergency.
- Prepare for international data coverage fees
- I am going to turn of my data and roaming and use Whats App over wi-fi so that I don’t have to pay for an expensive international phone plan.