No stress -- how to prepare for your trip abroad
by Liz Rothaus Bertrand

The temperature’s rising and for the lucky among us, it’s time to start thinking about vacation. Last summer, more than 9 million Americans traveled overseas.¹ If your summer plans include travel abroad, here’s some advice to help keep the adventure in your destination, not in your preparation.

1. Make sure your passport is valid.

Before you book your travel, take a look at that passport. When does it expire? That soon? Yikes! Some countries require that your passport is valid for at least 6 months beyond your travel dates.

US passports are valid for a period of 10 years for adults and 5 years for kids under age 16. If you’re in a bind, you can expedite your passport request for an additional fee. Keep in mind you will need to apply in person for a new passport and that both parents/guardians need to be present along with the child for any passport requests for kids. (If one of the parents/guardians cannot be there, you must submit a pre-signed, notorized “Statement of Consent” or “Statement of Exigent/Special Family Circumstances.”)  Click here for the U.S. Department of State’s official guidelines for U.S. Passports & International Travel, including fees and estimated delivery dates.

2. Photocopy your key documents

Now that you’ve made sure your passport is up-to-date, go ahead and photocopy it along with other key documents. Think driver’s license, insurance card, credit cards, and any key phone numbers (doctor, bank, emergency contact). Bring a copy of these documents with you and leave another set, including your itinerary, with a friend or relative at home.

Nobody likes to think about theft or loss but, unfortunately, these things can happen while traveling abroad. Having copies of these essential items will make cancelling cards and/or requesting duplicates much easier at a difficult moment. If you do experience an emergency situation, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or consulate in your area. You can find that information and more advice here: Get Help In An Emergency.

3. Tell your bank and credit card providers that you’ll be traveling

Take this preemptive step to ensure that your various financial institutions don’t freeze your account when they see charges abroad.

4. Go Native!

You’ve heard the old saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do…” So, get to it! Read up on your destination, learn about the people who call it home. Explore their culture and traditions. You’ll find many great resources online as well as in your local bookstore or library.

If you’re traveling to a non-English speaking country, buy a pocket dictionary or phrase book and learn some key phrases in the local language, such as: “please,” “thank you,” “Where is the bathroom,” “How much does it cost?,” “I need help” and “Do you speak English?” Carry a small notebook and pen so you can jot down numbers, phrases, names of hotels, or draw pictures, when needed.

If possible, enroll in a language course so that you can more easily communicate with the people you meet. Wherever you travel, people will appreciate your effort to use their language rather than assuming they speak English. In the Charlotte area, check out The Language Academy of the Carolinas for daytime and evening class listings.

5. Check your phone plan & get your technology in order

It seems most of us don’t go anywhere these days without a smartphone or tablet. You certainly don’t need to have them and may even appreciate the opportunity to be “off the grid” during your vacation. On the other hand, there’s no doubt that technology can be very useful while traveling. If you do decide to bring your phone or other device, please, please check with your service provider about charges for roaming, data and texting in the places you’re going as well as when you contact people back in the U.S. You can quickly rack up hundreds of dollars in phone charges if you are not careful. Some carriers offer global plans. Here are several links to get you started: Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T.

Also, remember that depending on the country you visit, you may need to have a plug adaptor to fit into differently shaped electrical outlets or a converter to accommodate different electric voltages. You can find helpful tips on electrical matters here. Technophiles, two more phrases to learn in the local language —”Do you have free wi-fi?” and “What’s the password?”

6. Pack less (way less!)

Most people bring way more than they need when they travel. Keep things simple. If you don’t think you’ll be using your computer or that fur coat, leave them at home. Stick to the green motto: reduce, reuse and recycle. Remember that you can rewear items. You can do laundry by hand in a hotel room or easily find a laundromat in most places. You may also want to buy some new things while you’re abroad so you can sport a different look for selfie #33! Leave room in your luggage for your new acquisitions. While we’re on the topic, make sure your luggage is easy to lift and/or has working wheels. The last thing you want is to be burdened by your stuff while you’re on the go.

7. Be flexible

Remember that even the best prepared travelers run into unexpected events. That’s ok. At times, we all get frustrated, exhausted or angry. That’s normal. But remember you’re out there to have fun and discover the world. This is supposed to be an adventure, after all. Our best advice: Keep Calm and Carry On.


Liz Rothaus Bertrand teaches French at The Language Academy of the Carolinas, Charlotte’s premiere language services company. The Language Academy offers small group classes in English, French, German, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese & Spanish; translation services; organizes trips abroad and more.

¹Office of Travel & Tourism Industries, U.S. Citizen Travel to International Regions 2013