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8-Point Checklist for International Travel

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    En español | Once you’ve done the fun part — choosing your destination and planning your itinerary — use this checklist to be sure you don’t overlook the nuts and bolts. Follow these tips, and you won’t have to spend any travel time dealing with red tape.

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    Get Documents in Order

    Renew your passport about nine months before its expiration date. Some countries deny travelers entry with a passport that expires in less than six months. If you plan to drive overseas, you may need to obtain an international driving permit (IDP). Many countries do not recognize U.S. driver’s licenses without an accompanying IDP, and it is illegal to drive without a valid license and insurance in most places. Before you travel, make a photocopy of your itinerary, the picture page of your passport, tickets for transportation and events, and the credit cards you’re taking. Give copies to a trusted friend or family member.

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    Investigate Insurance

    Check with your health insurance carrier to be sure your policy covers treatment abroad. If it doesn’t, consider supplemental insurance. As a rule, the farther you go and the more elaborate the trip, the more likely it is that you’ll need some type of travel insurance to cover emergencies, including medical evacuation, plus expenses related to delays, cancellations or baggage problems. Policies aren’t overly expensive, and you’ll have peace of mind. Check an aggregator site such as InsureMyTrip.com to find exactly what you need.

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    Get Prescription Medicine Ready

    First on your checklist: prescription medication. Make sure you have enough — and even some extra in case your schedule changes. Also carry copies of your prescriptions from your physician. And if you are carrying any unusual medication, check that it is legal and readily available in the country you intend to visit. Obtain a note on letterhead stationery from the prescribing physician for controlled substances and injectable medications. All prescription medication is allowed in carry-on luggage and exempted from liquid restrictions, but it should be presented to the screening officer separately from your carry-on baggage. If you have a lot of medications, consider using the Family/Special Needs security line to get additional assistance.

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    Put Together a Health Kit

    Don’t assume it will be easy to find incidental items at drugstores abroad. Take bandages, antiseptic for cuts or scrapes, special pads for blisters, a thermometer, and a pain and fever medication. Safety pins, tweezers and scissors may be invaluable, plus hydrocortisone cream for bug bites, an antifungal ointment and an antidiarrheal. The final item to place in your health kit is emergency contact information for your regular and travel health-insurance providers.

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    Manage Credit Cards

    If you don’t already have one, shop around for a credit card that won’t rack up fees for foreign transactions (look online at CardHub.com), then notify the card’s fraud department of where you’ll be and when. Use the card for large purchases as you travel (hotel bills, car rentals and restaurant meals). Check with hotels and car rental companies beforehand, too. Some may put holds on your credit for either a deposit or for the amount of your total expected bill. This can use up your credit line before you’ve actually incurred charges.

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    How to Carry Cash Abroad

    Your best strategy is to get cash in the local currency at an ATM once you arrive at your destination. It’s easy at large international airports, and you’ll get a better exchange rate than if you exchange currency in the U.S. beforehand. When you fly to smaller airports that may only have one ATM (which will inevitably be on the fritz), have about $100 to $150 in the local currency, depending on the cost of transportation and how soon you think you’ll be able to reach an ATM. You might also carry some small U.S. bills, which are useful in countries in need of “hard currency” or with high inflation rates. In these cases you may get good exchange rates with U.S. dollars. You might also be able to use dollars as tips.

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    Buy Ahead of Time

    You’ll be online anyway, so book foreign air, rail or ground transportation at least three weeks in advance of travel. Make living accommodations two weeks before arrival. Hotels and hostels require booking prior to arrival and often ask for a credit card to hold the reservation. Airbnb will give you lots of listings, and you’ll automatically have new friends among the locals. Check Couchsurfing.com for free board in the homes of volunteer hosts. Purchase tickets for tours, concerts and plays one week in advance to ensure availability. And if they’re available, buy tickets online for attractions you plan to visit; you’ll be able to skip more lines and find more deals targeted toward you.

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    Be Smart About Your Smartphone

    Bring along your smartphone, but be sure to turn off data usage and the “fetch new data” option before you go. Download apps such as Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, WeChat or Viber so that you can send and receive text messages or make calls whenever you’re at a free Wi-Fi hot spot. You can also rent a cellphone or buy a prepaid phone card from your U.S. carrier. Don’t forget plug adapters and voltage converters. Do forget your laptop — unless you’ll need to be online a great deal of the time. Consider a tablet instead; you can use it to read books and watch movies. Remember that everything you carry weighs something, and electronics are vulnerable to theft

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