Going on a trip abroad? Here’s your essential travel guide

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Going on a trip abroad? Here’s your essential travel guide
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It’s never been so affordable to travel abroad. Stiff competition among the air carriers has resulted in cheap fares to faraway places — and consumers are ready for the trip.

The thing with traveling though is that it’s super-easy to forget to pack something we need or neglect to do some otherwise mundane deed.

Traveling abroad: 10 essential must-haves and must-dos

We’re not talking about tips on remembering to bring the cosmetic essentials, such as a tooth-brush or pair of shades. We’re talking about some of the must-haves that can be true lifesavers when we’re in a bind in a foreign country. That’s why we’ve come up with this nifty guide of must-haves and must-dos when traveling internationally.

RELATED: 18 things you forget on your packing list

Take a photo of your valuables

As you can imagine, traveling requires you to move in public spaces with relatively few personal belongings. If you carry a large bag with you or luggage, you might as well put a “Tourist” sign on your head. The key to getting around overseas is to fit in with the crowd and carry only necessary items. Some people don’t even carry their billfolds. If you want to have your pockets free, just carry your smartphone.

In your smartphone you can have a number of must-have items, such as a digital wallet (Apple Pay or something similar) and some important images, like a photo of your passport, of the front and backs of your credit cards and of your insurance card. This way, if anything happens to any of your physical possessions at your hotel room, you’ve always got proof of ID and financial info in your phone.

To be extra-safe, upload those photos to the cloud and delete them from your phone. That way, if your device falls into the wrong hands, you may buy yourself some precious time to prevent some major fraud.

Plan on getting phone coverage

Speaking of smartphones, you’ll likely be subject to exorbitant call rates when overseas.

“Since the first iPhone was introduced, consumers have been going overseas and coming back home to exorbitant cell phone bills,” money expert Clark Howard says. “The worst I ever heard was from someone who went to Costa Rica and got a $30,000 bill for three days!” Clark says. Meanwhile, here’s how you can use your cell phone abroad on the cheap — the Clark Smart way!

If you want to buy a SIM card specifically for your trip, Lycamobile.com has service in more than 20 countries across Europe. Another SIM card discounter, Three, serves more than 70 countries.

Make sure your passport isn’t about to expire

When it comes to passports, many travelers become stranded abroad due to a technicality concerning the date on their passports.

If you’re traveling out of the country but your passport is set to expire before you’re scheduled to return to the States — or even in a given period after you’re scheduled to return — you may not be permitted to fly, effectively nullifying your otherwise perfectly valid passport.

What’s going on here?

“Many countries in the world require your passport have at least six months validity remaining beyond your visit before they will allow you to enter,” the U.S. Passport Service Guide — a third-party service — says on its website. “Others only require three months of validity while still others only require your passport be valid at time of entry.”

So, basically, before you pick a travel destination abroad you’d do well to research the specific passport rules of that country.

RELATED: Here’s how your passport could be useless, even if not expired

What to know about ATMs abroad

While ATMs are the easiest way to get cash when you’re overseas, it’s also the quickest way to get ripped off. That’s because the foreign currency exchange rate can be as high as $10 per transaction.

To get around that, see if your bank is part of an alliance or partnership that allows for fee-free ATMs. Most notably, investment banking firm Charles Schwab reimburses its checking account customers for any ATM fees incurred domestically or abroad. Sign up here.

It’s best to let your bank know what country you’re traveling to ahead of time. That’s also a good idea because many banks may flagged your transactions as fraudulent if they suspect an international criminal may have gotten ahold of your card.

Travel insurance: Do you need it?

If you’re taking a cruise or excursion overseas that costs thousands of dollars, you might want to think about purchasing some travel insurance. What’s that? You’ve got health insurance, you say? Clark says it’s vital that you know your coverage when it comes to traveling to another country.

“For many of us, our health insurance does not travel with us — or if yours does, it may only cover you at a higher ‘out of network’ provider rate,” he says. Clark recommends contacting your insurance provider and finding out your coverage abroad before you travel.

“You can comparison shop for trip insurance that suits your needs at InsureMyTrip.com. I’ve long talked about this insurance broker as a good shopping option,” he says. “In addition, the magazine recommends that you check out the oddly named SquareMouth.com, which offers access to a smaller number of plans and providers.”

Choosing rental car insurance abroad

While many traveling motorists automatically decline rental insurance here in the States, it may be worth the money overseas. That’s because many personal auto policies typically don’t cover you on foreign roads.

Depending on where you’re traveling, some countries may have their own rental insurance requirements. Your best bet is to contact the U.S. embassy in the country you are visiting to find out their respective rental car insurance requirements.

How safe is your hotel safe?

For many of us, keeping our most valued possessions in our hotel room safe is second nature. But we need to be careful in this day and age. Many safes that require an electronic four-digit code can actually be overwritten by a master code as basic as “9999.”

Other safes can be pried open with special tools. There a plethora of videos on YouTube showing how easy it is to break into hotel room safes.

“Many times the master code never changes, and that master code is available on the Internet, believe it or not,” one security expert says in a viral video from 2015. “And if the manager has not changed that master code then you’re in for big trouble because anybody that wants to can get into your safe and steal your valuables and ruin your perfect vacation.”

Some travelers have opted to leave their wallet at the front desk, where security cameras are. Here are some other security options.

Better pack your medication

For some travelers, finding out that they didn’t bring their medication on their trip can be a life or death situation. In addition to adhering to a different metric system, many of the medications you see on foreign store shelves — even with familiar brand names — may not have the ingredients you think they do.

Further complicating things, U.S. governmental regulations on prescriptions and other pharmaceutical information mean next to nothing abroad. The Federal Drug Administration says on their website, “[The] FDA cannot help you if you have problems with medicine you get from outside U.S. regulation and oversight.”

Bottom line? It is imperative that you bring your medication with you when traveling overseas. Nowhere is this more important than when there’s a real emergency and your treatment is delayed because of insufficient information about what medicines you’re on.

If at all possible, keep your medication in its original packaging, where things like brand name, dosage and strength can be readily identified by health professionals.

Should you bring a wall adapter?

You’ll be surprised how many countries have different standards for wall outlets. If you think you’re just going to stick your two-pronged plug into the wall socket in your hotel room, you may be in for a rude awakening. That’s why you may want to spring the cash for a universal wall adapter. For around $20, you can find one on Amazon, at Home Depot or at most any electronics retailer.

Stay safe and secure

The main thing about traveling to another country is to take your safety and security seriously. Here’s a quick security rundown you’ll need to keep in mind:

  • Be sure to activate fraud alerts on your credit cards.
  • Opt for a moneybelt or small satchel instead of a backpack.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Avoid huge crowds and dark, isolated places.

Keep up to date with the latest travel tips and more at Clark.com. Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter and Facebook!

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Craig Johnson is a conscious money-saver who still reads paperback books and listens to vinyl. He likes to write about how technology is making things easier and more affordable — but also sometimes more dangerous — for the modern consumer. You can reach Craig at [email protected]
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