I don’t know about you, but the thought of going overseas for a vacation the first time? Butterflies in the stomach. A whole lot of butterflies. I spent a lot of time planning and trying to make sure I was prepared, but there always seemed to be something else! Here are some of the things I learned as I prepared (or over-prepared…) for my first vacation in Europe:
- Get your passport well ahead of time. The process isn’t always as easy as you think it will be. (See my post about getting your first passport for some tips!)
- Make several copies of your passport. I leave a copy with someone I trust at home and take one with me that I carry in a different spot than my passport. The U.S. Embassy asks to see a copy if it has been stolen. (Thanks to a friend for suggesting looking up the U.S. Consulate’s office for any location you are visiting before you leave home. From now on, I will print all the Consulate contact information for each location I am visiting and put it with the copies I take with me.)
- You should make sure to notify your credit card company that you are traveling overseas. It sure ruins a trip fast when you aren’t able to do anything because your cards are frozen!
- The new chip credit cards need a pin. Yup. You’d think the bank would issue the pin automatically with your new credit card, but they don’t all do so. (And, at the time I requested the pin, my customer service rep warned that changing lost pins was not the easiest process. He suggested storing the number in my phone in case I lost it, but that felt a little unsafe. Make sure you ask your bank for the pin at least several weeks before your trip, as they mail it out and you need time to have it issued and receive it.
- Make two photocopies of any cards you’ll be using. Store one copy in a secure spot that is not with the actual cards and leave one copy with someone you trust. This way, you can easily find the info you need if they are lost or stolen.
- Leave all those extra cards at home. Calling two credit card companies and your bank and replacing a lost or stolen passport and your driver’s license is plenty to worry about if you lose your wallet. You don’t need the extra stress of trying to remember which store credit cards you had with you, too.
- Consider a secure wallet or holder for your credit cards. Fanny packs and wallets around your neck may not be as stylish as your Prada bag, but they can be a little harder to snatch. If you do prefer to go for style over function, consider stashing one card in a more secure spot. (Experts say RFID theft is not as worrisome as ATM skimmers. If you do want to keep your cards safe from RFID scanners, they say that aluminum foil works better than many of the RFID resistant holders on the market. Who knew?)
- While many places in Europe accept credit cards, small shops and street vendors often do not. For this reason, you may want to have some local currency. Be aware that airports and hotels often charge a higher fee to exchange currency, so check the exchange rates. A better option may be to bring $100-150 in cash with you as a backup in case your cards are lost or frozen and then to simply withdraw Euros or whatever the local currency is at an ATM upon your arrival using your debit card.
- Know which currency will be used in the different countries you visit and have a rough idea of how much you will spend. Exchanging to the local currency and then back again can really get expensive.
- Traveler’s checks are hard to use in many countries, as small shops are often hesitant to take them. They are still more secure than cash, but more and more travelers are just taking credit cards with them.
- Depending on where you are traveling, you may want to pick up a cheap pre-paid phone as a backup in case your iPhone or Galaxy gets lost, damaged, or stolen. I haven’t done so, as most of them seem to get crummy reviews.
- Make sure you have a converter for your electrical items, especially if you are not booking a room in a major hotel.
- Consider a portable battery charger for keeping your cell phones juiced up on the go. (Check airline regulations. I have had to travel with mine in my carry on bag because it contains a Lithium battery.) I have the Aukey PB-N15 for smartphones and tablets and it is working well so far.
- All WiFi is not created equal. A friend who recently enjoyed a European cruise says, “If you are going on a cruise and you take excursions at different ports, know where an Internet cafe is at these ports. Wifi is expensive on the ship and slower than molasses in January.” (Note to self: You really should go on a cruise instead of flying or driving everywhere.)
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