Preparing to travel out of the country for six months or more at a time takes a lot of preparation. Everybody has different needs so this list is not one size fits all, rather this list applies to our needs and travel. However, the list below includes some basics which would apply to all.
Credit Card with a CHIP: All of Europe uses CHIP and PIN cards for their retail transactions. The customer typically needs to enter a four digit PIN to complete the transaction. Most USA issued chip cards have no PIN but require a signature. This sometimes throws the merchant off when no number is needed to complete the transaction but it is still a seamless, smooth transaction. An old style card might still work with some merchants but likely requires keying in numbers and will certainly require extra time and work for all, while the line builds behind you. When you travel, the goal should be to fit in as much as possible, don’t yell out “I’m an American tourist!!” with every credit card purchase.
Credit Card with No International Transaction Charges: There are plenty of cards made for the international traveler. Why pay an additional 1 ½% to 3% international transaction fee on each purchase when you don’t have to?
Credit Card that will Gain You Points or Cash: Our Chase Marriott Rewards credit card meets the above criteria and gives us many free nights lodging at Marriott hotel chains every year. We would be making these charges anyway, so these nights really are totally free.
Automated Bill Paying: It is a certainty I’ll be traveling in a land of questionable Internet, seeing beautiful sights daily and will be out to sea for weeks at a time. Tourist distractions hopefully lie around every corner. To have the burden of paying bills electronically while overseas is too much for me to handle, especially when 100% of my bills can be automated. I only need to make sure there is enough money in the account, which I would have to be doing anyway. By anticipating your expenses, plus a cushion, a larger brokerage account can be set up to transfer a fixed amount into the checking account so the entire process is automated.
Advise Credit and ATM Cards of International Travel: Some cards only allow such notifications for six months at a time, so this can be a hassle.
Driver’s License: Make certain your driver’s license does not expire during your year or more overseas.
International Driver’s License: This could just be a scam, but I fall for it each trip. No car rental agency in Italy, France or England has requested this special license of me, but I get one anyway. They cost about $30 and is just your existing driver’s license translated in seven or more languages. Just being cautious, as I would hate to need it and not have it.
International Plug Adapters and Converters: Your expensive phones, computers and iPads only need inexpensive plug adapters, while a $1 nightlight needs expensive $20-$50 converters. Look at your plug and if there is an enlarged plastic box somewhere along the plug which says 100-240V and 50-60 Hz, in very fine print, that device needs only a cheap international adapter. Otherwise, you need a $50 converter to operate a $1.00 nightlight.
International Phone Calls, Data and Texting: T-Mobile offers monthly contracts, no long-term commitments. We have 10 Gigs of data each on two phones and phone calls of $.20 a minute when not near a Wi-Fi. Our telephone and Internet service magically appear when arriving in a new country, no problems. Previously we bought pre-paid phone chips in the country where we were traveling. So after locating a phone chip store, buying a phone chip in Rome, of course, the phone instructions were in Italian. None of this was very easy. Then I had to follow Italian prompts to add more minutes. Make certain your phones are quad-band, allowing communications in the two USA transmission methods and the two European methods. The iPhone 6 and later work fine for overseas travel.
Mail Delivery: All our mail goes to a mail forwarding company in our home state. Whenever we are in one place for an extended period of time, we e-mail them and give them an address for all our first-class mail to be sent to the address we specify. Stateside this is done twice a month. However, we have never tested the service internationally. Most merchants allow you to turn off snail mail and receive bills electronically. It is my goal to not ever receive mail, but that never happens, especially around tax time. We can pay the mail service to open and scan the mail for our electronic retrieval, but our current plan is to force our relatives to do it for free.
Pack Lightly: There should be little difference in packing for 10 days or two years on the road. All we are bringing will fit into two airplane carry-on bags and two small backpacks. Don’t bring cotton clothing as it is too heavy and takes too long to dry. Thrift stores are frequently found in much of Europe. If you need something, go look for it. That can be a fun day’s adventure in itself (we are easily entertained). Packing special equipment for temperature extremes, such as northern lights in Iceland and the Island of Cyprus present special issues, but for us, we will stick to two small suitcases and buy anything else we need along the way.
Passport Expiration: This date should have six months beyond the entry date into your final foreign country.
Doctor and Dental visits: Get them completed stateside. I got new reading and driving eyeglasses and now have good spares for an overseas emergency. Also bring an eyeglass repair kit. I actually used the repair kit when a screw and lens just popped out and fell on the ground.
BEYOND THE BASICS
A Separate Credit Card for ALL Recurring Charges: Losing your wallet or being a pickpocket victim is bad enough. This situation is made only worse if from a foreign country you need to inform a dozen merchants with recurring monthly and annual charges of a new credit card number. You may not be on a secure network and now you are broadcasting a new credit card and passwords to any Internet eavesdropper. We use the American Express card, which is never carried with us, for this purpose.
ATM Card with No Fees: Another irritation can be eliminated if you have an ATM card which reimburses you for all transaction fees. Our Charles Schwab account serves this purpose in the States as well as internationally.
Prescriptions: We are currently not on any prescription medication but I was taking a cholesterol pill during our previous visit. What required an expensive doctor visit and blood test and cost over $10 a pill in the USA, could be simply bought over the counter in a French, Croatian and Spanish pharmacy’s for $1.25 a pill. I have no advice if you need life support type medications when you can only get a 90 day supply.
Vitamins and Supplements: We never found these for sale in Europe or offered in quantities and at prices we expect in the USA. Even aspirin is a controlled substance in England, sold in 20 packs and limited to one package per family per day. We therefore look like a traveling pharmacy with a year’s worth of pills in our bags. These are voluminous and heavy. We also carry a first aid kit of common OTC medications. When you need some special medicine immediately for various uncomfortable travel afflictions, acting out a pantomime to a confused Chinese clerk is no fun! At least not at the time…
Accident Insurance: Affordable Care Act health insurance offered in the States will not cover us internationally. Heck, with an $18,000 annual premium and a $12,000 deductible, it really did not cover us in the States. Therefore we will be traveling only with a travel insurance plan covering accidents and sudden illnesses. I’ll not make any company recommendations here as it is totally untested by us thus far. Keep in mind, health care is materially cheaper in Europe.
GPS & Maps: We upgraded our six-year-old Garmin and downloaded the road maps of all of Europe, including Iceland, Slovenia and Romania. The Garmin requires an additional micro chip for such maps. We used our old Garmin on our last trip and it worked flawlessly.
TV!! : When traveling in foreign lands, one can become starved for some familiar channels. The BBC eventually wears out its welcome. We have loaded some Icons on our iPhones and iPads which we hope will serve as our televisions from the States. This is too broad of an area to go into, just research your TV provider. Stay tuned 😉
Cancel Long Term Contracts: No need for Sirius Radio when your vehicle is sitting in a garage or storage shed. Decrease the auto insurance needs since you will not be driving 15,000 miles in the coming year. We are going one additional step and selling our truck since we will be gone for well over a year. We will not only be home free, but will be car free as well.
Happy traveling and be a good traveler by accepting new traditions, foods and customs. Try not to dress like an American. Nothing screams “I’m a tourist” to the pickpockets more than wearing shorts, white socks and white tennis shoes. Not everything is best here in the States and it does no good to compare something to ‘back home’. Find something grand where you are. You are in a foreign land, go for it, don’t try to change it to suit your particular viewpoint.