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What to Do Before Traveling to Another Country

What You Need to Do Before You Travel the World

Traveling the world will take a lot of time and preparation. LearnVest shares a checklist of things you need to do before you leave on a jet plane.

We all dream of taking off for somewhere fabulous and staying there for . . . well, more than a week or two.

But how many of us actually do it? I'm excited to say that I did.

In 2009, my husband and I took a nine-month trip through Asia. But we didn't stop there — in 2011, we headed south to explore Central and South America for an entire year.

Related: Flying Solo: Summer Travel Tips For Singles

In those two trips alone, we traveled for 84 weeks through 15 countries — learning how to save money and becoming better travelers along the way. It may seem like traveling for more than an entire school year would be prohibitively expensive, but along the way, we learned to prepare appropriately to keep our costs down.

How exactly did we do it? We followed these nine steps.

Step 1: Determine a Destination

If you're like me, you probably already have a bucket list of travel destinations. That's great. But before I decide on a destination for a particular trip, I research the cost and weather using these tools:

Numbeo.com: The world's largest user-contributed database on cost of living worldwide.

SoloTravel.org: A site which offers a cost calculator based on your travel preferences.

WorldWeatherOnline.com: This provides historical climate data on countries around the world.

Speaking of weather, I always put together a chart so I can see at a glance which months look best. For example, to prepare for a 48-week trip through Central and South America, I put together a chart listing the average temperature and average rainfall for each country I planned on visiting for each month of the year. Then I planned out our route to give us the best chance of hitting great weather. You don't want to visit the country of your dreams during a monsoon, only to discover you should have known it was the rainy season!

Step 2: Book a Flight

Booking flights might seem straightforward, but there are options to consider — such as whether you should book a one-way, round-trip, or round-the-world ticket to get the most bang for your buck.

Personally, I love the freedom of having a one-way ticket. Also, booking a return ticket is generally less expensive if booked in a foreign country.

Step 3: Get Vaccinated

At least three months before a big trip, I visit a travel clinic to get my vaccinations — some of which may take three or four visits. Know that vaccinations can be expensive. I spent almost $1,000 getting my vaccinations for Southeast Asia. If you're currently employed, check if your health benefits will cover the cost of your shots.

In addition to visiting the travel clinic, I also visit my doctor and ask for a general antibiotic prescription in case I get any viruses while traveling. It's a little bit of a cost upfront, but nothing compared to getting seriously ill in a foreign country.

Visit the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention for the recommended vaccinations by country.

Round-the-world tickets are ideal for visiting multiple countries on multiple continents. The most common round-the-world tickets are offered through airlines or specialty providers such as Airtreks.com. One thing to remember: Over-land travel (by bus, train, car or pack mule) gives you greater flexibility and lower prices. However, if you're planning on a whirlwind tour of the world's great cities, a round-the-world ticket might be right for you.

For more ways to save on flights, check out my six money-saving airfare secrets.

Step 4: Manage Mail

A couple of months before your trip, go paperless for all your important mail. If you will not be returning to the same address, then ask a friend or family member (thanks, Mom!) if you can temporarily use their address. Use the free USPS change-of-address form to update your address.

Step 5: Get a Passport and Visa(s)

Be sure to get a passport as soon as possible. Passports are valid for 10 years, though some countries will not accept passports that will expire within a year. To get a passport, visit the US travel website. An adult passport costs about $135 — more if you require one in a rush!

Many countries require you to obtain a visa prior to entering the country. My husband learned the hard way and was deported from Vietnam after arriving without a visa. But know that visas aren't cheap — and, depending on where you're visiting, they can take a long time to be processed and approved.

The Department of State admits that fees vary between countries and even between applicants, as they're generally managed by the embassies of the country you plan to visit. You can learn more about visa requirements, fees, and limitations at the US Department of State.

If you're crossing borders — especially in developing nations — bring at least two passport-sized color photos for each country you plan to visit.

Step 6: Get Rid of (Almost) Everything

If selling everything seems extreme, you can rent your home furnished or move everything into storage for the time being (but remember that storage isn't cheap — fees for storage units can run up to $255 per month).

As far as your car goes, you can either loan or rent it to a friend, or sell it. I've done both and they've worked out pretty well. Make sure to call your car insurance company to inform them of your travel and ask them to cancel or put a hold on your policy.

Step 7: Book a Hotel

While you probably want to book your accommodations well before you arrive, I usually take care of the more time-consuming tasks first (hello, visas!), then turn my attention to accommodations.

Generally, I look for alternative, budget-friendly options such as home stays, apartment rentals and camping grounds through sites like VBRO, Airbnb, and Craigslist. Sometimes, if I can't find affordable, acceptable options ahead of time, I'll arrive without any at all and get help on the ground finding a place to stay. While my husband and I traveled around Asia, we would arrive without a place to stay and check into a guest house — basically, a nicer version of a hostel where you can get a private room for about $10 — and decide which city to visit next.

But the first two days in any new country are a transition period. For that time, I book two nights at a nice hotel so I can acclimate, sleep, and determine my next plan of action. Trust me, you don't want to worry about changing money, communicating in a foreign language, or finding accommodations while you're jet-lagged. Stretch your budget those first few days — it's worth it.

Step 8: Manage Your In-Transit Money

I used to be a big fan of traveler's checks, but with debit cards they're almost extinct and expensive to exchange. In any case, I still bring some traveler's checks and US dollars in case of an emergency.

I also contact my bank and credit card companies to tell them the countries I plan to visit and ask about any possible fees for using my card in a foreign country. If there are a number of fees, then consider getting an international debit/credit card.

Step 9: Prepare For an Emergency

I love the saying "safety is no accident."

Before I leave, I always:

Enroll with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program for travel warnings and alerts

Scan two color copies of my passport and driver's license — and keep one copy in my backpack and one in my money belt

Email my parents and myself a copy of my passport, driver's license, credit card numbers, and international lost/stolen phone numbers, traveler's check numbers, and travel itinerary.

A little low-cost preparation ahead of time can save you major headaches abroad.

Check out these other smart stories from LearnVest:

6 Ways Credit Cards Can Be Good For Your Finances

How to Snag That Room Upgrade and More: Top Tips From a Hotel Expert

I Sold Everything to Travel the World For 5 Years

How I Travel the World While Working

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