A record-breaking 59 million international trips were made by Americans last year, and this year is shaping up to be similarly busy. To help Americans travel wisely, the travel experts at FlyFirst offer a few tips for traveling abroad this year.
Plan for airport delays. The current government sequester creates a number of cutbacks in Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Customs forces, leading to longer processing times at airports. Travelers should expect wait times for security and Customs checkpoints to double.
Use smart phones wisely. Travelers should check with cell phone companies to determine what roaming and other charges they may face while abroad. With a little planning, smart phone users can avoid roaming charges by unlocking their GSM-system smart phone and, while abroad, going to a local cell phone store to get a new SIM card and local phone number.
Research the destination. Travelers can avoid many mishaps simply by researching their destination countries. "Understanding the country's laws, weather, political conditions and travel regulations can go a long way towards an enjoyable trip," advises Julia Graft, PR manager for FlyFirst. "The U.S. Department of State maintains briefs on more than 200 countries, so it's easy to get important, up-to-date information on foreign destinations."
Stay in touch. Traveling Americans should stay in contact with the State Department. Americans can submit their travel plans to the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so that the government can contact travelers in the event of a crisis.
Know insurance coverage. Travelers should check with their overseas medical insurance coverage. "Americans abroad should know what to do and where to go for a medical emergency," Graft says. "Also, some prescription drugs may not be allowed in the destination country, so travelers should check to see what medication restrictions are in place."
Notify credit card companies. It's best to notify credit card companies of impending travel so that the companies' fraud monitors don't inadvertently freeze credit accounts for unusual use.
Go to the local bank. Instead of using the money conversion centers in airports, travelers should go to a bank in the destination country. There, they can be assured of completely accurate exchanges and lower fees.
Avoid identity theft. Credit cards and passports are vulnerable to identify thieves using RFID scanners in busy airports and tourist attractions. Graft warns, "The scanners can pick up vital information embedded in passports and credit cards just by passing in close proximity to the items, so it's important to keep them stored in a RFID-proof wallet."
Don't use debit cards. While abroad, travelers should use credit cards rather than debit cards. If a debit card number is stolen while abroad, the traveler's liability on any fraudulent use is $500, versus $50 for most credit cards.
With a little bit of planning and research, international travel can be full of exciting adventures and interesting experiences. For more help in planning a trip abroad, consult with a knowledgeable travel company.