Are you looking for a good deal to travel to the other side of the world? Me, too. But if you don’t have your passport, it doesn’t matter if someone hands you a free ticket to Italy — you can’t go.
A valid passport is not the only thing you need for a successful trip overseas, but it’s a good place to start. In fact, if you want to drive to the Lower 48, you’ll need a passport to get into Canada. So get one. A new one costs $110 plus a $35 fee. That doesn’t include the postage. I recommend “expedited delivery” in both directions — which costs extra.
The Post Office at the airport is an official “acceptance center” for passport applications, but only between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. You need an appointment, too. Book one online.
Last week, I found some great last-minute fares from Anchorage to Europe for around $500 roundtrip (Anchorage-Madrid on Delta for $512 roundtrip, or Anchorage-Amsterdam for $468 roundtrip on Delta). Trips to Spain and the Netherlands do not require a visa. But I’m shopping a trip to Vietnam, which does. Pro tip: get your visa in advance. Countries like China, India, Australia and Brazil all require visas. My Russian visa was really expensive ($400) because I got it at the last minute. Private visa services can expedite your visa application for a fee. Many countries, though, offer visas on arrival. You have to check to make sure.
Get Global Entry. There are a couple of pre-check security programs available. One is the TSA’s “pre-check,” which costs $85. The other is Global Entry, which costs a little more: $100 for five years. The advantage is evident when you’re re-entering the U.S. If you have Global Entry, you can bypass most of the lines and go directly to the kiosk. You have to fill out a form and send in the money, even though you don’t know if you’ll be approved. Then, you have to go to the airport for a personal interview. They will take your picture and fingerprint you. The extra benefit is that you almost always get TSA pre-check on your domestic flights.
Not every airport or airline offers TSA pre-check. For example, if you’re flying overseas from Los Angeles, there’s no pre-check available at the giant Tom Bradley International Terminal. And not all airlines participate in the program. But most do, including Alaska Airlines, Delta and United.
Your smartphone is an essential tool when you’re traveling overseas. It can be expensive if you pick the wrong plan. Carriers such as ATT, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint offer international plans that can cost $10 per day or $60 per month. If you have a Google phone, you can sign up for “Google Fi” for coverage in most countries. You pay $10 per gigabyte of data and $20 per month for unlimited talk-and-text.
Get the Google Translate app on your phone in advance. Not everyone speaks English.
You also can get a separate SIM card for your phone on arrival in your new country. Just make sure your phone is unlocked. Typically, that means if you got your phone on a time-payment contract with your carrier, you have to pay it off in order to unlock it. If you don’t do this, you won’t be able to swap out the SIM card.
Typically, you can find a phone store at the airport or train station. The staff usually knows exactly how to set you your phone and swap out the SIM card. You won’t have the same number you have in the U.S., but you’ll be able to use your apps and make local calls.
Don’t worry too much about getting local currency in advance. Just use your debit card at a cash machine on arrival. It’s important, though, to call your bank in advance and tell them you’ll be traveling. Otherwise, your card may not work. You also should call your credit card companies and advise them you’ll be traveling.
Do your best to stay healthy on your trip by visiting the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Even though a country does not mandate that you have vaccinations, it’s still a good idea to check with your doctor before you leave. The CDC stays up to date on where the Zika virus is present, plus any other public health issues. The CDC also has some suggested packing lists, depending on where you’re traveling. There are good, common-sense recommendations, such as packing antacids, aspirin, sunscreen, insect repellent and such.
The U.S. State Department also offers a free service: STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). If you load up your itinerary and your contact information, the local U.S. Embassy can contact you in an emergency. Or, if you lose your passport, having a STEP profile is helpful.
Many travelers are concerned about changing or canceling their trips, or seeing a doctor overseas. Travel insurance can help in these situations, or if you’ve lost your bags. You should check with your credit card company, since some cards offer hefty insurance benefits. But I purchase a separate third-party insurance policy when I travel. There are several providers, including Allianz and BHTP, among others. There also are websites that can assist in side-by-side comparisons of insurance coverage, including Squaremouth.com and Insuremytrip.com.
International travel is not hard — but you have to be prepared in advance to take advantage of the good deals when they pop up. So go get your passport — and I’ll see you at the airport.