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Tips for International Travel

Two back-to-back international trips this year — to Germany and South Africa — gave me a good reason to brush up on my world-traveler skills. Here are the main things I think about when I'm planning a trip abroad.

Tourist in Paris, France
Phoning home. How I am going to communicate? I mainly use Skype. It’s an easy, inexpensive way to make international calls. There are similar applications for phones, including Viber and WhatsApp, that allow you to text, call and send photos and videos for free as long as you have Wi-Fi or a data plan. A word to the wise: Don't take easy-to-find free Wi-Fi for granted outside the U.S.

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Using the Internet. To manage my cellphone data usage, I go to my carrier's website and purchase an international plan for $30 (which gives me 120MB). Each time I go over that, I'm automatically charged another $30. But that protects me from future bill-opening sticker shock when I realize it cost me 82 bucks to view that cute baby video my best friend sent me!

Baggage weight. If you're flying on a regional carrier, make sure you look into the airline's specific baggage guidelines. In Europe, for instance, your carry-on might be weighed. I know, horrors! You could be charged hefty fees for bags that weigh more than 30 pounds. I’ve never met any of you, but I know there's a good chance your carry-on weighs more than that.

Passport. I always bring a photocopy of my passport, and I also keep a picture of it on my phone.

Currency. Don’t sweat the exchange. You don't need cash when you arrive in the airport, nor do you need the official currency exchange counter. An airport ATM is the best and least expensive way to get cash with your debit or credit card.

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Credit cards. Right before I leave, I call my credit card companies and my bank to put a traveler’s note on my accounts. That’s not to say that the cards won’t work if you forget, but it’s always good to give a heads-up so that there are no problems when you arrive. I also write down my credit cards' international toll-free numbers in case I lose them (or worse, my wallet is stolen). I have to say, however, that in 15 years of travel, I’ve never been robbed.

Comfort on the plane. On long-haul flights, I always make myself a “comfy kit” (like the ones they pass out in first class). Feet swell on the flight so I bring a pair of super-comfortable socks, and I make sure the shoes I wear aren't tight. An eye mask and earplugs are musts, too. On overnight flights, the lights remain on during meal service — and I'd much rather sleep.

Photo: Lilyana Vinogradova/


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