13 Important Things to Remember When Traveling Internationally

13 Important Things to Remember When Traveling Internationally

International travel is a fantastic way to see new sights, meet amazing people, and broaden your horizons. Whether you’re riding a motorcycle or doing any other kind of travel, foreign countries can give you a whole new perspective on life.

But traveling cross-border is a different beast from domestic trips—particularly if you’re doing it for the first time. Your dream vacation can quickly turn into a nightmare if you don’t prepare properly.

I’ve trotted the globe for the past 10 years for both work and leisure. Here are my 12 most vital things to keep in mind when planning an international trip, on a motorcycle or otherwise.

Apply for a Visa Early

Check whether the country you’re traveling to requires a visa and apply for it well before your planned travel date.

Traveling internationally is easier than ever as many countries these days have signed visa-free travel agreements—but that also makes it easier to forget a visa when you need it. Always double-check your destination’s visa requirements to avoid a nasty surprise at the passport check.

If you do need a visa, apply for one at your earliest convenience to ensure the wheels of bureaucracy have time to spin. Some countries offer express visas on short notice, but they can be exorbitantly expensive. Save your money and nerves and file your visa application at least three months in advance, if possible.

Get an International Driving Permit

Get an International Driving Permit if you plan to ride a motorcycle or drive a car at your destination.

The International Driving Permit (IDP) is a driver’s document recognized by 150 countries worldwide. It translates your driver’s license into 10 different languages and makes riding and renting motorcycles (and other vehicles) much easier when traveling internationally—and it may even be required for some rentals or guided tours.

Other countries can’t issue you an IDP based on a U.S. license, so make sure you apply for it with the AAA before you leave. As with all documentation, you should apply well in advance, but keep in mind that IDPs can’t be issued more than six months ahead of the desired effective date.

Consider Getting Travel Insurance

Good travel insurance can help protect you and save you money in case something goes wrong during your trip.

A full travel insurance package will help cover medical costs, expenses from lost or damaged luggage, and costs from delays or cancellations. It can let you explore other countries with peace of mind.

Even if you don’t opt for a full package, getting medical insurance is worth it as healthcare costs and availability vary greatly from country to country. When comparing insurance packages, try to find a company that offers a 24/7 contact hotline so you won’t have to wait for assistance.

Have Someone Look After Your Home

Ask someone to drop by your home while you’re away to look after the house, feed pets, and carry out other small tasks.

Your home will need looking after even when you’re not there. Get a family member, friend, or even your neighbor to feed your pets, water plants, empty the mailbox, and do other small things to keep your house in order—and don’t forget to compensate them fairly! They can also alert you about possible urgent maintenance issues, like a flooding air conditioner (don’t ask why I’m bringing that up).

If you can’t get anyone to look after your home, try to minimize possible risks before you leave. Check your pets into animal boarding, put mail delivery on hold, and unplug all electrical devices that no one will use while you’re not home.

See a Doctor Before Traveling

Get all necessary vaccinations for your destination, alongside a pre-trip wellness check, so you can enjoy your journey in good health.

Many countries, especially tropical ones, may recommend or even require all incoming visitors to have certain vaccinations. Some vaccines, like the yellow fever vaccine, are timing-sensitive and administered only in specific locations, so check the list of required vaccinations well ahead of your trip.

It’s also smart to get a general health checkup before travel for peace of mind. If you take any regular medications, make sure you have enough of them and get a printed prescription so overzealous customs agents won’t confiscate your meds.

Pack Lightly

Pack only the essentials to make moving around faster and easier at your destination.

Strapping multiple heavy bags to your motorcycle every morning isn’t fun and you also risk overloading your machine. When traveling internationally, the best practice is to pack only what you absolutely need. With lighter bags, it’s much easier and often cheaper to get around at your destination.

Try to avoid stuffing your bags with an excessive amount of spare clothes and things that might be nice to have but aren’t necessary. Remember, you can most likely buy anything you might realize you’re missing once you arrive.

Notify Your Bank and Credit Card Company

Let your bank and/or credit card company know about your trip to ensure you can securely use your payment cards abroad.

Call your bank and credit card providers in advance to inform them of the dates you’ll be out of the country. This way they won’t block your cards due to “suspicious” foreign payments and leave you stranded with no cash.

Additionally, you’ll protect yourself against fraud in case someone somehow manages to swipe your credit card information during your trip. I can tell you from unfortunate experience what a horrible feeling it is to notice someone using your credit card in another country a month after you came home.

Make Copies of Your Travel Documents

Make copies of all your important travel documents and leave them with a trusted person so you have access to them even if you lose the originals.

You should scan and photocopy all passports, visas, reservation confirmations, and other important documents before you leave. Give the copies to someone you trust and who can send them to you in case you lose the originals.

You might think it’s illegal to photocopy a passport, but that’s wrong. In fact, the U.S. Department of State recommends you do so before traveling internationally. This way you’ll have access to your personal information in case a sticky-fingered pickpocket snatches the original documents.

And speaking of pickpockets, keep your original documents at all times in secure, zippered pockets that can’t be easily reached.

Share Your Itinerary

Let a reliable person know your entire travel plan and keep them up to date during your trip so everyone at home knows you’re fine.

You should give every detail of your itinerary to a relative, loved one, or friend before you travel—especially if you’re going on a potentially risky trip, like a demanding, remote off-roading tour. During your trip, regularly contact your guardian angel and let them know you’ve safely reached your next checkpoint.

Having someone keep track of your travels can help protect you (and even save your life) in case something happens to you. If they don’t hear from you by a certain time, they can quickly inform the police or other relevant authorities that you might be in trouble.

Set Up a Way to Contact Home

Make sure you have a way to get in touch with people back home, even if you have to pay extra for it.

You can’t always use your phone freely when abroad. You may have a very poor connection, or calling home might be so ridiculously expensive that it’s simply not a realistic option. Before you leave, figure out how you will be able to contact home if need be.

The simplest (if not necessarily the cheapest) way is to purchase an international travel package from your phone service provider. If you know you’ll be staying mostly in urban environments with readily available Wi-Fi, an online messaging app—like Whatsapp or Viber—can be an effective and cost-free solution. Should you head out into remote regions, like mountains or jungles, consider buying a satellite phone for emergencies.

Learn About Your Destination

Do some reading on your destination before you go there to avoid total culture shock and unnecessary difficulties.

The thing about different countries is that they’re different. I highly recommend you study your destination in advance to learn a bit about the local weather, nature, culture, and etiquette. Going abroad blindly can result in culture shock that could—in the worst-case scenario—ruin your trip.

Additionally, it’s worth learning a few simple phrases in the local language. You don’t need to have perfect pronunciation and grammar, but being able to say “please,” “thank you,” and “where’s the nearest bathroom” can help you tremendously. Also, most people will appreciate that you’re even trying to communicate in their own language.

Act Responsibly

Be a polite and tidy visitor, respect local customs, and don’t litter when traveling abroad.

There are few things more annoying to locals anywhere in the world than an obnoxious and disrespectful tourist. When traveling abroad, be a responsible visitor who abides by local customs and leaves places cleaner than they were when you arrived.

Not respecting the local way of life can earn you the ire of everybody you meet and even a hefty fine or a night in jail. Remember—when in Rome, you will do as Romans do.

Avoid Pointless Risks

Don’t take unnecessary risks and listen to your gut if something seems odd.

As motorcyclists, we are generally at least mild risk-takers by nature, but you shouldn’t endanger yourself unnecessarily. Don’t put yourself at risk by making easily avoidable and even stupid mistakes, especially when abroad.

Did you encounter a road that you’re not sure your bike can handle? Take a safer detour. Does that shortcut through a shady, narrow alley seem a bit iffy? Best to stick to the crowd and go the long way around.

If something happens to you, getting help can be difficult if you’re left alone and hurt in a foreign country where you don’t speak the local language. I’m not telling you to be paranoid or avoid all unique experiences—just exercise healthy caution and you’ll have a great time exploring the world!