As I’m in the midst of guiding my friends and family through travel planning for an international wedding, I thought that I’d take this opportunity to share my best recommendations here as well!
Due to the context, these suggestions are shared from the perspective of a U.S. Citizen traveling to Europe/the E.U.
From my experience of taking 6-8 trans-Atlantic flights throughout the year, here are my tried-and-true practices for preparing for international travel:
Six Months to a Year Before Travel
Check that your passport is current, and will not expire for at least three months after your travel dates. I recommend renewing your passport at least six months before it expires, so you give yourself enough time for it to be properly processed and returned to you. It is common for countries to refuse your entry if your passport is not valid through the amount of time you can stay in the country. For example, three months in the EU/Schengen Zone. So I suggesting erring on the side of caution knowing you have given yourself plenty of time to travel freely.
Apply for Global Entry. If you’re a U.S. Citizen or a citizen of a country that participates in the Global Entry program, I highly recommend applying. With Global Entry, you have an expedited process for going through Customs when you enter or return to the U.S., and your Known Traveler Number qualifies you for TSA Pre-Check on U.S. domestic flights as well. Even better, pay the $100 fee (for 5 years) with a card that covers your Global Entry application cost.
Check if you have a credit card without foreign transaction fees. While I always make one of my first stops at a bank ATM because I prefer to have local currency for small change/tipping (and for circumstances when credit cards aren’t accepted), I also recommend traveling with a credit card that specifically doesn’t charge international transaction fees. If you typically use American Express, I’d recommend also having a Visa or Mastercard with you since Amex isn’t as widely accepted outside of major European cities.
Three Months Before Travel
Book train tickets. Train tickets typically do not become available until three months before a travel date, so if you plan on traveling by train, set a reminder to book when your date becomes available to get the best rates.
Order Eurail Pass. If you plan on using a rail pass through Europe, order your pass in advance. Last I checked, they send your pass via mail to your address for you to bring with you when you travel, so allow enough time for this to happen.
Get a Priority Pass. If you don’t have an airline lounge membership already, I highly recommend Priority Pass, which is a lounge membership for a network of airport lounges around the world (read more about it here). This membership is also included as a perk with a Platinum Amex. For a referral link to apply, click here.
Two Months Before Travel
Book airfare, if you haven’t already. Rates are usually their lowest two months or more before a flight. Sometimes you’ll find an amazing last-minute deal, but typically, the rates won’t drop much and will more likely, go up as you get closer to the travel date.
Month Before Travel
Call your phone company to inquire on international plans. See what’s included on your current plan, and ask what they offer for international coverage, or packages you can add to your plan, so you’re not coming home to outrageous roaming fees.
Contact your bank card + credit card companies to put a travel alert on your account, so they know you’ll be traveling. It reduces the likelihood that they decline a charge from the assumption that it may be fraudulent.
Pick up a power adapter for the destination country/ies. While most major hotels will have power adapters on hand, I always recommend traveling with your own, and keeping one on you in case you need to charge your phone throughout the day.
24 Hours Before Travel
Check-in to your flight, and download or print your boarding pass. At this point, you can select or modify your seat selection, and pay in advance for checked luggage, if needed.
Day of Travel
Arrive to the airport 2-3 hours in advance for your flight. Sometimes the check-in and security lines can be long and take time to get through, so erring on the side of caution allows you to have enough time, and not stress out about whether you’re going to make or miss your flight. It’s easier to arrive early when you know you can wait in a lounge, so set up your lounge access in advance, or see if a day pass is available for one in your terminal.
Bring an empty, refillable water bottle with you. Make sure it is empty before you go through security, and then fill it up either in the airport or lounge before flying, so you can easily stay hydrated throughout your travels.
Text/call your loved ones to let them know when you’ve boarded, when you’ve arrived, and that you love them, of course!
What are your go-to travel practices? Feel free to share them by sending them to: firstname.lastname@example.org