Preparing travels abroad, learned the hard way

You are traveling abroad to a conference and you think you are prepared? Think again! There is always something you probably will forget about and if some unfavorable circumstances following each other you may find yourself in real trouble. Check out my list, learn from my mistakes and extend it, in case I missed something!

In most of the cases a good preparation seems time consuming and who need all this, nothing will happen, right?! On a recent trip to Seattle in the United states the worst case happened, I lost my passport. A lot of steps needed to be done, but outside of the usual environment obvious, self-evident things become challenging. Let’s go through my use-case to check what is needed. A small remark, I heed some of the mentioned points, but for some I didn’t even saw the problem arising.

Carry copies of important documents

Having copies of all important documents. Depending on what disappeared, copies can save your life. Always make copies of your passport, your ID, driver license, Visa or other travel authorization documents like ESTA and carry it with you in printed form or digital. In my case I still had my ID to identify myself and a printed version of the approved ESTA application. This document included my passport ID and allowed me to log-in online, in order to find out other important passport information like its expiry date. This information can help speed up the process of requesting a temporary passport from your country’s diplomatic mission.

A short introduction to diplomatic missions. Usually your country has an embassy in the capitol of other countries. But you don’t have to travel to the capitol in order to get a temporary passport. Your country may operate a hand full of consulates distributed across the foreign country. In my case the next consulate was in San Francisco which is still around 1.300 km away. There could still be some honorary consulates nearby, which act in behalf of your country, google for that! In my case there was one in Seattle, but unfortunately they were on vacation! That’s why I had to travel to Portland, which gave me time to write this blog post. Ask also your Airline, for example the German Lufthansa used to take German citizens back to Germany just with the ID.

Make sure you can call

In any case, you have to make some calls in order to arrange everything, e.g. the consulate or the airline.
We are living in the 21st century, nearly everybody has some sort of a phone. Conversely, there is no need for phone booths to make calls anymore. But abroad you may have to make calls, but your provider may charge significant fees! The amount you are usually paying for your whole monthly subscription will may be due for a single minute! (For me it was around 6 Euro/min) Load money on your Skype account, wifi is nearly everywhere.
Of course you can ask around if you can use someone else’s phone, at your hotel’s desk or at random stores, but being independent is much more helpful, especially if you are around in the city.

Activate debit/credit cards fully functionality

Money rules the world! In general, having cash is very practical. Your bank might deactivate your debit card’s functioning in foreign countries. So, activate your debit card in advance for the use in the foreign country! I fortunately did this.

In case you your consulate is not around the corner, you might have to undertake a travel there. Trains or especially intercity buses are booked online. Sometimes online is the only way of purchase, or if not, you might have to pay a much higher price at the station or from the driver. Also sometimes, credit cards are the only possible payment method. Both, Visa and MasterCard offer fraud detection techniques like “Verified by Visa” or “MasterCard SecureCode”. If you aware of it, it can be your life vest. If you are not aware of it, this life vest might strangle you! If these functionality isn’t activated beforehand, you cannot use the cards in online shopping environment, like your ticket purchase. The activation can take multiple days, so activate your credit card’s online shopping functionality beforehand. Luckily I had friends and colleagues willing to helping me out!

Summarized preparation

  • Make copies of important documents beforehand
  • Load money on your Skype account
  • Activate debit card for the duration of your stay for the foreign country
  • Activate your credit card’s online shopping capabilities

Please comment if you can think of something I maybe missed.

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