Guide to International Travel

International trips can be extremely eye opening.  You are able to immerse yourself in a culture unlike your own.  However, there are a couple things you have to remember before you can jet away to exotic new locales.

Make Sure You Have Necessary Documentation

Get a Passport

Don’t book your trip without it!  A passport is step 1.

In the US, applying for/renewing a passport is easy, but it can take 6-8 weeks.  You can use the passport form wizard to walk you through the steps for your personal situation, but the basics are as follows:

  • Fill out the appropriate form from the US Department of State.
  • Collect your supporting documents noted on the form (including citizenship evidence like your birth certificate).
  • Get a 2”x2” color photo that’s a headshot with full-face view (more specifications).  You can usually get them taken at a local pharmacy.
  • Write checks for the fees.  An adult obtaining a new passport book will have to pay $110 for the passport and $25 to the facility that accepts the forms.  
  • Find your closest acceptance facility and apply for your passport in person.  Usually you can go to your local post office.

You can get the passport expedited in 2-3 weeks for an extra $60 if needed, and there are services that will help you get it done faster (some in only 24 hours), but for a price.  It’s far less stressful to get everything together ahead of time.

Need a Travel Visa?

Some countries require visas for visits, but often it’s only for extended stays.  Double check the country you are visiting on the US Department of State’s website to see if a visa will be required for your trip. The website also includes travel warnings, embassy locations, vaccinations, and other important information.

Consider Global Entry

If you have a large local airport, you might benefit from the Global Entry program.  It’s a $100 fee, but the customs lines can be extremely long at larger airports so the time savings can add up.  My parents registered for the program since they fly out of Detroit, but it doesn’t make much of a difference for me in the small Tampa airport.

Travel Credit Cards

Make sure you have a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees.  Then you don’t have to worry about bringing cash or exchanging currency.  There are plenty of great cards that offer bonus points and cash back.  I recommend calling the credit card company or using their online portal to let them know the details of your trip, since we’ve had some cards blocked while traveling internationally before.​

Some credit cards offer travel insurance when you use the card to purchase your trip.  This can help in the event of trip cancellation, delays, lost or delayed luggage (which you shouldn’t have anyway), and rental car insurance, among other things.

Some credit cards also offer special perks like lounge access, hotel room upgrades, complimentary meals, early check in, or other special amenities.  Try to find cards with benefits you’ll use.


Google maps is great for traveling, since you can download the map to your phone and don’t need the Internet or cell phone service.  It allows you to mark locations, too.  That way, you theoretically won’t get lost.

If you prefer physical maps, make sure you look around the airport before you leave.  Some places try to charge for paper maps, but there are often free maps in the visitor center of the airport or near the taxi/car rental area.  I like using paper maps and then putting them up on my wall when I get home.


I usually make a point to find an Airbnb where the host speaks English, just so that I have someone who I can communicate with who knows my language.  I’m grateful that so many people know English.  

Before I travel, I like to learn a few key words from the language of the country I’m traveling to.  (Bathroom, food, water, and airport among others.) 

Technology makes it easier to communicate.  Google Translate can assist with basic translations.  There are plenty of other apps to download to your phone as well.

And of course, when planning your trip...

All the frugal planning rules apply.

Bon voyage!