Flying internationally? Here’s Everything You Need To Prepare.

flying internationally

It’s been a weird few years when it comes to international travel. While you might be eagerly anticipating a more “normal” overseas travel experience, traveling internationally has still not entirely returned to pre-pandemic ways. 

And let’s be honest. Sometimes it can be downright CONFUSING!

Do I need a visa? How do I get my bag through customs? What should I take with me? What airplane snacks should I bring??

So many questions and we’ve got you covered.

It helps to know how and when to book your international trip. Here’s everything you need to know about flying internationally.

Important Things to Prepare Before Traveling Abroad

Traveling internationally is very exciting but you need to plan ahead to make sure your journey goes smoothly. Lovely as it would be to just throw some underwear and sunscreen into a bag, you need to know some stuff to ensure you make it to your destination without any hiccups.

  • Check your passport. Before booking anything, check your passport and the entry requirements of the country you’re visiting. Ideally you should have six months left on your passport AFTER your planned return date.
  • Do you need a visa? Don’t forget also to check what visas you might need and how to get them – many countries like the US have a visa waiver program but other countries require a more complicated application and additional documentation.
  • Do you need a COVID-19 vaccine card? Whatever your personal view on COVID 19 and vaccines might be, without the correct vaccination status (and documentation) your dream of a trip abroad could turn into a nightmare. New rules come into play frequently so make sure you have up to date information about disease control measures, vaccination and testing requirements.
  • Test or quarantine? Most of the world is open to US citizens, especially those who have been fully vaccinated and can prove it with an up to date vaccination card or vaccine passport. Others still require a negative COVID-19 PCR test and some insist visitors quarantine on arrival. You can check here what travel restrictions your destination has.
  • To mask or not to mask? Although mask wearing is not required by all countries now, check your destination’s requirements before heading to the airport. You may be legally required for example to wear masks in medical facilities, on public transport including the airplane or in the airport – even if you only have a brief stopover before onward travel. Different countries have varying rules on masks – some accept homemade fabric coverings while others insist on N95 (FFP2 in Europe) grade masks. It’s wise to carry a supply of disposable masks with the highest rating as international travelers report they have been refused boarding unless they comply.

What Do I Need For My International Travel?

I am one of THOSE women who carry everything “for fear.” I’m the gal you need when you get stung by a wasp, need a blister plaster or fancy a muesli bar so trust me on these recommendations for international travel.

You’ve read my tip above, checked your passport and found to your horror it ran out or is about to. So, how long will it take to get your U.S. passport? According to the US Department of State website, you can currently expect a standard renewal to take between 6-9 weeks (December 2022) with the option to request for the expedited service which cuts the wait to 3-5 weeks.

Here are a few other things to prepare for your international flight:

  • Book your international flights. This can be a minefield as some Explorer Chicks have discovered. Rising gas prices and fuel supply issues means flights are more expensive than in previous years. Try to avoid booking international air travel during peak times. Summer in the European Union (June to September) for instance is always more expensive. A good rule of thumb is to book between one and three months before travel.
  • Do I need proof of yellow fever and other vaccinations? For fear I would carry paper copies in addition to any electronic certificates you might have especially travel documents and insurance documents you might need even if your phone was lost/stolen/broken
  • Take steps to boost your immune health. Traveling overseas can leave you vulnerable to all sorts of new bugs and new variants of existing viruses. Add to that any physical exertion, especially in unfamiliar climates or high altitude, and your immune system might take a beating. Make sure you are in tip-top condition health wise adding supplements if your diet isn’t perfect.
  • Get a health MOT. Better to tackle those niggling issues before printing your boarding pass. If you have any concerns about heart, lungs and other major organs, schedule a Doctor’s appointment to rule out any potentially serious problems.
  • Buy travel and health insurance and make sure it includes repatriation. The news is full of horror stories about international travelers who have fallen ill or had accidents with huge medical bills and no way of getting back to their home country. Make sure you are transparent about any existing conditions.
  • Foreign currency. Sometimes only cash will do overseas. Often locals in other countries prefer US dollars over local currency. Join online traveler groups to get real-time information about what kind of currency is used in your upcoming destination.
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Things To Do The Day Before And Day Of Your Flight

  • Check-in online to snag the best seat. If you have certain visible or invisible conditions you may qualify for special assistance which often means your seat fee is waived . Apply via your airline.
  • Measure and weigh your bags. There can be stiff penalties for oversized or overweight bags and you may have your carry-on bag loaded into the hold if it’s too big or heavy. If you have connecting flights with different airlines make sure your luggage meets the requirements of all airlines you are traveling with.
  • Pack some basics in your carry on including toiletries, medication and spare underwear in case your hold luggage goes astray. Use a quart sized bag containing a maximum amount of 3.4oz/100ml of each liquid, gel or paste. This is known as the 3-1-1 liquids rule. Rules might vary in your destination country so check before heading for the flight home.
  • Next time you fly, count the number of black bags on the carousel. Yeah – it’s a lot! Customize your bag by adding a short ribbon or tape to the handle, or a distinctive luggage strap or tag to identify it.
  • Download entertainment to enjoy in-flight. Long flights fly by if you have books, movies and your fave shows loaded onto a tablet or laptop. Don’t forget to bring your charger and make sure you can view without WiFi.
  • Pack food for your international flight, especially if you have a special diet to follow. Food at airports can be limited and expensive. If you want to buy food or eat at the airport, arrive extra early as there may be long queues.
  • Charge devices before travel. Homeland Security does not allow uncharged laptops, tablets and phones through security.
  • Bring a pen. Certain countries require you to fill out a paper custom or immigration form, usually during your flight, before allowing you to visit. Some countries including Canada might allow you to use an electronic system at the airport or via an app but if you have a pen you can just fill out the declaration card on the plane.
  • Avoid alcohol. Tempting as it is to start your trip with a tipple, experienced travelers know that too much boozing in the airport bar can get you banned from flying. Drinking at high altitude can affect people differently and result in dehydration. Stick to water to arrive fresh faced and without a hangover.
what to do at the airport step by step

What to Do at the Airport: Step-By-Step

Alright, international travel can be a doozy, so let’s break it down step-by-step. I’ll include my tips for each step:

  1. Head to the airport early in case of traffic or public transport snafus en route. Staffing issues and increased security measures can mean it takes a couple of hours just to get from airport entrance to the airplane. Heads up: Most check-in counters won’t open until two hours before departure… so you gotta find the right balance between early and on-time.
  2. Head to check in (or bag drop if you’ve checked in online but have hold bags.) If you have connecting flights, then ask if you will have to collect and recheck luggage or if it will go straight to your destination. This is important and super helpful!
  3. Go through security making sure to declare any liquids, pastes, gels etc. Follow the printed instructions regarding how your belongings go through security or directions from border protection staff. Usually, laptops, Kindles, batteries, and electronic devices go naked into a bin, shoes and coats go into another bin, toiletries and liquids get another bin, and your bags go onto the belt.
  4. Enjoy the departure zone but ensure you keep an eye on screens announcing gate numbers. You may have a long walk to the gate and the time from gate announcement to closing of boarding can be surprisingly fast. Heads up: Sometimes gates aren’t announced until 1.5 to 2 hours before departure. Don’t panic if you don’t see your flight on the screens yet, it’ll come soon enough.
  5. As you’re arriving to your new destination, listen for instructions from the flight attendants. They usually say where to collect bags, how to get your connecting flights, and what the next steps are.
  6. When you get off of the plane, follow the crowd and look for the line for Foreigners as you approach customs. If you’re unsure of what to do, watch everyone else! And if that fails, there are usually lots of English-speaking attendants there ready to help.
  7. Answer the questions they have, usually how long you’re there for, where you’re going, and when you’re leaving. Easy peasy.
  8. If you have to collect your bag, then you’ll do it after going through the Customs interview. Then you’ll need to get in line to drop it on a large conveyor belt that goes through an x-ray. If you’re continuing on to another destination, then find where you need to drop your bag for transfer. If not, bienvenida a las vacaciones!

Traveling Abroad, According to Explorer Chicks

For useful tips and discussion why not join this Explorer Chick group where the big discussion at the moment is about traveler credit cards and how and when to book the best flights for a good price. Such a great resource as Christine found when she asked for help on the Explorer Chick Facebook group. Long story short she’s booked to travel abroad next year!

And experienced Explorer Chicks in the Facebook group were on hand to help and encourage newby Sami who has never flown or left the US. She’s also now booked to explore Belize.

Ready to Explore The World?

Whether you are a seasoned traveler or someone who has never ventured further than the next town, Explorer Chick has the trip for you. From US adventures to overseas exploration there’s a whole host of fun to be had and new friends to be made.

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Meet the Writer

Afra Willmore

Afra is an award winning journalist who has enjoyed many adventures including swimming with sharks, crewing hot air balloons and canyoning.  She started creating online content ten years ago, diversifying after years writing for print publications. She loves travel, great food, and her family. Not necessarily in that order.

Favorite outdoor adventure: Snorkeling in the warm waters off the coast of Cyprus

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