Preparing for Your Backpacking Trip Abroad
You’re about to go on your European backpacking adventure. So you have carefully packed your bags (after reading my article “what to pack on your backpacking adventure”), you have your airplane ticket. Now, what do you have left to do?
Hopefully, you have ordered your passport well in advance of booking your trip (or you are not leaving for at least a few months). If not, order your passport today! In the United States, it has been taking longer and longer to receive your passport since an overflow of passport applications. This comes after an announcement that a passport is now needed to travel to Canada or Mexico (you can read about it here). For more information about obtaining a passport (for United States citizens), you can visit the state department.
Whenever you travel, safety is a major concern (at least I sure hope so 😛 ). If traveling to Europe most people will tell you that it is safer than many places in the USA with regards to violent crime. This is probably true, however, things can always change quickly and Europe is a big place with several different countries. Because of this, it is always advised that you get up to date information about any country you are thinking about visiting as close to the time you leave as you can. One great way to do this is by checking out the United State’s current travel warnings.
It is also a good idea to register with the local embassy. If you are a United States citizen that can be done easily online for free by clicking here. It is not required that you register, but registering can help your embassy find you in the unlikely event that you need assistance. For more information on common scams and safety concerns, you can read this.
Before traveling, it is important to make copies of all your valuable information. I like to make three copies of my itineraries, passport, and numbers to call in case my credit cards are stolen. Most credit cards have international numbers that you can call collect to cancel a card. It is a good idea to leave one copy of the information at home with a friend or family, another copy can be left in your main bag and another copy can be taken with you in your smaller bag.
I am including this section because people always seem to ask whether or not it is a good idea to take a little bit of the currency of the country they will visit with them (or traveler’s checks). Personally, when I travel (at least to Europe) I do not carry any traveler’s checks or foreign currency on me before getting to the country. Today even the poorest countries have ATM machines. For most transactions, it is much cheaper to use the ATM machines than it is to use a currency conversion store or bank (check with your local bank about additional fees for using ATM machines abroad). The rates that exchange places usually charge are on average ten to fifteen percent greater than if you use your ATM card to withdraw cash or pay with a credit card (which will only be a one to three percent currency conversion fee).
Certain credit cards don’t charge any fee at all (like capital one) for currency conversions which means that when you use the card you get the real market conversion rate. If you have to convert cash or traveler’s checks into a foreign currency I recommend going to casinos, while they still do not charge the real market rate, they generally have the best conversion rates (besides for credit cards and ATMs)
Many currency change places do not accept Travelers Checks at all, and the ones that do often give you a worse rate for the extra risk they take on by cashing them. Pending on your bank, you may have to pay extra fees for withdrawing money from a different ATM but this fee is generally not as much as the rate increase charged by local change places.
I have found Squaremouth.com a good place to find inexpensive insurance. They allow you to compare several different types of insurance companies to find one that meets your needs the best. Click here to compare travel insurance with Squaremouth.com.
The farther in advance that you book your travel (at least for flights), the less money you will have to pay. It is possible to travel almost anyplace in Europe for extremely cheap using discount airline carriers.
Be sure to stay tuned to future posts for more information regarding booking cheap airfare and other means of transportation.