THE ViSA: Start the process as soon as possible. Each visa has its own list of requirements that must be fulfilled before your passport can be stamped. Individually, those requirements may take quite a bit of time to be completed. Such as, obtaining the police report to show that you are in good standing (this took me about a week), or the medical form from your doctor stating you are in good health (this required shots to prove I didn’t have illnesses, the time it took to get results back from the lab, as well as having a notary come to the doctor’s office to notarize that form). I also had to have my contact in Ecuador sign me up for school and fax me the school registration forms; and also had to go to my bank and get a form (had to be notarized) to prove I had the economic means to support myself.
The biggest tip to keep in mind while trying to obtain your visa in time is to consider where your consulate is located. There may not be one in your state. You may have to fly, like in my case, or drive to an outside state to get your visa. Check this out first, because it will lengthen the process in order to purchase airline tickets and set aside travel time.
MONEY: If you have bills that need to be paid every month, write out checks (leaving the date area empty) and have some family member or close friend send those every time the bill arrives.
CURRENCY: Find out if a bank close by can exchange your currency so that you may avoid the higher fees associated with exchanging currency at airports or in the country where you’ll be traveling. Major banks, such as Wells Fargo, can complete exchanges.
PASSWORDS: Give your closest family member the passwords to your e-mail, credit card and bank providers so they can help you if you should find yourself in need of immediate help.
ADDRESSES: Write down the addresses of your hotel, apartment, hostel that you’ll be staying so you’re friends and family have a place to send care packages (i.e. health products that may not be your preference in the country you are traveling, or your favorite snacks that you’ve been missing).
ACTiViTATE CARDS: Do not wait until you are outside the country and are going to the market to buy your first week’s or month’s groceries to have your card declined. Make sure you call your credit card company and notify them that you will be traveling for an extensive period of time and give them the dates.
If you plan on using a debit card, go to your bank and let the people there know that you’ll be out of the country for a long while. They should give you a toll-free number and activation code that will allow your card to be used outside the country.
CELL PHONE: Suspend your phone immediately. Most countries outside the states have internet cafes or places that will allow you to phone home. Trust me, you won’t be phoning home that often anyway because you’ll be so busy. And if you must, download SKYPE on your computer before you leave and tell your family or friends to do the same. If you happen to be on at the same time (since they’re living their lives and you’re traveling) or have setup a SKYPE date, you can TALK and SEE each other for free.
HEALTH iNSURANCE: Purchase travel insurance or check to see if your current health-care provider covers you while you are traveling. To help prevent high-cost, consider keeping the basic plan you are on and relying on your insurance just for emergencies. Those from the U.S. tend to live in fear that any health-care providers outside the country do not have the same standards of practice. However, many travelers say otherwise. Of course, it is up to each individual traveler’s experience to make their own judgment call.
MORE: If you have any tips you’d like to add, please feel free to post a comment and I will edit the posting.