WHERE TO START? Make a check-list list of the ID documents (passport, visas, drivers licence, student card etc.) and travel documents (tickets, vouchers, rail passes) that are required for every country you plan to visit.
PASSPORTS: Although it has been said many times before, it is well worth saying again: Make sure that your passport is not going to be expiring within 6 months while you are away. The ‘6 month rule’ is commonly accepted by most countries in the world. You will not be allowed to enter a country if your passport expires within this time period, even if you have a pre-paid airline ticket or train pass. Renew your passport ahead of time and save yourself the hassles. Please remember that all Canadians entering the United States MUST present a valid passport when arriving by air as of January 2007. This includes all children regardless of age will require passports to enter the USA.
On occasion, it may be necessary to leave your passport with a business or organization as collateral, such as if you decide to rent a motorbike or sporting gear. This is not a good idea as you should always have your passport with you. Instead, if possible, take an old, expired passport with you on your trip and keep it stashed away in your backpack. They will probably not notice (or care) that it has expired and will accept it as a valid passport for collateral.
TICKETS & VOUCHERS: As most airlines have switched over to e-tickets, you don’t have to worry about the old fashioned coupon ticket that you could not lose. But you should always have a printed “passenger receipt” of your e-ticket with you, listing your flights, ticket numbers and airline record locator. Although the check-in person can pull up your file by your flight number and name, it is important to have the information at hand, just in case you forget the exact time of your flight etc. But what comes to vouchers for prepaid travel services (hotel vouchers, cruise documents etc.) – you have to present them as a proof that the reservation or service has been paid for through your travel arranger. Leaving the vouchers behind or losing them can cause a lot of trouble. It is especially important for rail passes – once lost, you just have to buy a new one to get on the train!
VISAS: Check and double-check the visa-requirements for countries you are planning to visit. This info can change very quickly. And there can be a lengthy processing time for visas to certain countries. Take a few passport photos with you. If you require a visa to get into another country that can be obtained on the border, you may need to have one of these pictures to attach to it. But rather than hunting all over the city looking for a photo booth or photography store (or paying lots of money), you will already have the photos.
DRIVER’S DOCUMENTS: If you are intending to rent a car, you might need to get an international drivers permit (IDP). This is a little booklet you have to show together with your actual licence that explains what category of a vehicle you are allowed to drive, etc. in different languages. It can be purchased through any CAA office or travel agency – and it is valid for 1 year. Most car rental agencies will request an IDP, even though it may not be required to drive in their country.
MONEY MATTERS: Although it is always good to have some emergency cash at hand – credit cards are a safe and convenient form of currency when traveling abroad. Not only can you use them to make purchases, but you can also get cash advances with them (provided you know your PIN number). The problem with cash advances is that you begin paying interest on the “loan” immediately. To avoid the 18% (or more) interest charges, over-pay your credit card before you leave if you intend on using your card for cash advances. Contact your credit card company in advance to let it know which countries you will be using your card in. Your credit card company, suspecting something is amiss when you’re overseas, may cancel or put a hold on your card when charges from some distant country show up on a card that previously had been used only locally.
Don’t leave your credit cards in the small safes offered by some hostels and hotels. Staff has keys to these so-called security devices and could ‘borrow’ your card to either make purchases (which you probably wouldn’t find out about until you got home) or make a copy of your card which could then be used over and over. When you do make credit card purchases, don’t let your card out of your site for more than a couple of minutes. It takes very little time for someone to make an extra charge or two while you are waiting for your card.
Usually the exchange rates are higher at the airports, so it is worth exchanging larger amounts of money downtown after comparing the exchange rates between the different banks. Some banks charge a fee for currency exchange or cashing in Travellers Cheques, so be sure to always ask first.
KEEPING IN TOUCH: Before you leave, prepare yourself to use internet services abroad. Set up an internet-based e-mail account (such as Hotmail), become familiar with the log-in process, make sure you remember your password and give your new e-mail address out to friends and family. You will also want to write down your friends’ e-mail addresses or better yet, email them to your own address for easy access. Scan the main page of your passport and e-mail it to your own web-based e-mail address. That way, if you lose your passport, you will have a copy that you can access and print out from any computer with internet access. This works for health insurance forms, credit card information, phone numbers and addresses, and any other paperwork as well.
You can visit the web site for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada for more useful information: