If all has gone well, I have recently landed in Cancun, Mexico, en route to Playa del Carmen for a few days of warmth. And all is more likely to have gone well if I followed these steps:
Step 1: Find your passport and bring it with you.
This is really the only essential step. You’re not getting far without the passport. Anything else can be acquired later. Bonus points if you actually make a photocopy in advance and pack it separately from the passport so if the original is lost or stolen, you still have the copy. (Note: I have never done this successfully. This trip will be no exception.)
Step 2: Call your credit card company, bank, and cell phone carrier.
Let them know you’ll be traveling internationally, where you’re going, and when. Now your cards won’t be denied when you’re trying to charge a dolphin-swimming excursion or take out cash to load up on a few essentials at the farmacia, and you’ll know exactly how much you’ll be charged for phone calls, texts, and data while you’re abroad–and if it might be better or easier to just turn the darn phone off for a few days (my method of choice for this trip.)
Step 3: Get local money.
I know that the smart way to go about this is to wait until you’ve landed and then get money from an ATM. But for me, especially if it’s going to be a long flight or if I’m going to land in a huge, crowded, unfamiliar airport, I like to arrive with a little local cash in hand. At least enough to get me from the airport to my hotel. It’s just one less thing I have to worry about while sleep-deprived and disoriented.
Step 4: Forward your itinerary.
On any trip, it’s important to let at least one other person know where you’re going to be and how to get hold of you, because Things Go Wrong sometimes. On international trips, that’s even more crucial; you’re farther away from home and potentially harder to contact. So just send your itinerary to your significant other, your best friend, your dad, or anyone who’s not going with you (that’s sort of key). Depending on where you’re traveling to, you might even want to let the State Department know, in case they need to evacuate you later. Exciting!
Step 5: Be prepared for things to go wrong.
They will. But if you follow the above tips, they won’t go too wrong. And it’ll all be fine. You’ll come back with a story or three. That’s why you travel in the first place.