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Ensure a Seamless Solo Trip: 7 Tasks You Can't Afford to Ignore When Leaving the US

Embarking on an international journey from the United States?

Believe it or not, I didn't take my first flight until I was in college. I remember being so excited, yet nervous, as I took my first flight to Portland, Oregon for my summer internship in Beaverton, Oregon with IBM.

And while flying to OR was my first flight ever, my second flight ever involved jumping out of the plane for a tandem skydive!

I had always, always wanted to leave the country, and taking these first big leaps (as someone who was somewhat afraid of flying) marked the start of my ventures beyond borders. Fast forward to that following January in 2009 when I ventured overseas for the first time to study abroad in Cyprus.

When I tell you that planning happened so fast! I promise I'll write a blog post on that later ;).

Ultimately, these milestones taught me invaluable lessons about preparation and the importance of a comprehensive pre-departure checklist. Whether it's your inaugural trip abroad or you're a seasoned traveler, ensuring you've covered all the essentials before leaving the country is vital. In this guide, drawing from my own experiences and the lessons learned, I'll call out some essential tasks to tackle before your departure date.

I will definitely miss some, so this isn't a definitive list (and there will be more posts on this topic, I promise), but for now, I find these to be the top seven (7) things one must do before leaving the country, especially if you're traveling solo and can't rely on the buddy system.

Visit Travel.state.gov

Visiting travel.state.gov is one of the first things I do when planning a trip, and here's why:

Learn About Your Destination

Learn about your destination and what that means for you as a U.S. Citizen.

  • How is the political climate? Is there social unrest?
  • Where is the nearest U.S. embassy in relation to where you'll be? Is there even an embassy there? What can be provided for you in the case of an emergency?
  • What is the main emergency number? Are there different ones for fire, police and medical?
  • Speaking of medical, how is the medical infrastructure? Do you need vaccines to enter the country? Are there any ongoing outbreaks?
  • Read the Safety and Security section for your destination. What are the most common crimes and how can you protect yourself against them? Are there any areas you should avoid? Is there an increased danger to your safety regarding your ethnicity, gender, religion, political views, sexual and gender orientation, etc?
  • What are the visa requirements for this country? Do you have enough blank pages left in your passport to enter this destination?

The list goes on. Arm yourselves with knowledge to aid in your planning and decision making, but don't let what you read deter you entirely.

Register Your Trip

Register your trip at STEP.state.gov so you can receive travel and security messages in relation to your trip. If you're in an emergency, the information you include about your trip will assist the embassy in getting you aid and contacting your friends and/or relatives.

When I was in Guatamala, the STEP service informed me via text and email about unrest in Semuc Champey that resulted road blockages in and out of the area.
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Learn These Words In the Local Language

These are the words you absolutely must learn in the local language, even if you're going to a place where English is a secondary language.

  • Help - "I need help" or "Help me!"
  • Police - speaks for itself
  • Danger/Dangerous - "I'm in danger" or "There is danger"
  • "I have [medical condition(s)]"

You don't want to be in a situation where someone is trying to warn you and you didn't understand the important words.

Alternatively, you don't want to be in a situation where you have to frantically and quickly ask for help and are unable to do so.

Just in case you missed where I mentioned this elsewhere, make sure you know the emergency number(s) for fire, medical, and police at each destination you're traveling to.
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Make Sure You Have All Your Meds

Check all your medication and make sure you're not about to run out during your trip. If so, work with your doctor and/or your insurance to make sure you have enough supply for your trip.

  • You doctor may need to write you another prescription so you can have the supply you need.
  • If your insurance is a barrier, call your insurance (or ask your pharmacy to call) and request a travel exception.
  • DO NOT wait too long to do this.
  • If you fail to ensure you have enough medicine, research your destination and work with your doctor to see if they carry your medicine or an equivalent.
  • I strongly advise using Wikipedia to look up the generic name of you medicine, then switch to the local language version of the page to use when speaking to a pharmacist at your destination.

very regularly have to re-up on my migraine meds while I'm abroad and frequently pull up the Wikipedia page for triptans.

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Make Sure You Have Travel Insurance

In this day and age, I'm not playing around about travel insurance. You may talk to people who'll say you don't need it.

I'm going to tell you... you need it (um, unless you're rich, I guess).

There's no way to predict all the things that can go wrong on your trip. Here are some of the benefits of buying travel insurance, and I'll also add which travel activities that make me go "hmm, I think I need a more premium travel insurance, just in case":

  1. Medical Emergencies
  2. Trip Cancellation or Interruption
  3. Lost, Stolen, or Delayed Baggage
  4. Travel Delays or Missed Connections
  5. Emergency Assistance Services
  6. Financial Protection
  7. Peace of Mind

Activities that I Prefer Premium Insurance for:

  • Hot Air Balloon Rides - guys, I'm not getting into the details, just please trust me on this one...
  • Skydiving - ...guys...
  • Zip-lining - super fun! super exhilarating! super dangerous!
  • ATV riding - I've slammed into a mountain. I'm not playing with this...
  • Caving/spelunking - because danger
  • Anything to do with animals - Horseback riding? Swimming with dolphins? Bathing elephants? Cute, but remember, they're unpredictable.

I personally use World Nomads and can't speak for other insurance companies. Talk with your travel peers to ask what they use. I found out about World Nomads from facebook groups like Nomadness and Girls Love Travel.

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Make a Copy of Your Passport

Photo by ConvertKit on Unsplash

Having both a digital and hard copy of your passport is super important and will make your life easier. Here's why:

  • Create a digital copy and send it to trusted friends and/or relatives in case something happens to you.
  • Add a paper copy of your passport to your luggage to prove that it's yours.
  • In cases where you don't have to legally keep your passport on you at all times (please look this up for each location you visit because it's different everywhere), a paper copy is good enough for you to carry around for identification.
  • Save a digital copy in your Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, whatevs, so that you always have access to a copy.
  • Having a copy of your passport makes the replacement process easier in the event that your passport is lost, damaged, or stolen.
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Make Sure at Least ONE Person Has All Your Information

Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash

Let at least one (1) reliable person back home know what all your plans are in case of an emergency. Send them an email with the following info:

  • Your itinerary
  • Addresses where you'll be staying
  • Phone number (yours, your host(s)/hotel(s), anyone you may be meeting up with, tour companies)
  • A copy of your passport
  • Flight info
  • And if you think it's needed (I don't always do this) come up with a safe word if you need to communicate that something is wrong without others knowing.

There are also certain apps with safety features you can add this person to:

If you can, print out these details as well so that they can have a packet of all your info, but at the bare minimum, send that email!

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For Long Term Travel, Designate a Power of Attorney

Depending on the nature of your trip, you may want to designate a Power of Attorney (POA). I did this once for my study abroad, and again for my most recent trip as I will be gone for months at a time.

Depending on your situation, you may want multiple POAs to handle different matters, such as:

  • Medical
  • Financial
  • Auto or other Assets
  • Business
  • Legal
  • And more

Talk to your trusted peers to see if they can be available and capable of performing these duties for you. Then draft up your documents, get them notarized, and make copies (including a digital copy) for all parties to have.

I've personally used Rocket Lawyer to draft up my documents.

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Conclusion

Preparation is key to having a fun and safe international journey, even more if you're traveling alone! But just because you're traveling alone doesn't mean you're completely alone when it truly matters. Adhere to the tips in this article so that you have a team of people to help you out, should the unexpected happen.

And once you have all your affairs in order, have the greatest time of your life!

Looking for activities for your next trip?

I feel like this blog post sounds super scary. But leaving the country for the first time, or traveling alone, really isn't that scary.

It can be, but the key is preparation. When that shocking thing happens (lost luggage or passport, injury, missed flight, stolen items) you'll want to prepared.

I'm more afraid of stopping to get gas in the wrong town in the US than I am of visiting a country by myself.

With that said, here are pictures from some of my solo trips...

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