Whether your destination is Jamaica or Japan or anywhere in between, there are a few travel essentials that A.K. believes every savvy globetrotter should have with them on the journey.  I have, through trial and error, learned how to get things done overseas…and I want to save you the hassle of learning the hard way!

So, before you book that trip, here are five ducks you should consider getting into a row:

1.  A CREDIT CARD WITH NO “FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES”

There are plenty of them out there, and I’ll actually be writing a post reviewing the specific ones I’ve used.  But whether you choose to apply for the Chase Sapphire, the Delta AMEX, or some other card altogether – apply for it sooner, not later!  Just like any other credit card, it can take up to a month to be approved – and then you’ll still need to activate it and get it working before you leave town.

Whether your credit limit is $500 or $50,000, it makes no difference – the point is simply to avoid losing money on the cash exchange rate by charging it to the card instead.  When you change your money at the airport to foreign currency, or go to a foreign ATM to get money from your account, they are taking a fee or a percentage from you.  By using your credit card “with no foreign transaction fees” in lieu of cash, you are eliminating that – you’ll get the exact amount, literally down to the penny, billed to you on your statement in US dollars.  Take advantage of this, and use it as much as possible!

Whether it’s a meal at the mall in Singapore or a bottle of rum at the airport in Jamaica – throw it on the card and save your cash, then just pay it off like any other bill once you get home from your trip!  Let the merchant and the credit card company eat the fees.  Not only are you saving yourself a few bucks on the transaction every time, but you’re also limiting the amount of cash you need to carry which lowers your risk of losing it, wasting it, etc.

I feel it would be prudent to point out, however, that whether you’re using cash OR card – it’s NEVER a good idea to buy shots of Hennessy at the club in Dubai.  Just say no.

2.  A CELL PHONE PLAN WHICH INCLUDES INTERNATIONAL DATA ROAMING

Even if you have the discipline to go without calling, you will want and need access to data while you’re on the go.  And if your plan doesn’t include it, either you’ll pay ridiculous fees or you won’t have access to it at all.  Don’t let that happen!

T-Mobile offers a plan (pretty regular pricing, too) which includes free data in most countries.  That’s what I have – and I use it to the extreme!  There are a few oddball nations that aren’t included in their plan for whatever reason, but you can land almost anywhere and start surfing Facebook as if you’re in your own backyard.  I’m sure that T-Mobile’s competitors offer something comparable too; but regardless which company you go with, just make sure you have that activated before you leave.

Even if you left “work” back at the office during this trip, you’ll still want to text your friends and keep in touch.  You’ll need (at some point) to check a reservation in your email, or look something up on Google, or map out the best way to get to and from the hotel.  All of this requires data – and wifi is not always available or reliable, so don’t assume you can get by off of that alone.

And let’s be real – if you don’t check in on Facebook while you’re there, then it’s not official.  It never really happened if there’s no geo-tagged status to prove it.

3.  POWER ADAPTERS AND CONVERTERS

This sounds basic and obvious, but never underestimate how badly you might need to charge your phone while traveling.  And without the proper power plugs, you could easily be stuck like Chuck.

Different countries use different types of sockets, and you’ll need to have the correct adapter for each and every place.  On top of that, there are different types of voltage depending where you go too – but that won’t matter if you’re just charging your phone or laptop.  If you plan to use an electric hair clipper or blow dryer, however – make sure to check voltage as well, because that’s a whole different conversation.

You can buy the individual adapters piece by piece, or this “all-in-one adapter” which is like the Optimus Prime of electricity.  Just a matter of choice.  But make sure you have something before you hit the skies!

4. BUG REPELLENT

Before you say a word – understand, I spent two weeks in Ghana without bringing any anti-malaria medication.  I spent hours roaming Jozani National Park in Zanzibar wearing Adidas basketball shorts (don’t ask – long story).  I went to Ethiopia on a whim, without even looking up what diseases might be prevalent there OR taking any medicine to prevent them.  Yet, I never got sick.

Part of that could be sheer luck, but a part of it is my awareness that mosquito bites bring trouble.  Even on a muggy day at home in the USA, if you get bit up by bugs it will be itchy and annoying.  Who wants that?  Add to the mixture that in other countries, you can catch some deadly diseases by way of insect bites.  I’m not advocating that you should be afraid, because I’m certainly not – but I am advocating that you do your best to prevent bug bites in the first place.  That’s how I roll, and it works.

It’s very simple and cheap to scoop a bottle of bug spray or repellent at Wal-Mart or CVS before you go on your trip.  Whether you’re going to a place where crazy mosquito-borne illnesses are a risk or not, it’s just good to have with you.  Sometimes you can’t buy it when you need it on the spot, so buy it ahead of time and bring it with you.

5.  A FEW CRISPY AMERICAN $100 BILLS

Despite my first point detailing all the reasons to use a credit card abroad – the fact remains, you can’t use a credit card everywhere.  When you want to buy some jerk chicken from a dusty Rasta grill on the side of the road in Jamaica, your American Express card doesn’t do the trick.  So I figured I would finish my post with this gem right here:  CASH IS KING!  And not all cash was created equal.

In some of the countries I’ve been to, they won’t exchange old or worn-out bills for their local currency.  In others, I’ve learned that they won’t accept small bills such as $1 and $5 notes.  The reasons vary, I suppose, from issues with possible counterfeit US bills to simply their ability or inability to deposit American money into their own banks.  It’s not a bad idea to keep some small bills on you too, but one thing I can assure you:  a fresh big-face Benjamin Franklin will always get you the local cash you need in foreign countries.  Unless, of course, you’re at the airport in Sao Tome:  but that’s a whole different story.

 

The best part is:  if you don’t need to spend those crispy hundreds while you’re traveling, you can always bring them back home again and use them later!  Anything you converted ahead of time will need to be converted back, if not spent, which costs you yet another fee to do.  But if you retained your American $100 bills and didn’t need them – they’re just as good back in America as they are overseas, if not better!