The Traveler's Paper Chase
This section covers all the boring things you have to pay attention to in order to travel: how to get a passports, apply for travel visas, deal with customs requirements, analyze government travel warning and advisories, consider travel health insurance and trip insurance, and the paperwork for studying abroad.
Passports: All you need to travel
When it comes down to it, you really only need three things to travel: (1) a plane ticket, (2) clothing, and (3) a passport. A valid passport is the only legal form of identification recognized around the world. Your driver's license ain't gonna cut it—abroad, it only proves that some U.S. state lets you drive (though you will need that to rent a car)...
Travel visas: More than just a credit card
Not to be confused with the credit card of the same name, a travel visa is an official stamp or piece of paper granting a foreign national the right to enter a country. U.S. citizens get a visa automatically when entering most foreign countries (that's what they're doing when they stamp your passport). It is usually good for at least 30 days—in Europe, 90 days.
For many countries, this visa is free. In a few places they make you pay a modest sum as you enter (hi, Egypt!). In fewer still, you have to apply for a visa in advance and pay up to $100 (hi, Brazil!)...
Trip insurance: Guarding against the unlikely
Travel insurance can cover a variety of things: trip cancellation, lost luggage, medical costs, emergency evacuation, and other travel mishaps. Insurance packages can cost as little as $40 to $60 per person and is based on age; they usually run 5% to 10% of the total value of your vacation for folks aged 30 or 35 to 60. The quickest, easiest, and most economical way to find insurance is to use the comparison shopping sites SquareMouth (www.squaremouth.com) and InsureMyTrip.com (www.insuremytrip.com). You put in your trip details, it quickly shows you a side-by-side analysis of how much a policy would cost at each of 16 major travel insurers such as Travel Guard (www.travelguard.com)....
Travel health insurance: Staying healthy on the road
For most travel maladies, you can just visit the emergency room of the nearest hospital and get taken care of speedily. Should you have a more serious problem requiring serious hospital care—or want coverage that will fly you back to the States for medical care—a travel health insurance plan can come in handy. The quickest, easiest, and most economical way to find insurance is to use the comparison shopping sites SquareMouth (www.squaremouth.com) and InsureMyTrip.com (www.insuremytrip.com). You put in your trip details, it quickly shows you a side-by-side analysis of how much a policy would cost at each of 16 major travel insurers such as Travel Guard (www.travelguard.com). For medical evacuation insurance, visit Medexassist.com or Medjetassist.com...
Travel advisories: Warning, Warning! Uncle Sam Say "Stay Away!"
A word about State Department Travel Advisories and Warnings (travel.state.gov). These fear-mongering documents pop up all the time, and if you read enough of them it will make any country sound like a certain death trap of infectious diseases, venomous animals, radical terrorist groups, and dangerously unstable governments and economies. And that’s just Belgium!
Just kidding. But remember when reading these warnings that well over half of the hazards they list—such as hepatitis, Lyme disease, poisonous snakes and spiders, radical militia groups, or terrorist attacks—are threats or phenomena we already face here at home in the USA, so a place like France is not half as dangerous as these documents can make it sound...
Customs: Bringing it on home
Technically, there are no limits on how much loot you can bring back into the United States from a trip abroad, but the customs authority does put limits on how much you can bring back for free. Full details will follow in a sec, but the two important figures are: you can bring home $800-worth of goods per person, including a measly 1 (one) bottle of wine or booze. (You can bring back more, but you'll have to pay a tax.) What and how much you can bring into the United States is controlled by the U.S. Customs office (www.cbp.gov)...
Students: Preparing to study abroad
The best resources for traveling students are: for Americans, the Council on International Educational Exchange (www.ciee.org), for Canadians Travel CUTS (www.travelcuts.com), and for Brits Campus Travel (www.campustravel.co.uk).
One thing you should definitely get is the student traveler's best friend, the International Student Identity Card (www.isic.org). It's the only officially acceptable form of student identification, good for cut rates on railpasses, plane tickets, and other discounts. It also provides you with basic health and life insurance and a 24-hour help line...