The last thing you want is to arrive at your destination and find out that the country is embroiled in a civil war or coup attempt. Read up on the country (or countries) you're visiting and check with the U.S. State Department to make sure there aren't any travel alerts or warnings for that country. (Other countries keep their own websites to alert foreign travelers. For example, Canadian travelers can check with Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada before they go, and British citizens can go to the Foreign & Commonwealth website.)
Register your trip ahead of time with the U.S. State Department, so that they can get in touch with you while you're away if there's an emergency in your family or an urgent situation in the country you're visiting.
Familiarize yourself with the country's local laws and customs, and learn at least a few words of the local language. You can buy a language computer program, video or book. Memorize a few important phrases, such as "Where is the U.S. embassy?" and "I need medical help." Bring a travel dictionary or digital language translator with you in case you get into trouble.
Make sure you have all the paperwork you need before you go, including:
- Your passport, visas and other travel papers -- as well as copies. Make sure you also leave a copy of these documents and your credit cards with a friend or relative at home.
- Health insurance that will cover you at your destination. You may need to purchase a specific plan for your destination to cover you on your trip.
- An international driving permit. Check beforehand whether the country will accept a U.S. driver's license.
- Prescriptions for any medications you're taking with you.