The most tedious part about planning for this trip was definitely the paperwork. But I am grateful we’ve got a lot of it done and ready! Here are some things we thought were essential before the trip:
Safety: To be safe, we enrolled in S.T.E.P., put on by the Department of State. We put in all ID information, such as passport numbers, as well as travel information, such as hostel addresses and tour companies, and let the government know when/where we would be. In exchange, we get travel warning emailed directly to us, updates on embassy security, and advisories on the cities we will be in. Just in case anything does happen (and we doubt it will), the consulate will already know to look for us and get us out of the country safely. No need for our parents to call and guesswork on where we might be.
Financials and Banks: We of course told our bank, USAA (which I highly recommend) where we will be and what to expect of us. When I was in Nicaragua I had a hard time getting money out of ATMs, with both my debit and credit, perhaps because I was at local/regional banks that didn’t know how to process American cards. So we are aware of the issue now and will try to stick with national or international banks and ATMS throughout the trip to avoid problems. We have no bills at home besides car insurance and student loans, which we have both put the minimum payments while gone. Our bank has been very accommodating in giving the best (read: cheapest) car insurance possible while we’re gone.
Identification and other government documents: We have several copies of our passports to hand out to customs, if asked. Several countries we are going to require visas. Some of these countries, like Egypt, allow tourists to purchase visas at the airport just before customs. Turkey, however, is phasing out their at-the-border visas, and has instead an e-visa that you fill out online, download, and print. It was very simple, really. At the airport, Turkey visas cost $30 apiece, but in advance cost only $20 apiece. Argentina charges a $160 reciprocity fee to get into the country, which must be paid in advance of arrival. After some hunting, we found the proper website and paid. We were emailed receipts and the website immediately showed us our proof of reciprocity. We’ve tucked several copies of those in different places of our luggage, just in case one gets lost. Depending on how we enter other South American countries, we may do the same thing over.
Logistical papers, maps, etc.: Jordan has a smart phone with an international plan. But after having one too many failures of technology, I have learned not to count on pulling up our information without any problems. So instead, for each of our Middle Eastern stops (and Argentina), we have made envelopes that just slip inside our carry-on luggage. Inside each envelope is our confirmations for hostels, tour vouchers, receipts, departing airline information, walking tour information, and emergency contact information.
Also each envelope has a yellow piece of paper detailing airport information, ATM placements, transportation to/from airport and around town, overnight lounges in airports, wi-fi prices, any local customs we wish to be aware of, and a list of places to see as well as the entrance fees.
On the outside of the envelopes, as you can see, we have arriving/leaving airline times/dates, the currency exchange rate, whether we need a visa or not, as well as any last-minute information I forgot to put on the yellow legal pad. On the back of the envelopes is a list of easy phrases (yes, no, thank you, where’s the bathroom?) in each language. THis way, we should have a good grasp of how to get around even if Jordan’s phone fails us.
What have you done in the past to organize yourself? What paperwork were you grateful you had printed off before arriving?