Getting Your Travel Documents Together
For most people, a passport is the only document needed to travel in most of the world.
Your trip won’t get off the ground if you don’t prepare your documents — passport, student and hostel cards, rail pass, international driving permit — well before your departure date. Give yourself plenty of lead time.
In many places the only document you will need is a passport. In some places you might also need a visa to enter. Check it out.
Keep an eye on your passport’s expiration date. Most countries require that your passport be valid for at least three months after your ticketed date of return to your home (Russia requires a six-month window). This means that even if your passport doesn’t expire for a few months, you may still be denied entry to a country. Check your destination country’s requirements, and if necessary, get your passport renewed before you go.
Countries can have surprising entry requirements. For example some countries require visitors to carry proof of medical insurance (your health insurance card usually suffices). While it’s virtually unheard of that a border guard would actually request this, it’s worth knowing about. For requirements per country, see the official government travel site.
Traveling with Your Passport
Take good care of your passport: Keep it in your money belt, and if you’re asked to show it, put it back in your money belt right away.
Replacing Your Passport
If you have to replace a lost or stolen passport, it’s much easier to do if you have a photocopy of it and a couple of passport-type photos, either brought from home or taken there.
A visa is a stamp placed in your passport by a foreign government, allowing you to enter their country. Visas are not required in many countries.
If you do need a visa, it’s usually best to get it at home before you leave.
Cruise-line passengers don’t need a visa if they are doing day trips in a country but spending nights aboard their ship. On the other hand, cruise passengers arriving in a country to start their cruise, or staying on their soil for more than 72 hours must get a visa before their arrival there. For more information, check with the country’s embassy before you leave.
Travelers to Russia also need visas. The process can be expensive, and you should begin several weeks in advance.
Check Visa Requirements
One guaranteed way to ruin your trip is being denied entry into the country you are visiting because you don’t have a tourist visa. While most countries don’t require a visa for short visits, it’s best to know which countries do.
Prior to your trip, a quick search online will find tourist visa requirements and whether you need to acquire a visa upon arrival at the airport or online prior to arrival. There are several websites online that list visa requirements, so find out ahead of time.
Student Cards and Hostel Memberships
Take advantage of your youth
If you’re under 25, there are a whole heap of student discounts you can take advantage of. You can get cheaper flights through STA Travel, cheaper train passes through Eurail, free access to museums, and more. Take advantage of your age and check if student discounts are available before booking anything.
The International Student Identity Card (ISIC), the only internationally recognized student ID card, gets you discounts on transportation, shopping, restaurants, hotels, entertainment, and sightseeing throughout many countries, and includes some basic trip insurance. If you are a full-time student (and can prove it), get one. Your ISIC card can also be used as a prepaid credit card. But, if you’re older than 26, you might have trouble using the card in some places. Two other varieties of the card, offering similar discounts, are available, though they’re often not honored: for teachers of any age (International Teacher Identity Card, or ITIC) and for non-student travelers under age 26 (International Youth Travel Card, or IYTC). Each card is good for one year from the date of issue. Get yours on the ISIC website, through STA Travel, or from your university foreign-study office.
Rail Passes and Car Documents
Most rail passes are not sold and must be purchased before you leave home. If you’re renting a car, be aware that an International Driving Permit is required .
Copying Key Documents
Before your trip, make photocopies and/or take photos of your documents (front and back) to pack along or leave with someone at home to email to you in case of an emergency. It’s smart to make a copy of prescriptions for eyewear and medicine as well, but don’t photocopy a debit or credit card — instead, keep just the number in a retrievable place. It’s easier to replace a lost or stolen passport, rail pass, or car-rental voucher if you have a photocopy that helps prove you really owned what you lost. Consider bringing a couple extra passport-type pictures, which can expedite the replacement process for a lost or stolen passport.
While traveling, guard your photocopies as carefully as you would the originals. Hide them in a second money belt clipped into the bottom of your luggage. Some people scan their documents and email them to a Web-based account or store them on a cloud service for easy access from the road. If you’re concerned about having electronic copies floating around in cyberspace, you could put them on a USB flash drive and tuck it into your money belt. If you’re traveling with a companion, carry photocopies of each other’s passports and other important documents.
It’s also smart to have a backup physical or digital copy of your itinerary, including hotel and car-rental confirmations. You can also keep a list of contacts you’ll need, including your hotels — printed on a slip of paper as small as you can read — to store in your money belt.