Considering leaving the good ol’ United States of America to sate your wanderlust? You’re not alone. According to the National Travel and Tourism Office, more than 66 million U.S. citizens traveled outside the country in 2016 alone! Before you start your own jet-setting adventure, make sure you’re well prepared. Read on for some tips that will ensure your dream vacation doesn’t turn into a nightmare.

  • No passport? You’re grounded. With some rare exceptions that include travel by land or sea and an enhanced driver’s license, you need a passport if you want to leave the country. The application requires your original birth certificate and needs to be finalized and submitted at an official acceptance facility. It could take up to eight weeks to receive in the mail, so make sure you allow plenty of time (or are willing to pay expedited fees). Already have one? Make sure you have more than six months’ validity left from your travel date or you may be denied entry!
  • Avoid tourist-trap hidden charges. If you decide to use your credit or debit card while traveling, you will likely be asked the same question every time you pay for something: Would you like to pay in U.S. dollars? While this Dynamic Currency Conversion sounds tempting, resist the urge to say yes. What they don’t tell you is you are also agreeing to an unkind exchange rate and potential merchant fees for the service. Just remember when your statement comes that your purchases were converted back to dollars by your bank, so, not taking any potential foreign transaction fees your bank may charge into account, that £50 sweater will cost you $63.36.
  • Don’t leave your VAT on the table. VAT (value-added tax) is used in European countries and is already included in the sticker price. It can range from eight percent (Switzerland) to as high as 27 percent (Hungary), and as a U.S. citizen, you are entitled to a VAT refund on all goods you purchased (though not on services like your hotel or meals) and did not use prior to leaving Europe. There are administrative companies that will process your refund for you—for a fee, of course—such as EuroVAT, Global Tax Reclaim, FEXCO and more. Just make sure you ask the cashier for a VAT refund form (you may be asked to show your passport, so carry a photocopy on you), keep all of your receipts and process your transactions at the airport kiosks before departing. If your VAT was removed at the time of sale and you don’t file your paperwork, your card will be retroactively charged the VAT PLUS a fee!
  • Learn a GPS hack. Unless you pay for an international data plan on your phone, you’re going to put it in airplane mode from the second you take-off until your plane lands on U.S. soil again. The good news is you’ll still have access to Wi-Fi in your hotel or in any place with a network. The bad news is you won’t have access to your GPS once you leave the Wi-Fi zone. While it’s prudent to buy local road maps, few people today are proficient at reading them anymore. So, what do you do? Search for directions from your hotel and take screen shots of the map and directions list. Another little-known hack is if you start your GPS trip while connected to Wi-Fi, your GPS will still work for the remainder of the route as long as you don’t exit the app and try to open it again.
  • Leave your home in good hands… or technology. Ideally, you should find a friend or family member you trust to stay in your home while you’re away so it’s not vulnerable to a break-in. If that’s not an option for you, there are things you can do to protect your home while you’re gone. Tell your direct neighbors when you’re leaving so they can keep an eye out for suspicious cars or activity, set your lights—and even your TV—on random timers that don’t appear automated to someone who may be watching your home, secure sliding doors by putting a pole in the tracks so it can’t be opened by the outside and ask a friend to pick up your mail and newspapers so they don’t conspicuously collect. You should also be careful about posting vacay pictures on non-private social media accounts where anyone can learn your home is empty.

Now that you’re ready to traverse the globe… or at least cross the pond, store anything you’re not comfortable leaving for an extended time: Contact the experts at Gotham Mini Storage and move your belongings into a secure, climate-controlled unit today!