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8 Precautions Savvy Travelers Take to Avoid an International Incident What might not be much of a problem at all at home can be a very big deal when you're in a strange country.

By Jacqueline Whitmore

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Since I started my business nearly 20 years ago, I have visited many exciting places including Zurich, Sydney, Manila, Singapore, Tokyo and Shanghai, just to name a few. However, when traveling overseas, the planning process can be frustrating and time consuming. That's why it is important to do your homework well before you leave for the airport.

Here are some important tips to prepare for your journey and help prevent unexpected delays and disappointments when traveling abroad.

1. Apply early for a passport and visa.

It can take up to eight weeks to apply for a passport, so don't wait until the last minute unless you want to pay higher fees to expedite the process. If you already have a passport, check the expiration date. Many countries require passports to have at least six months of validity and some require two blank pages for entry. Review the entry and exit requirements for your destination to find out if you need to get a visa before you travel. For quick and professional service, CIBTvisas can assist you in obtaining a travel visa, passport and other documents for travel anywhere in the world.

Related: 7 Tips for International Business Travel From a Multi-Million Miler

2. Notify your bank and credit card company.

When your bank or credit card company sees sudden purchases in a foreign country, they could interpret the activity as fraudulent and block your account.

During my first visit to Zurich, I made a credit card purchase and shortly thereafter, was unable to use that card for the remainder of my trip. To avoid a similar problem, notify your bank and credit card companies of your travel plans, and ask them for the contact number you can call in case your credit card is lost or stolen. Always carry a little bit of cash to cover any unexpected snafus. Most airports have foreign currency exchange kiosks, but I find you can get better rates at your hotel or a nearby bank.

3. Record important information.

No one plans a trip thinking that something terrible might happen, but it might. If it does, it is important to know who to contact. Download the app Evernote and create a file containing the address and contact information for your country's embassies, as well as the contact numbers for emergency services where you will be traveling. Keep important documents (including a copy of your driver's license and passport) in a separate place from your purse, wallet or mobile device. Also, download the app Tripit so you can keep your itinerary, flight, hotel information and all other travel plans in one place.

Related: One Frequent Flyer's Minimalist Travel Secrets

4. Do pre-travel research.

Traveling abroad can be exciting, but it can also be challenging, so it pays to learn a little about the country before you arrive. Online and print guidebooks are useful for researching a destination before traveling, but the information can be out of date. Check out websites like Lonely Planet for up-to-date information and reviews about your selected destination. Next, set up a Google Alert for the country you will be visiting. These alerts came in handy a few days before I went to the Philippines as I learned there were protests in front of the US Embassy in Manila. Register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive important information from your Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country. STEP also helps family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.

5. Learn a few words in the local language.

Before you visit any country, make it a point to learn a few expressions in the local language. Learn the basics including "hello," "please," "thank you," and "can you help me." Google Translate will help you navigate better and will also help create goodwill along the way.

Related: A Quick Explainer of the Laptop Ban for Some International Travelers

6. Purchase travel insurance and stock up on medications.

Don't rely solely on your health insurance to cover you while traveling abroad. Consider purchasing travel insurance to safeguard you from inconveniences to calamities. Aside from medical care, travel insurance can protect you in the case of lost or stolen luggage, trip cancellation, funeral expenses, emergency dental treatment and evacuation back to your country of residence. If you regularly take medications, pack enough to last the duration of your trip. Make sure that all medications are labeled properly. The safest way to carry your medications is in the original bottles, which will also speed the process if your carry-on bags are inspected. Also pack medications for common conditions such as colds, allergies, headaches, food poisoning and diarrhea.

Related: 6 Travel Hacks From Experienced Business Travelers

7. Pack wisely.

Pack a change of clothes in your carry-on bag, especially if your destination has a different climate or your luggage is lost or stolen. Always pack warm clothing or layers for unexpected rain and cold weather. Dress conservatively if you are traveling for business. Leave your expensive jewelry and watch at home, and use a neck wallet or money belt to thwart petty thieves or bag snatchers. Avoid giving money to strangers as tempting as it may be. If you carry a backpack, hold it in front of your body whenever you are walking or standing in congested areas.

Related: How I Built a Startup While Traveling to 20 Countries

8. Eat and drink cautiously.

I'll never forget the time I was in Beijing and I got food poisoning after eating chicken korma at a hotel restaurant. I was in bed for three days and it nearly ruined the remainder of my vacation. Always drink bottled water and carry a stash of nuts and protein bars to stave off hunger when you are sightseeing.

Finally, learn to listen. This may very well be the heart of any travel experience. You will learn more by listening with respect to all points of view.

Regardless of your chosen location, these tips can make your international trip easier. The more you plan before you leave, the better prepared you will be once you arrive. And that is the key to a successful journey abroad.

Jacqueline Whitmore

Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach

Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

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