The travel office of the US Department of State should be near the top of your list of places to look for information. They even have an app, called Smart Traveler, for your smart phone. Here you will find a vast amount of information about every country in the world. You can find out what the medical facilities are like, facts about crime rates, traffic safety and the location of the United States Embassy in that country.
Smart Traveler and the State Department website will also be able to inform you if there are any travel alerts in your destination country. Details of recent or ongoing civil unrest and any potential threats to US citizens are especially important to be aware of when planning your journey.
Check well in advance of departure that your passport is valid and up to date. Make sure that it is valid for a good six months after you plan to return home, as well. This is in case you are delayed for some reason. The American government is very efficient when it comes to issuing passports, so, provided your documentation is in order, this should proceed quickly and easily.
There are many countries for which there are vaccination requirements. You may need to be immunized against smallpox, hepatitis, tetanus, yellow fever or other tropical diseases. Malaria is one of the world's biggest health problems, but there is no vaccination for this. Instead, there are prophylactic measures that may be taken, such as tablets, clothing, insect repellent and mosquito nets. The Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization websites will have the information you need.
Don't even think about leaving the country without travel insurance. You should get at least a million dollars' worth of medical insurance. Becoming ill or being injured in a foreign country can get expensive, especially if you have to be repatriated by ambulance. There may also be ongoing expenses after you return home, depending on the nature of the illness or injury. Other items covered on a travel policy include loss of luggage or money and costs due to travel delays. Most policies will have exclusions for riots, acts of war or acts of God (hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes).
Another major pain in the neck faced by international travelers is being held up at Customs because they tried to bring something into the country that was not allowed. Make sure you know exactly what you can and not bring across the border. This especially applies to foodstuffs. Ignorance is no excuse, nor is trying to convince the officials that your auntie's favorite chocolates are not food. Many such items are allowable, but you do need to declare them. Know also what you may and not bring onto the plane. Some things, like duty-free alcohol, is allowable in the cargo luggage but not in the belongings you take onto the aircraft.
Before you go abroad, make sure you have your passport updated, that you have had the necessary immunizations and that you have the right travel insurance. Get plenty of world travel advice so you know what the weather is like as well as the political atmosphere in your destination. Apart from that, have fun!
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