Before You Go
Before you travel, learn about the places you plan to visit. Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs in those areas. Consult your library, your travel agent, an airline agent, airline, or the tourist bureaus of the specific countries you plan to visit. Keep track as well of what is reported in the news about any recent events in those countries you plan to visit.
The Department of State issues travel advisories cautioning American citizens about travel to specific countries or areas. If you are traveling in an area where there may be some concern about existing conditions, contact the nearest passport agency, your travel agent, or airline, or call 202-647-5225 to learn of any problems.
Travel is very personal. Once you decide on the trip you want, study all the material contained in travel brochures. It's fun to read trip itineraries and to enjoy all the beautiful photographs, but it's also important to carefully read the details and general information. The brochure should explain what is and what isn't included. You'll usually find this information on the back page of a travel brochure.
If you are taking a package tour, find out if there is a tour director on your tour; if so, does he/she stay with you from start to finish? Is he/she employed specially by your company? If so, such a person will have your interests at heart and will try to please you. It's the tour director's job to see that you are well cared for. Find out if the tour has been "checked out." How much does the tour operator really know about your accommodations? Has someone from the tour company or travel agency been there recently? Things can change drastically, and comforts may be promises, not facts.
Ask your travel agent, what some words really mean. An "air-cooled" sightseeing bus may mean you can open the windows and let the air flow through. "Average temperature 70 degrees" may mean it's 90 in the summer and 50 in the winter. Phrases like "you may want to cruise this glorious isle" or "perhaps take in the glamorous nightlife" may mean these are additional travel treats for which you must pay extra. If in doubt, ask.
Cover the cancellation and refund policy with your travel agent. Know what you're getting and how it works. Know exactly what happens if you change your mind. Cancellation penalties vary, and some are more severe than others.
Make sure your passport is current. Some countries will not permit you to enter or give you a visa if your passport's remaining validity is less than 6 months. Check with your travel agent. If you don't have a passport, get one way earlier than your departure date. You'll need proof of U.S. citizenship (a birth certificate), proof of identity (a driver's license), two recent two-inch by two-inch photographs of a good likeness, and a completed official passport form. Although fees have gone up, passports are now valid for 10 years. If your town doesn't have a State Department Passport Agency, get your passport application from the federal or state courthouse or from the post office. Allow at least two to four weeks for processing. After you receive your passport be sure to sign it and fill in the personal notification data page. Your previous passport will be returned to you with your new passport.
If your passport is lost or stolen, report the loss immediately to the nearest embassy or consulate and to local police. If you can provide a photocopy to the consular officer it will help in issuance of a new passport. Your passport is a valuable document and should be carefully safeguarded.
Some countries require visas. Check with your travel agent. A visa is an endorsement made in and on a passport allowing entry into the country you're visiting, testifying that your passport was examined and found in order. It permits you to visit that country for a specified purpose and usually for a limited time; for example, a 3-month tourist visa. Apply directly to the embassies or consulates of the country you plan to visit. Passport agencies cannot help you obtain visas.
You can obtain a copy of Foreign Visa Requirements from the Consumer Information Center, Dept. 438T, Pueblo, CO 81009. It lists the entry requirements for U.S. citizens traveling to most foreign countries and where to apply for visas and tourist cards. You will need to fill out an application form and give your passport to an official of each foreign embassy or consulate. Some visas require a fee. The process may take several weeks for each visa, so apply well in advance. Be sure to cover this with your travel agent to insure that you understand all of the details.
Check with your travel agent to see if the country you plan to visit requires a tourist card, you can obtain one from that country's embassy or consulate, from an airline serving the country, or at the port of entry. For some tourist cards, a fee is required. Check entry requirements while you are planning your trip.
PROOF OF CITIZENSHIP
Some countries require only proof of U.S. citizenship to enter and depart the country. Check with your travel agent or the appropriate embassy or consulate for exact requirements before departure.