Vacations are a time of fun, relaxation and an escape from everyday life. However, the best getaways are the ones that are properly planned to account for everything that one might encounter away from home. It is especially important to plan ahead on international excursions to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. Here are some things to consider before you go. (For related reading, see Travel Smart By Planning How You'll Pay.)

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Country Laws
In a foreign country, U.S. citizens are subject to that country's laws and regulations. The better informed you are about the laws of your destination, the safer your trip will be. The Bureau of Consular Affairs website provides country specific information on topics such as criminal penalties, what to do if you are the victim of a crime and the documentation needed to enter and exit a particular country.

Visas
The rules on visas are different for each country. Travelers are advised to check the Bureau of Consular Affairs website and find out the requirement for the country they wish to visit. If you need a visa, make sure you obtain it before making travel plans.

Dangers
The Bureau of Consular Affairs runs the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) which provides Americans with travel warnings, alerts and other information for the particular country they are visiting. The program also makes it easier to get help during natural disasters and to be contacted in case of an emergency. The U.S. Department of State maintains an online list of all U.S. embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions by country. These locations can help if your passport is lost or stolen and in other emergency situations. (For more information, read Travel Tips For Keeping You And Your Money Safe.)


Weather

Information about the weather of your destination will affect everything from the clothes you pack to what time of year you travel. Research the usual weather of your destination and constantly monitor the weather online as your departure date nears. If extreme weather conditions such as heavy rain or snow are in the forecast, plan ahead and allow some extra time for travel delays.

Additional Costs
There are some travel expenses that are unpredictable or not as obvious as others. One common cost is taxes on purchases that you want to bring back into the country. The law allows travelers to bring $200 to $800 worth of duty-free items into the country, depending on the length of the trip. Once that limit is exceeded, you'll pay a 3% surcharge on the next $1,000 worth of purchases. Amounts more than $1,200 to $1,800, determined by the length of the trip, are assessed a surcharge of up to 25%.

Shoppers who make their purchases from duty-free shops located at airports, border cities, ports and cruise ships can avoid these surcharges. Travel insurance is a way to manage other costs and financial risks that might come up over the course of a trip. Insurance can cover things like accidents, illness, missed flights and canceled tours, lost baggage, terrorism, travel-company bankruptcies, emergency evacuations and getting your body home if you die. There are five basic types of travel insurance, trip cancellation and interruption, medical, evacuation, baggage and flight insurance, which are usually sold in combination packages. Those who want complete coverage can purchase comprehensive insurance that will include all five types of coverage. It is recommended to consult a reputable travel agent to determine what type of insurance to purchase. (To learn more, check out The Advantages Of Vacation Insurance.)

International roaming charges for cell phone service is another large cost for travelers. Experts say the easiest way to save in this area is to call your cell phone service provider before you leave and temporarily change your plan to one that fits your travel plans.

Vaccinations
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the top resource for traveler health information. Every other year, the CDC publishes the Yellow Book which is a reference manual for international travelers written by health professionals. The most recent edition was published in 2012. The agency also produces a podcast series called "Travel Safe" which provides health and safety tips for families while traveling abroad. The CDC advises travelers to document their vaccination history, including dates, how many doses received in a scheduled series and any adverse events prior to travel. An appointment should be scheduled with your health care provider four to six weeks before departure. There are different vaccination schedules for children, adolescents, teens and adults. Vaccinations also vary by country, so research is required to find out what is needed for your destination. Some countries require that travelers carry proof of vaccination on an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis to enter the country.

The Bottom Line
Research and planning are critical for a successful travel experience. Government websites and travel agents are some of the most reputable sources for international travel information. (Also, for more information check out The Basics Of Travel Insurance.)

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