Before You Go Checklist

By Rick Steves

Quite a few things are worth arranging while you're still at home. Lining up these details before you travel is a big part of having a smooth trip.

Check your passport expiration; you may be denied entry into certain European countries if your passport is due to expire within three to six months of your ticketed date of return. Get it renewed if you'll be cutting it close.

Do your homework if you want to buy travel insurance. Contact your health-insurance company to see if you are covered in Europe.

If you're bringing the kids, make sure you have the right paperwork, including a passport for each one, a letter of consent if only one parent is traveling, and documentation for adopted children.

Make copies of important travel documents as a backup in case you lose the originals.

Students should get an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) for discounts throughout Europe. Hostelers who know they'll be staying at least six nights in official Hostelling International hostels should get a membership card.

If you need to bridge several long-distance destinations on your trip, look into cheap flights within Europe. For the best fares, book these as far in advance as possible.

If you plan on buying a rail pass, you'll need to get it before you leave the US. Rail pass or not, it can also be smart to reserve seats on certain trains before you leave.

If you'll be renting a car, you'll need a valid driver's license. An International Driving Permit is technically required in Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, and Spain.

Make reservations well in advance, especially during peak season, for accommodations, popular restaurants, major sights, and any local guides you plan to hire.

Call your debit- and credit-card companies to let them know the countries you'll be visiting, to ask about fees, and more. Get your bank's emergency phone number in the US (but not its 800 number) to call collect if you have a problem. If you don't know your credit card's PIN code, ask your bank to mail it to you.

If you plan to use your US mobile phone or smartphone in Europe, contact your provider to enable international calling or to "unlock" your phone. (Keep in mind that some Verizon or Sprint phones — especially older ones — won't work in Europe.) Consider signing up for an international calling, text, and/or data plan, and be sure to confirm voice- and data-roaming fees.

If you're bringing a mobile device, download any apps you might want to use on the road, such as translators, maps, and transit schedules. Be sure to check out Rick Steves Audio Europe for free, downloadable audio tours and hours of travel interviews (via the Rick Steves Audio Europe smartphone app or iTunes).

Take care of any medical needs. Visit your doctor to get a checkup, and see your dentist if you have any work that needs to be done. If you use prescription drugs, stock up before your trip. Pack along the prescription, plus one for contact lens or glasses if you wear them.

Get a proper guidebook. If traveling with one of mine, check the Rick Steves guidebook updates page for the latest news about your destination.

Because airline carry-on restrictions are always changing, visit the Transportation Security Administration's website for an up-to-date list of what you can bring on the plane with you...and what you must check.