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With 2013 upon us, many of us are gearing up for new and exciting opportunities. Maybe it’s trying to stick to a New Year’s resolution or maybe it’s as simple as adding a new tradeshow to your schedule. Regardless, planning for the year already has started, and I’m sure if leaving the country is on the agenda (especially for the first time), you already have thought about possible vacation plans and what to pack. But, there are a few other things to keep in mind as well.

1) Always do a bit of research about the place to which you are going. Many show websites give area information on places to stay, typical sightseeing opportunities, local places to eat and how to get to and from the convention center. Travel websites like TripAdvisor also give great tips and suggestions. Going to the travel.state.gov/visa website will also let you know if your passport is okay to enter the country or if you need to apply for a visa as well.

2) Another important thing to look into are any shots or prescriptions you may need before you go. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control updates its database on a regular basis for every country you may travel to. Calling your doctor is the best idea, because he or she will have access to this database (and if they don’t will refer you to a local doctor who does). The website is not always up to date. wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/

3) Make sure you find out if drinking the local water and eating fresh produce is okay. In places like India, South Africa and Mexico, to name a few, it is not recommended. This information is often on www.tripadvisor.com or available at www.cdc.gov.

4) Ask about any business customs and proper dress attire. Women, especially, need to be very aware of if skirts and short sleeve shirts. In many parts of the Middle East, women most be entirely covered. In these areas, women also should note if they need any special documentation to enter the country. Here is a helpful website: www.cyborlink.com.

5) Always be concerned with safety. Before you leave, make sure you check the best transportation methods for leaving the airport and heading to the hotel/convention center. The site www.travel.state.gov/travel can help. Taxis may not always be the wisest or safest idea. Sometimes, hiring a private driver or organizing a pickup through your hotel is the best idea. This also applies to getting around once you are settled. In Peru, for example, it’s not wise for women to be in a taxi alone or walk by themselves to the city center – especially at night.

6) Before you go, be sure to call your bank and credit card companies. Make sure they know you are leaving the country, where/when you are going and when you’ll return. This will ensure you have access to your funds without any disruptions. I usually just take money out of the ATM when I land at the airport, but if you are uncomfortable with that, make sure you get local currency or traveler’s checks before you leave the U.S. Money exchanges are in nearly every airport, but not always open when you land.

7) I always pack a few essential items:
•   Plenty of entertainment. You may only get news channels in English. A good book or downloading movies on your iPad will ensure no matter where you are, you will have something to do. It really comes in handy on long flights in coach.
•   A couple of snacks. You never know when you’ll get hungry and/or if you’ll have issues with local food. It’s always smart to have something you know you can eat in a pinch.
•   I love my noise-cancelling headphones and eye mask. Never leave home without them. It makes falling asleep on the airplane much easier … even if you aren’t listening to anything.
•   You never can pack too many undergarments and socks. Take it from the stranded Ash Cloud traveler, it’s nice to have extras.
•   Lip balm, lotion and pocket tissues are your friends on the airplane.
•   A pair of good walking shoes.

8) Once I arrive, I always separate my cash, credit cards and identification. Keep half in the hotel safe or hidden somewhere and half on you (or even less). You never know when you may be pickpocketed or accidentally leave your purse or wallet somewhere. You don’t want to be left without anything.

9) Make copies of your passport. Keep one on you and leave your passport and other copies safe in your hotel room. The last thing you want to lose or have stolen is your passport. If something does happen, contact the local embassy or consulate immediately.

10) Keep an open mind. Try things you can’t do or get in the U.S. You’ll be amazed at the great things other cultures have to offer if you only allow yourself to experience them.

I wish you all safe travels and enlightening experiences in 2013.

Kelli Steckbauer is the director of global business for MG Design, an exhibit design, event planning and management services provider.

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