Want to make your trip more trouble-free? Here’s a four-point checklist for travel success:
1. Check your passport: Has your passport expired? Answering that question isn’t as simple as glancing at the date. Let’s say your passport doesn’t expire for another four months. You can book that last-minute flight deal to Bangkok, right? Wrong.
Even if a U.S. passport is months away from expiring, some countries will not let you in (they require a minimum six-month passport validity in case you need to remain in the country for an unexpectedly long time). It’s up to you to know which countries those are. If not, you could arrive at the airport only to be told you can’t board the plane.
Bottom line: Check the entry and exit requirements (including rules about how many blank pages your passport must have) on the U.S. State Department’s website, which provides a searchable list at travel.state.gov/travel.
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2. Pack smartly: Did you remove that Swiss Army knife from your carry-on bag? The Transportation Security Administration was planning last spring to allow pocketknives on airplanes, but backed down after resistance from the flight attendants’ union and some lawmakers. So where does that leave you? The general rule is that you cannot put sharp objects in your carry-on bag, with a few exceptions, like small needles for medical use and scissors with blades shorter than 4 inches.
Still have questions? The “Can I Bring?” tool on the My TSA mobile app and website allows users to type the name of anything they wish to bring — snakes, golf clubs, handcuffs — and find out if they are allowed on board. Or see tsa.gov/traveler-information.
3. Must-have apps: Can you solve travel emergencies with a few finger taps? If you own a smartphone, a few basic (and free) apps are worth having, including Seat Alerts by ExpertFlyer (to help you change seats or find one on a different flight), Hotel Tonight (for last-minute room reservations) and a taxi or car service app. Those traveling abroad should also have contact information for the nearest U.S. Embassy, available at usembassy.gov.
4: The right credit card: Are you using the right credit card? To determine which card is best for you, review the travel benefits and ask yourself if you’ll truly use them.
One card in my wallet is the Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express ($65 a year) because I like Starwood properties, and shopping with the card earns me Starpoints, which I can use for stays at more than 1,000 hotels and resorts. Or, I can redeem my points for free flights on more than 350 airlines. For a solid rundown of other card options, click on “Advice: credit cards” on the View From the Wing blog on Boardingarea.com.
If you’re traveling abroad, you will also want a credit card with no foreign transaction fees and, if possible, smart-chip technology, rare on American cards. The points blogger Brian Kelly lists cards such as Chase Sapphire Preferred without foreign transaction fees and those including BankAmericard Travel Rewards Visa with smart chips at Thepointsguy.com.
Kristin Jackson of The Seattle Times contributed to this report.