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Seven Travel Gotchas You Need to Know About

You get to your departure airport—even worse, you arrive at your destination—only to find you’ve forgotten to do or get something you critically need. Gotcha!

In the worst case, your destination doesn’t even let you out of the airport. Obviously, the time to worry about the gotchas is before you start your trip, not during it. Here are some key gotchas to check before you leave.

Documentation: You know the basics—you need government-issued picture ID to get on a plane, and you need a passport or equivalent to get into most other countries you’re visiting or to get back into the U.S. at the end of your trip. If you’re traveling outside the U.S., watch out for a few other gotchas:

1. If you’ve ever had a DUI, no matter how long ago, border officials will not let you into Canada unless you’ve first gone through the process of “rehabilitation.” These days, Canadian border officials have easy access to your records, and your chances of slipping through are virtually nil. You can check what you need to do at a Canadian consulate or on the Canadian Border Services Agency’s website.

2. Even though your passport has enough validity to cover your trip, quite a few countries require that your passport have at least six months of remaining validity—a few may even require a year. Check with the U.S. State Department‘s information sheets about requirements for any countries you plan to visit.

3. And you didn’t forget a visa for a country that requires one, did you? With so many countries now offering visa-less entry (passport only), it’s easy to get caught trying to get into one that still wants a visa. Again, check the State Department’s information.

    Renting a Car: Most of the time, renting a car is a snap—beyond navigating the morass of fees and add-on charges. But you may encounter a few unexpected gotchas, even domestically, and certainly overseas:

    4. Some rental deals carry geographic restrictions on just where you can drive a rental car. In the U.S., the contract may specify that you confine your driving to a certain state or group of states; in Western Europe, many rental companies prohibit driving into most Eastern countries beyond Hungary. Many rental cars these days have GPS devices that allow rental companies to track them, whether or not you buy into a GPS mapping option. A rental company is not likely to track you down and repossess the car, but driving outside the limits voids your contract and makes you liable for lots of extra costs and fees. Before you rent, make sure your contract allows you to drive wherever you plan to visit.

    5. European countries impose a few quirky requirements that can be expensive if you ignore them. Starting in July, France will require that any car driven there be equipped with two single-use breathalyzers. Rental companies in France will provide them, but if you drive into France in a car rented in another country, you’re on the hook to provide them. Switzerland already requires that any car driven on a Swiss Autobahn have a “vignette” sticker on the windshield. Cars rented in Switzerland already have them, but if you drive in from some other country, you need to buy one (at border crossings or a post office) if a previous renter hasn’t already done it. And these days you should really get an International Driving Permit (IDP) even for countries where guidebooks say you don’t need one.

      Money Matters: Presumably, you’ll be relying on some combination of credit and debit cards to cover local costs:

      6. For big purchases and car rentals, make sure your credit card has enough available credit to cover planned trip charges plus a comfortable cushion. You don’t want to hear “refused” when you count on using it.

      7. Let your bank(s) know where you plan to travel—especially overseas—so you won’t have any charges blocked.

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        Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

        (Photo: Shutterstock/Johan Larson)

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