Dear Readers: If you're planning a trip out of the country, being prepared can make a world of difference! Traveling abroad requires a little more planning than domestic travel, but believe me, it's worth your time. Here are a few steps to help you travel with less stress:

• Locate your passport now, if you have one, and make sure it hasn't expired. It can take anywhere from four to six weeks to request a new passport. However, you should plan on renewing at least six months before your passport expires.

• And take the time to read up on the laws in the country you are visiting. Remember, when in Rome, do as the Romans do!

• Be sure to leave your itinerary and hotel information with friends or family so that they know how to reach you in case of an emergency.

• If possible, leave your expensive jewelry and clothing at home, and be discreet when handling money.

• If you find yourself in any trouble you can't handle, contact the closest U.S. Embassy. In fact, before your trip, get the phone number and street address of the U.S. Embassy in every city you will be visiting. — Heloise

P.S.: Spring or summer is when the majority of people travel for vacation and renew or apply for a new passport. So, plan ahead and apply or renew in the offseason.

Dear Heloise: I read the article about moving where items were lost due to no inventory. This is the difference between a budget and a full-service professional mover.

A professional mover will provide numbered stickers and place them on all furniture, boxes and any items that are loaded onto a truck/trailer. The professional mover will provide an inventory form where all numbered stickers will be noted along with a description of each one's contents (e.g., sticker 101 — dishpack box with dishes). At delivery, the customer will check off each item as it is unloaded off the truck/trailer so that if there is anything missing or damaged, it will be noted at that time.

Since most customers select a mover based on price, it only emphasizes the old saying: You get what you pay for. — Maria D., via e-mail

Dear Heloise: I always seem to lose baby socks and other small items in the laundry. I decided to take a lingerie bag with a clip-on hanger (the ones you get with baby clothes) and hang it on the side of the hamper. I put the socks, mittens, hats and anything that is small into the bag. On wash day, I just zip the bag and put it into the washer and then into the dryer. — Kathy B., Shippensburg, Pa.

Send a great hint to: Heloise, P.O. Box 795000, San Antonio, TX 78279-5000; fax: 210-435-6473; e-mail: [email protected]