Traveling internationally for the first time can seem daunting and overwhelming. In addition to the anticipation and excitement for you might feel before your journey, feeling nervous is quite common for first-time travelers going abroad. However, the experiences and the memories you will create will outweigh all of the nervousness you might be feeling as you prepare for departure. From visas to jet lag, here are some general tips to help you have a smooth first trip abroad and make you feel more prepared as you plan for your departure.
1. Apply for a passport
First and foremost, the most important thing for travelers going overseas for the first time is to apply and get your passport well in advance of your departure date. This is an absolute necessity to board the plane and enter another country. Applying for a passport is a pretty straight-forward and easy process, you can set an appointment at most major post offices. To see what documentation you might need to apply for a U.S. passport, we recommend checking out the official website to see you need. Tip: check to see if the passport facility takes photos onsite, if not you can get pictures taken at most drugstores!
Passports can take up to a few weeks to be processed so it’s better to apply sooner than later! If you already have a passport, be sure to check the expiration date, as some countries will not allow entry if your passport is going to expire soon, some within six months of your arrival date. When your passport arrives, make several copies to bring with you on your trip, one to leave at home with loved ones, and be sure to save a digital copy securely online. If you have any questions on obtaining or renewing a passport, feel free to email us.
2. Check your visa requirements
As you prepare for your trip, it is necessary to check whether or not you’ll need a visa. A visa is a document provided by another country that gives you permission to enter and exit the country for a specific amount of time for a designated purpose, like tourism. If you are an American citizen, visa information for different countries is available on the State Department’s website. Be sure to thoroughly read the entry, exit, and visa requirements required for the countries you will visit.
Based on your citizenship, some countries will allow you to get a 30 days tourist visa on arrival. However, some countries require that you apply for a visa at a consulate in your home country before visiting or arrange an electronic visa beforehand to enter the country. It is crucial that you understand visa requirements because every country is different for their entry and exit requirements.
3. Learn how to speak the basics
While you don’t have to be fluent in the local language, learning the basics of the language can go a long way. Not only will it help you to navigate around on your own, but the locals will appreciate that you took the time to learn key phrases.
Learning the basics like “yes”, “no,” “thank you,” and “please” will be helpful in any situation. Learning numbers and how to ask for things that are food-related, and phrases like “how much does this cost?” can also help in market situations.
4. What to pack
We have lots of articles for what to pack on certain trips, like our packing essentials for Iceland. Give yourself ample time ahead of your trip to pack the essentials, like comfortable shoes, a universal power adapter, and other must needed items that you might forget to pack if you wait until the last minute. We recommend that you pack things that have multiple uses, like a scarf that can be also be used as a shawl or a blanket on long flights. And don’t forget those small travel essentials that will easily fit in your bag!
Pack your carry on for essential items that you might need during a long flight. Airport food can be crazy expensive, so it’s also worth it to check with the airline what snacks you can bring onboard to avoid costs. Other carry-on items worth mentioning are books, movies, or some kind of entertainment, a toothbrush and travel-size toothpaste, a refillable water bottle, a travel pillow, eye mask, earplugs, and other types of items that will make a long flight more comfortable. Be sure to check the weight allowances for luggage for your trip, some airlines require that you only bring one item and have certain weight limits for both carry-on and checked luggage.
5. Sort out your Money
Before you depart, it’s important to research a bit about money matters so you’ll have access to your money abroad. We recommend to look up the exchange rate to get an idea of your spending costs. It’s important to have a rough idea of what you are exactly spending in your home currency during each transaction to budge and to prevent from being overcharged.
Call your bank and let them know you are traveling overseas, so you can use your credit or debit cards abroad without any hassles. If you don’t create a travel alert with your bank, the card company could possibly mistake your foreign transactions as fraudulent and put a hold on your card. Ask your bank if they charge fees for using ATM internationally so you can budget accordingly. Lastly, exchange some cash into some local currency before departing to have some cash available on arrival.
6. How to keep in touch
Thanks to an abundance of apps like WhatsApp and Skype, keeping in touch with loved ones when you are abroad is pretty easy and straightforward. Always check with your cell phone provider before departing. To avoid roaming charges and expensive fees, you might have to change your phone plan before you go or you might have unlock your phone before traveling. If not, you’ll have to set your phone to airplane mode, using only the wifi function while abroad so you aren’t charged excess roaming fees.
Check out if you can purchase a SIM card in your final destination, giving you a local number. A local SIM card means you’d be paying a local rate for data usage instead of roaming costs.
7. Stay healthy
Another must for traveling internationally is arranging immunizations and vaccinations beforehand. Based on your destination, you might need to get certain vaccinations to visit different countries before entering. To find out if you do, search by your destination here at the State Department’s official website.
You also might want to consider travel insurance before your trip, deciding what plan works best for you. Certain travel insurance can cover lost luggage, medical costs, and some can protect you if your flight is canceled among other things.
You also might want to register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP, a free service ran by the U.S. Department of State for U.S. citizens traveling abroad. The short form helps register your whereabouts to the closest U.S. Embassy or consulate, helping assist you in case of any emergencies.
Some travelers report being sensitive to jet lag, which can make you feel somewhat disoriented and tired after a long flight across different zones. We’ve come up with some tips to help alleviate symptoms, things you can do immediately before your departure, during your flight, and upon arrival.
8. Come up with some ideas of what to do during free time rough itinerary
The most interesting aspect of prepping for your trip abroad for many is planning on activities to do during your free time. Come up with a rough idea of what you can do during downtime. You don’t have to do every activity on your list, but you’ll be prepared about the attractions that the city offers in advance of your arrival. The Travendly blog and other online blogs are a wealth of information for learning about your destination.
Be sure to leave room for rest, allow for spontaneity, and be flexible with your plans. That’s when some of the most memorable moments can happen. Maintaining a positive attitude, being flexible, and staying open-minded can help you embrace the challenges that come with new adventures. Your travels will lead you to new friends, activities or places you hadn’t considered before and sometimes the most rewarding moments from our travels are always the ones we didn’t plan for or the ones that didn’t go according to plan.
9. Prepare for the airport
To avoid a stressful airport experience, it’s best to arrive early. Depending on your airline and departing country’s airport regulations, most airports require you to arrive three hours before your flight departure for check-in. Always check with the airline ahead of time. During the check-in process, you’ll receive your boarding pass and checked baggage receipts.
You’ll also want to allow for ample time for the immigration and customs security process. After the security procedures, you’ll be able to reach your departure gate and relax! Your adventure is just beginning!
Carrie Ann Back
Carrie is a part-time travel writer and full time globetrotter based in Southeast Asia. Her most recent adventures include working in the Bolivian Amazon jungle, surfing in Sri Lanka, and exploring Laos via a slow boat up the Mekong River. She’s a slow travel enthusiast and loves to write about her experiences abroad.