The world is the most accessible it’s ever been and there’s no better time for you to get out there and start exploring it. No matter how many times you’ve traveled in your home country, there is something so thrilling (and also scary) about going abroad for the first time. These tips are more directed at those who hold an American passport, but work in general for anyone. When you’re ready to head out into the world, check out these top tips for traveling abroad for the first time.
Get your passport well in advance
You want to make sure to apply for a passport in advance of your departure. Don’t book any flights or make any travel arrangements until you physically have that passport in your hand! Some international flights require a passport number when you book or during check-in. Some passports can arrive in two weeks, but it’s not unheard of for them to take longer. In fact, the current estimate for a passport in the States right now (October 2023) is 8-11 weeks. Plan accordingly!
Double-check to see if a visa is required
Whether or not a country will require a visa depends on both your destination and what passport you hold. Your US passport can allow you to see many countries without one, but about there are still a decent number that do still require a visa. Depending on the nature of your travel, you may need to pick up a Tourist Visa, Student Visa, or Work/Working Holiday Visa. Different Visas impact what you are and aren’t allowed to do there, so research each one before you go! There are different turn around times and requirements for each one, so make sure you’re prepared well ahead of time. And don’t forget–starting sometime in 2024, EU nations will require the ETIAS–you won’t be able to enter without one.
Research the country’s traditions, language, and norms
Get a feel for the culture before you visit another country. Don’t just assume that everyone will know how to speak English or that they’ll find another way to understand you. Learning basics in a language such as hello, goodbye, thank you, or even where’s the bathroom can make your trip go so much better. In addition to the language, research what’s normal and traditions there. Your cultural norms are not necessarily theirs and you are the visitor. If there’s a clothing requirement or suggestion, follow it. No alcohol allowed? Deal with it. Don’t be an ugly tourist. The last thing you want is to insult or offend someone or unknowingly do something taboo that at best is awkward but at worst can lead to serious repercussions.
Call your credit card company
Let your credit card company know what you will be traveling out of the country. This can help with credit cards getting declined or flagged for suspicious activity. If you have a backup card, do the same. While you’re dealing with the credit card company, make sure also to figure out what the PIN is for your debit card. You don’t want to be stranded by an ATM, unable to withdraw money. On that note, research whether cash or credit tends to be preferred at your destination. Whether or not tipping is expected is also important to know.
Check your phone plan
This is one of my biggest tips for traveling abroad first time! During all the preparation and planning for your trip, you may be forgetting one key detail–your phone! If you don’t check with your phone plan first, you might come to find out that you won’t be able to use your phone overseas. You also might be charged a ton of fees for using your phone overseas for international roaming, so do some research before you go. These little double checks can end up saving you a bundle of both money and realizing you don’t have a working phone when your plane lands.
Get travel insurance
Travel insurance sounds like a no-brainer, but you will be surprised how many people find themselves caught up in the itinerary and forget about the insurance. This can help with lost luggage, a canceled flight, or end up giving you a refund if you get too sick to travel. Shop around for travel insurance or talk to the company booking your flight to see about getting insurance for your travel. Be sure to also look into the place you’re booking your accommodations to see their policies and about getting travel insurance for your stay too!
Give yourself time to get over jet lag
If you are going abroad, then chances are you may be experiencing some jet lag. You want to see as much as you can and fit as much as you can into one trip–I get it. However, for the first day or two, you will want to slow down and let your body adjust to the new time zone. A long flight can mess you up, and your brain and body will need time to adjust to your new time zone. You can get your body prepared by resting before your trip and adjusting your schedule a bit before you go, but plan for a relaxing start to your trip.
Make copies of your travel documents
Whether it’s your tickets, passport, or even your driver’s license, you are going to want to get multiple copies of these documents. Keep a spare on you and a cloud backup for your trip just in case. If you lose the originals, having a copy can go a long way toward getting a new one faster. This will have all your information, such as flight numbers and order confirmations, and even help get you by until you can get your new ones.
If you are driving while abroad, know what is covered
While traveling abroad isn’t so dependent on cars in every country, there may be times when you think about getting behind the wheel of a car. Know what kind of coverage your insurance plan has in other countries so you don’t find yourself overpaying for the upcharges and additional charges in the car agency. You may need to buy additional insurance–it’s often a requirement for rentals to begin with. Also, make sure you know the customs and what you need to know to drive there. Don’t treat driving on the opposite side of the road as a game–driving anywhere is serious. Research basic road laws ahead of time (for instance, the States is the only country I know of that allows you to turn right on red).
Make an itinerary
Are there specific things you want to do once you get there? Do you want to take particular tours or do an activity? If you answered yes to any of these, you need to start making some bookings and create an itinerary. Some places require you to have reservations or buy things in advance. Going with the flow can be fun, but if there is something on your bucket list, make sure you book it so you can do it while you’re there!
Be Prepared to Make Mistakes
Your travels will not be perfect. This holds true whether it’s your first international trip or your hundredth. There will be things that never came up in your research or that one thing that ended up working in a completely different way than everyone had told you it would. Everyone makes mistakes. I didn’t know that I needed to pick up my suitcase between arriving at an international destination and then connecting to a domestic flight–it just never came up. The airport was under construction, there weren’t any signs, and I sailed straight through until I reached my final destination and it wasn’t there. It worked out in the end and it’s another story to laugh about now.
How do I make international travel easier?
Learning how to travel abroad for the first time is important to making it an easier trip. If you’re worried about traveling, be sure to make a checklist of items that you need so that you’re prepared well in advance.
What should you not do while traveling abroad?
Just as there are many things that you should do while traveling abroad, there are a couple things to keep in mind of what not to do. Make sure that you’re respectful of the culture and community. Don’t let someone else’s fear become your own, but be aware of your surroundings and don’t take dumb risks.
How can we be a safe tourist?
Educating yourself is one of the biggest ways that you can be safe! To do this, study the area that you’re going to be and immerse yourself in learning all that you can before you go.
Traveling abroad, especially when it’s your first time visiting a new place, can be terrifying. However, once you land and you start taking in the sights of a new place, you’ll wonder why you didn’t head there sooner! That first trip will be the biggest learning curve, but you’ll quickly wonder why you were worried at all.