Have you never traveled abroad before? But have always wanted to?
International travel can certainly feel intimidating for the first-timer. The culture, the language, and just the practical considerations of foreign travel all play a part in the experience.
There are plenty of things to consider when you head off to a different country for the first time. A bit of advanced planning will help smooth the way before you embark on your new adventure.
Let’s go over some ways to prepare for your trip so that once you arrive at your destination, all you will need to do is soak it in and enjoy.
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Travel Documents You Need if You’ve Never Traveled Abroad
If you have never traveled abroad you will need to apply for a passport.
A passport is an official identification that declares you a citizen of your country.
Apply as far in advance as you can to ensure you receive it on time. Application times vary depending on the demand.
Certain times of the year may impact processing speed. From start to finish, this could take weeks or possibly even months.
The sooner you begin the application, the better. Once you have your passport it’s valid for 10 years. By the way, if you happen to be traveling with children, they need passports as well.
Some countries will require you to have a Visa to enter. A Visa is a document that permits you to travel to a specific country for a specific time period.
There are several different types such as student or work visas. When traveling or vacationing you would apply for a tourist visa if the country requires it. Some will and some won’t, it depends. Check the embassy website of the country you are planning to visit.
Check your travel destination’s policy for vaccines and other health-related mandates. Things can, and often do, change quickly in this regard. Although this was important before Covid it is especially relevant in a post-pandemic world. The country’s government website is a good place to start.
Some airlines will share this information when you book the flight. They may even have you upload the required travel documents before your departure date.
Even so, do not rely solely on the airline to inform you. Check back to the country’s government health website now and again to ensure you have complied with any necessary paperwork. Being stuck in the airport trying to figure things out last minute is no fun.
This is optional but something to consider. Insurance can cover many things from trip cancellation, unexpected medical issues, and lost or stolen items.
How to Stay Healthy When Traveling Abroad
If you are going to a developing or remote country, make an appointment with a travel doctor. There may be certain shots or medications important to get before you leave depending on your itinerary.
Before heading to Indonesia I visited a travel doctor who advised certain things such as Hepatitis A shots, malaria pills, and OTC medications.
We left there armed with practical knowledge on how to avoid getting ill while we traveled. It paid off too. We luckily managed to avoid some of the minor illnesses and discomforts others in our group experienced. Maybe we were just lucky but I say it was money well spent.
Vitamins and Medications
Don’t leave home without your daily regimen. If you normally take a daily multivitamin and probiotic every day, plan to continue this while traveling.
Any type of travel or change in daily routine can put stress on your immune system. Keeping with your regular health habits whenever possible might reduce this.
Also, taking some basic OTC medications with you can make a big difference.
You’ll be grateful to have anti-diarrheal medication and simple pain relievers for a headache if the need arises. They don’t take up any room in your luggage and if you never use them, even better.
What Should I Wear If I’ve Never Traveled Abroad?
Appropriate clothing if you have never traveled abroad before is a common thing people wonder about. Your travel attire should take into consideration three main factors.
These are weather, culture, and comfort.
You want to make sure that you’re clothing is appropriate for the climate.
The weather in Iceland is very different during August than it would be during February.
I made the mistake of overcompensating on an Iceland trip I took in August. On every hike, I ended up sweating in the summer sunshine because I was overdressed. So, when in doubt, layer up!
Also, don’t forget to factor in geographical location. July might mean summertime in New York City, but it is not summertime in Sydney, Australia.
Respecting all cultures must be a given when traveling internationally. If you have never traveled abroad before expect to feel a bit of a culture shock.
I love feeling amazed at how differently people live from each other all over the world. Some things will just blow your mind and it will probably be the least expected thing of all.
While clothing may seem a casual thing where you live it can have great significance in some cultures. When you plan to travel to a culture different from your own take the time to find out if there are certain cultural expectations.
Do men never wear hats indoors? Do women always keep their knees covered?
If I am traveling through a country where women dress more conservatively I like to bring a large scarf or shawl that can serve multiple purposes such as covering your shoulders upon entering a church or your hair in a Muslim community
By observing these cultural norms, the locals will appreciate your respectfulness and you will ultimately feel more comfortable. Read how to delve deeper into cultural travel here.
While keeping the weather and culture in mind don’t forgo comfort. You may want to blend in with the Italian fashionistas but wandering the cobblestone streets for hours in heels will ruin your day.
There are so many clothing retailers who cater to travelers’ comfort and convenience you will easily find items to match your needs.
Some items may seem pricey but things like quality walking shoes are a good investment. From someone who trots the globe with wide, flat feet, trust me on this one.
Other items can be purchased cheaply and thought of as disposable. That way if they end up not lasting beyond this one trip it’s not that big of a deal.
For example, if you normally live in a warm climate but are taking an Alaskan hiking trip. You wouldn’t spend hundreds of dollars on a jacket you may only use for a few weeks.
You can either shop at a thrift store for a bargain or buy an inexpensive one online. Donate it to a charity or someone in need before you depart.
Communication When Traveling Abroad
Having never traveled abroad, worrying about being able to communicate is a big deal.
Try to learn a few common words and phrases before you go. The native language speakers there will love you for it. Not speaking the same language shouldn’t cause you travel anxiety.
You can use a free language learning app like Duolingo. Also, check out your local public library which often has language learning tools that you can use for free.
A small phrase book like this or Google Translate app will serve you well.
Overall, this will make your trip much more enjoyable and it’s fun to feel accomplished when you recognize some of the words on a menu in a restaurant.
Using Your Phone
Staying in touch, GPS, and searching for information keeps us very connected to our phones.
Before traveling internationally get in touch with your phone service provider to see what your talk and data plan includes. They may have a pay-as-you-go or daily plan you can opt in to.
Download any Apps or maps that could be used offline before you leave for your trip.
Also, look into web-based chats that can be used outside of your phone plan, such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. This way all you need is internet service to stay in touch with family and friends.
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
If you would like an extra safety net for communication, or just want to reassure your mom while you’re away, consider enrolling in STEP, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
As a U.S. citizen, it is a way for you to be kept updated by the embassy of any safety concerns in the country you’re visiting. It also enables your family to track you down in the event they can’t reach you any other way.
Stayed Powered While Traveling Abroad
I have dragged my hair dryer across the Atlantic only to find out it was useless there. I did not know the voltage requirements were different in Italy. Luckily the hotel we were staying at supplied hair dryers.
If you can’t live without a blowout, never fear, there are many great dual-voltage hair dryers perfect for traveling. This one from Revlon is lightweight and it folds for easy packing.
Electrical outlets might look different than they do at home. Remember to bring a universal power adapter with you.
I just keep mine in my luggage at all times so I never leave it behind when I head out. This adapter also has 4 USB ports which can be useful for your phone as well.
Don’t count on finding power outlets everywhere you go. Bringing along a portable phone charger to keep in your bag can be a lifesaver.
Money When Traveling Abroad
Notify Your Credit Card Company
Notify your credit card company that you will be using your credit card outside of your ZIP code. This will eliminate the chance of having a block placed on your credit card when you go to make a purchase. Many companies have made this easy to do right on their app.
Businesses in most places you travel to will accept credit cards, but not always.
In the past year, I traveled to Spain and Iceland, and my fingers never once touched cash. In Italy however, so many places and services accepted cash only, no card, it felt a bit shocking.
Exchanging currency can come with a hefty fee. This is where ATMs are your friend. They usually will give you the best exchange rate.
Additionally, some credit card companies offer no international transaction fees. I use Charles Schwab and I love them. All my fees are reimbursed after travel and I keep an account with them specifically for all my travel transactions.
Never Travel Abroad With Big Luggage!
Yes, size matters when it comes to luggage. American carry-on luggage tends to be larger than European. When traveling internationally the overhead space may not fit the bigger carry-on size.
For durability and ease of travel, I recommend this smaller carry-on for fitting in most overhead spaces. It is sharp looking and holds a ton. I love my Osprey backpack as a carry-on for active trips.
Also, consider your lodging space. Hotels in cities tend to have smaller closets and storage space.
Hostels can have limited space as well. If you are staying in a shared space in the hostel you will want to lock up your belongings. You should confirm with the hostel the amount of space available to do this.
Something else to consider is getting your luggage around your destination. If you are visiting a historical city, the sidewalks and roads may have been built hundreds of years ago. Some historical centers are strictly pedestrian only. It will not be easy dragging your wheeled luggage over cobblestoned streets.
Read this for more tips on how to keep from losing your luggage
Location Matters if You Have Never Traveled Abroad
Investigate the location of your lodgings. It may seem like you’re getting a great deal on a hotel until you realize that you have to take an Uber or public transportation just to get to the center of where all the action is. Suddenly It’s not a great deal if you have to budget for transportation.
Sometimes paying a little more so that everything is within walking distance is worth it.
Of course, if staying outside of the main tourist center is your goal, then just check that your destination is easily accessible from the airport.
Also, confirm reservations before you leave home to assure there were no miscommunications in your booking.
If you have serious dietary restrictions such as allergies, you must plan in advance. Using the native language of your destination, write on a card exactly what those restrictions are.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most people are happy to accommodate you rather than have you become ill.
Don’t forget to pack things you may need that pertain to your situation such as insulin, Lactaid, or gluten-free snacks.
Keeping snacks on hand is always a good idea. There are many reasons you may need to dip into your snack stash while traveling.
Maybe you had a long day of touring and all the local restaurants and shops are closed. It could be you’ve been overeating, which is pretty easy to do since you are probably eating out more than usual and your stomach just needs a light meal.
Perhaps the local food is not agreeing with you and you just need something familiar in your belly. Or maybe you’re just hungry!
How to Get Around if You’ve Never Traveled Abroad
Am I allowed to drive a car in another country?
First, ask yourself this. Will I be comfortable driving there at all? Is the traffic crazy and unpredictable? Are the signs in a language I don’t understand? Will I be driving on the opposite side of the road? If you are okay with these possibilities then go for it!
So, if you have never traveled abroad you will need to obtain an International Driver’s Permit. You can apply easily online for it through AAA.
Keep in mind that even if the country itself doesn’t require you to have an International Driving Permit, the rental car agency may have its own requirements. Better to just have it. Something to note is that the permit must be issued within 6 months of your travel dates.
Using Local Public Transportation
Investigate the public transportation availability. It can be very convenient and more affordable when traveling abroad. Train travel in Europe is wonderful!
Not only is it easier to let someone else do the navigating for you. It also provides an opportunity to immerse yourself at a local level.
By exploring the possibilities in advance you can download the Ticket Apps and Maps that might be available before leaving home. Understanding how to use the bus, the train, or the Metro systems in a community can be invaluable. It will save you precious time while you are traveling.
Taxis and Rideshares
Taxis and ridesharing, like Uber, may or may not be available depending on your location. It’s good to double-check before stepping off the plane.
Knowing in advance which direction the taxi stand is from baggage claim is helpful in a crowded airport. Theoretically, there will be universal signage, but that is not always the case and no one wants to look lost in a strange city.
Keep in mind there are places where ridesharing is not allowed. If it is and you plan to make use of it, then downloading the rideshare App before you leave home is also a good idea. The same company brand may have different apps for individual countries.
If you are unsure of how you are going to get from the airport, then call the hotel. They sometimes offer airport transfers for free. If not, they will be able to book a private transfer for you or give suggestions at the very least.
Best Tip Ever if You’ve Never Traveled Abroad
If you plan to travel abroad often you may consider joining the Trusted Traveler Program. It allows U.S. citizens to expedite the customs process upon their return from an international trip.
It requires a fee and an interview but once accepted it will make your return home through the major airports a breeze. You will bypass long lines for a quick pass through a designated kiosk and be on your way. As a known traveler, you will almost always be given TSA pre-check status, although it is not guaranteed.
Global Entry Status is good for a five-year period, so if you plan to travel abroad more than once in that time period, it is totally worth it.
Traveling to an international destination is always exciting, but especially so if you have never before traveled abroad. Don’t let the unexpected get in the way of your adventure. With a little planning and preparation, you will eliminate time-wasting steps and mistakes and enjoy your trip to the fullest.
If the thought of traveling makes you nervous read these additional tips for traveling anxiety-free.
AAA IDP International Driving Permit. https://www.aaa.com/vacation/idpf.html. Accessed 28 Dec. 2022.
Before You Go. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/before-you-go.html. Accessed 27 Dec. 2022.
Global Entry | U.S. Customs and Border Protection. https://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry. Accessed 28 Dec. 2022.
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/before-you-go/step.html. Accessed 27 Dec. 2022.