So you’ve decided to head overseas for the first time. Maybe to put school, work, a break up or something else behind you and spread your wings. Travel broadens the mind, helps you learn about yourself – not to mention other cultures – and leaves you richer for the experience.
It’s an exciting step. But traveling has its pitfalls. There’s a lot the first-time international traveler needs to know to stop even simple tasks from becoming too intimidating.
These tips for your first overseas trip are straight from our experienced travelers — and they may come in handy as you venture abroad:
Before you go
1. Do your homework. Knowing what to expect from your destination means you’ll have a much better chance of returning with zero horror stories.
2. You need at least six months’ validity on your passport to enter some countries, so check ahead.
3. Contact your bank to make sure your debit and credit cards will work overseas, and find out about any fees you may incur for using your cards in other countries. It’s also a good idea to tell bank staff you’ll be traveling internationally so they don’t freeze your card due to unusual activity.
4. Get travel insurance. Most policies will cover potential medical expenses, baggage loss, legal costs, personal liability and cancellation or disruption of travel plans.
5. Get a drop box account (Google Cloud, iCloud and Dropbox are examples of free cloud storage hosts) and scan all tickets, passports, driver licenses and important documents such as travel insurance policies into it. If anything gets lost or stolen you can easily access the copies. Leave a copy of essential documents at home or with someone you trust, too – just in case.
6. Take a travel card with your foreign currency preloaded. You can then withdraw cash via ATMs, which you’ll find all over the world. A foreign money card is convenient, secure and replaceable.
7. Ensure any vaccinations you need are up to date. Specialized travel health clinics can help advise you on any precautions you need to take before traveling to your country of choice.
8. Renew all essential prescriptions and take any medication you need with you. Medication names often vary between countries.
9. Familiarize yourself with currency conversion rates (XE.com is a great site) so you can keep track of what you’re spending.
10. It’s worth registering your travel plans with the Safe Travel website. If there’s a problem in the country, this will make it easier for the government to contact you and get you to safety.
11. Pack an extra set of clothes in your carry-on bag. Airlines have been known to lose luggage occasionally and you don’t want to have to buy a gaudy, expensive airport outfit that instantly identifies you as a tourist.
12. Take a guide book on your destination. Lonely Planet, Frommers, Rough Guides – it doesn’t matter. With information on food, currency, customs, language, sights, accommodation and much more, a guide book is your bible (and especially handy when you don’t have ready internet access).
13. If you’re heading to a place where you don’t know the local language, learn a few simple phrases ahead of time so you can make do (or at least locate the bathroom). There are plenty of resources, like Duolingo, that will help you learn languages.
14. Airports can be stressful places. It sounds obvious, but ensure you have your passport, boarding pass and so on handy when needed. The last thing you want is a line of impatient people behind you while you dig to the bottom of your bag for those vital documents.
15. Don’t joke with security staff. It has the potential to land you in trouble.
16. Think about where to sit on the plane. Personal preference varies, of course, but an aisle seat can be a good idea, especially on long-haul flights. It’s nice to be able to move around the plane without having to disturb people beside you.
17. If you have a pair of airplane socks, a neck pillow, a tablet or anything else that may help you sleep or keep busy on a long flight, use them. You don’t want swollen feet; the socks do make a difference. And don’t forget your headphones to soak up any in-flight entertainment.
When you’re there
18. Don’t wear a fanny pack. It’ll only make you stand out as a tourist.
19. Be careful what you eat and drink. You don’t want to spend your trip with a stomach ache. It’s best to stick to bottled water in some countries.
20. Take your dress cues from the locals, especially in countries where equality of the sexes may not exist.
21. If you’re planning a big night out, go with people you know, stick together and beware of too-friendly strangers.
22. If you’re hopping between countries, check airport exit fees. You’ll need to pay to leave some countries. Take it from someone who once had to bribe a Vietnamese official to get out of Hanoi: you need to be prepared for this.
23. Always carry a small amount of cash in the local currency. Not every place takes credit cards, especially train and bus stations.
24. Buy tickets in advance for places you know you want to visit. You’ll be able to skip lines, and some attractions require you to purchase tickets well in advance, otherwise you might miss out. You also might get a better deal if you plan ahead.
25. Check what festivals and other events are happening in your destination; attending these is a great way to learn about different cultures and meet the locals.
26. Relax and enjoy!
Featured image by Angelo De Mesa