Get Your Passport Well in Advance
The most important of all tips for first-time international travelers? Avoid unnecessary stress by applying for a passport well before your expected departure. Don’t book a flight or make any arrangements that can’t be changed until you have that little book that opens doors around the globe in your hand. Some international flights require that you enter your passport number when booking or during online check-in, so it’s best to just have it first before you start booking anything..
Deciding Where to Go for Your First International Trip
If you’re overwhelmed by all the incredible places you can see now that you have a passport then it may be hard to choose which destination to visit on your first international trip.
Here are some important things to ask yourself as you narrow down a literal world of choices:
- Do you want to stay close to your home country or go far away? On your first trip, it’s okay to start somewhere close and head further afield as you get more comfortable being an international globetrotting traveler.
- Do you speak a foreign language? Or, are you comfortable traveling to a place where you don’t speak the language? France was the first country I visited that wasn’t an English or Spanish speaking country and I was completely overwhelmed by not being able to communicate.
- Are you eager to make new friends and connecting with locals? If so, you may want to consider booking a guided tour — that’s a great way to connect with fellow travelers and many tours allow you opportunities to meet local guides too.
- What are you looking forward to the most? Are you drawn towards beautiful buildings and architecture, eating delicious or unusual foods, relaxing on a beach, climbing a mountain, or do you just want to party? It might help to jot down a quick list in order to figure out 1-2 things that are the most appealing aspect of your first-time overseas.
- What is your comfort level about traveling to countries that have a culture and lifestyle that differs greatly from yours? Will you feel uncomfortable around poverty, pollution, and crazy traffic? There’s no shame in first visiting countries where you feel safe.
Check to See if You Need a Visa
As you book your trip, make sure you check to see whether or not you’ll need a visa to travel. A visa is a document issued by the country or countries you’re visiting, which grants you permission to travel there for a certain number of days.
For most of Europe, the U.K., and many countries in Asia and Latin America, U.S. passport holders can travel without a visa or receive one on arrival. But, if you do need a visa and you show up for your flight without it you won’t be allowed to board the plane
Make Sure You Can Access Your Money Overseas
Though your debit card will probably work everywhere on this first trip, it’s important to have a good back-up plan. Try to take at least $100, a debit card, and a credit card with you on your first international trip. Always leave one card in your hotel room in case your wallet gets stolen — this has happened to me way too many times. If your wallet gets stolen it’s not the end of the world because you’ll still have another way to access money!
Stay Safe with these International Travel Safety Tips
Your first international trip may seem scary, but it’s almost always scarier in your mind than it will ever be once you’re traveling.
Usually, the most you’ll have to worry about is pickpockets and petty theft. To avoid becoming a victim, always keep an eye on your belongings and hold your bag tight. A cross body bag or fanny pack may not be the most fashionable but they’re by far the most effective way to deter pickpockets. Never carry a backpack on just one shoulder or leave your bag on the ground or on the back of a chair. If you’re really concerned, money belts and theft-proof wallets are also good options.
Book Everything in Advance
How far in advance should you start booking your trip? Experts say that booking airfare between 56-62 days before the departure date is the best way to get a good deal. Booking on a Tuesday usually yields the best rates — and flying on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday will often be the lowest price.
Give Yourself Enough Time to Get Over Your Jet Lag
Recovering from a long-haul flight is challenging enough — but when you add on a time change you’re bound to be a bit jet lagged. It can take up to a week to adjust for every eight time zones you change. So, if you’re flying from Los Angeles to London, you can expect several days where your brain and body are adjusting to the new time zone.
Fight the jet lag by getting plenty of rest before your trip and slightly adjusting your schedule — think staying up an hour or two later — to try to get your body prepped. Do the same with meal times. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after the flight.
Once you arrive, do your best to avoid naps, even when your body is screaming for one. Take a stroll around your neighborhood to get a sense of local life and relax in a cafe for a bit — coffee really helps!