Going abroad for the first time can be both exciting and frightening. Successful international travel requires that you travel smart. So, where do you find out what to do before going abroad for the first time? From experienced travelers, of course.
I've now been abroad several times, and each time I've learned something new about preparing for international travel. My international travels have been rich with experiences that I'll forever be grateful for. But, take it from me: there are definitely a few things you can do to best prepare for international travel.
I can remember feeling scared to death that I would forget something or make a mistake before going abroad for the first time. Like with most things in life, first-times can be anxiety producing. As I mentioned in my last post, there are several questions you can ask yourself to start planning your perfect international vacation. But knowing what to do before going abroad for the first time can help you enjoy the trip you've been planning to take! Part 2 of my International Travel Tips series is all about being proactive and practical.
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What to Do Before Going Abroad for the First Time
1) Apply for a passport! You will need to do this no later than 6 months prior to your scheduled departure, preferably sooner than that. It can take some time to process, and you don't want to chance it! Also check to make sure that your ID (and passport if you have one already) are not about to expire. I've heard of people being refused boarding due to this.
2) Buy a travel guide and READ IT. I know it seems unnecessary with the wealth of information available on the Web but having a comprehensive guide to the city or country you're visiting can help ensure a smooth trip.
3) Research the weather! Knowing the expected forecast can inform your dress, your plans and your overall trip.
4) Study a map, paying attention to major streets/highways and public transit stops. Having an idea of the public transportation system is a good idea, too. If you plan to use public transportation upon arrival you need to know how and where to purchase tickets or fares.
5) Familiarize yourself with local resources; where is the US Embassy, local hospital, etc? You may even want to register with the local US State Department for safety tips, alerts and emergency resources in the country you'll be visiting.
6) Learn a little about the culture, dining practices and monetary systems in the country you're visiting. For example, it's important to know the tipping policy and practices where you're going to be. Although tipping is expected in the US, it's not the norm everywhere you go.
7) Pack smart: don't bring too much! I will confess I'm the world's worst about this, but I'm getting better. Mix and match clothing, buy toiletries upon arrival, or whatever it takes to pack light.
8) Find comfortable shoes to bring and purchase IN ADVANCE. Breaking in your travel shoes is so important. I cannot stress this enough! It's important to take your itinerary into consideration when packing your footwear. You may want to purchase a pair of multi-use shoes to bring in order to lighten your load and meet then needs of your feet. You'll want your precious pups to be well-cared for while traveling as you'll be spending a ton of time on your toes sight-seeing.
9) Bring local currency with you. Visit your local bank to request a currency exchange. I was able to easily exchange US Dollars for Euro at a very low rate of exchange in only 24 hours at my local Chase Bank. Having some cash on hand is really reassuring when you're in a foreign country. You may need it for transportation from the airport!
10) Check the fees for your credit/bank card BEFORE traveling. This can really save some serious cash. I now only use credit cards with No Foreign Transaction Fees! Also, be sure to learn/memorize/write down your PIN number so you can access cash from foreign ATMs without difficulty.
11) Find a safe travel bag designed to protect your personal possessions. If you can avoid it, you should never carry all your cash/cards with you while sight-seeing. Having a safe bag to either leave behind or carry with you will give you peace of mind.
12) Make a copy of your passport before leaving. Like your money, you should never carry your passport with you when sight-seeing if you can avoid it. One false move, your entire trip is RUINED! Instead consider carrying your ID and the copy of your passport. If you must carry your passport, be sure it's secured and safely tucked away from pickpockets.
13) Leave a copy of your passport, your ID and your credit cards/insurance cards (see below) with a trusted loved one in case of a travel emergency. In the past I've emailed copies so that both my loved one and I had easy access to the information in case of an emergency. Depending on your security concerns, you can also add copies of your important documents and cards to Google Drive, Dropbox or any other cloud service you wish to use.
14) Be sure to check vaccination policies for the country you are visiting (or for returning to your own country) at least 6 months prior to your trip! Some vaccinations take time to be administered.
15) Consider getting travel insurance before traveling internationally. Not all US health insurance providers cover injury or illness that occurs abroad. It's essential that you explore your health insurance policy before traveling so that you aren't caught unaware in a crisis. Many major credit cards offer some health coverage for travels booked using the credit card, so be sure to contact your credit card company to see if this service is available to you. In a pinch you can purchase travel insurance through a trusted provider.
16) Write down the address and phone number of the place where you will be staying. Keep it handy, as you'll likely be asked for this information in customs upon arrival and return.
17) Organize your itinerary! I like to use TripIt mainly because of the easy integration with Gmail. Once linked to your email account, TripIt will automatically add your hotel, flight, rental car and dinner reservations in one convenient place. You can easily share your trip with travel buddies or loved ones, too!
18) Check your cell phone carrier's policy on international calling, texting and data usage. Trust me! You don't want to get hit with charges from random text messages, tweets or push email messages. Be sure to turn off data usage when landing. Consider purchasing an international SIM card to cut down on charges and maintain access to data while traveling.
19) Notify your credit card company of your plan to travel internationally in advance of leaving. Many major credit card companies and banks now have an online notification process. Avoid a freeze on your account by keeping them up-to-date!
20) Plan, plan, plan...Knowing what you want to do (or not do) before going abroad for the first time can help you have the most meaningful travel experience possible!
I hope these tips have helped you start thinking ahead about what to do before going abroad for the first time. Stay tuned for Part 3: What to Bring When Traveling Abroad. Also be sure to check out Part 1: Planning for Traveling Abroad to get a head start on planning for your best trip ever!
Need more international travel tips? Check out my banging board over on Pinterest, Travel Tips and Tricks. It's where I collect my favorite travel tip pins from around the web.
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What to Pack on Your First International Trip