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What to Do Before Going Abroad for the First Time

Going abroad for the first time can be both exciting and frightening. Successful international travel requires that you travel smart. So, who do you trust for travel tips? Why, experienced travelers, of course. Use this guide to going abroad for the first time to prepare for your first international trip!

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Preparing for Your First Trip Abroad

Going Abroad for the First Time: My Experience

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'd 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. 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.

Passport Needed

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.

Get a Guide

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.

Plan for the Weather

Research the weather! Knowing the expected forecast can inform your dress, your plans, and your overall trip. The last thing you want is spend your vacation without the proper gear. I love the WTForecast iPhone app! It keeps me entertained and informed.

Learn the Lay of the Land

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.

Pro Tip: Most Lonely Planet guides come with a pull-out city map that you can use on the go!

Be Prepared for Emergencies

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.

Avoid Culture Shock

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.

Pack Like a Pro

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.

Get Comfortable

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.

Be Prepared to Pay

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!

Not All Credit Cards Are Created Equal

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 so you can access cash from foreign ATMs without difficulty. My favorite cards are my United MilesPlus Explorer Visa, my Delta Skymiles American Express, and my Chase Sapphire Reserve Visa. All three offer crazy good travel/airline points without foreign transaction fees!

Not All Bags Are Created Equal

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.

Get Vaccinated

Be sure to check vaccination policies for the country you are visiting (or for returning to your own country) at least six months before your trip! Some treatments take time to be administered, so be sure to do your research well in advance. Or contact your physician for more information.

Let Your People Know

Leave a copy of your passport, your ID and your credit cards/insurance information 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.

Protect Your Passport

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.

Insure Your Trip

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 like Roam Right. I've used Roam Right on many of my trips abroad and couldn't be happier with the price and comprehensive coverage. Get a quick quote and travel with peace of mind!

RoamRight cruise travel insurance

Have Info Handy

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. Install Google Drive on your phone or save notes in your native notes app with all the information you need for clearing customs quickly.

Get Organized

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!

Don't Roam

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.

Free Your Funds

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!

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! Use the posts below to start planning your first best international trip ever!

Let's Stay in Touch

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Thanks for all your interest and support!


  • Reply
    Rob Taylor
    July 11, 2016 at 8:46 am

    Yes! Travel guides are still important in this technological age. And ALWAYS have a color copy of your passport somewhere else!

    • Reply
      July 12, 2016 at 12:30 pm

      I couldn’t agree more. I never travel without some sort of guide book and/or map. So important.

  • Reply
    July 13, 2016 at 5:04 am

    Great tips. We take photos on our phone of documents, addresses, etc to help cut down on papers.

    • Reply
      July 13, 2016 at 6:55 pm

      Totally! I typically have a paper copy stashed somewhere but really believe in having photos either on my phone or in Google Drive!

  • Reply
    Kevin Wagar
    July 15, 2016 at 11:16 am

    Fantastic tips. I love how you mention researching local customs beforehand. Having a grasp of the culture sure helps you gain comfort before diving in to something new.

  • Reply
    July 16, 2016 at 6:09 am

    Oh yes, that copy of the passport – super handy!! I always carry more than one copy with me. If there is one thing that is super important, then it’s this one 🙂 Good tip too to check ATM international fees. Had a bit of bad luck with that when I first started traveling. These are good tips for someone who starts traveling and reminders for someone who has traveled before 🙂

  • Reply
    July 18, 2016 at 1:10 am

    All sound tips indeed. Especially the one that mentions about getting familiar with the culture of the place that you are travelling to. Obviously you do not want to be caught on the wrong foot!

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