It’s a vast, big world, and we’re so excited that you’re ready to go out and explore it!
No matter how often you’ve traveled in your native country, taking your first vacation abroad is both exciting and worrisome. I’ve been traveling full-time for over 2 years, seeing nearly 23 countries, and I’ve learnt a few things along the way, including some top travel suggestions for first-time travelers.
Going someplace utterly new, strange, and foreign is exhilarating, but it can also be frightening and confused. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Follow these easy guidelines to guarantee that your logistics are in order.
Get Your Passport Well in Advance
What is the most critical piece of advice for first-time overseas travelers? Apply for a passport well in advance of your planned vacation to avoid additional stress. Don’t book a flight or make any final plans until you have that small book that unlocks doors all across the world in your hands. Some foreign flights ask you to input your passport number when booking or at online check-in, so have it ready before you begin booking.
As of 2019, the application price for a US passport is $145 for adults and $115 for children under the age of 16. If you’ve already begun reserving and paying for your trip, you may pay an additional charge for your passport if you need it quickly (the official term is “expedited”). Typically, you will obtain an expedited passport within two weeks after submitting your application.
Make physical and digital copies of the identifying page once your passport arrives. Give one to your parents and keep the other in your wallet. Take a picture with your phone and save a high-quality digital copy to Google Docs. Take a photo of your visa stamp when you acquire it.
You’ll need your passport more than you think, and not just on planes! Many hotels request a scan of the identity page of your passport. Don’t be afraid; this is very natural. Some may even retain your passport as collateral throughout your stay to guarantee you pay for your accommodations while also keeping it secure from theft. (While this isn’t as widespread as it once was before the advent of internet booking, don’t be astonished if it occurs in certain far-flung locations.)
While most nations theoretically require visitors to carry their passports at all times, this is not the best practice since pickpockets and bag snatchers exist all around the world. This is when your printed copy comes in helpful. If you run into foreign law enforcement, it’s quite usual to show them a photo of your passport and visa on your phone and then explain that the actual copy is back at your hotel — simply offer to go get it if they need to see it.
Never store your passport in an easily accessible place on your luggage. The very best location for your passport to be is in a hotel safe or in your hostel locker.
Decide Where to Go on Your First International Trip
Perhaps you’ve wished to see elephants in Thailand or the pyramids in Egypt for a long time. Maybe you don’t know where you’re going, but you know you need to get there. If you’re overwhelmed by all the great destinations you may see now that you have a passport, it may be difficult to decide where to go on your first overseas vacation.
Here are some critical questions to ask yourself when you filter down a literal universe of options:
- Do you wish to remain near to home or go far away? On your first journey, it’s OK to start close to home and work your way out as you gain confidence as an international globetrotter.
- Do you have any foreign language skills? Or are you at ease going to a country where you don’t understand the language? France was the first nation I visited that did not speak English or Spanish, and I was absolutely overwhelmed by the inability to communicate.
- Do you want to meet new people and interact with the locals? If so, you may want to try taking a guided tour; it’s a terrific opportunity to meet other tourists, and many tours provide chances to meet local guides as well.
- What are you most looking forward to? Are you attracted to stunning structures and architecture, eating tasty or uncommon meals, resting on a beach, climbing a mountain, or just partying? It may be useful to make a fast list in order to identify the 1-2 most enticing aspects of your first trip abroad.
- What is your degree of comfort while going to nations with cultures and lifestyles that are very different from yours? Will you be bothered by poverty, pollution, and terrible traffic? There is no shame in starting with places where you feel protected.
Once you’ve considered these questions, you should be able to limit down your options to one or two countries, depending on how much time you’ve set aside for your first overseas vacation. If you’re still hesitant, Western Europe or the United Kingdom are excellent choices for first-time visitors.
Most people speak English (even if it is not the national language), there are several modes of transportation (buses, trains, and airlines), and there are numerous diverse cultures to discover. Australia and New Zealand are similarly simple, but somewhat more adventurous destinations due to long-haul flights and a little more strategic preparation due to their size and plenty of fun activities.
If you truly want to get away from the United States, try visiting established and well-known tourist destinations such as Costa Rica or Thailand. I’m always shocked when I meet young travelers who are visiting Morocco or India for the first time, two of my favorite destinations but places I couldn’t manage when I was 19.
Check to See if You Need a Visa
When you plan your vacation, make sure to check to see whether you’ll need a visa to go. A visa is a document granted by the nation or countries you are visiting that allows you to travel for a certain number of days.
U.S. passport holders may travel without a visa to much of Europe, the United Kingdom, and many countries in Asia and Latin America. If you do need a visa and show up for your flight without it, you will be denied boarding, which is a huge disappointment and a waste of your money.
US citizens may learn about visa requirements by searching for their destination on the US Department of State website.
Make Sure You Can Access Your Money Overseas
Traveling abroad no longer necessitates carrying cash or travelers cheques (what are those?!) It is now much simpler to handle and access money while traveling throughout the globe, owing to the internet.
Check with your bank to determine whether you need to set up a travel alert while overseas so that your bank knows when and where you’re going. Inquire about international costs and if they have partner banks in the destination that may help you save money on expensive “foreign transaction” ATM fees. You may also prevent this by creating a free checking account with Charles Schwab or Ally. These are two banks that don’t charge international transaction costs and repay ATM fees – even while you’re on the road!
Though your debit card will most likely function anywhere on your first trip, it is critical to have a backup plan. On your first overseas vacation, try to include at least $100, a debit card, and a credit card. Always save one card in your hotel room in case your wallet is taken; this has happened to me far too often. If your wallet is taken, it is not the end of the world since you will still have access to money!
Save Money by Comparing Transportation & Accommodation Options
Most overseas travels will need you to fly there, but explore alternative choices for moving about your location, such as buses or trains. Rio2Rome is an excellent tool for researching all possible routes from point A to point B and determining which form of transportation will be the fastest and cheapest.
Bus journeys are often the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly means of transportation, and they also allow you to take in the scenery and converse with people. Some nations even offer ride-sharing applications, such as BlaBlaCar, which is popular in Spain and Germany and may be more convenient than using the bus.
Before making a reservation, consider your alternatives. While hotels are usually an excellent choice, don’t forget to look at hostel, guesthouse, and Airbnb options in your destination; they will allow you to interact with other visitors and locals. Boutique hostels are becoming increasingly widespread, and they often have far finer facilities than inexpensive motels.
Hostels are often less expensive. I use Hostelz.com to compare costs from Hostelworld, Booking, Gomio, and other housing sites for free. Hostelz.com displays the price difference between each site and lets consumers to book directly via the site that offers the best deal. However, I prefer to make the actual reservation via Booking.com since there are no booking fees and bookings are frequently free to change before the arrival date.
Book Everything in Advance
When should you start planning your vacation? Unfortunately, this is difficult to say while Covid is still active. According to a recent poll, reserving close to your departure date will offer you last-minute savings as airlines try to load flights. Alternatively, poll findings revealed that the best time to buy inexpensive tickets to Europe was 180 days before travel.
If you’re under the age of 26, you might earn flight discounts just for being young! To get a youngster discount, use airfare search engines like StudentUniverse. Whatever the case may be, the ideal time to book is when you have the funds and are ready to commit to your first overseas vacation. Make sure you have exit flights for each country since many airlines will not allow you on a one-way journey.
Even though I’ve been traveling for a long time, I still book my accommodations ahead of time. The thought of arriving somewhere after a long day of travel without knowing where I’m going to sleep makes me nervous, but other people find it fascinating. Have a place to stay booked at the very least for your arrival day. Customs forms nearly often request that you indicate where you will be living. Keep a business card from your lodging with you in case your phone dies while you’re out and you have difficulty finding your way back.
Give Yourself Enough Time to Get Over Your Jet Lag
When planning your first overseas vacation, you may want to pack everything in. How many cities can you visit in a single trip? How much can you see in a single day?! Slow down, at least for the first day or two, to recuperate from every traveler’s bane: jet lag.
Recovering after a long-haul journey is difficult enough, but throw in a time shift and you’re likely to be jet lagged. It might take up to a week to acclimate for each time zone shift of eight. So, if you’re going from Los Angeles to London, you should anticipate your brain and body to acclimate to the new time zone for many days.
Combat jet lag by obtaining lots of rest before your travel and slightly modifying your schedule (for example, staying up an hour or two later) to attempt to prepare your body. Apply the same logic to mealtimes. Before, during, and after the flight, drink lots of water.
When you arrive, try to resist taking naps, even if your body begs you to. Take a walk about your area to acquire a flavor of local life, and then rest at a café for a while – coffee is quite helpful! Whatever you do, think about if you need an additional day or two in your calendar to adapt. Every time I travel from Asia to the United States and return, I breach all of these restrictions.
Keep Yourself Safe
Your first overseas journey may seem frightening, but it is nearly always worse in your thoughts than it will be in reality. Here are a few safety precautions to take when traveling abroad:
Pickpockets and petty theft: constantly keep an eye on your possessions and grasp your bag tightly to prevent becoming a victim. Pickpockets are easily deterred by wearing a crossbody bag or fanny pack. Never wear a backpack on one shoulder, and never leave your luggage on the ground or on the back of a chair. Back pockets should not contain telephones or wallets. Money belts that may be worn under your clothing and theft-proof wallets are other viable solutions if you’re truly worried.
Stay in touch: Sign up for the US State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). In this manner, the local US Embassy will know how to contact you in the event of a natural catastrophe, political turmoil, or other emergency. If you are living in a homestay or have a landlord, share these information with family members back home so that they have them in case of an emergency.
Travel insurance: Any seasoned traveler understands the need of travel insurance. Choose one that protects both your health and your possessions. When you travel, you are more vulnerable to sickness and other problems. You’ll hear horror tales of tourists who were sick from malaria, staph infections, parasites, and other diseases. Travel insurance may save you a lot of money in the rare event that anything catastrophic occurs while you’re overseas, from emergency evacuations to compensation for misplaced baggage.
Above all, use common sense: ask locals which sections of town or city neighborhoods you should avoid, travel at night with a companion, don’t drink too much, particularly if you’re alone or not in a group of people you trust, and meet new prospective acquaintances in public places, at least at first. If you’re using a dating app, make the date public. And always, always trust your instincts if you get a terrible feeling about someone or anything.
While you shouldn’t dwell on what may go wrong, being aware of your surroundings and taking basic precautions to keep yourself safe can help you enjoy your new trip.
Take the Leap into the Unknown
As your departure date approaches, you may get more frightened as you become more eager; after all, this is your first time leaving the comfort and familiarity of your own nation. That’s a little frightening, but believe me, it gets better with time. The rewards of travel and the excitement of meeting new people far exceed the burden of preparing that first trip.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember that every new place, even for seasoned visitors, requires some trial and error. Take any setbacks with stride, knowing that you’re learning crucial lessons for the next time you board a plane. Have a fantastic vacation!