International Travel for Beginners. Let’s do it!
Look no further for advice, newbies! I got your needs covered. On my first solo international trip to Scotland, I felt waaaay waaaay out of my element, because I was responsible for myself and quite frankly, I had no idea what to expect on my journey. I obviously had an amazing time.
So don’t put off international travel out of fear. You can do this.
This guide strictly covers “international travel for beginners.” These simple steps will ensure you have an easy start on your upcoming trip. And remember: just because you’re visiting a new country doesn’t mean your experience has to be fraught with uncertainty. International travel is awesome! You just need to be prepared.
The Planning Stage
Research, research, and then research the research.
As travelers, our needs and interests are all different. Do you love museums? Are you a food writer? Do you enjoy epic natural beauty and outdoor activities? Select your countries and destinations based on your desires to have the best possible trip. This goes double if you’re a solo traveler.
Not sure where to go? Lonely Planet is always good for inspiration.
You also want to research current political and social events in your destinations. For example, you don’t want a transportation strike to catch you by surprise. As an American, I use the Department of State’s website to prepare for all my trips. I know the UK, Canada, and Australia have similar sites, which I read for a “second opinion.” Use them.
Discover the best flights.
We all want cheap flights, myself included. Over the years, I’ve spent way too much money on international plane tickets, mostly due to laziness. Those days are long over. You want money for delicious food and swanky accommodation, not a boring seat in economy class. You can save on flights by doing research on sites like Airfarewatchdog. I’ve signed up for their mailing list to get good deals. If you have a favorite airline, also sign up for their mailing lists to receive savings. Airlines don’t publicly advertise discounts too much, so you need to register to be ahead of everyone else!
Pick your Accommodation.
For accommodation, I usually search my destination’s name in TripAdvisor and check out hotels, hostels, and/or BnBs, depending on my budget. Thoroughly read reviews. Again, tweak accommodation based on your needs. If you’re going with family, look for reasonably priced hotels that are known to be kid friendly. If you’re going alone, seek out social accommodation in a central area. Reviews are worth their weight in gold.
Use the nifty widget for more hotel and flight ideas. Don’t forget to have a solid budget in mind before making any bookings, too. You don’t want to be like me and waste money (cough, cough).
Before You Go
Get Your Passport.
You want a valid passport for all international travel. No passport, no entry. Make sure to apply for a passport well in advance. I’m talking at least six weeks in advance. Do not procrastinate. Although you can pay extra to expedite your passport, I wouldn’t do it unless you have literally no other choice.
Keep in mind that some months are busier than others. Passports are government documents. And the government can work … slow. So pick your times wisely. I need to renew my own passport, but I’m waiting until August when the “summer rush” is finished. Smart, huh?
Check Entry and Exit Requirements.
All countries have different “entry and exit” requirements. It’s your responsibility to know them. You need to research visas too. Some countries only require e-visas. Other countries provide visas on arrival at the airport. Others require a full blown visit to the embassy or consulate. Again, don’t procrastinate.
See Your Doctor.
I know, I know, I know. No one likes visiting the doctor. But it’s necessary depending on the nature of your trip. Travelers’ Health is a great resource run by CDC. You can find your destination and then see if you need vaccines or medications to ensure a healthy trip. You also want to see your doctor if you need to renew your own prescriptions. Not all medicine is readily available outside your home country. Once you’re on the road, there are many ways you can stay healthy.
Call your Bank.
Always call your bank to let them know you’ll be overseas. You don’t want to have your debit card rejected at the ATM because you “forgot” to let your bank know about your travel plans. You also need to alert your credit card company about your upcoming trip. Personally, I use Chase Sapphire Preferred, and can use online services to notify them. Haha, I love not having to speak to a real person.
Get Travel Insurance.
If you can’t afford insurance, then you can’t afford to travel. Period. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a raging hypochondriac either. If you’re uninsured and fall ill, experience a death at home, break your expensive camera, or encounter another catastrophe, then you could lose thousands and thousands of dollars. Seriously. I’ve read stories of folks being air lifted and only spared a life of financial disaster simply because they had travel insurance.
Allianz Travel Insurance is reasonably priced and comprehensive. I use them quite often on my own trips and have never had a problem. If you’re doing any adventure activities, read the fine print to make sure you’re covered on your trip.
At the Airport
Arrive at LEAST 2 hours early.
While you maaaaaay manage to arrive only an hour and a half early for domestic flights, don’t screw around too much when it comes to international departures. Some airports require you to clear multiple security lines. Others make you clear customs early. It’s better to have spare time than have a panic attack over long waits.
Be security ready.
Read all about restrictions before you arrive at the airport. Remember carry no excessive liquids. Take your laptop out of its case at security. Don’t have fifty dollars of change jangling in your pocket. And, (even if they’re rude), always act extra sweet toward security personnel.
At your Dream Destination
Embrace cultural differences.
It’s one thing to research cultural differences ahead of time. It’s another to embrace (or at least accept) them on your adventure. Remain open minded. You’re here to learn and not lecture about “how things are done back home,” right? I thought so.
Travel is pretty safe regardless of scary headlines in the news. For example, the odds of dying in a terrorist attack are pretty low. Instead focus your attention on more likely scenarios and how you would handle them. You can do a lot to protect yourself on your trip. Be aware of crime rates. Take extra care at night. Don’t drink tap water from unknown sources. Keep an extra copy of your passport page in your luggage. Research scams ahead of time.
If you stay smart, odds are you’ll be fine.
Keep a journal.
Argh. I need to write in my journal more. I used to write on a daily basis, but then I stopped… Argh again. Foolish of me. You might think you’d never forget an amazing day in Paris or Bangkok, but you’d be surprised.
Stick with a soft (easily packable) smaller sized notebook like this Moleskine Classic to keep track of your stories.
What advice would you give to new travelers? Share in the comments.
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