How to Prepare An Overseas Trip. Let’s do it!
Look no further for advice on how to prepare an overseas trip, 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 freaked. I was anxious. But then I obviously had an amazing time, a time so amazing that I took many more solo trips and began this travel blog to reach out to others who feel unsure about their abilities to make a journey alone.
So don’t put off international travel out of fear. You can do this. Knowing how to prepare an overseas trip only takes time and research, not excessive bravery or money.
This guide strictly covers “international travel for beginners.” My goal is that these simple steps will ensure you have an easy start on your upcoming trip, making it so magical that you’ll keep traveling without fear or hesitation. 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? Do you just want to chill on a beach and look beautiful? Select your countries and destinations based on your personal desires and whims so you have the best possible trip. This goes double if you’re a solo traveler and have the opportunity to be as selfish as you want.
Not sure where to go? Lonely Planet is always good for inspiration.
You also want to research current political and social events happening in your destinations. For example, you don’t want a transportation strike to catch you by surprise or get caught up in a political protest. 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.” One of the best pieces of advice for how to prepare an overseas trip is to use every official resource at your disposal.
Discover the best flights.
We all want cheap flights, myself included. I’m not made of money nor am I married to a pilot. Over the years, I’ve spent way too much money on international plane tickets, mostly due to laziness and restrictive dates. Not cool. Those days are long over. You want money for delicious food and swanky accommodation, not a boring seat in economy class with loads of lame roommates. 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! Even better if your dates are flexible.
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 all reviews. Cleanliness, location, atmosphere, and price are all of the utmost importance, and things I will not compromise on, no way. Again, tweak accommodation based on your personal 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 above 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. Get the passport book too if you’re American. The passport card is only valid for limited destinations and cannot be used for air travel. In addition, make sure to apply for a passport well in advance. I’m talking at least six weeks in advance. Do not procrastinate or you can be denied boarding at the airport. Although you can pay extra money (like $60…) 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 when it comes to passport processing times. Passports are government documents. And the government can work … slowly. So pick your times wisely. I need to renew my own passport, but I waited until December when the “summer and holiday rushes” were already finished. I did the normal routine service and ended up with a new passport in only 3 weeks. Smart, huh?
Check Entry and Exit Requirements.
All countries have different “entry and exit” requirements. It’s your responsibility to know them ahead of time. No one else is going to hold your hand here, especially not border control. Immigration doesn’t care about honest mistakes, ones that may cost you thousands of dollars if you don’t know what you’re doing. 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. I’m a hypochondriac and really hate annual physicals. 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 for a certain length of time. 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. No money =/= a good time especially if you use a small bank with limited hours. 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 about my crazy solo adventures. 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 in place prior to departure. And if you die (I know, dark place to go), do you want your family to pay to have your body shipped home? Seriously, cough up the cash and buy some 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 with them. If you’re doing any adventure activities, read the fine print to make sure you’re covered on your trip. Some plans won’t cover you if you go paragliding.
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 before you’re even able to reach your gate. 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. They can completely mess you up if you don’t listen to them. Save the rants about TSA for your family and friends. And, for the love of god, don’t make any terrorist jokes in line. You’d be surprised at all of the stupid stuff I’ve overheard at security.
On Board Your International Flight
Long haul flights can be long and boring and scary (for me, haha), so you absolutely want to be prepared for anything. Pack an extra charger. Load your favorite TV shows and movies onto the device of your choice. Wear cozy and warm soaks. Avoid uncomfortable clothing and shoes, now is not the time to look fashionable. Furthermore, make sure to walk around the plane every two to three hours to prevent blood clots. Trust me, they’re unpleasant, and you’ll want to avoid them at all costs for the sake of your own health. Another important tip for your international flight is to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated. Planes have a way of making you thirsty. Lay off the alcohol.
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. As I said earlier in this post, when you’re researching how to prepare an overseas trip, read thoroughly about your destination and know all the mannerisms regarding tips, basic greetings, and more.
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. You’d be surprised how much you forget when every single day is packed with brand new opportunities for personal growth. A journal will keep those memories safe forever and ever. Priceless, huh?
Okay, now it’s time to fully break out of your comfort zone, folks! So take a deep breath and smile to strangers who are also booked on your day tour or staying in your hostel! Travel is an opportunity to make new friends who you wouldn’t encounter in your daily life at home. I’m shy too, but the second of bravery is worth the connections that you can make on your overseas trip.
Now you know how to prepare an overseas trip! Yay! What advice would you give to new travelers? Share in the comments.
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