Your first trip abroad can be both exciting and a bit overwhelming. There’s so much to know if you want things to go smoothly. International travel requires some extensive planning and will be best enjoyed by adventurous spirits who are willing to go with the flow and adapt to unfamiliar conditions.
While some bumps are to be expected, especially on a first-time trip overseas, too many can make for a stressful experience that might make you wander why you didn’t travel closer to home.
By following these international travel tips you can minimize those bumps and before you know it, you’ll be a pro.
Check your passport
First things first. If you’re going to travel internationally, you need to have a passport. But even if you’ve got one in hand, there are some important things to be aware of well before your departure date. While the U.S. will allow you to use your passport up to the date on the inside cover, many countries will deny entry if it expires in less than three or six months from the date you plan to depart. They don’t want you to end up stuck there on an expired passport.
You’ll also need a blank page available for every country you visit – if you’re running low or you run out completely you can’t simply add pages, you’ll have to pay for a renewal. Double check yours and renew if necessary.
The U.S. State Department provides information on the entry requirements for every country, making it easy to check before you start making your plans.
Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees
If you don’t have already have a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, be sure to get one in time for your departure date. Many banks will charge you a 1 to 3% foreign transaction fee when you use their cards overseas. Even if you’re earning miles, the cost tends to negate the value. A quick Google search will turn up a number of cards that waive those fees, such as Chase Sapphire Preferred, Bank of America Travel Rewards and Capital One Venture Rewards.
Notify your credit card companies and banks that you’ll be traveling
These days, you don’t have to notify many credit card companies that you’ll be traveling internationally, but not all. Be sure to check with yours before you go or you could end up getting transactions declined due to suspicious activity. You’ll want to do the same with your bank so that you can use your debit card overseas as well.
Obtaining Foreign Currency
While there was a time when it was necessary to get traveler’s checks or exchange currency before leaving the country, that’s no longer the case. Traveler’s checks are a thing of the past and the best way to get foreign currency is from the ATM once you arrive. That said, airport ATMs can come with pricey fees, so if you’ll need some cash right away, you might want to ask your bank if you can obtain a small amount to avoid the stress of finding an ATM. While there are still some countries where cash is king, like Mexico, in most destinations you’ll find that you use very little – perhaps on tips and small purchases.
Once you’re settled into your destination, use your debit card to obtain the cash you need from an ATM. If you want to save on the fees (which are typically much less than what you’d pay at a currency exchange office), consider opening an account at a bank that doesn’t charge them and even refunds ATM fees like Charles Schwab.
Take photos of all important documents
Take photos of your important documents, including your passport, driver’s license, visa (if the country you’re visiting requires one), and your travel insurance. Email copies to yourself and keep them on your phone and/or laptop so that you can always access them should the originals get lost.
You’ll probably want your camera, memory card, necessary chargers and perhaps other electronic devices too. When you’re traveling overseas, you’re also likely to need a power adaptor in order to keep all of those electronics charged. Unless you’re visiting a destination that has the same outlet configuration as your home country, you’ll need an adapter.
Adapter plugs do not convert electricity, they simply allow your device’s plug to fit into the foreign outlet. Fortunately, they’re cheap and easy to find at online and brick-and-mortar stores. Most airports have stores that carry them too.
Contact your cell phone carrier
The majority of major cell phone carriers offer international roaming plans. Some even provide unlimited global roaming which can really be helpful, as you can use your phone for GPS, and of course, access all of its other features too. Contact your carrier to find out what’s available to you, and be sure to inquire about all possible fees that could be incurred.
If the plan your cell phone carrier is too pricey and your phone is unlocked, you can purchase a SIM card once you get to your destination. Another option is to use your phone only when connected to Wi-Fi. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and the like make it easy to stay in touch with family and friends back home and con’t cost a thing.
How to Pack
Proper packing can make traveling a whole lot easier as lugging around heavy bags will literally drag you down. Some destinations have cobbled streets and lots of steep steps that can make it even more difficult. Research the weather of the area you’re visiting beforehand, and try to choose garments you can layer so that you’ll be prepared for temperature variations. Don’t bring items you’ve never worn –pack things you already know you feel comfortable in.
Make the most out of the space you have by rolling your clothes instead of folding them. Tuck undergarments and socks into shoes or hats. Don’t forget to leave a little extra room for those souvenirs you’re going to want to bring back either. If it’s an option, consider booking an Airbnb rental (or similar) that has a washer and dryer for at least part of your stay and you’ll need even less.