It can be daunting planning your first trip out of the country and knowing where to start. wherever you are going, these are some things you should make sure to do before you leave.
Choose your Destination
This is an obvious beginning for whenever you are planning a vacation. Given that you are looking at this page, you have decided to go somewhere outside the United States.
Choosing where to go is always one of my favorite parts. If you are like me, you probably have a long bucket list of places that you want to visit. There are so many different parts of the world and with that comes different cultures. For you, when you are planning your first international trip, it’s important to realize that not only will you be seeing the sights of that place, but also exploring another culture. If you have never been to a large city before and the first place you travel internationally is Hong Kong, you will be in for a big culture shock. I think that is something to keep in mind when choosing your destination. If you are nervous about your first trip, I recommend going to places where they have lots of American tourists, know English, and have a culture more similar to ours. My first international trip was to Europe and it was a great starting point to all of my travels since then. I’ve been to small areas of Ecuador where I didn’t meet a single person who spoke English, if that had been my first experience it would have been pretty shocking.
Getting your Passport
If you don’t have your passport yet, then go here. It’s important before any international trip that you make sure your passport is good for 6 months after the day you are to return and that you have at least 3 free visa pages.
Tip: Put it in your calendar when you passport expires several months before the 6 months deadline. That way you have time to work on getting another passport.
Know if you need a Visa
Now that you know where you are going, you need to investigate whether you need a visa for that country. Most countries do not require Visas. Some countries require a visa upon entering that can be done easily at the airport. Others require you to start the visa process before you go.
If you are going to a country that requires a Visa that has to be completed beforehand, its important to start early on this. It is also important that for some of these you have to mail your passport in, which means that you cannot plan any international trips prior to this.
Immunizations and Disease Prevention
Depending on where you are going, you may not need to worry about this. If you are going to Europe, you likely will not need any additional vaccinations. Many countries in Africa, Asia, and South America require special vaccines like Yellow Fever. Malaria is also prevalent in some of these areas and its recommended you take medication prior to and during your trip. To find a full list of what you need for each country, please visit The CDC site. You input where you are going and what you will be doing and it has the recommendations for that area. There are travel clinics as well who do this.
Have a plan for when you get there
Everyone travels different and even I change how I travel depending on where I’m going. I have gone on trips where I have booked the flights, but left it open for hotels and places to see when I got there. I had sort of an outline of where I wanted to go, but just stayed in whatever city I happened to be in when night came. Other trips, I have planned down to every little thing from the hotels, tours, and meals.
When going international, you may have to have the hotel or wherever you are staying picked out before hand with the address on file. When filling out immigration forms on the airplane, it will ask you for this information.
It’s best if you are just getting started traveling to have the basics of the hotels and where you want to go set up. That way everything is planned before hand. I find information about where I want go and stay on blogs and travel books and combine the two. Booking hotels internationally is now much easier than it had been. You can easily book hotels on websites like Expedia. They even have some optional tours on there, as well.
Other Tasks to make sure you have done prior to going
- Not a necessity, but consider enrolling in the Global Entry Program to save you time coming back through customs if you plan on traveling internationally a lot. If you plan to travel only 1-2 times every few years, don’t waste your money on it.
- Check with your credit cards to see if they charge international fees. Some credit cards charge a percentage, others do not charge at all. Also depending on where you go, they may no accept anything other than Visa or Mastercard. I recommend taking at least 2 credit cards with you should something happen to one of them.
- Notify your credit card and bank that you will be traveling; when and where.
- Consider purchasing travel insurance, that can cover medical emergencies, lost/stolen luggage, or cancellations. A lot of medical insurances do not cover you abroad, check with yours.
- Make copies of your passport and travel itinerary. Keep a copy on you, but also leave a copy with a trusted friend or family member at home that can email it to you should something happen to yours.
- Make sure that everything is taken care of for your home before you leave. All your bills should be paid prior to leaving.
- Check airline baggage restrictions. Depending on which airline you fly, many restrict carry-ons to one bag and have a weight limit on that bag. I have seen too many people unaware of this and trying to shove things in to different bags at the check in counter.
Do you need your cell phone while you are traveling?
It used to be that no one used their cell phones while traveling internationally. Now most phone carriers have great options that allow you to pay a fee to access your data internationally. With AT&T, it is $10/day to get access to text, phone, and data. Just be sure to turn this on prior to traveling.
While I do access my phone while traveling, I limit it to use to help navigate where we are going or researching the next spot. I would endeavor you, try to avoid being on your phone while on vacation. You should enjoy the people watching, experiencing the new cultures, and seeing the sights rather than checking up on social media.
Best Tips for when you get there
- One of your first stops in the airport should be an ATM. That is the fastest way to get some cash, without having to pay higher exchange rates and fees. Try to plan out how much you will need for a few days so you don’t have to go every day.
- Remember that you are in a different country and need to respect their customs. They may have different religious and social customs. You may be asked to cover certain parts of your body when entering religious sights.