12 Tips for International Travel (especially for first-time adventurers)!
Updated: Aug 8
You’ve gotten the itch. You want to explore the world, and you have finally decided on your first overseas vacation! Yay! Congratulations. Whether you are heading to a beach getaway or a city with a poppin’ night life, make sure you are prepared for your first international adventure.
International travel can be stressful, but these 12 easy tips will equip you for your next adventure!
1. Passport & Visa
Hopefully before deciding to take the leap abroad, you’ve already sorted your passport. If not, make sure you apply well in advance of your departure. As of 2022, U.S. passports are $130 for adults and $100 if you’re under 16 years old. It’s an additional $60 fee to expedite the process. This official U.S. website can provide application forms, tracking information and renewal requirements. Make sure you have at least 6 months of validity for any international use and empty pages for stamps or visas.
Not all countries require visas, but make sure you determine whether your destination does and if it’s possible to receive on entry or must be processed in advance. Some countries like Botswana and Turkey allow you to pay for a visa upon arrival; however, other countries like China require you to submit a visa application well in advance. Check out the State Department’s website on country specific information.
Make copies of your passport. I usually keep an electronic version in my email or in the cloud so it’s easily accessible. I’d also suggest keeping a printed copy in your luggage in case of emergency. If your passport ever gets stolen, having a copy of it will help you prove your citizenship.
2. Electronic Converters
Countries have different size plugs and voltage. Make sure you bring a charger adapter for your phone, Kindle or laptop. If you are using a hair straightener or electric shaver, make sure the adapter can handle voltage changes. A universal travel adapter is usually the best bang for your buck.
"If your passport ever gets stolen, having a copy of it will help you prove your citizenship."
3. Debit Card & Cash
Bring Emergency Cash – I suggest bringing some extra USD in smaller bills and storing away from your wallet/purse. These emergency funds can be used if your wallet or purse gets stolen with your other forms of payment. If needed, you can convert this cash in country.
Notify your Bank of International Travel – Some banks turn on fraud alert and lock your debit card if transactions are made suddenly in a foreign country. To be on the safe side, notify your bank of your travel plans so ATM withdrawals will go through.
International Bank Partners – If you bank at a large domestic institution, see if they have international banking partners. Bank of America, for example, has several overseas relationships that allow you to utilize their ATMS while abroad with less or no transaction fee. Charles Schwab also offers a free checking account with no foreign transaction fees; they will even reimburse ATM fees while traveling!
4. Credit Cards
Foreign Transaction Fees – Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Bonus if you can find one that racks up travel reward points for future trips! Chase and American Express offer great options, some with lounge access and airline fee credits.
International Use – Regardless, make sure which ever credit card you bring along works internationally. Some countries require that you use a card with chip and PIN technology. Also, don’t forget to make sure your credit card company knows about your international travel so that the card won’t be locked due to suspicious activity. Visa is widely accepted, but you may have some issues with American Express in smaller cities or developing nations. It’s always good to carry local cash as a backup while you travel.
This tip is especially important if you are traveling to places like Asia or Africa, where health experts believe there are heightened medical risks. You can contact your doctor or local health clinic to schedule an appointment before traveling. The CDC also has a website providing travel vaccine recommendations. Some vaccines require multiple doses so make sure you plan ahead and schedule enough time ahead of departure.
6. Phone Plans
If you plan to use your cell phone overseas, make sure you activate your international data plan. Each provider has different fees, but not alerting ahead of travel means you could be hit with roaming charges far greater. If you want to avoid the international fees, leave your phone on airplane mode, and simply connect to any Wi-Fi in the area. You can also communicate through apps like WhatsApp or WeChat.
Please note: Wi-Fi overseas is often spottier than U.S. locations.
7. U.S. Embassy
Enroll in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), a free service for U.S. citizens to register their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. In the case of natural disaster, civil unrest or family emergency, the embassy can notify you of any alerts or track you down. Be sure to check out the U.S. Department of State website for the latest travel advisories for your destination.
8. Research Destinations
Plan Ahead – If you are traveling to a country that speaks another language try to learn
some basics before you go – “thank you,” “hello” and “please” will go a long way with the locals. The Google Translate app is also a lifesaver, so be sure to download it ahead of time in case you get stuck in a communication snafu.
Local Hot Spots – Research local events (festivals, national holidays) ahead of your travels. Make sure you discover the national dishes and local cuisine you want to try. While not every traveler wants to have a set itinerary prior to arrive, make sure you know the highlights/main attractions of each city. The last thing you want to do is travel to Barcelona and wing it, then realize you missed La Sagrada Familia or the Eiffel Tower in Paris!
9. Extra Clothes in Carry On
If you’ve never had a bag lost in transit, consider it only a matter of time. Lost luggage can derail even the best plans, so make sure you pack an extra set of clothes in your carry on. When I moved to China for the summer, my bag got lost in transit. I arrived 30 hours late from delays and rerouting with no extra shirt, no deodorant, no toothbrush. I had to buy toiletries and a new shirt each day… for 8 days… until my luggage arrived. I pray you don’t have to experience the same thing but prepare for the worst!
10. Plane Pillow
International flights are long!! And economy seats keep getting smaller and smaller. Do easy things to make your flight a little more comfortable. An inflatable neck pillow takes up little space and maximizes comfort in your airplane seat. I know they aren’t the coolest, but when you get a full night’s sleep on the plane, you’ll thank me later. Comfy socks, a sleep mask and ear plugs are also a huge plus for those long-haul flights.
11. Reusable Water Bottle
Stay hydrated! Drinking water throughout your flight is key to reducing jet lag and helping you land fresh at your destination. Most hotels offer a bottle of water in the room, but having a reusable bottle on hand makes it easy to refill at restaurants, a water fountain or at the airport. If you are short on space, consider a collapsible bottle or plastic pouch.
12. Have Fun!
Sometimes the best laid plans don’t work. The train is running behind schedule, you misunderstand the local language, or the museum happens to be closed today for a national holiday. Take heart! These adventures add to the fun. Being flexible while you travel abroad is key.
Extra Tip: Global Entry
As you travel overseas more, you will soon realize that the U.S. Customs lines can be a bit of a nightmare, especially during peak arrival times. If you have a connecting domestic flight, you could be cutting it close. Many travelers bypass this dilemma with Global Entry, a pre-clearance program with fingerprint verification. Create a Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) account, filling out an online application, paying the $100 fee, and then schedule an interview. After the background check and interview, your Global Entry known traveler number will be good for 5 years and includes TSA pre-check for domestic flights.
Follow these tips to be prepared for your next overseas travel destination. Before you know it, you will be an international pro and ready for your next adventure!