16 Tips for First-Time International Travelers

Estimated reading time 5 min

Traveling for the first time can be thrilling, scary, and emotional. To help you have the best trip, we have compiled a list of 16 tips for firstitime international travelers.

Preparing to travel

Before Traveling

  1. Make sure your passport is valid

    Passports are good until their expiration date; however, most countries require passports to be valid for six months after entering their country. If your passport is nearing expiration, do yourself a favor and renew it at least three months prior to your international trip.

  2. Check to see if you need a visa

    Not every country requires a visa, but some do. You’ll want to take care of this well in advance of your trip. Check the US Department of State website to see if you need a visa for the country to which you’re traveling.
    NOTE: Visas can take some time to get approved!

  3. Make copies of everything

    Be sure to let your family and friends know you’re traveling abroad and give them copies of your itinerary. Make separate copies of your passport, visa, and any other important documents you have. Keep those with you in a different spot than the originals.
    NOTE: Register for STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), so the government knows when you’ll be out of the country and for how long. This is especially helpful should there be any natural disasters, terrorism, etc.

  1. Tell your bank

    Contact your bank and let them know exactly when and where you will be traveling. If you have a credit card with a chip, make sure you know the pin number to authorize transactions.
    Reminder: Be sure to ask your bank about any international transaction fees.

  1. Get international travel insurance

    No one ever plans for sickness or injury while traveling, but it’s always best to be prepared! Look into your current insurance policy to make sure you will be covered where you are traveling. If you are not, take out international coverage from another provider.
    NOTE: Some credit cards offer international travel insurance, so be sure to check yours!

  2. Consider your phone plan

    Most phone plans don’t cover international data or calling. Be aware of what your plan covers, as international data charges aren’t cheap. Decide if an international plan is something you want, and if it’s not, be sure to turn your data off before you travel!
    NOTE: If you don’t want to pay for an international call or data plan, consider using a Wi-Fi-friendly texting app. Apps like Skype and WhatsApp are great options.

  3. Pack a small medical bag

    Put together a small bag that fits in your carry-on to hold essentials like Band-Aids, painkillers, sanitary wipes, etc. If you’ll be traveling with prescriptions, keep them in their original containers. 
    NOTE: Double-check that your prescription medication is legal where you’re going. Not all countries allow all FDA-approved prescriptions. Click here for further information.

  4. Pack light

    You’ll be responsible for toting your own luggage around on your trip, so your best to pack light. A carry-on and personal bag are probably all you’ll need.
    NOTE: Many countries have cobblestone roads, and in cities like Venice you’ll be walking everywhere. Keep this in mind as you’re packing.

  1. Research your destination

    Get to know the countries you’re visiting. Become familiar with their customs—do they bow to say hello? Do they greet and say goodbyes with a kiss on each cheek?—and take the time to learn some simple phrases. Basics can get you far in almost any country, as locals will appreciate you making the effort to connect with them.

  2. Don’t plan every minute

    Have a plan for the attractions you know you want to visit, but leave some free time. You never know when you might stumble upon a local festival or discover a secret alleyway! Too much planning may lead to stress and rushing, and having plenty of free time allows you to experience the unexpected.

En Route

  1. Eat and sleep according to destination time

    As you’re traveling, help prevent jet lag by altering your schedule to match where you are going. Many airlines will have everyone close their blinds, dim the lights, and keep the cabin quiet to help people sleep. Unless you arrive at your destination in the evening, don’t go to sleep when you arrive. Eating some food and drinking plenty of water will help encourage your body to acclimate to local time. Here are some more tips for beating jet lag.

Once You Arrive

  1. Stay safe

    Chances are you’ll be perfectly safe during your travels. Nonetheless, be aware of your surroundings and try not to act like a tourist. To minimize the possibility of theft, wear your backpack on your chest and keep your wallet in your front pocket. Keep an eye out for some common tourist scams.

  2. Mind your manners

    Although you may not speak the language, basic manners will get you far in any country. Remember that you are an ambassador for your country when you travel.

  3. Splurge when it feels right

    This is your trip, so enjoy it! Don’t go home wishing you’d done something more. Spend the extra money—as long as its an amount you can afford—and don’t leave with any regrets!

  4. Eat local

    Frequent restaurants, bakeries, and cafes to get a taste of the local culture and cuisine. Not sure what to order? Your waiter can recommend the best dishes.
    NOTE: Most restaurants with pictures in their menus cater to tourists. Try to avoid these establishments if you can and seek out a more authentic dining experience.

  5. Have fun

    Smile and have some fun! You’re on the trip of your dreams!


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