20 Tips To Know For Your First International Trip

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In 2018, my husband and I decided to leave our jobs and travel abroad for a few months. This would be our first big trip that wasn’t an all-inclusive resort or tour lead, so as you can imagine, preparing for the unknown was a little nerve-wracking.

After experiencing traveling abroad and now being back home in New York, I’m here to tell you it is not easy, but it was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Now, after having been to over 20 countries and 5 continents, I have learned tons of tips to know before traveling abroad!

Beautiful beach in Lagos Portugal
Beach in Lagos Portugal

Tips To Know Before Traveling Abroad

1. Check Your Passport

This seems obvious, but during my short time as a travel agent, I can’t tell you how many times my prospective travelers had not checked their passports!

Firstly, make sure you actually know where it is. Then, check when your passport expires. If your passport expires within 6 months of your travel dates, you may run into some issues and possibly not be able to board the plane!

After, check to make sure you have at least 2 blank pages in your passport and that your passport is in good condition.

Don’t have a passport yet? If you are from the USA, you can go directly online or to your local USPS to get your passport. If you’re from outside the USA, contact your government.

2. Check Visa Requirments

Another important travel tip to know before traveling abroad is to check if there are any visa requirements. It is not good enough to just have your passport.

Depending on your passport, some countries might not require a visa, or they offer a visa on arrival. Other countries may require you to apply for a visa. If this is the case, you should always apply for your visa several months in advance. In fact, before you even book your flights, check if you need a visa, and if so, apply for it right then and there.

If you are planning to visit a country for a length of time, say more than 30 days, a special visa is sometimes required. Additionally, most countries want to see that you have a return ticket.

When we traveled to Thailand, we needed a passport-sized photo. Originally, we had only booked a ticket to Thailand with no return flight ticket, but to show that we would move onward within 30 days, I booked a refundable hotel in Cambodia until I figured out our next travel move, which turned out to be Malaysia. If you’re planning a 2 week vacation, visa’s will be easier.

In Egypt, we needed an exact change for the visa on arrival, which at the time was $25 USD.

There are visa services that can do this process for you. However, I always recommend obtaining your visa directly with the country’s official government website. Their website will state all the necessary information needed, so there are no surprises.

Lion Cub photo travel camera gear
Lion cub in South Africa

3. Travel Risks

It is always important to acknowledge travel risks to the area you are considering. As an avid traveler, I do not let the news scare me, and I take into consideration all the information I have available. As long as the country is not on the “do not travel list,” I usually have no issue planning a trip. You have to do what is comfortable for you! You can find USA travel advisories here.

Samantha Oppenheimer in Cario
Me in Cario Egypt

4. Packing

When planning for a trip abroad, I always pack any medications I may need, as you might not be able to find the brand you like once abroad. This could be your allergy pills or cold medicine. I always pack extras just in case, and I keep them in my carry-on; this way, they will not get lost!

In the unfortunate scenario your suitcase did get lost, I highly recommend using airbags or something similar. These are little tracking devices that go in your suitcase so you can track it.

I always travel with a carry-on and a backpack. After my first big trip, I realized lugging around a giant suitcase was very cumbersome. While I am not going to try to change your mind if you like to check a bag, I do recommend trying to travel light. You will surely want to leave some room in your bag for your souvenirs.

Oh, and don’t forget to get a travel converter! Nothing worse than getting to your hotel and realizing you can’t charge your cellphone!

For more about packing, check my packing lists!

train to get to Sorrento with my Lowepro Backpack
In Sorrento, Italy with the cover on my backpack and Delsey Carry-on

5. Copies of Documents

Another great travel tip to know is to make copies of your important documents. Your passport, driver’s license, credit card, immunization card, hotel bookings, and itineraries.

I personally save these in the Cloud, but you can also print them out. Some countries even require you to have your passport on you, like the Netherlands. If they don’t, I always leave mine in the safe and have a copy of it.

6. Immunizations

Next, make sure to check the immunizations that are suggested or required for the country you wish to visit. You can always find this on the country’s official government website or if you are from the USA, the CDC website.

Many times, immunizations are suggested, but in others, immunizations are required, like Yellow Fever in parts of Kenya. You should also be aware of locations that may have malaria or other parasites to look out for.

7. Checking Travel Tips

Any time I am traveling to a new destination, I always check for travel tips. It is important to know the do’s and don’t of the country or city you are visiting! These tips can help you learn about scams, how to navigate the city, culture info, currency, and other helpful tidbits.

If you’re visiting one of the places I have been to, I likely have some travel tips on my blog that you can check out!

Longtail boat ride in Krabi, Thailand with limestone cliffs
Krabi, Thailand

8. Sharing Your Location

If this is your first time abroad, you may have some family members worried about you. If you have an iPhone, you can share your location with loved ones; this way, they know where you are. You do this in the “Find my” settings.

If you don’t have an iPhone, you can share your itinerary, including hotels and flights. Even though I am a seasoned traveler, I always check with my family.

9. Cell Phone Service

Speaking of checking in, another tip to know when traveling abroad is how to get cell phone service. Depending on your service provider, they may offer some International plans.

Unless you have T-Mobile, International tends to be expensive, so I would recommend either getting a physical sim card in the country you are visiting or an E-sim. I used to use an E-sim all the time, but now I get free International with T-Mobile.

If your phone accepts an E-sim, I have used Holafly quite a bit and have had zero issues! Plus, the newer phones have been getting rid of physical SIM card slots, so an E-sim is your only choice.

10. Making Sure You Can Drive in A Country

Just because you have a driver’s license in your country does not automatically mean you will be able to drive in another country. So, before renting a car, this is another thing you should always double-check. Some countries require you to have an International driver’s license; others are fine with a US Driver’s License.

Driving in Portugal
Renting a Car in Portugal

11. Getting a Translation App

If you’re visiting a country that speaks a different language than you, I highly suggest having the Google Translate App! You can download the language that you are interested in; this way, it will work even if you don’t have cell phone service! I can’t even count how many times this app has helped me!

12. Navigating A New Country

It never hurts to have a physical map, but nowadays, it is so easy to navigate with our cell phones. I highly recommend downloading Google Maps Offline area of where you are going. By doing this, the map will work even if you don’t have cell phone service.

Just go to your Google Maps App, click your profile picture in the top right corner, and then hit your offline maps. This will allow you to create a new map!

Google Maps can also help with using public transportation. I found it extremely helpful when I was in Belgium and Ireland most recently. Other apps to consider having are the navigation app called Waze and CityMapper. I use all 3!

For car service, you can usually find Uber, Bolt, or Grab in most countries. If not, you can always organize car services with your hotel.

Taxi, Uber,bolt in Paris

13. Use a Credit Card

When I travel, I always use a credit card whenever possible. I have added all my cards to my mobile wallet so I never have to actually take my wallet out. This makes it much harder to get pickpocketed! Additionally, I don’t have to worry about getting the local currency.

Having a Visa or Mastercard is most widely accepted around the world. I also like to use my Amex when possible because I get the most points! I only bring credit cards that have ZERO foreign transaction fees. There are a lot of credit cards out there that offer this, so if you don’t have one already, consider signing up for one.

14. Let Your Bank Know You Are Traveling

Speaking of credit cards, if this is your first time abroad, you should let your bank know you are traveling. By doing so, you won’t have to worry about your purchases getting declined because the bank thought it was fraud.

15. Download WhatsApp

If you are from the USA, you probably don’t have WhatsApp, but the rest of the world uses this app. It makes it easy to communicate with tour operators, restaurants, hotels, and even family over Wifi. Just make sure you download the App before you leave your home country because it needs to send you a text verification.

Things to do in La Fortuna Costa Rica Mt. Arenal
La Fortuna Costa Rica

16. Travel Insurance

I have found that travel health insurance was one of the best investments I have ever made. I use Allianz (not sponsored) and had a great experience in the claim process. I used them for my trip to Thailand and Malaysia when I caught a stomach bug.

I went to a walk-in clinic in Thailand and the emergency room in Malaysia. I saved the receipts and used their online claims process. I was refunded for both medical expenses.

I also had to use them when I got Covid in Costa Rica and to cancel my trip to Switzerland when my husband got sick. It is one of those things that you never want to use but will be glad that you have. Always read the T&C of your policy, save any of your receipts, and get copies of all medical notes.

Other Helpful Tips for Planning A Trip Abroad

17. Budget

Set a budget, but be prepared to spend slightly over it. We found traveling more difficult without having a set budget to follow. Having a set budget can relieve a lot of unnecessary stress.

To have an idea of what you might be spending, look up what the local currencies are and see how much accommodations are going for. For this, I set up a Google sheet where I could input my expenses and keep us on track. You can do the same on Excel or in your Google Drive.

18. Finding Accommodations

Finding hotels is always one of the most time-consuming things for me to plan. It needs to be in our budget without being sketchy. In Europe and the USA, I almost exclusively use Booking.com. Occasionally, I use AirBnB, although I haven’t in a while since their prices have gone up so much.

In Asia, I check Agoda.com or Booking.com. I have tons of friends who use Expedia or Hotels.com, with no issues, but the above is just my personal preference. When choosing, always read the reviews or look for a trusted blogger (aka me) who may have published a “where to stay” guide! That way, I did all the hard work for you!

View from our Lisbon Hotel Terrace
View from our Lisbon Hotel Terrace

19. Make a Flexible Schedule

While traveling abroad, we found having a little wiggle room made traveling more fun. You might not be able to refund a flight, but booking refundable accommodations is easy! We would book refundable hotels just for this reason. Booking. com has a lot of options for this.

On our two-month trip, we planned Iceland, Paris, Greece, and Thailand. This was about a month of us being away. We decided to leave the next month open since we didn’t know how long we wanted to stay in Thailand. After being on the road for a while, you learn more about what you want. Flexibility will allow room for this.

Then there is the weather aspect. You never know if the weather might not be great, so again, you will want to leave some wiggle room!

Sam Opp and mom on Seine River Cruise at night in Paris

20. Hacks For Finding Travel Destinations

Not sure where you want to go? Skyscanner and Google Flights are my go-to for finding new travel destinations to visit! You can enter where you are flying out of and the day or month you want to fly. Skyscanner and Google Flights will both show you the cheapest flights around the world for that month or those days.

Skyscanner will even provide you links to go straight to the flight deal. At this point, I never book a flight without checking here first! If I want to monitor a flight, I use Google Flights and Hopper to make sure I am getting the best deal! To track my flights, I always use Google Flights and Hopper, which help me figure out the best time to book.

I also get flight deals sent to me from Going.com. I really love this site and pay for the first tier, but you can use them for free. The only issue I have with them is that they make it way too tempting to want to book flights all over the place!


Things to Know For Your First International Trip Wrap-up

I hope you have found these travel tips for traveling abroad extremely helpful! I have learned a lot along the way, and we all start somewhere, right?!

Since you made it to the end, I also have a secret travel hack to share if you are a US citizen. When you arrive back in the USA, you can use the Mobile Passport App (if accepted at your airport) to skip the immigration line. You just download the free app and enter your info!

If you have any questions about traveling abroad or think that I missed something, please let me know in the comments below!

Did you find this guide of Travel Tips to Know Before Traveling Abroad Helpful? I’d appreciate it if you could share it below!

Travel tips for traveling abroad

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Samantha Oppenheimer

Samantha Oppenheimer (Sam Opp) quit her corporate marketing job in 2018 to travel the world and become a travel writer, blogger and content creator. She loves experiencing authentic travel experiences, photography, and nature. Sam shares helpful travel itineraries, travel tips, budget tips, and travel advice from her personal experiences. You can also find Sam's words featured in large publications including Mirror, Thrillist, and Well + Good.

2 thoughts on “20 Tips To Know For Your First International Trip”

  1. Great read, and very usefull tips. Good to know that you had good experiences with Alliance, I always find travel insurance a bit confusing because some things are already covered by monthly health insurance. But it’s always good to be prepared in case something does happen!

    Reply
    • Thank you so much! Unfortunately, USA insurance does not usually cover much outside the country! I am glad you found my tips helpful!

      Reply

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