Everything You Need To Know About International Travel

Malaga, Spain.

International travelers rejoice! You’ve just booked your plane tickets, started looking for hotels and are super excited about your first international trip! And maybe right now, you might feel some anxiety and don’t know what to expect. But, have no fear, Nick is here!

No matter how much you’ve traveled in your home country, or maybe you’ve never traveled outside your own state, there’s something equally thrilling and terrifying about taking your first trip overseas. Along my journey I’ve learned a thing or two, including some top travel tips for first-time international travelers.

I understand, going somewhere completely new, different, and foreign is endlessly exciting but can also be a bit scary and confusing. I’ll tell you a secret- I was you once. Follow these simple tips to get your trip planning in order!

1. You Need a Passport

The most important of all tips for first-time international travelers? Avoid unnecessary stress by applying for a passport well before your expected departure. Don’t book a flight or make any arrangements that can’t be changed until you have that little book that opens doors around the globe in your hand. Some international flights require that you enter your passport number when booking or during online check-in, so it’s best to just have it first before you start booking anything..

As of 2022, the application fee for U.S. passports is $130 for adults and $100 for minors. Then, there is an additional $35 execution fee for in person processing. If an adult (or adult with child) meets the criteria for renewal by mail, they must fill out form DS-82, which doesn’t require an execution fee. use the US Department of State website to see if this applies to you.

Traveler Tip: Many libraries offer passport services if you would like to avoid the Post Office or local township.

If you’ve already gone ahead and started booking and paying for your trip you can pay an extra fee of $60 to expedite the process. Usually, you can receive an expedited passport within 2 weeks of your application.

Traveler Tip: Once your passport arrives, make paper and digital copies of the identification page.

If your passport gets stolen or lost you want to be sure that you can still get back into the country, or be able to prove your citizenship. For extra backup, leave a copy of your passport at home or with someone you trust. Consider making an electronic copy you can store in your email account as well.

You’ll need your passport more often than you might think — not just during flights! Rental cars, hotels, Airbnb and other accommodations may even hold your passport during your stay as collateral to ensure you pay for your accommodation but also to keep it safe from theft. (This isn’t as common as it used to be before the days of online booking, but don’t be surprised if it happens in some countries.)

Never keep your passport in an easy-to-access pocket on your bag. The absolute best place for your passport to be is in a safe at a hotel or in your locker at a hostel.

2. Universal Plug Adapters & Converters

If you’re flying overseas you can’t use the same power outlets you used in your home country. You will need to buy a world travel adapter kit. You know you will need to charge things like your camera, phone, tablet, etc., don’t find yourself traveling abroad without a plug adapter. A power strip can be a great way to cheat and charge multiple devices off of one adapter.

Note, I’ve seen hair dryers, curling irons and electric shavers pop fuses, start smoking and no longer work because the voltage isn’t high enough for that country. Use a power converter like this one if you plan on using any of these items.

Travel Fund

3. Money & Credit Cards

Thanks to the internet, it’s much easier to manage and access money while traveling all over the world.

Most of the time you don’t even need to check-in with your bank anymore when you travel abroad. You are free to use your card and if there is a problem, your bank will send you a quick text prompting you to “allow the current transaction” and boom, it’s as easy as that.

If you have a major credit card from an FDIC insured bank like CapitalOne or Chase, you are safe. This includes fraud detection and avoiding international transaction and ATM fees. European banks have switched almost completely to the more secure chip-and-PIN technology, and fewer businesses abroad are accepting the outdated magnetic-strip cards.

Try to take at least $100USD, a debit card, and a credit card with you on your first international trip. Always leave one card in your hotel room in case your wallet gets stolen. If your wallet gets stolen it’s not the end of the world because you’ll still have another way to access money!

Traveler Tip: Google the monetary conversion before you go so you have a sense of how far your dollar will go in another country.

Always have local cash. Not every place takes credit cards. Sometimes even buses or trains require cash. Small towns, villages & street vendors may only accept cash payments. Be sure to go to your bank or currency exchange to grab international currency a couple weeks before your departure. This gives the bank enough time to get your currency and for you to pick it up.

Check the country’s entrance/exit fees. Some countries (like Mexico and Costa Rica) require travelers to pay a tourist tax to enter or leave the country. These fees are not included in the price of your airline ticket, and can range from $10 to $100.

4. Transportation Services

Most international trips are going to require you to fly there, but for getting around your destination, consider other options such as buses or trains. Rio2Rome is a great tool for seeking all the route options from point A to point B and figuring out which mode of transportation will be quickest and cheapest. Google Maps is also very easy to use!

Related: How to Use Google Maps When You Have No Service

Bus rides are usually the most cost-efficient and eco-friendly mode of transportation and also offer you the chance to take in the vistas and chat with locals. Some countries even have ride-sharing apps like Uber & Bolt, which is common in Portugal and can be more direct than a bus route. Personally, I try to avoid taking buses (because they are time consuming to wait around for), unless its a Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour.

Trains in Europe are very reliable, especially in Western Europe (Portugal, Spain, France). The train system is a great way to get from one town to the next or even one country to the next (sometimes, in only a matter of hours). Take a look at your options before booking and consider the various costs over taking a a hopper flight or bus to your next destination. In addition, trains are a great way to get outside of the city and explore other towns and areas on day trips. Use sites like eurail.com and raileurope.com for train schedules and prices.

5. Enroll in S.T.E.P.

What is STEP? The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

What are the Benefits of STEP? Receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans.Help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency. Help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.

How to Enroll in STEP

1. Go to Step.State.Gov

2. Follow the enrollment questions and answer accordingly.

3. Complete the enrollment process.

Stay Informed, Stay Connected, Stay Safe

24 Hour Consular Emergency Line: U.S. 1.888.407.4747 / Outside the U.S. 1.202.501.4444

Related: How to Avoid Being a Victim of PickPocketing

6. Cellular Service

Make sure to check with your service provider to see if your plan covers your international destination. Some international plans are included, some are not and some charge extra (per day or per month) for the service.

It’s easier to check before you leave, rather than find out when you reach your destination that your phone doesn’t work.

Make sure to download Google city maps before you leave town for the cities you will be visiting. Google Offline Maps are great when you don’t have service and are walking around. Not sure how to download Google Maps? follow these simple steps.

7. Book Major Attractions in Advanced

Buy tickets now for places you know you want to visit or see. By buying in advance you’ll be able to skip more lines, and find more deals targeted toward you.

I use the websites below to book attractions, excursions and things to do.

8. Overcoming Jet Lag & Trip Planning

Fight jet lag with drinking plenty of water before, during and after the flight. Recovering from a long-haul flight is challenging enough- but when you add on a time change you’re bound to be a bit jet lagged. It can take a couple of days and sometimes up to a week to adjust.

As you start booking your first international trip, you may want to pack it all in. How many cities can you fit in one trip?! How much can you see in each day?! Take my advice: See as much as you can but plan downtime as well. Know that your plans will not always work out and something may throw your whole day off. Stay versatile!

The Complete Trip Planning Guide

Once you arrive, do your best to avoid naps, even when your body is screaming for one. Take a stroll around your neighborhood to get a sense of local life and relax in a cafe for a bit- have a gelato! Consider whether you need an extra day or two at the beginning of your schedule to adjust.

Overhead view of suitcase being packed for vacation

9. Luggage & Packing

Pack an extra set of clothes in your carry-on bag. Flight attendant spilled coffee on you? Airlines lost your luggage? Now what? You have nothing else to wear, unless you pack an extra outfit.

To check a bag or not to check bag. Personally, I like to stay nimble and versatile when I travel by not checking a bag. It makes getting around easier and cheaper. For years, I used big and heavy checked bags, but when I went on a road trip to Spain for 12 days, I realized I didn’t need one!

Make sure to look up what your airline’s rules to avoid any incremental bag fees. And, if you are connecting during your trip, know the luggage rules/fees for those airlines as well- especially for regional or low-cost carriers.

Pack Smart. Packing Cubes vs. Rolling Clothes. Pack some dryer sheets in your luggage, especially in your sneakers and shoes. You’ll thank me later!

Bring snacks. Traveling abroad is fun, but eating in a foreign country can sometimes become a task. Bring small snacks that will tide you over until you find that perfect restaurant or food market.

Related: The Ultimate Packing List

10. Google Translate

Google Translate is free, fast, and pretty accurate. Thanks to its massive database, the software can deliver decent translations that can help you get the main idea of a text.

Don’t speak the native language? Having a hard time communicating with people?

Download Google Translate before your international trip, it’s in your app store.

Do you have any more tips international travelers? Let me know in the comments below!


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