Traveling abroad for the first time can be very exciting—you’ll get to experience a new country, meet new people, try new foods, see iconic landmarks, and more. Unfortunately, travel can also feel overwhelming for those same reasons. You don’t have the familiarity of traveling around your home state or even around the United States, and while many countries (especially in Europe) have signage in both English and their native language, the language barrier can be tricky to navigate.
But don’t let that stop you from having the time of your life. Here are a few of our best tips to make sure that your first trip abroad is just the first of many.
1. Choose Your Luggage
Depending on the length of your trip and where you’re going, decide if you want to bring a wheeled bag or a backpack.
A wheeled bag is easy to travel with since you just pull it behind you. Also, it can be easier to pack a wheeled bag. But, it can be more difficult to look through one when you’re in the middle of the airport and need to find something. If you plan on riding around on public transportation, a suitcase can be cumbersome, but if you’re going to a cold destination and will be packing bulky sweaters and jackets, a more traditional suitcase will likely be a better option.
If you like to pack light or you’re headed to a warm destination, a backpack is a good option. With a backpack, you can access items easily (assuming you pack it properly), and it’s much easier to pick up a backpack and go quickly. If you plan to move around a lot during your trip, a backpack might be a good choice.
Can’t decide between a suitcase or backpack? Get a bag that has both wheels and straps.
2. Bring Adaptors for Your Electronics
Different countries’ electrical outlets have different voltages, so you’ll need to bring a travel converter to plug things in and charge your electronics. You can look this up ahead of time (or find it in a guidebook), or just bring a voltage travel converter kit and you’ll have everything you need. Typically, these kits also indicate what you’ll need for specific locations.
3. Pack Mindfully
No matter what kind of bag you choose, think about how you’re packing it. Start by making a list and checking everything off as you put it in so you won’t have to dig around to double check later.
Make sure the most important things are easily accessible and in your carry-on: your passport, money, phone, medication, and anything you might want on the plane (snacks, travel pillow), etc. If it’s something you absolutely need, avoid putting it in your checked bag if at all possible. You’ll have to take out your computer and liquids as you go through security, so make sure they’re on top or in an outside pocket.
When it comes to clothes, roll them—don’t fold them. They’ll take up less space and won’t get creased. Compression sacks are another way to save space.
4. Make Copies of Everything
It’s not likely that you’ll lose your passport or have your wallet stolen, but just in case, it’s always good to have copies of anything important. Leave one copy of your passport, driver’s license, and credit cards at home and one copy in your luggage (you’ll keep the actual passport and wallet in your day bag or carry-on).
5. Tell Your Bank You’re Traveling
If you plan to use your debit and/or credit cards abroad, tell your bank where you’re going. You can do this online with larger banks (there’s usually an option to set a travel alert), but you may have to call.
On that note, check your accounts to see if there are additional fees for using your card(s) internationally. If you use an ATM, there are typically the regular fees for using an out-of-network bank, but sometimes there are additional international fees tacked on. These international fees can also apply to transactions, so it’s helpful to check ahead of time, so you know what to expect. Some banks don’t have any international transaction fees.
6. Change Your Cell Plan
If you want to use your cell phone or have it available for emergencies while traveling, add an international calling option to your plan. Sometimes phones will try to connect automatically when you land, so keep your phone on airplane mode to avoid any unexpected charges.
Once in airplane mode, turn on the wi-fi only so you can use your phone in cafes and at your hotel.
7. Update Your Shots
A couple of months before you go, check the CDC website for any vaccines that might be recommended for your destination. You can get some vaccines at your regular doctor, but you’ll have to go to a travel clinic for others.
Check this information in advance because some vaccines (such as Hepatitis A) require a series of shots with a certain amount of time in between each one.
8. Get a Guidebook or App
Guidebooks can be heavy and take up space, so if you’re only going to a couple of the places listed in a book, tear out the pages and just carry what you need. Guidebooks also come with paper maps, which can be a helpful backup if your phone isn’t working or you don’t have service.
That being said, many travel apps work when you’re offline, so that’s another option if you’d rather just use your phone. A big plus to using your phone is that you aren’t pulling out a paper map and looking like a tourist, which can make you a target for scams or theft in some places.
9. Know Local Scams
Speaking of scams, know what local scams you might come across. You can usually find this information in guidebooks or on travel websites.
For example, in Bangkok, a taxi driver may tell you that a temple is closed and he will show you around town until it opens. Really, he plans to take you to several shops and vendors that he works with to try to sell you things you probably don’t need. If you know this is a common scam and know when the temple hours are, you won’t lose hours of your day needlessly.
10. Look Up the Money Conversion Before You Go
Knowing how far your dollar will go at your destination will help you budget and give you an idea of what to expect when you’re exchanging money. As a general rule, the money exchanges at the airports have the worst exchange rates. If you need a little bit of cash just to have something, that’s fine, but save your big money exchanges for when you can get to the bank, where you’ll find the best rates.
Note: You’ll need your passport anytime you exchange money.
Above all else, leave time for spontaneity. Of course, you’ll want to see the major attractions when you travel, but don’t pack your days so full that you don’t have time to just sit in a cafe or check out a festival. One of the best parts about traveling is experiencing the unexpected and just enjoying where you’re at. The trip will be over before you know it, so take time to soak it all in!
Written by Abbie Mood for Matcha in partnership with Osprey Packs.