I am here to answer all your first time international traveler questions! I just booked another flight, YAY! To Ireland and Scotland, DOUBLE YAY! This trip is going to be so fun because my friend who is coming with us has never been out of the country. She is a first time international traveler! As we were booking our flights last night, she starting hitting me with 3948737922 questions and I was like woah, woah, woah… This would make a good blog post. I, being the world renowned travel blogger that I strive to be, can answer all of these first time international questions in blog form. I hope through helping her, I can help many of you as well. I’m sure everyone has very similar questions. Hopefully this will help calm any of your nerves about traveling internationally for the first time.
If it doesn’t, ask your doctor for a prescription for Xanax.
FIRST TIME INTERNATIONAL TRAVELER QUESTIONS
1. HOW DO I GET A PASSPORT AND HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?
Hopefully you aren’t leaving tomorrow. I always allow at least three months when renewing my passport so I would do the same for applying for a passport. There are a couple different ways but I would start here on the government travel website. It breaks down exactly what forms, IDs and how to properly apply. If this is your first time, you will need to go in-person to turn in your forms. You can find the nearest location to you using this website. Usually it’s a post office. Mine was my college campus which I preferred because everyone there was SO NICE compared to going into city hall or a post office. Getting your passport can take up to 6 weeks but, it’s the government so like…. could be 6 years. If you need it ASAP you can always expedite it, for a fee of course. If you do any of the paperwork wrong, that can also prolong the process. That’s why I say three months. You can check the status of your passport HERE.
2. DO I NEED A VISA?
The simple answer: it depends on where you are going. My solution? Google it. Every country has different rules. Check out THIS website to see if you need one. Just like a passport, I would allow at least three months for the visa process because you just NEVER KNOW. Three months is probably excessive but whatever I’m sticking to that number. It should only take a few weeks tops.
3. WHAT ABOUT MONEY? PULL OUT MONEY? EXCHANGE RATE? CREDIT CARDS?
This depends on preference and again, where you are going. I’ll break down what I do. I have a Barclay Arrival Plusand I love it. If you are looking for a new travel credit card I HIGHLY recommend it for these reasons:
- No foreign transaction fees
- 50,000 sign up bonus points
- 2x points on restaurants (ya girl likes to eat)
- I can use my points any ANYTHING travel such as: flights, hotels, car rentals, transportation, airbnbs, etc
- You get 5% points back. So when you use your points they literally reward you with more points, just for using them!
- Annual fee waived for first year
- It has an international chip and pin
- It comes with travelers insurance!
My credit card isn’t the only one out there that has all these benefits but it is something to consider when traveling, especially the no foreign transaction fees. That would add up quickly. Not only do I take my credit card abroad, I pull out cash in the countries currency before hand. I go into my bank and pull out about $300 in whatever currency I need. Remember there is an exchange rate so you might need to pull out more or less depending on how strong the dollar is. I recommend downloading the Currency app, you can find my blog on it HERE, to see the rates. You might need to call your bank ahead of time so they can order the currency. Most banks have popular currencies like Pounds, Euros and Canadian Dollars but when I went to pull out Australian dollars, they had to special order it. The reason I pull out currency here is so 1. I don’t have to worry about it abroad. 2. I have found that it’s cheaper to do it here than in an airport or at a currency exchange place. Even though I have my credit card, I like to have cash for markets, vendors, small cafes/ restaurants and taxi’s. Just like here, some places are cash only. I put some in my purse, some in my backpack and hide the rest.
4. HOW DO I PLUG IN MY DEVICES? CAN I BRING MY HAIR STRAIGHTENER/CURLER?
Newsflash every country uses a different type of plug. It’s very annoying how there isn’t a universal electrical plug system. You can check out this article on rei.com for the breakdown. Usually I just google, “What plug do they use in blah blah blah” and then look at the images. I have a pack from Amazon that has all the different types and I just grab what I need. I also really like this one, Amazon, because it’s all in one and you don’t have a bunch of little pieces. Just don’t plug your hair dryer or hair tools into it! That’s why I have the first link, because it came with a converter. What’s the difference between a converter and an adapter? An adaptor allows you to “adapt” to the countries plug system. That’s it, that’s all it does. A converter literally converts the electricity from one voltage to another. For some reason, different countries run on different voltages. Just note that America runs on (Dunkin) 110 volts and Europe is 220. If you plug something that is 110 volts into a 220 plug you can likely blow a fuse. Which for most of you guys, will be the hair tools and electronic chargers. So what do you do? A few things
- Make sure your hair tools are dual voltage. Most new hair tools and Mac/iphone chargers are but double check. If they are dual, all you will need is an adapter on the end.
- If it’s not dual voltage, you need a voltage converter, which I low key don’t recommend. I know people who have STILL blown up their straightener even with following the rules.
- If you plan on visiting a certain country many times, maybe you want to invest in a hair tool with the correct plug for that country. When I lived in Amsterdam I just went and bought a straightener and curler with the European plug for like $15 each. I have been back to Europe many times and I just pack those, worry free.
- Consider not styling your hair. No hot tools. No problem.
5. WHAT BAGS OR PURSES SHOULD I BRING FOR DAY TO DAY?
This all depends on what you are comfortable with. I recommend a cross body or a secure backpack. I wrote about some of my favorites here. Some people don’t like carrying a backpack because it makes them feel vulnerable, which I completely understand. I have long hair which covers the top of my backpack so if someone was trying to get into it I would feel it, turn around and then roundhouse kick them. My sister likes a small, waterproof cross body. Some of the very secure, travel safe bags are ugly and I see why they scream tourist, but I own one that’s not too bad and I would rather not have my purse slashed. My sister thinks its ugly and would rather have her own purse slashed then seen with something ugly. Whatevs. The purse I use is in the link above. My purse and my small backpack can fit a collapsible water bottle (also on the link above), a guidebook, a notebook, snacks, wallet and anything else I need.
6. WHAT KIND OF SUITCASE SHOULD I BRING AND HOW BIG?
Honestly, I still struggle with this. I overpack and I bring my huge suitcase everywhere lol. We even try to do laundry halfway through big trips and I still bring 94 shirts. If you are going to a third world country, I don’t recommend doing that. Pack light for that cause you really don’t want to stand out with a huge suitcase. Hardshell or soft? Again, I’m not sure. I have been a soft suitcase stan forever but I think only cause that’s what my parents had. Before buying my new set I spent hours researching soft vs hard and the few differences I could draw were:
1. Hard shells keep their shape, which means it won’t break whatever is packed inside. The downside is you can’t shoooooooove anything extra in like you can with a soft.
2. Soft suitcases have extra pockets on the outside, which I personally love. I use those for flip-flop and tampons.
3. Soft cases can tear but hard shells can crack. So in conclusion, they both have pros and cons and it boils down to what you like. For sizing, double check what your airplane allows. That might help you decide which one to bring. Just remember if you go with the largest, there is still a weight limit!
7. WHAT DO I DO ABOUT CALLING OR TEXTING ABROAD?
Fantastic question. I wrote a blog on my must have travel apps, which covers this issue. Some people don’t like the idea of not having any data, which is fine. Most airports have a kiosk where you can purchase a sim-card with loaded data. In Amsterdam, I had one that was about 10 euro for a small amount of data per month. You can also check with your carrier and see what international plans they offer. I don’t do that because I think they are expensive. If you are ok with not having data 24/7 and you are ok with just using wifi, I would do that. Not only is it free but it’s really nice to have a break from social media/ your phone while you are traveling.
If you have iMessage, that works on wifi. You can also use Messenger, Instagram, Facebook, etc. to communicate. If you want a calling/ messaging app I recommend either WhatsApp or Viber. I use both and both are great. The only reason I would suggest WhatsApp over Viber is because most Airbnb hosts or friends abroad already have WhatsApp so it is just easier. I know your mom will be worried on how to contact you abroad, just have her download the app and set it up ahead of time.
8. DO I NEED TRAVELER’S INSURANCE?
Maybe! My credit card includes traveler’s insurance, which is such a nice perk so I never have to worry about it. But before I got my credit card, I did worry about it. I personally have never had to use or claim any insurance but I do think it’s a good idea to research it. I have my credit card’s safety net but, you may not. Some things to consider if you are on the fence about purchasing it:
- Traveling to a third world country?
- Are you prone to diseases and viruses?
- Do you plan on doing any dangerous activities, like rock climbing, biking, scuba, bungee jumping?
- Do you have bad luck? lol
I would do some research and double check that you might already have it included in something like a credit card or AAA.
ANY OTHER FIRST TIME INTERNATIONAL TRAVELER TIPS?
- If you are interested, I have written a few blogs on my favorite travel items here, and I have a blog on my favorite travel apps.
- I suggest to anyone traveling to print out ANY confirmation letters for hotels, Airbnbs, excursions, tours, etc. just in case.
- On top of that, I also bring a photocopy of my passport. You can’t use that if your passport is lost but it helps speed up the process if you have a photocopy.
- I always bring a little pouch of extra medicines such as allergy meds, vitamin C, Airborne, Day/Nyquil, Advil, etc. You might feel a little under the weather and want something you are comfortable with taking. Most places have pharmacies but I know what allergy pills work best for me so I bring them along. I have had to buy stuff abroad in the past and it has always been great but if you already own it, it saves time and money. I don’t know how to say “Sir, it burns when I pee” in every language and I’m assuming you don’t either.
- If you are doing a long trip, try to book a hotel or room with laundry half way through your trip so you can wash your clothes. Thennnnn pack less!
- Back up your photos to a private Facebook album or Google Photos everyday, just incase your phone gets stolen or lost.
- Thank you cards. If staying in an Airbnb or someone’s home, I either bring a little card or purchase a postcard there to write a little thank you note. I know people who bring little trinkets or something from their own country to leave with the note as a kind gesture. Since I’m from California I leave an In-N-Out burger. HA jk. But that would be funny.
- Lastly, no matter how much you plan and organize a trip, there will be hiccups along the way. You will forget to pack things, something will get lost or left behind, trains will be missed and you will get lost. Shit happens. You are a first time traveler, so all you can do is keep learning!!
Sorry this was soon long but I hope this answers lots of questions! Good luck with your adventure!
If you are looking for things to do wherever you are traveling, I have many blogs on what to eat, see and do in tons of cities across the world. Check it out here. Or, find your curated travel guide on wildbum.com. Happy #wildbumming!
Read more on Marissa’s blog here!