You’ve finally decided to take that dream trip. What now? What should you do next? In this post, we offer some tips to help you get ready for your first big adventure.
This is probably the most important tip we can offer. Research the area you are going to visit. What will the weather be like? What kind of public transportation is there? What are the traditional meals of the area? What do the locals do for fun? What kind of excursions are offered in the area? Are there any tourist scams you should know about? Although it is fun to be spontaneous, we don’t recommend going to a new place without knowing anything about it. This often leads to headaches and frustrations. You can also ensure your travel safety, by pulling up a background report on the people and business you’ll be dealing with.
We typically begin our research on TripAdvisor or the official tourism website of the city or country we are going to visit. We then research on our favorite travel bloggers’ websites to see what tips and/or recommendations they’ve made about the area.
The next most important thing! Make sure that you have a valid passport if you’re planning a trip out of the country. Be aware that your passport also can’t be set to expire within six months of your trip. Many countries have what is called the Six Months Validity Rule, which is in place so that if a visitor needs to stay unexpectedly, they are able to stay for up to six months and their passport will still be valid to leave the country. Also, keep in mind that an application for a passport may take up to six weeks to process from the time of application turn in.
Also check to see if the country you are going to visit requires a visa for entry. Each country is different. Some have a very long and difficult visa process, while visas for other countries can be acquired upon arrival at the airport. To see if a certain country requires a visa, you can contact their embassy (click here for a list of the web sites of Foreign Embassies in the US).
For shorter trips, you can usually just rely on WiFi to keep in touch or post updates to your status. However, if you need to be reachable at all times (due to kids, a job, etc.) we advise you to get in touch with your mobile carrier. Most have options for travelers that are pretty economical. For example, Verizon has what is called the TravelPass. In over 100 countries, you can talk, text, and use your data like normal for just $10 a day ($2 in Canada and Mexico). And that’s only on the day you use it. So let’s say you’re gone to Costa Rica for a week and half way through you need to call home. For 24 hours, you can use your phone as much as you want. You’ll only see an extra charge of $10 on your next bill.
This one is important even if you’re not leaving the country. Let your credit card companies know that you will be traveling. Most banks and credit card companies will cancel a transaction if they think your card has been stolen. Your cards may not work at all in another country if they suspect there is fraud, but it’s likely to happen if you travel across your own country as well. If you live in Florida and all of a sudden there are charges in Washington State, it may look a bit suspicious (especially if you’ve never traveled before).
Look up conversion rates before your trip so that you feel comfortable doing the math. You may not be used to carrying around cash either, but it’s often necessary in smaller and more remote towns. Remember to keep the cash in a safe place (you don’t want your first trip to be ruined by a pickpocket). Also note that often times it is better to get cash out of an ATM once in country than to have cash already and exchange it at a local exchange counter. ATM fees are usually a lot cheaper than fees at an exchange counter, plus some banks don’t even charge for a foreign ATM withdrawal (whether your bank charges or not is a good thing to find out when you call to notify them of your upcoming travel).
Unfortunately, you may be traveling to a place that requires certain vaccines. Check to see if you are up to date on your shots and check the CDC’s website. There you can see what vaccines are recommended for each country and also get up to date travel health notices. Also, keep all documentation of any vaccines you receive (you know, for future trips 😉 )
If you have not flown on a plane before, you may not know about TSA’s Liquids Rule which states: You are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes in your carry-on bag and through the checkpoint. These are limited to travel-sized containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item. Here we’ll emphasize that anything larger (even the bottle of water you just bought) will indeed be taken away.
Even seasoned travelers struggle with this one, but try your hardest to pack light. Lay out everything you want to bring on the trip. Then put away half of it. After you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor, see if you can at least put a third away. Remember that there’s the possibility that you’ll buy things on your trip as well, so save extra room for that too.
You may not be used to spending all day walking around a new city. Pack the proper shoes and possibly even some gel inserts (those things have saved my life a few times). Whatever tours or excursions you go on may require certain footwear as well. Water shoes may not be something you think about initially, but they can be very useful when exploring caves, rivers, waterfalls, etc.
This may be the first time you’ve ever seen an adapter or converter. Most countries around the world use different outlets. Additionally, most of the world runs on 220/240V while North America runs on 110/125V. Most likely, however, you won’t have to deal with converting the voltage of your devices. Check the labels of your phone, camera, laptop, etc. for voltage (it’s usually on the power cord). All you’ll probably need is an adapter. If you’re in a touristy area they’ll sell them on every corner. Some hotels provide adapters as well. This website is very useful for checking what outlets and voltage each country of the world uses.
So there you have them! We really hope that these 10 tips will help the first time traveler. We know what it’s like to be nervous and to wonder if we’ve checked all of the boxes on our list. If after reading this you feel that we’ve missed any, please leave them in the comments below. We’re sure someone out there will find them useful. 🙂
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