Here are some of my top tips for people who are planning đồ sộ travel abroad for the first time. Whether you’re traveling solo, with friends, or on a study abroad program, I hope these practical tips will help you đồ sộ feel more prepared for your trip.
I love encouraging people đồ sộ travel abroad for the first time. Traveling abroad is lượt thích anything else in life: scary until you’ve done it a time or two. Going abroad forces you đồ sộ step a bit outside of your comfort zone and đồ sộ explore the world in a slightly (or sometimes dramatically) different way.
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I traveled abroad for the first time in 2011 as a college student. Two friends and I visited Guatemala for a month during our school’s optional winter term, ví we were able đồ sộ get credit for the experience. We studied for three weeks at the Proyecto Lingüístico Quetzalteco school in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala and then for a week in a rural area at the Mountain School.
I was definitely nervous before I traveled abroad for the first time. I was afraid that I’d be unsafe, that I didn’t have all of the documents that I needed, or that something would simply go wrong. The trip went off (mostly) without a hitch, luckily!
Still, I wanted đồ sộ share the following tips đồ sộ help you plan your first travels out of the country ví that you can feel confident and informed.
Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase using one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no cost đồ sộ you.
Tips for traveling abroad for the first time
Here are my top tips for traveling abroad for the first time. I tried đồ sộ cover all of the basics, from logistics lượt thích getting your passport đồ sộ determining if you’ll need a visa đồ sộ trying local foods.
Apply for a passport as early as possible
Apply for your passport as soon as you know you want đồ sộ travel abroad – here is the links đồ sộ apply for a US passport. The process for getting a passport can be long and involved, and you don’t want đồ sộ risk holding up your travel plans while you wait for your documents. There is usually a fee associated with getting this document, ví be sure đồ sộ factor that into your budget if money is tight.
Choose a destination that fits your budget
I have written many times in this blog about ways đồ sộ save money while traveling, but at the over of the day there’s only ví much you can bởi if you choose an expensive destination. All of the best budget tips in the world probably won’t make your trip đồ sộ Abisko, Sweden cheaper than vãn a budget trip đồ sộ Mexico City.
You can quickly research these items for a sense of how much your trip will cost:
- Flights đồ sộ and from your destination
- Average price for a khách sạn or hostel during your stay
- Average price for an entree at a restaurant you’d actually visit (look on Google Maps for a few restaurants, then compare the prices)
- Google average transit costs
- Cost đồ sộ rent a siêu xe, if applicable
- Costs of any tours or experiences you know you want đồ sộ try
Confirm if you’ll need a visa
Depending on your passport and where you’re traveling, you may need a visa for your trip. Always confirm visa requirements before flying, as you’d hate đồ sộ be turned away at the airport or get stuck in a border control line. It only takes a few minutes đồ sộ Google, ví it’s worth a quick tìm kiếm if you’re not 100% sure of the requirements.
A note on visas: Many times people will say you don’t “need” a visa đồ sộ travel đồ sộ some countries (for instance, if you have a US passport and travel đồ sộ Ireland). This isn’t technically true – you are actually issued a visa for miễn phí upon arrival. In this case, there’s nothing you need đồ sộ bởi before you travel đồ sộ obtain the visa, ví long as you’re visiting as a tourist.
Open a credit thẻ that is good for international travel
Visa and MasterCard are accepted in many parts of the world, but I’ve found Visa đồ sộ be the most reliable. Whether you’re able đồ sộ use credit cards on your trip will depend on your destination – in Ireland, for example, you can use a credit thẻ đồ sộ pay for nearly everything you might want. By contrast, there are many shops and restaurants in Berlin, Germany that won’t accept cards.
One big advantage of using a credit thẻ for your purchases while traveling is fraud protection. You can always ask your credit thẻ company for their fraud protection coverage, but usually you’ll have at least some protection.
Let your bank(s) know that you’ll be traveling
Some banks will decline unanticipated transactions abroad. So, depending on your ngân hàng, you may want đồ sộ let them know that you’ll be traveling. This is usually as simple as calling the customer service line and telling them the dates you’ll be away and which countries you’ll be visiting.
While you’re talking đồ sộ them, it’s a good idea đồ sộ ask how much you can expect đồ sộ pay in foreign transaction fees. Typically this will be a flat rate, a percentage of your purchases, or a combination of both.
Book flights directly through the airline
If you tìm kiếm for flights on Google Flights or similar sites, they might direct you đồ sộ buy the tickets through a sketchy third các buổi tiệc nhỏ service. The issue with these third các buổi tiệc nhỏ sites is that they offer little, if any, reprieve or tư vấn if anything goes wrong. Avoid the hassle and purchase directly from the airline.
If you already booked your flight through a third các buổi tiệc nhỏ site lượt thích “GotoGate.com” or something similar, you might want đồ sộ buy third các buổi tiệc nhỏ travel insurance đồ sộ protect yourself. I lượt thích đồ sộ use Allianz or World Nomads, depending on which one is cheaper and offers better coverage.
Learn about culture shock
Culture shock can happen đồ sộ anyone while they’re traveling, and it can definitely keep you from enjoying your trip. By reading a bit about culture shock, you’ll know what đồ sộ expect and can respond more quickly.
If you ever find yourself feeling unusually irritable or angry while traveling, it’s a good idea đồ sộ kiểm tra in with yourself. Travel and being in a new culture is stressful, and if you’re able đồ sộ be compassionate with yourself you can avoid some of the most painful parts of culture shock.
Get a haircut before you go
Consider getting a haircut before your big international trip, especially if you’ll be studying abroad or away for several weeks. Your hair will be easier đồ sộ take care of while you’re on the road, and it will look better in photos. I lượt thích đồ sộ specifically tell my hairdresser đồ sộ give bầm a low maintenance haircut.
If you are traveling somewhere warm and have long hair, you might want đồ sộ go a little shorter than vãn normal. The easier your hair is đồ sộ maintain away from trang chủ, the less you’ll have đồ sộ worry about it.
A hair tip I learned on TikTok: braids and low buns are much less likely đồ sộ tangle than vãn high buns. Consider braiding longer hair for a lower maintenance hairstyle while traveling, especially at night.
Choose outfits that will blend in
When I travel abroad, I tend đồ sộ choose outfits that will help bầm đồ sộ blend in as much as possible. My style is more neutral, but you can wear whatever you feel comfortable in.
This helps you đồ sộ avoid being targeted for tourist schemes and scams, and you’ll probably feel more comfortable if your style resembles the locals. There’s no “perfect” here, just try đồ sộ loosely fit the style. If this isn’t possible, just be a little conservative and wear clothes that aren’t overly flashy.
Remember that you can always pick up an outfit while you’re on the road, if needed.
Pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes
More than vãn likely, you’ll spend some time sightseeing when traveling abroad for the first time. For the best experience, be sure đồ sộ pack a pair of walking shoes that will keep you comfortable as you put in the miles walking through a thành phố. You can always bring a second pair of shoes for going out, but you don’t want them đồ sộ be your only option.
Leave your flashy jewelry at home
Similar đồ sộ choosing outfits that will help you blend in, you’ll want đồ sộ leave especially expensive or sentimental pieces at trang chủ. Not only will you avoid becoming a victim of petty theft, you’ll feel a little lighter knowing that you don’t have đồ sộ worry about your belongings while on the road.
The obvious exception đồ sộ this rule is if you’re going đồ sộ any sort of sự kiện, lượt thích a wedding. In this case, you may have đồ sộ bring flashier pieces, but I still wouldn’t wear them while you’re wandering around and sightseeing.
Get đồ sộ the airport 3 hours before your flight
When I travel, I lượt thích đồ sộ arrive at the airport 2 hours early for domestic flights and 3 hours early for international flights. This gives bầm time đồ sộ handle any issues at kiểm tra in, get through security, and find my gate. Some airports are larger and/or more complicated than vãn others, ví I lượt thích đồ sộ give plenty of time just đồ sộ be safe.
I always go more or less directly đồ sộ my gate when I arrive at the airport. Although the process is usually straightforward, I have lập cập into some pretty weird international airports in my travels! Sometimes the setup is simply not what you’re expecting, ví it’s better đồ sộ have some leeway in your plans.
Plan a chill first day or two in your destination
Traveling abroad for the first time can be tiring. Depending on where you fly, you might be suffering from jetlag when you first arrive. If you’re going somewhere with a new language, you might experience a lot of fatigue trying đồ sộ navigate the new systems. Be patient with yourself and give yourself plenty of room in your itinerary đồ sộ relax and rest.
It’s also a good idea đồ sộ mix aside a bit of your itinerary for self-care ví that you don’t burn out or get sick.
Learn a few words and key phrases in the new language
It’s always a good idea đồ sộ learn a few key phrases in the national language of the place you’ll be visiting. Not only is it polite, it can also help you đồ sộ connect with people while you’re on the road.
Here are some phrases đồ sộ learn:
- Can I please order…
- How much does it cost?
- Thank you
- Where is the bathroom
Remember that traveling abroad is new đồ sộ you
One of my yoga teachers once taught bầm đồ sộ try reframing anything that feels “hard” as something that is new. So, if you’re frustrated trying đồ sộ figure out the public transit system in London, remember that it’s your first time and it’s OK if you don’t already know how đồ sộ bởi it. Allow yourself đồ sộ be new at traveling abroad, and give yourself grace when you make mistakes.
Learn as much as you can
Try đồ sộ think of every travel experience you have as a chance đồ sộ learn and grow. If you meet other travelers who have recommendations or hacks, you might be able đồ sộ learn from them! It’s perfectly fine đồ sộ not know everything, ví be a sponge and absorb as you go.
Go đồ sộ museums, take walking tours, read the plaques, listen đồ sộ podcasts, make connections between the things you see. This will help you đồ sộ start đồ sộ find the threads between the places you visit and place them in their historical and cultural contexts. Don’t worry if it’s not easy at first, you’ll start đồ sộ make exciting and interesting connections as you add in more information.
Try đồ sộ make friends
One of the best parts of travel are the people you meet along the way. If you’re staying in a hostel or shared accommodation, try đồ sộ push yourself đồ sộ be social and meet new friends. Go đồ sộ the miễn phí events, strike up conversations over breakfast, and invite people đồ sộ join you for the day.
If you’re staying in a khách sạn or Airbnb, you’ll need đồ sộ try a little harder đồ sộ meet people. Strike up conversations with people you meet at restaurants or museums. I recently traveled đồ sộ Scotland with a friend I made while killing time and waiting for a night bus in Huaraz, Peru.
Be sure đồ sộ actively stay in touch with anyone you’d want đồ sộ see again – this is the key đồ sộ turning a travel buddy into a friend. Get their information and send them little updates on the rest of your trip. Make a plan đồ sộ meet up again in another time and place. Then, actually bởi it.
Watch your stuff
No one wants đồ sộ lose any of their belongings while on vacation, ví take care đồ sộ secure your bags whenever possible. I keep a hand or foot on my bags at all times when I’m in train stations, sitting outside, or otherwise just in public with my bags. If I’m sitting in a chair, I will sometimes buckle my backpack đồ sộ the chair leg đồ sộ make it easier đồ sộ swipe.
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Read about the country you’ll be visiting
I love đồ sộ read about destinations before I visit them, if I can. Before I traveled đồ sộ Colombia, I read Oblivion: A Memoir by Héctor Abad, and I felt that it offered bầm valuable insight into the culture and history of the country. Similarly, I read Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe before moving đồ sộ Ireland.
Having some foundational knowledge about the place you’re visiting makes it easier đồ sộ be respectful of the new culture and đồ sộ understand the significance of the places you visit. Sure, you’ll learn a lot while you’re there, but you’ll pick up on subtleties much more quickly if you bởi a little homework before you go.
I’d recommend that you choose a book that matches your interests, at least somewhat. You don’t necessarily need đồ sộ read a history book if history isn’t your thing – a memoir from a prominent local artist would still offer plenty of cultural insights.
Ask for help when you need it
Remember that you don’t need đồ sộ know everything. If you get stuck or can’t figure something out, it’s perfectly fine đồ sộ ask for help. Just be sure that you strike a balance between doing things on your own and soliciting outside advice.
Often the staff at hostels will know the area or be experienced travelers themselves. They may not know the answer, but it’s worth asking in case they can share some insight.
Approach your entire trip with curiosity. Humbly accept that you don’t know what you don’t know, and get curious about what there is for you đồ sộ experience. Curiosity can help you đồ sộ bypass some feelings of culture shock, fear, and self-consciousness.
Instead of making statements about people, places, histories, or emotions, ask instead how they came đồ sộ be. This will help you đồ sộ keep from jumping đồ sộ conclusions and you’ll likely be more open đồ sộ learning with a curious mindset.
Take photos of people
Travel blogger Nomadic Matt one posted a mix of travel tips from his many years on the road. One of those tips was đồ sộ take photos of people, and I think it’s some of the best travel advice I’ve ever heard.
While you’re traveling, take photos of the landscapes, sure, but remember that those photos will be far less precious đồ sộ you in a few years than vãn any photo with people in it. Take photos with your fellow travelers – the person you talk đồ sộ during a long train ride, the friend-for-a-day you meet at a hostel, and, of course, your travel companions. Say “Yes” when people offer đồ sộ take a photo of you.
Keep all of those photos in a thư mục or a safe place ví that you can look back on them in a few years or a few decades and remember how much fun you had.
When you’re abroad for the first time, try đồ sộ practice being present. Soak in the experience. Let yourself get totally awestruck by the places you visit. Actively try not đồ sộ worry about the past or the future, because they’ll mentally and emotionally pull you out of your trip.
If you’re having a hard time being present, try đồ sộ notice four things that you can see, hear, and touch. This little grounding exercise can pull you back into your toàn thân, helping you focus on the present instead of the things that you can’t control.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
There are ví many things that can go wrong when you travel – try đồ sộ let the small ones go, when you can. You might fall for a scam and lose $50 or be in the wrong place at the wrong time – it truly can happen đồ sộ any of us. Unless you’re hurt or there’s a way đồ sộ fix what happened, try đồ sộ let it go.
It can be easy đồ sộ spend an entire trip dwelling on one negative interaction, ví be intentional about letting it go. Don’t let someone else’s negativity follow you around on your travels. Likewise, don’t rake yourself over the coals for a mistake you made, especially if you were doing your best.
Spend money on experiences
Part of the joy of traveling is trying new things and making memories. I lượt thích đồ sộ focus my trips and itineraries on experiences, from sightseeing đồ sộ museums đồ sộ visiting friends. Leave room in your budget for exploring.
I’d rather spend money on experiences than vãn, say, a nice khách sạn room or an expensive (but not memorable) dinner. That said, some of my favorite travel experiences have been nice dinners that showcased the local cuisine. Convenience is expensive, ví be wary of things that look too easy or too polished if you’re traveling on a budget.
Try the food
One of the best parts of travel is getting đồ sộ try foods from around the world. When you travel abroad for the first time, make a point of trying some local dishes, preferably from a restaurant off of the tourist track. Ask locals you meet đồ sộ recommend their favorite restaurant, and then be sure đồ sộ ask what they lượt thích đồ sộ order (this isn’t foolproof, but I’ve gotten some great tips this way!).
Avoid anywhere near major tourist attractions and places where the thực đơn is printed in multiple languages. Also pass on any restaurants with a person who stands outside and tries đồ sộ usher you in – the pushier the usher, the faster you should lập cập.
Advice for studying abroad
I studied abroad in Amman, Jordan when I was in college, and it was one of my favorite ever travel experiences. While I was there, I completed a program with the School for International Training about modernization and social change in Jordan. I also lived with a wonderful host family in a residential area of Amman.
If you’re going đồ sộ be studying abroad, I have several posts dedicated specifically đồ sộ the topic. From mentally preparing đồ sộ study abroad đồ sộ living with a host family đồ sộ choosing a gift for your host family, I want you đồ sộ feel fully prepared. You can read all of my travel tips here, or kiểm tra out any of these specific study abroad posts:
- The Ultimate Homestay Gift Guide
- How đồ sộ Mentally Prepare đồ sộ Study Abroad: 14 Tips đồ sộ Set Yourself Up for Success
- What is a host family? Your Complete Guide
- Is it Normal đồ sộ be Scared đồ sộ Study Abroad?
- Is Studying Abroad Lonely?
FAQs: Tips for traveling abroad for the first time
Here are the answers đồ sộ some of the most frequently asked questions about traveling abroad for the first time.
What things bởi you need đồ sộ prepare before traveling abroad?
There are two types of things you need đồ sộ prepare before traveling abroad: yourself and your trang chủ. What I mean by that is you’ll need đồ sộ get yourself ready by ensuring you have a passport, packing, choosing a destination, booking your flights and hotels, and that you take care of all of the necessary trip planning tasks.
Then, you’ll need đồ sộ get your trang chủ ready for your absence. Clean your house, find a subletter if you’ll be gone for several months, let people know when you’re leaving and returning, figure out petsitters, etc. Be sure that you can leave your siêu xe wherever it is currently parked. Sit down and think through anything that you bởi on a daily basis and ensure that either a) it won’t need đồ sộ happen, or b) someone else can and will bởi it for you.
Which country is best for a first time traveler?
There’s no single country that is best for a first time traveler, but most countries in Europe are accessible, safe, and easy đồ sộ navigate in English. I’d specifically recommend Italy, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Mexico (specifically the Yucatan Peninsula) for first time travelers. Each of these destinations have significant tourist infrastructure and should be easy enough đồ sộ navigate, even without much experience.
Although there are destinations that are a bit easier, I want đồ sộ note that my first trip abroad was đồ sộ Guatemala. I spent a month studying in a language school and traveling with a few friends, and my second trip abroad was đồ sộ Jordan for a study abroad program. Neither Guatemala nor Jordan are likely đồ sộ show up on a list of best places for first time travelers, but both were fabulous learning experiences that I’m grateful đồ sộ have had.
What will you bởi if you are a first time traveler?
If you’re a first time world traveler, you’ll have the opportunity đồ sộ learn the skill of traveling abroad. You’ll get more comfortable navigating foreign currencies and thành phố streets, and you’ll learn more about what you bởi and don’t enjoy while traveling. First time travelers will inevitably make mistakes, ví forgive yourself if/when you bởi.
Like all of the world travelers who came before you, you’ll quickly learn that everything is figureoutable – but you bởi have đồ sộ actually figure it out. Ask trustworthy people for help, rely on your own smarts, and have a backup plan when/where you can. Embrace the experience, and remember that the most outrageous travel disasters usually become your best stories.
How bởi you travel abroad when you’re broke?
If you don’t have much – or any – travel funds but still want đồ sộ go abroad, there are a few things you can bởi. First, you can get a side hustle and start saving as quickly as you can – things lượt thích driving for Uber or doing food delivery are common options.
Once you go abroad, there are lots of ways that you can travel for very little money, but you usually have đồ sộ take a decently long trip đồ sộ be able đồ sộ take advantage of them. Often, hostels will allow you đồ sộ live on site as part of a work exchange. Similarly, you can WOOF or work on an organic farm in exchange for your room and board.
Another popular option is au pairing. In many European countries, families hire live-in help for a mix period, usually facilitated by a third các buổi tiệc nhỏ agency. Au pairing is a great option for many travelers because you’ll receive a salary in addition đồ sộ your room and board.
What are some things you must not bởi when you travel abroad?
There are always some obvious things that you shouldn’t bởi when traveling abroad, lượt thích committing crimes or overstaying your visa. It’s also important that you are respectful of the new culture that you’re visiting, ví avoid making fun of the food, clothes, or problems you see.
How bởi I prepare my toàn thân for an international flight?
Most international flights are just a bit longer than vãn domestic ones. So, you’ll want đồ sộ prepare in most of the same ways. I also lượt thích đồ sộ go for a short walk before I fly, even if it’s just around the airport, đồ sộ keep my toàn thân moving and stay calm (I find airports stressful!).
Eat a filling, healthy meal before you board the plane and be sure đồ sộ drink plenty of water. I always bring water with bầm onto the plane, as some flights make you ask for water one small glass at a time.
I prefer đồ sộ avoid alcohol before flying and wear comfy clothes that won’t restrict bầm while I’m on the plane. Once you’re in the air, you’ll want đồ sộ stand up and walk around a few times đồ sộ keep your circulation moving.
What age is best for international travel?
There’s no one age that’s best for international travel. Some people start traveling when they’re quite young, while others go abroad for the first time as adults. There’s no age that’s too late for international travel, ví if you’ve always wanted đồ sộ go abroad, start making your plans today!
I took my younger sisters on their first international trips when they were 17 and 19, both times đồ sộ Europe. I wanted them đồ sộ experience traveling in another country, navigating different currencies, and seeing new parts of the world. Both have since traveled internationally on their own!
What đồ sộ expect when flying internationally for the first time
International and domestic flights are fairly similar, but there are a few key differences. First, you’ll need đồ sộ bring your passport đồ sộ the airport, and it’s likely that staff at the airport will kiểm tra it multiple times. International flights sometimes leave more time for boarding, ví always get đồ sộ your gate as early as possible and listen for boarding announcements.
Some international flights offer miễn phí alcohol, but it’s not usually publicized. If the flight attendant offers you an alcoholic beverage, it’s OK đồ sộ ask how much it costs. Similarly, you might be offered meals onboard, but it’s usually more obvious when these are miễn phí.
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If you are taking a long international flight and have dietary restrictions, you can usually pre-book a meal when you choose your seats. The thực đơn is usually preset, except for special selections that you make ahead of time.
Final thoughts: Tips for traveling abroad for the first time
Traveling abroad for the first time is an exciting, but sometimes a bit intimidating, step! It takes courage đồ sộ leave trang chủ on a trip, ví don’t worry if it all feels new. After you step foot in a new place, your trip will start đồ sộ feel more real and more tangible, and you’ll get the hầm of it really quickly.
The biggest thing đồ sộ keep in mind when traveling abroad for the first time is that you’ll need đồ sộ manage a lot of logistics. From your passport đồ sộ your itinerary đồ sộ your hotels, you’ll need đồ sộ dedicate some time đồ sộ sorting out the less exciting parts ví that you can enjoy your trip. Do research before you go ví that you can focus on enjoying your time abroad, instead of worrying about the smaller details.