Tourist Woman Taking Pictures

A Noob’s Guide to International Travel

Research is the name of the game in international travel. The more you know, the smoother things will be. So, when you decide to venture out of the country, fire up those laptops and do your homework. You’ll be glad you did.

Getting a Passport, Visa and other Requirements

The first thing you’ll need is a passport, which can take anywhere from 6 weeks, to more than 2 months, so plan well in advance of your trip. If it’s your first time getting a passport, you will have to appear in person with proof of citizenship and another form of identification. Make sure you know what to bring and how you may pay for it before you go. You can find all the requirements for your situation at https://Travel.State.Gov. (This site also includes important safety tips when traveling abroad.) You can find the nearest passport facility to you here. Fees are approximately $145 for the passport book alone. You can also get a passport card, but it can’t be used for international air travel.

Next, you need to determine if you will need a visa to enter the country you plan on visiting. This can take longer than getting a passport, and, you may have to give your passport over during the process. Once again, the State Department page on international travel should steer you in the right direction. But, especially on your first time out, if you discover you’re going to need a visa, you may want to hire a professional passport and visa agency to help you.

Also, every country has its own entry and exit requirements. In some cases, there is an exit tax. Make sure you know these requirements before you head out to avoid costly trouble and delays.

Money Matters

There are a few things you should do to shore up your money situation when traveling internationally. The first thing is to contact your bank and credit card companies and let them know when you are planning to be out of the country, so you don’t have any trouble with them flagging your purchases as fraudulent. The next thing is more research. Get a handle on the currency exchange rate so you won’t get cheated.

Here are a few more things you should know when traveling abroad to make getting around easier and to avoid misunderstandings.

•          How to count to 10 –  especially helpful for shopping or haggling

•          How to say “Yes” and “No” – to avoid misunderstandings

•          How to say “Please” and “Thank You.”

before you fly

Booking your flight should be relatively easy with all the services available on the Internet. Just research the fares and flights into where you want to go. You’ll probably want to give yourself enough lead time to book your accommodations as well, especially if you are traveling during peak seasons or during festivals. Of course, you can use a travel agency if you don’t want to do it yourself, or if you want to book a package trip.

Make sure you know all the security requirements before you go to the airport and follow them. You’ll want to arrive at least 2 hours early. But these days, it may be best to check with your airline. You can find the numbers and websites for most of them here. It may take you longer, especially if you are new to international travel, as you may have to go through several security lines and clear customs early, depending on the airport. And, expect to go through a lot of security on your way back into the U.S. as well.

What about connecting flights? International airports can be enormous and complicated to get around. Make sure you give yourself at least 2 hours for connections in these airports. You may have to take trains to your terminals, recheck your bags, and go through passport controls and security again.

Even though they can be quite long, international flights tend to be much more comfortable than domestic flights, with entertainment and usually good service. While on one of these long flights, you will want to drink lots of water to stay hydrated, wear comfortable clothes and warm socks, and, as an added precaution, get up and walk around the plane every 2 to 3 hours to keep the blood in your legs circulating properly.

When it comes to how and what to pack, the trick is to think small and light. You want a bag that is smaller than what you think you may need, and keep the weight under 30 pounds, including electronics, i.e. travel laptop, USB battery pack, etc. The ultimate to shoot for is carry-on size, if you think you can swing it. This saves you on money and lost luggage as well as making you more mobile. And, speaking of ease of mobility, avoid wheelie bags. While you’re packing light, however, you may want to add something for an upset stomach and constipation. Just don’t run afoul of any airport security requirements.

safety first

As far as safety is concerned, use good sense. Don’t tempt thieves by leaving your purse hanging off the back of your seat or carrying your wallet in your back pocket. And if you can’t afford to lose something, don’t take it with you. You’ll want to keep a copy of your passport info page in your wallet or suitcase and put a photo on your phone. It’s easier to get replaced if it’s stolen or lost, and more accessible if you need your passport number for anything along the way.

And here’s some more homework for you. Research current political and social events where you plan to go to avoid getting caught up in any unpleasant or even dangerous situations. Again, the Department of State has travel advisories as well as links to news and other helpful information for your country of choice. Of course, with information widely available on the Internet, you can do even more research on your own as well. The important thing is to be well informed before you go. You can also register with the State Department’s STEP, or Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. You will get information from the U.S. Embassy about safety considerations where you’re headed. The Embassy will also notify you if there’s a natural disaster, political unrest, or family emergency.

Check out the CDC’s site, Traveler’s Health for vital information about immunizations you may need, medications you may need to take with you, or health alerts pertinent to your destination. Make sure you have enough of your prescription medications for the trip; you may not be able to get them outside of the U.S.

Finally, travel insurance is also a must. It could save you thousands of dollars if something goes wrong, from injuries to lost items. Make sure you’re covered for the activities you’re planning, such as rock climbing, for example.

places to stay

Hotels and hostels are both good, but check them out thoroughly ahead of time and read the reviews. If you choose to stay at a hostel, B&B or use AirBnB, you are more likely to get the chance to meet other travelers, if you wish. As always, do your homework before committing to these venues.

You will need to book at least your first night’s stay ahead of time for a couple of reasons. Obviously, you’ll want somewhere you can go when you first arrive. Also, you’ll need an address to put on your customs forms.

The bottom line to a fun and successful trip is research. Not only learn about the logistics of how to get to your destination, but learn about the culture, places you want to visit, things you want to do, and so forth. The more information you have beforehand, the better. Just remember to travel smart and enjoy!