International Travel Tips for Beginners

Travel abroad can be a fun and exciting experience, but if you have never done it before, it can also be a confusing and maybe even nerve-wracking thing to anticipate. However, as you do your research and get closer to your departure, you will probably find that traveling overseas is not much scarier than any other kind of travel, and you need not have worried. So, to help get you to that place, here are a few tips for someone who is going to travel abroad for the first time.



Research Your Destination

High on the list of things to do before international travel is a thorough researching of your destination (or destinations). You should make sure that the place you intend to travel is both safe, and approved for travel for Americans — you can check this travel map to see which countries hold special travel advisories from the US government. You can also check travel guidelines for specific destinations to ensure a safe trip.

Other research that you need to do before you leave includes:


What kind of money will you need? Traveling abroad often requires a different currency, which you may need to exchange before you leave. Check if you can use your regular credit and debit cards, as there may be fees attached, and some places in your destination may not even have the capabilities to accept them. You should inform your bank of your trip, or they may freeze your credit card when you try and use it.

What languages are spoken? Don’t just assume that everyone speaks English. You may need to learn a few words or key phrases to navigate a foreign country.

Where will you stay? It may be difficult to find a hotel while traveling overseas. Is there easy, safe, and affordable accommodation close to where you want to be?

What are some key attractions you’d like to visit? Think about what you’re most looking forward to doing and seeing. This will help you build you itinerary for your trip

Researching your destination is essential before you go, it will help you know what to expect, and help build excitement for your trip!


Get Your Documents in Order

For most international destinations you will at the very least need a passport. This is something that you should sort out as soon as you know that you are traveling, as new passports can take some time to process. For a lot of countries, you will also need to research visas or any other documentation that you may need to procure before traveling.

Other documents, like hotel or flight itineraries, are also important while traveling overseas. Keeping a copy of your medical insurance and having your social security number memorized are also good ideas as well. Unlike your passport, you may not always use these, but in emergencies they can be crucial.

What documents do I need to fly internationally?

  • Passport
  • Country Specific Visa
  • Insurance Documents
  • Flight Information
  • Hotel Bookings


Check Your Phone Plan

Another thing that you may have to sort out before you leave is your phone — and it might be a case of simply leaving it at home, or turning it off, keeping it in your bag except in case of emergency. Some phone carriers offer plans that allow for free browsing while abroad, for example, but if you really need your phone you may consider whether it is worth buying a sim card or prepaid phone after arriving in your destination.


Learn How Your Health Insurance Will Work Internationally

Any list of international travel tips would be incomplete without mentioning your health. Check with your medical provider to make sure you are current on your vaccines and in good health. Then, call your medical insurance provider and ask how your insurance will work in case of an emergency. If you have no emergency coverage, you can look into supplemental medical insurance that can cover you for the duration of your trip.


Pack Carefully

Having researched your destination, you should know what kinds of things you need to bring — particularly for what kind of weather there will be, and what kind of activities you are participating in. It may be your first time traveling overseas, but try to pack smart. The temptation can be to overpack, as you try to fit extra things in “just in case;” but it’s important to remember that you will have to lug your bag around. Especially if you are flying, you don’t want it to be too big or heavy (keep airport weight restrictions in mind). In fact, it’s usually worth checking TSA restrictions before flying internationally.


Consider Going as Part of a Program

Perhaps the reason why you are going to travel abroad for the first time is because you are visiting as part of an immersion tour such as a gap year program. If not, a gap year application might be something you want to consider. These sorts of programs can help you to immerse yourself more fully in your destination, gain some new skills, and perhaps help launch you on the path to a more successful career.

Travel abroad can be a life-changing experience. All it takes is a little preparation and you’ll be well on your way.



1. Avoid exchanging money at airports, find a bank

Exchanging money at airports often comes with exorbitant fees, but if you can take the extra time to find a local bank away from touristy areas you can often exchange your money for a lower premium.


2. Keep local cash on hand (but not too much)

There are plenty of places around the world that don’t accept credit cards, so you should always keep enough local currency to find your way back to your hotel. This comes with a warning: cards are more secure to carry than cash. If you are concerned about your safety or security don’t carry large sums of cash, especially visibly.


3. Get guidebooks

You’d be surprised how much benefit a printed guidebook can deliver a first time overseas traveler. Filled with local landmarks, international travel tips specific to the area, as well as important facilities like hospitals and police stations, these oft-underutilized tools can be a great help.


4. Be careful with your charger

The voltage of wall outlets varies depending on what country you’re in. If you plug your phone’s charger into the wall in a foreign country, you may be saying goodbye to that particular charger. Check what voltage is needed and purchase a new charger if necessary.


5. Grab the hotel business card

A simple but effective way to avoid getting lost while traveling overseas: take your hotel’s business card to show to a taxi driver or other local. The address, in the local language, right in your wallet. Tips like these can keep you safe in the event of getting lost or separated from your companions.


Gap Year Resources