It’s the most exciting feeling when you finally purchase that first airline ticket abroad. The adventure is about to begin! But within moments the panic sets in. What do I do next? How do I prepare? Getting ready for that first trip abroad can be a little intimidating. We’re here to help ease your mind and give you some helpful tips to prepare for the experience.

Packing

Packing for any trip can be difficult. Even after more than a decade of travel, Dave and I still struggle with this one. Everyone’s first instinct is to take everything they may need. Trust us, you will have a lot more fun if you pack less. Being weighed down is tiring and frustrating. Carrying multiple suitcases through airports and train stations gets old quickly. So once you’ve done your initial pack, cut everything in half and then go through it all one more time and cut it in half again. Try to stick to one small suitcase or backpack with a small carryon for the plane; be sure to pack this back with essential items you may need if your bags get delayed. Just a few pieces of clothing that can be mixed and matched are all you need. You can wash as you go.

Overpacking can be overwhelming

Language

Everyone always gets worried about communicating when abroad. This is a legitimate fear but you shouldn’t stress over it. Before you go, learn a few basic words and phrases of the main language in the country you are visiting. You’ll be amazed how far miming, smiling, and trying to speak in the native tongue will get you. There are great language apps out there now for smart phones that can help you if you are in a jam. We also still like carrying phrasebooks with us.

Arrival

Landing in a foreign country for the first time can be very overwhelming so have a plan for when you land. We like to pre-book our hotel for the first couple of nights in a new city. That way, when we arrive, we can walk directly to the taxi stand at the airport, give them the address of our hotel, and be on our way. Most airports have designated taxi stands where you will be safe from being scammed. If you are confused, ask someone at an airport information kiosk for help. Every airport we’ve ever visited has English-speaking employees. You’ll get all the help you need from them.

Money

Travelers cheques still exist but most people don’t use them anymore. In today’s world, it’s all about cold hard cash or credit. Phone your bank before you leave to tell them that you are going to be out of the country; that way they won’t freeze your account when they see a transaction from another continent. It also is a good idea to try to get a small amount of local currency before you leave. We only withdraw $100 or so to have when we arrive in case we need cash for a taxi. When we land, we search for an ATM at the airport and take out about $500 worth of local currency. Look up the exchange rate before you fly so you know how much currency to take out. It’s important to know the exchange, so when the taxi driver or anyone else quotes you a price, you will know if it’s a fair price or not. Doing exchange in your head can be difficult when you are already overwhelmed so use a currency app on your smart phone or carry a calculator.

Viewfinder Tip: In your notebook, make a table of exchange rates in multiples of ten for quick reference so you can think and react quickly. 

Getting Oriented

Once you have your money and you’ve arrived at your hotel, it’s time to enjoy. Check with the front desk or concierge for recommendations or to pick up a city map. Then make your way to a tourist center and ask them for ideas. The more information with which you are armed, the better. Before you leave on your trip, read travel blogs and buy a guidebook. Many companies now sell their guides electronically so you can have a guide or two as an app on your smart phone. Most of all, have fun and enjoy. Don’t be afraid to veer from your plan and explore. Be open to new opportunities and get to know the locals. The more you interact with and immerse yourself in the culture, the better your trip abroad will be. 

What’s your best tip for first timers traveling abroad?