Tips for the First-time Travelers

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I was a first-time traveler. Look at me on my first trip to Paris. That was a long time ago and I still remember how nervous I was. Embarking on your first trip to a new country is probably one of the most exciting things you’ll ever do. So, to make sure that you get to enjoy every minute of it, I’ve found some tips that apply to first-time travelers and seasoned explorers alike.

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Tips for the First Time International Traveler 

First-time Travelers

Even if you’ve had the chance to do a little traveling around the US, taking your first trip abroad will be exciting, scary, and full of choices. Once you’ve decided where you want to go, there are still a lot of questions and preparations you need to make before you pack your first suitcase.




1. Go Solo


A lot of people don’t travel abroad because they are waiting for someone to go with them. Don’t be scared lol… just go. Start with countries like Great Britain, Germany, or Thailand which are very user-friendly places for both solo and first-time travelers. I loved my first trips to the UK, France, and Italy and I did them alone.

My last solo international trip was to Pamplona. It was supposed to be a girlfriend trip but everyone bowed out at the last minute and I ended up traveling alone. Trust me, they lost out. I had a blast at the Running of the Bulls. Hire a tour guide. Also, consider group travel or girlfriend trips as a great way to travel and share the travel load.



2. Make an Itinerary


The first time traveler should make sure you leave time in your itinerary and day-to-day schedule to wander and wonder. Giving yourself time and permission to get lost means you’ll be free to discover hidden gems and sights that aren’t on your map. Leave time to explore, strike up conversations, and lose yourself in the experience. You may find that getting lost ended up leading you to the highlight of your trip.

Whether you’ve decided to visit every last castle ruin or just lie on the beach and improve your tan, there is nothing worse than arriving in a foreign land without a plan. A basic itinerary will help you plan your trip and provide you with a clear idea of what to do and the places you should visit. If you have an itinerary and a plan, run them by someone who’s been to that place to see if it sounds doable. Or if you please, you may choose to do nothing at all. Lounge poolside with a good book, work on your tan, or find a cozy corner to absorb your surroundings and people watch.




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3. Do Your Research


Research your trip on the web—if you can’t find it, it probably doesn’t exist– even better. Many attractions can be booked online alleviating the need to stand in long lines. You may even find discounts are available. If you’re planning to rent a car, it’s almost always cheaper to book it online before you go. The Internet also speeds up the process, putting you in your car, in the castle, or in your bed much faster.



4. Cramming is Bad


It’s natural to want to make the most of a first visit – there’s always that little voice warning you might not be back, so you’d better see everything you possibly can. But if you try to tick off too many boxes and cover too much ground, you’ll end up frustrated, exhausted, and chances are you won’t really be absorbing anything around you.

The key for a first-time traveler is to have a great itinerary. It’s important to make sure you don’t over-fill it with activities. Trying to squeeze in as much as possible into a short time will just lead to frustration. Remember to slow down, take a breath, and smell the first-timer roses. Consider it a first date. You wouldn’t be going unless you were interested, so take your time, get to know your date, and experiment with your chemistry.



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5. Passport Check


First-time travelers should know the U.S. passport application process can take up to 8 weeks, so be sure to apply as soon as you start thinking about your first trip. If you run short on time, an expedited application process can shorten this to 2 weeks – but it comes with a pretty hefty increase to the basic $135 application fee. Many countries require passports to have at least 6 months validity at the time of entry.



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6. DO you need a visa?


You won’t need a visa for most travel to Europe, you can get a visa on arrival once you land. However, there are several countries like China and Vietnam where a visa is required prior to entry.  And several countries like Vietnam, for instance, allow you to apply for an eVisa online.



7. Pack Light


You never need as much as you think. First-time travelers almost always overpack. Resist the urge to pack two of everything. In fact, a good general rule is to take exactly half of that. To achieve this, pack out everything that you want to take along on your bed.

Go through it and get rid of anything you can absolutely do without. Whatever else remains should be halved and packed. That’s your luggage.



8. Double Up Your Documents


Think Murphy’s Law. Make sure you leave photocopies of your passport, credit cards, and airline ticket with a family member or friend. I also make an additional copy and place it in my luggage (not in the same place as the original). That way, should you lose the original; you can refer to the copy temporarily.

I also suggest leaving a copy of your itinerary with family or friends, so that someone other than your travel companions always knows where you are and can locate you n the case of an emergency.

Finally, email it to yourself. And for heaven’s sake don’t walk around with them unless you don’t have somewhere safe to store them. If there is no safe available, ask your host if they have secure storage. Use your best judgment.



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9. Contact Your Bank


Make sure you let all your credit card companies know you will be traveling abroad so they will not flag your account for possible identity fraud. Trust me, it’s not fun to have your credit card eaten by the ATM machine. Make sure to inform your credit card company that you will be leaving the country so they can program your card to expect purchases made abroad; If that happens relax and try it again somewhere else, sometimes it’s just the vendor’s machine.



10. Eat the Street Food


Try it all– except if its already prepared and sitting out in the elements. That food will most likely have you making toilet runs. Eat street food that’s prepared for you specifically. The other stuff is for the locals who have built up a tolerance you don’t have.



11. Use Public Transportation


This is not only the best way to get around in a foreign city, but it’s also the cheapest. Trams, subways, and buses can costs as little as a euro in each direction, usually pass by all the popular attractions and alleviates the need to find parking, which can be difficult to find in older city centers. Public transportation offers a “bite” of the apple. Once you’ve sampled your new destination, you’re able to decide where to take a larger “chunk”. Of course, you should always check, and double-check, schedules to ensure you know when and where you’re going.



12. Try to Speak the Language


New to travel, take a little time to learn the basics. start with hello, goodbye, thank you, you’re welcome, how much, etc. It will go a long way, and the locals will appreciate the effort!



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13. Always Carry Cash


Cash can save you money. Many small vendors will give you a discount for using cash. Others will charge you a fee, up yo 3% for using the card.

Seasoned travelers will tell you to always take more than you budgeted for. ATM machines are abundant and offer the best exchange rates. Note that many businesses act on a cash-only basis. The extra cash will act as insurance should something go wrong or when you just see something you can’t leave without.



14. Don’t Give Out Too Much Info


I am convinced social media has gotten people robbed and or killed. I never talk about where I am going, but I do talk about where I’ve been. Everyone you meet doesn’t have to know your life history. Traveling gives us a chance to be whoever we want to be for a while. Use your imagination and whip out an alter ego you’ve been working on.



15. (Sssh) Sometimes Shit Still Happens


Travel is unpredictable. Sometimes your card won’t work even if you contact your bank. My first trip to Rome had me running around for an ATM that would work. I will always be grateful for the nice toll lady in France when my card wouldn’t work going to Paris but worked fine coming back.

For example, I had several problems on my solo trip to Spain to witness the Running of the Bulls. My travel buddies canceled on me last minute. The car rental canceled my rental. None of my cards worked on their network. I overslept. And that was all within the first 24 hours. Shit happens to experienced travelers as well as first-time travelers alike.

More recently, our card was eaten by the ATM in Thailand even though we used the correct pin number. So having cash and multiple cards is a must.

Shit happens. Stay calm and figure it out.



16. Be Aware, Listen to Your Spidey Sense


First-time travelers want to do it all. However, If it doesn’t FEEL right, don’t do it, eat it, or ignore it. Period. Be aware of your surroundings and take precautions and your safety seriously. That sixth sense has kept us humans SAFER for thousands of years.



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    1. duffelbagspouse

      Smoother and more fun. We sometimes get bogged down in the details. One of the best things we can do when traveling is to figure out when to go with the flow and let the experiences and place we are visiting speak for themselves.

  1. Crystal

    These are great tips for first-time travelers. Travelling is fun but a lot of people don’t do their own research ahead of time – that can sometimes leave to issues.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Crystal. I am actually looking into monetizing that love of making itineraries. I have made several for people and they always offer to pay me. I will soon be taking them up on that.

  2. blair villanueva

    Thanks for your tips! This reminds me of the recent article, were a backpacker was planning all his time to go to Sydney, but ended up landed in Canada. It was funny coz he find it as an adventure 🙂

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Thats crazy but yes its still an adventure too. How does that happen? Those two places are in opposite directions. lol

  3. Carol Cassara

    These are great tips for anyone who’s traveling for the first time. It’s important to plan thoroughly, if you cram, you’re going to feel that once you arrive at your destination.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      So true. I prefer enjoying a little down time when I travel so I feel more like a local instead of a tourist.

  4. Elizabeth O.

    It’s really exciting and well, you never know what will happen once you’re there. I think not researching enough is really going to ruin it. These are great tips though.

  5. Amila Wickramarachchi

    Very helpful tips for travelers.Not only for the first time travelers,these are helpful tips for frequent travelers too.We always prepare a travel plan or itinerary after researching the destination.That saves us time and we enjoy visiting most of the places within few days of stay. 🙂

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Now that you say that, I agree. Its not a bad thing to be reminded from time to time no matter how much you travel.

  6. David Elliott

    These are great tips and I wish I stuck to them better when I was traveling. I guess I am too much of the fly by the seat of my pants individual. I love plans. But the things on trips that I often love the most are those things that are unplanned.

  7. Ana De- Jesus

    Having a balanced itinerary is so important! When I try and cram too much in, especially on holiday I end up feeling more exhausted than I did before the holiday x

  8. Author Brandi Kennedy

    These are good tips, especially the ones about taking cash and leaving copies of your paperwork just in case yours gets lost. It would be scary enough to be stranded in another country, but even more so with no access to your money!

  9. Amber Myers

    These are great tips! I’ve been overseas before since my mother was in the military. I remember trying to speak the language and it was always well received, even if I was awful.

  10. GiGi Eats

    DO NOT forget your passport -that’s for sure. That would be a GREAT WAY to start your first ever trip abroad, LOL!

    Oh and, GLOBAL ENTRY is so so so so so so insanely helpful!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      You’d think this was a given, but we had to have our fedexed to us once when we left them in the hotel safe. Luckily we didn’t miss any flights.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      I haven’t been to Dubai… its on my bucket list in a few years. My hubby went and doesn’t wanna go back so I think its gonna be a girls trip.

  11. robin masshole mommy

    I don’t go out of the US very often and it’s been a LONG time since I have, so these tips are helpful.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      International travel changes day to day it seems. We need to keep up with new regulations, airline policies and government lead policies too.

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