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How to Travel Internationally for the First Time

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Nicole Adams

Traveling internationally for the first time is both exciting and can be nerve wracking, especially for those who haven’t left home for an extended period of time before. There’s no experience quite like immersing yourself in unfamiliar places and cultures, and many declare it life-changing. First time international travel elevates perspective and compassion for our planet, and for many, it inspires a lifelong love of travel and exploration. If you’re just getting started with your first international trip, here are some tips for a successful experience. 

Passport to Adventure: Navigating Your First International Trip

You’ll need to prepare important documents well in advance before your international departure. Be sure that your passport is up-to-date and valid for at least six months after your return to the U.S. If you need to get a passport for the first time or renew the one you have, allow 10 to 12 weeks for your application to be processed. If you’re renewing your passport, the State Department recommends you renew your passport no less than nine months before it expires. You will also need a valid visa. If you’re traveling with an organization, they generally provide support and detailed instructions to ensure your paperwork is complete. 

Check if there are any required vaccinations you need to obtain. You typically need to get vaccinated four to six weeks prior to your departure, so be sure to research in advance what types of vaccinations are required. Be sure to visit your doctor and that any necessary prescriptions are filled appropriately to last the duration while you’re gone. 

Ensure you are financially prepared prior to your departure. While you shouldn’t have to exchange currency prior to your trip as stateside ATMs often charge high fees, consider finding your bank’s ATM network to withdraw cash once you arrive. It’s also a good idea to alert your banking institutions of your travels so there are no unnecessary holds on your accounts. If you’ll be using a credit card to pay for things, check for foreign transaction fees and always opt to pay in the local currency if you’re given a choice. 

Two women smiling for camera while walking on a trail in Peru

Tips for Your First International Travel Experience

It takes a lot of organizing to pack the essentials you’ll need for your trip without over packing. Choose versatile and comfortable clothing that you can layer and shoes suitable for the local conditions and activities you’ll be doing. Leave valuables and unnecessary luxurious items at home, and if you’re bringing electronic devices, bring a charger and power adapter. Don’t forget daily essentials including contacts, glasses, toothbrush, toiletries, etc. Don’t forget baggage tags with your name, address and phone number clearly written on the outside of your luggage.

Prepare yourself for potential jet lag upon arrival at your destination. Extended travel can throw off your sleep cycle and circadian rhythm, which can impact your first few days abroad. If possible, slowly adjust your sleep schedule prior to leaving so your body is already used to the new schedule. If you’re taking an overnight flight, do your best to get some sleep on the plane and take advantage of layovers to stretch your legs. Long flights can also cause dehydration, so hydrate as best as you can prior to, during, and following your travel days.  

Traveling to a new place, especially alone can be exciting but also overwhelming. Make sure you have a support system set up both at home and abroad so you feel safe, have access to help if needed and can build your confidence. Whether you choose a guided adventure abroad, or are setting out on your own, with careful planning, an open mind and a little wiggle room for spontaneous opportunities, you can have a fantastic international trip, even if it’s your first one!

Where There Be Dragons offers several group travel programs specifically for adults, as well as student gap year programs and summer programs all over the world. We’d love to answer questions and get you on your way to an incredible adventure. Call 800.982.9203 or contact us today. 

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