Wow! You finally booked a reservation to travel internationally. You are super excited! All you can think about is what to pack and the sightseeing agenda.
Oh, but wait, you just realized, THIS IS YOUR FIRST INTERNATIONAL TRIP! There are so many details to consider, and you are unsure what they ALL ARE!
I am here to help you! My guide will cover everything you should consider before you embark on your trip. Although this list covers the most important issues that may arise, it is possible I may have missed a few and would undoubtedly be happy to hear them. I am always looking for new tips and suggestions.
I have traveled to many countries and have experienced every issue here, so these are all things I have endured in my journeys overseas. So, learn from my experience, prep yourself, and enjoy your next adventure abroad.
Like most of us, we operate from our cell phones. We check our emails, communicate with others, navigate our destinations, shop, and do much of our internet research via our cellphones. So, you could view the cellphone as a hindrance or a nifty tool, especially while traveling.
I used AT&T and other phone services with different international phone coverage plans. I discovered that they are costly with a limited data plan. In addition, using these types of plans require you to constantly be aware of turning your cellular data on and off. This is not fun!
No matter the international plan you select, somehow, someway, the phone service company will find a way to stick it to you! However, we have learned a much easier alternative, and it is much cheaper!
Once you arrive at your destination, I recommend that your first stop is at a local cell phone provider to purchase a SIM card suitable to your needs. The most common store you will see throughout Europe is Vodafone. Don’t buy one at the airport as they tend to be much more expensive than those in the city.
For this to work, you need to contact your service provider ahead of time to make sure your phone is “unlocked.” When I say unlocked, I am NOT talking about your passcode. Sometimes phones are “locked” to a specific carrier and will not work if the SIM card is changed. Call your provider to find out.
Please, DO NOT ASSUME that your phone is unlocked!
Your phone will be your most valuable tool when traveling internationally.
The best app to download BEFORE you begin your travel is “WhatsApp.” This app allows you to make international calls and texts via Wi-Fi and your regular phone service.
If your phone drains the battery quickly, you may want to invest in an external battery. A dead phone will not serve you well!
Check out my recommendation for an external battery >> HERE<<
Please check the expiration date. You cannot travel on a passport that has an expiration date set six-months out! Crazy, I know! I have always struggled to understand why to have an expiration date on a passport if it REALLY expires six months before that date. If you want to know why >> READ MORE<<
Before you leave, make sure you make several COPIES of your passport. Carry a copy with you and leave a copy with your family (or someone you trust) at home.
At ALL times, make sure you know where your passport is located. You don’t want to be freaking out the week or day before your trip, trying to find your passport. While traveling, I recommend you lock your passport in your hotel safe. If you carry the passport on you, make sure it is not where a pick pocketer could access it.
VISA REQUIREMENTS (YES, EVEN FOR LAYOVERS!)
Make sure to research all the countries you will be visiting and whether a visa is required. In most cases, a visa isn’t required for layovers, but there are some exceptions and a few things you should be aware of while transiting through a third country.
USEFUL PHONE APPS
Depending on where you are traveling, you may need additional apps to help you navigate, but I have found these useful everywhere.
Google Translate is a must! If you visit a country where English is not widely spoken, you will need this app to help you communicate.
When we want to dine at a restaurant nearby, we have found using TripAdvisor helpful with reviews, directions, and menus.
Again, WhatsApp is a communication tool to connect with family back home or share with locals if you need to leave a telephone number.
Before you depart for your trip, research what apps are helpful for that destination. This will help you drastically reduce your time spent getting to the destination and more information on schedules and places to visit.
TRAVEL INSURANCE/HEALTH CARE
NEVER leave home without purchasing travel insurance.
Some airline apps such as Kayak or CheapOAir offer insurance options that can be included in the reservation. Another option is purchasing insurance directly from an agency such as Allianz or TravelGuard to protect you while traveling.
Having travel insurance is crucial for protecting you if, God forbid, an accident happens and for unexpected delays, lost baggage, etc.
When you arrive in a different country, you want to have the ability to pay for a taxi or be able to ride the subway. Before you leave home, visit your bank and get the foreign currency you’d need for your trip. Your bank should be able to help you with currency exchange.
Another option is to wait until you get to the airport and use an ATM, but you must be prepared for the service fee. Whatever you do, DO NOT use those currency exchange desks at the airport. They are a rip-off! It is always good to have some cash with you ahead of time. This makes traveling go smoothly!
TRAVEL ALERT ON DEBIT & CREDIT CARDS
Notify your bank and credit card companies about your travel plans. You can do this by visiting your bank or credit card app or calling them directly. They will want to know the destination and the date range of your trip.
This ALERT will enable you to make purchases and make ATM withdrawals without issues. In addition, the alert will help keep your accounts safe from any suspicious activity.
Also, find out from your bank the maximum amount of money you can withdraw from an ATM while on your trip. You may want to change this for your safety.
In most tourist destinations, English is widely spoken. However, it is always respectful to learn a few meaningful words such as hello, thank you, bye, can you speak English, and other common phrases where you are going. Making an effort goes a long way with the locals.
Learning a new language has always been my goal. It is not as easy as it seems, but it is always good to practice. I have lived in Turkey for over two years and still only know a few basic words or phrases.
Packing for any trip is daunting, especially when moving around to different cities while traveling. Although I often preach about “packing light, ” this is a challenge!
We always want to look good for those Instagram moments, requiring extra clothes. But, let me say, having a heavy suitcase and trying to walk down a cobblestone street or climb stairs can be exhausting!
I will never forget when we traveled to Portugal and planned for a two-week stay in which I packed many clothes. But unfortunately, every hotel or Airbnb we stayed at required carrying our suitcase up many flights of stairs.
Although most airlines allow a suitcase to weigh 50 lbs., you don’t want to have to juggle it on and off trains, subways, or staircases.
The best packing practice I have used is packing in cubes. This helps organize your clothes and enables you to manage travel outfits. You can click to order <<HERE>>
Next, purchase some luggage locks for peace of mind. These will come in handy when you’re on the plane, trains, hotels, hostels, whatever. Make sure your locks are TSA-approved too! I have linked the locks that I prefer >>HERE <<
If you want to make travel much more manageable, try packing only one carry-on size bag and a personal item like a backpack. Also, make sure that your carry-on luggage has wheels with the option to pull instead of having to carry on your shoulder. The best options are four swiveling wheels.
Just BEWARE airlines have strict luggage size and weight requirements for carry-on bags. We made a mistake once, having too heavy of a carry-on bag, causing us to make a quick luggage purchase!
Also, note that most airlines only allow a 3oz/quart size bottle of liquids allowed in your carry-on bag. Get creative with bringing liquids on board if using only a carry-on bag. Before you travel, be sure to buy travel-size shampoos and conditioners as these can be COSTLY in Europe.
VACCINATIONS AND MEDICATION
We all are fully aware these days of the COVID-19 virus. In addition, many countries have strict guidelines regarding vaccinations and quarantine. Please check the travel.state.gov website to get the most current information, or you can visit TripsGuard.
When we traveled to Europe, we were fully vaccinated, and therefore we weren’t required to quarantine. However, we were asked to show our vaccination documents at restaurants, hotels, buses, the subway, and other public places. Wearing a mask was also mandated in public buildings.
If you travel to countries like Turkey, you will be required to get a HES Code. Check with your airline carrier about obtaining the necessary requirements for entry into the country you plan to travel to.
Some countries require specific types of shots. Please check all health advisories at the travel.state.gov website before your travel. This is another reason it is essential to purchase travel insurance because of the seriousness of COVID-19.
Make sure to refill all your medications before your departure. You don’t want to have to call upon a doctor or pharmacy at the last minute. Also, not all medications are available in every country. Better to plan and be safe!
SURVIVAL OF LONG FLIGHT
A long flight is tough on the body! Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated will reduce jetlag.
Avoid weakening your immune system before you fly. Take your vitamins. Focus on eating healthy before your travel.
Download audiobooks, travel podcasts, walking tours, movies, or shows for the flight.
The week before your trip, confirm hotel reservations and have a plan to get from the airport to the hotel. Make sure to have enough foreign currency to pay for food and transfers.
Do not wait until the last minute to pack. Instead, find a place in your home to start packing early. You will want to revisit what you have packed several times before your flight.
The night before, lay out what you will wear on travel day and print boarding passes. Then, check your flight to make sure there has not been any schedule change. I know you are EXCITED but get a good night’s rest.
Plan to arrive at the airport in plenty of time to relax, shop, or read a book before your flight departs. However, you do not want to be rushed, frazzled, or stressed before your trip.
ADAPTERS & CONVERTERS
Do your research and find out what type of electrical outlets you will be visiting in the country.
You will need an outlet (plug) adapter to charge your phone or use any of your electronics while on your trip. But, again, a quick Google search will tell you what you need to know.
Consider packing at least two adapters. One you carry with you and one in your luggage. You can check >>HERE<< for my suggestions on universal adapters.
The second thing you will need to check is the voltage. For example, in Europe, they use 220-230V. This is much higher than in the United States, and a converter will be necessary to prevent “burning” your electronics.
Check out purchasing items such as a travel-size blow dryer with dual voltage. >>HERE<< This type of electronics can save you space.
Just because you are in Europe, not all countries in Europe share the same electrical outlets. ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL…
In general, almost any credit card is accepted. However, you might run into problems with American Express. When making a purchase, you will be required to enter a pin.
Check with your credit card company to ensure you will not be charged foreign transaction fees. I have seen some charging 3% per transaction, which quickly adds up.
A benefit to using credit cards is the travel and purchase insurance they provide, plus they are an excellent way to earn REWARD POINTS.
RENTING A CAR
If you plan to rent a car, make sure to obtain an international driver’s license. Then, you can stop at your local AAA office or visit the website.
Make sure to research your rental car companies’ INSURANCE POLICY. You want to make sure it covers you and the other driver in case of an accident.
Make sure to snap a few photos of your car before you drive off the lot. This is just a safety measure to protect you if the rental company tries to accuse you of something.
PICKPOCKETS AND CON-ARTIST TRICKS
Nothing can ruin a vacation like getting pickpocketed or having your purse snatched. Although I have never experienced either, I have heard about those who have, so here are ways to avoid these situations.
Always when carrying a purse is to wear it across-body. When carrying a backpack, I recommend carrying it to the front or having a lock on your zippers.
Many of us typically put money or wallets in our pockets. Be aware this is easily picked by thefts. Wear a money belt or purchase anti-theft bags. <<HERE>> are some suggestions.
Other Safety Travel Essentials:
Don’t’ be fooled by guys that offer to shine your shoes or hand you a rose and then demand payment. Don’t ASSUME the price is reasonable. These are all scams! One of the biggest tricks is to tie a friendship bracelet on you and then demand payment. My advice is to keep walking… don’t acknowledge.
LEAVING YOUR HOME
Notify your neighbors, family, or apartment manager that you will be traveling. Leave a house key and an itinerary with a trusted person. This is helpful if they need to reach you for an emergency. Leave an itinerary with a trusted person.
Pay any bills that will be due while you are gone.
Stop your mail if you don’t have someone picking it up. Stop your newspaper delivery. You don’t want to give any indication that you are not home!
I always like to return home to a clean house. Make sure to discard any food that would go bad while you are gone. Take out the trash. Launder all your dirty clothes before departure.
Turn down the water heater. Turn off washing machine taps. Store all valuables in a safe place.
Set your thermostat on hold with the desired temperature. Unplug everything possible to save energy. Turn a light on or set a timer for security.
Having all these household chores complete will make your return home much more relaxed.
OTHER HELPFUL TIPS….
Make sure to have emergency contact information in several places. Although we don’t ever want to think the worst, it is always best to plan. Store this information in a couple of places such as your suitcase, purse, backpack, etc.
Many major cities, especially in Europe, offer FREE GUIDED TOURS. These tours are a quick way to learn the city’s layout and gain helpful tips from the guide on other interesting things to do.
If you are renting a car, make sure to check with your hotel on parking. Many cities in Europe do not have FREE parking. We learned that the parking fee could add up quickly. So, before you confirm your reservation with the hotel, make sure you check on the cost of parking.
Before you depart on your trip, do a little research on the best SOUVENIRS from that destination. Sometimes, the recommendation can be purchased at a local supermarket, such as chocolate or cheese. For example, silk scarves are a great item to purchase in Turkey and are best bought at a bazaar. Knowing this information before you go will help you not get ripped off at street-side souvenir shops.
BUILD AN ITINERARY
You have booked your airline tickets to London. Yeah!!!! Ok, what do you want to see?
Having a general itinerary planned is best to spend your travel time well. I don’t believe in sticking to a strict plan because you may find something exciting and want to spend more time checking out, but having a general plan is best.
The most helpful app in planning an itinerary is Google My Map. It takes a little time to learn, but I have found YouTube videos to teach me how to set it up. I like building my itinerary on Google My Map because I can write details about the point I add to my map. Also, it is a quick and easy way to see the locations of the places you wish to visit so that you don’t waste time crisscrossing across the city. Here is an example of a map I built for Kaleici, Antalya, Turkey.
Another app that I have heard is excellent is called TripIt. This app keeps track of your flight, car rental, accommodations, and destinations. I have never used this app, but I have reviewed the application and have seen many travelers track their travel plans.
Once you have an idea of what you want to see and do, plotting these sightseeing spots on a map will help save you time in the long run. Also, pay close attention to when these attractions close. We learned that in Europe, many places close early!
GET READY to CREATE MEMORIES of a LIFETIME!
Once you experience the “travel bug,” it will be in your blood to continue to explore the world. My first international trip was in high school with my German teacher. Since then, I have been to 19 countries and currently living abroad.
No matter the country, I have always greeted people with a smile and made an effort to talk to people and listen. Natives love to share about their homeland and want the best for their visitors.
As a travel blogger, journaling has always been my passion. I recommend you write about your day and keep it in a travel journal that will go with you each time you travel. Reflecting on these stories has brought some BIG laughs and fun memories.
I wish you all the best on your journey.