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First Time Travelers

Go Overseas Article: 8 Useful International Travel Tips for First-Time Travelers

GENERAL

Resources While Abroad:
  • Know your resources. Familiarize yourself with your points of contact while you are abroad. Know from whom you can get help and support, or who you can call in an emergency.
  • Familiarize yourself with your university or program’s health services. In some cases the university can help you in the case of injury or sickness, but it is always good to know the country’s system and if it is preferable to go to a hospital, or seek out an urgent care in the case of an emergency.
Communication:
  • Consider how you will stay in contact with both people from home and abroad. Do your research on how internet and wifi are set up in the country you will be visiting. This is not a universal process, so prepare according to how your country of choice communicates.
  • Remember that charging your electronics abroad may also be different. Do some research on the outlets in your country of choice, or universal chargers are always an option.
Home Abroad:
  • It’s a great idea to do some research about the city where you will be staying. This can give you an idea of how to navigate as well as some ideas for some places you may want to visit.
  • Every country is unique in its celebrations, festivals, and holidays. Do some digging to learn about some of the holidays they have, especially the ones you’ll get to see firsthand!
  • Food is also something that is unique to each country. You’ll likely be trying a lot of new foods. If you have dietary restrictions, it may be a good idea to see if your country of choice is friendly to different diets. It may also be beneficial to research the university dining
General:
  • Plan your side trips and excursions. Some programs include excursions so make sure you are not double-booking anything or missing anything you’re dying to see. Remember that you will have breaks where you can do more involved sightseeing and returning a few days after your program has ended is another way to build in time for individual travel.
  • Study abroad alumni and friends you make while abroad can be great resources. Ask around about awesome resources or experiences you might be missing out on, like tour groups that'll plan your weekend trips for you, or even local gems that can easily be missed.
  • It is never too early to start saving for your trip. It may not be fun to tighten up expenses at home, but it will pay off when you’re abroad.
  • Download some helpful apps like Google Maps, WhatsApp, Air BNB, and Trail Wallet. Think about the things that you might want to track or become familiar with before you leave.
  • Prepare emotionally. This is going to be an exciting experience, but it can also be scary. Being in another country for an extended period of time is a big deal, so don’t be afraid to treat it like one! Be open with your family and friends about your excitement and your nervousness. Also, consider keeping a journal both before you leave and while you’re abroad. This will help you remember how you had been feeling during your experience and everything goes so quickly, it is nice to have a detailed account of how you had felt.
  • Remember to care for your mind and body while you are preparing to leave. Healthy eating, exercise, and meditation or Feeling great will help you make the most of the time you have abroad, and positive habits will carry through and give you a sense of routine and normalcy while abroad.

GETTING READY TO GO

Money:
  • You will be dealing with foreign currency while abroad. Familiarize yourself with the exchange rate so that you can make sense of the price of items when it is listed in the foreign currency.
  • To obtain your new currency, you will need to find a place to exchange it. Currency exchange is not universal. It changes day to day and location to location. You will most likely get the best exchange rate at a bank. You can do this before you leave with your local bank, or upon arrival in the new country. Airports will have counters to exchange currency as well, but like many areas with lots of tourists, the exchange rate may not be as favorable.
  • Advise your banks you will be traveling internationally to avoid your cards being cancelled when foreign transactions appear.
  • Get a debit and credit card that you can use abroad. Be sure to check for international transaction fees.
  • Know if the country you are going to predominantly uses cash or credit cards. Some countries will have very limited options to use credit cards.
  • Come up with a budget for yourself. Think of your daily expenses and what will be included with your program. Also consider any side trips you would like to take and calculate those expenses into your budget. This can help you decide how much money to take with you.

International:
  • Register your trip abroad to the local embassy of your being abroad and will help you in the event of an emergency in your home country or the country you are visiting.
  • Ensure that you have a passport and that your passport valid for at least 6 months after your return date. Some countries will not allow you to enter if your passport will expire within six months of your entry.
  • Investigate the visa process of the country you will be visiting and assure that you have plenty of time to complete the process
  • Keep yourself informed as a traveler. Do your research to investigate the local conditions, laws, legal system, weather, and culture of the country you're visiting. Also, keep an eye out for any Travel Warnings at the U.S. State Department's website.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute to buy your plane tickets. The prime booking window for flights can be as early as four months in advance. Booking in advance often results in better prices. Browse sites like Travelocity, Kayak, Google Flights, or Expedia to compare available flights.

Packing:
  • Be aware of what you are packing and in which bag you are putting it. If you are bringing full sized toiletries, they must go in a checked bag, because there are many restrictions about what you may bring in a carry-on bag. What NOT to Bring in Your Carry-On
  • Additionally, check the size of your carry-on bags to ensure that they are within the permitted size limit that the airline allows. The maximum size for a carry-on bag is generally 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches.
  • Double check the baggage that is included in your plane ticket and plan accordingly. Your airline’s baggage allowance is a limit, not a challenge and you do not want to have to discard items at the airport because your bag is too heavy.
  • Remember to pack an adaptor so you can use your electronics overseas. Not every country’s outlets are the same so be sure that you find adaptors suitable to the country you’re staying in, along with any other countries you may visit while abroad.
  • Pack appropriate clothing. Research the weather in the country that you will experience while abroad. You may need to prepare specifically for rain, wind, or poor air quality. Also ensure that what you are packing is culturally sensitive clothing. You may need to adhere to different standards of modesty. Do research to see if you should pack anything specifically such  as a scarf as a head covering, or house shoes to wear indoors.
  • Consider bringing a day pack. Having a bag that travels well for smaller excursions or day trips will be very valuable because traveling with luggage or even large backpacks can be cumbersome, especially in public transportation or on days where you do a lot of walking.

Airports:
  • Save yourself a lot of stress and get to the airport early for international flights, arrive 2-3 hours before the scheduled depart. That assures that you won’t feel rushed or panicked as you are checking your bags, going through security and finding your gate. This can also be helpful if there are any changes to your flights. Delays or cancellations are best dealt with plenty of time to adapt.
  • Be aware of the security process. Be sure that you empty any water bottles and are ready to remove your shoes before going through security. They will have you take any laptops or tablets out of your bags and put them in a separate bin for scanning through security.
  • Be very respectful of the TSA Agents. Especially in other countries, it’s important to follow their directions and be respectful, as some countries deal with security differently than others. The same goes for customs as this can differ from country to country.
  • When arriving in another country you will have to go through customs. This is often a process that happens when you first arrive in the new country, even if it isn’t your final destination. You will often pick up your bags at a baggage claim and then continue through customs and immigration. This may be a long process, so make sure you have
  • Do not take pictures of the TSA or customs agents, especially in other countries. That can go over very badly, so it is best not to take photos of any officials in the airport.
  • Airports can be tricky to navigate, especially unfamiliar ones. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or talk with the people in the airport. Fellow travelers can be a great source of information and can help pass the time waiting in lines or in terminals.
  • There are lots of TV displays that will help you find your gate and will give you updates about your flights (ie: delays, cancellations, gate changes). Once you find your gate, you do not need to stay at it the entire time, but it is best to be there 45 minutes prior to the flight time because boarding will happen in that time-frame.
  • Tie a ribbon or colorful luggage tags onto your bag to help you recognize it on the luggage carousel. Having multiple identifying characteristics will be invaluable after a long flight and in chaotic baggage claims. You’ll be surprised by how many bags look the same!
  • You can also get a luggage lock if you see fit. There are also services that will wrap your suitcases, but there are pros and cons to both of these practices.
  • Prescription medication should be clearly labeled, and you should carry a doctor’s note if possible. Some countries are particular about prescription medications that are brought into the country, so having proof of prescription is another measure you can take to avoid any issues in customs.

Arrival:
  • Always have copies of your documents with you. In the case of anything being lost or stolen, having copies of those documents will save you more complex processes to get them replaced. Scan or take a photo of your passport and driver’s license and store them online somewhere secure but easy to access. Take a printed copy as well.
  • Be aware of where your possessions are at all times. Don’t leave your things unattended and don’t keep valuables in plain sight. There is no need to be paranoid, but taking precaution can’t hurt.
  • When you arrive in a new country, everything feels a little more overwhelming, so a little bit of planning can go a long way to keep you confident.
  • Be sure you know if your program will offer airport pickup or if it is your responsibility to navigate to your dorm or homestay.
  • Familiarize yourself with local methods of transportation. Some countries have easy access to buses, trains, or taxis, while others are more remote. You should also consider safety factors of all of these options. Asking locals or looking up travel sites can be great sources of information for these questions.
  • Soon after arriving in your host country/university, you may have an on-site orientation. Be sure to keep all information about orientation before your arrival, and know the location. Think about what questions you would like to ask. (ie: local laws, extra curricular, events, changing classes, local transit).