Traveling for the first time is scary. Even the other day, I heard someone say that they would’ve traveled abroad earlier if they had realized how easy it would be. So if you’ve been bit by the travel bug, here are some things to do to make your first trip abroad smooth sailing:
If you’ve never traveled before, you might not have a passport. While the process to apply for one isn’t daunting, it’s also not something you want to put off until the last minute.
Make sure to make copies of your passport and bring information on your credit cards, emergency numbers, addresses of where you’ll be staying, flight numbers and transportation details. It can be hard to find a printer abroad and you don’t want to be stuck without the necessary information, trying to explain to a ticket counter what the confirmation number is in a different language.
I usually like to book my flight at least three months before my trip. For most countries, high season is in the summer and I try to fly in and out on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (the weekends can be much more expensive).
You can sign up for flight alerts through Bing Travel or Hipmunk. Choose flexible dates so you can see when you’ll get the best deals. If you have good credit, you might consider opening a new card to get enough bonus points (some are enough for a round-trip flight abroad).
After your flight, accommodations are usually the biggest expense in your travel budget. You’ll want to book these early and do plenty of research. Make sure to check for amenities like WiFi and air conditioning – the latter is not a guarantee in Europe.
Look at maps to see if you’ll be staying near the city center or if you’ll need to take public transportation to get to the most popular spot. Read plenty of reviews from different sites and see what other people say. Whether you’re booking a hostel, hotel or apartment on AirBnb, you’ll want to spend a lot of time finding a place to stay.
When you decide to travel, one of the biggest costs is transportation. The good news is that other countries usually have more options for public transportation than the U.S. For most people, trains are an easy way to explore one country or several. You can get multi-country passes that can be cheaper than purchasing individual tickets. Some even offer discounts if you’re 25 or younger.
Airlines like RyanAir can also be a frugal choice if your destinations are far enough away to fly to. Make sure to travel light and avoid any extra fees. Buses are another good budget option, even though you usually sacrifice time to save some dollars.
Renting a car is the most expensive option if you’re traveling abroad. But if you’re going with a few friends, it might make sense to get a car and enjoy the freedom that comes with the open road.
For some people one of the biggest hindrances to traveling is figuring out what to do. It’s like looking at a menu with tons of options – you’re so overwhelmed that you don’t know how to choose.
To decide your itinerary, think about what you like to do at home. Do you hike on the weekends? Are you always hitting up the latest art gallery opening? Do you enjoy wandering the streets until you discover something new? Think about what you’ve enjoyed about domestic trips. Are you into big cities that are completely different than your hometown? Do you prefer lazy days by the beach or quiet walks in the country?
Don’t pretend that you’re going to be a different person when you travel. If you don’t like to get up early at home, you probably won’t enjoy it in a different country. Think about what you love and research where the best places are for that.