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So you’ve decided you want to take a trip abroad, but you have no idea where to start. Here is a guide to help you plan and prepare for your first (or second) international trip 

1. Get your passport!

Before you book your first international trip, apply for your passport.

Click here for  to be directed to the US Passport page.

What you’ll need to get a passport for the first time: 

  1. Birth certificate or other evidence of citizenship (check site for other accepted forms)

2. Download and fill out your passport application. 

3. Valid photo id and photocopy (check site for acceptable forms of id). 

4. Your passport photo. There are a number of different places to go (Walgreens, Fed Ex Office Print and Ship center,  etc.) You can take your passport photo at home. Click here for the app I used . You’ll need two prints for of your picture for your application.  

After you’ve gathered all the documents and made photocopies of your id (front and back) and birth certificate, you’ll need to find your acceptance or passport office and schedule an appointment. click here to find your office. 

To determine how much a passport costs, check below for the recent fees chart:

Fees for Visa Services

You’ll need to provide two different forms of payment. 1 for application fee and 1 for execution fee. 

You have an option of passport card, book or both. I would skip the card because it is not accepted in every country like an actual passport book is. Save yourself the money and use it on buying cool souvenirs. 

2. Choosing Your Destination:

If you haven’t quite figured out where to travel to, ask yourself these simple questions?

  1. What kind of weather would I like to experience?
  2. What kind of food do I like to eat? (Why travel to Thailand if you hate Thai food)
  3. Do I want to travel to a metropolitan city or experience nature?
  4. What level kind of accommodations am I seeking? (Resort, boutique, guest home)
  5. What do I want to do on my trip? (snorkel, ski, hike, etc)

Once you’ve got a better idea of what kind of travel you’ll be doing, head straight to Google and search for places that meet your criteria. 

examples: “Resort vacation Mexico in summer” or “Winter OTBT Europe destinations” or “Ecotourism Central America in Spring”

I prefer to travel during off seasons because it’s cheaper and less crowded. That normally means the weather is not as desirable, but not having to share beautiful spaces is worth it to me. My Google searches always go something like this

“ Off season beach locations in India”

Once you’re set on your destination, continue to research the culture. Watch YouTube videos of other travelers during their trips and read travel blogs. Learn a little of the language, primarily “thank you,” “please,” “hello/good bye,” “where?” and “help.”

3. Check Travel Advisories

When researching which country(s) you want to visit, check for travel advisories. You want to make sure you are aware of any unsafe conditions happening in the country before and during your stay. Set up alerts to receive changes in conditions for the country you have decided to travel to. Click here to learn about your destination  

4. Book Your Trip like a Pro

Once you’ve chosen your destination, start scouting air and hotel fares at least 6 months in advance (We start planning 1 year prior because we’re a family of 4 with small children.) 6 months gives you time research and make arrangements for other obligations at home (I.e. pet boarding, house sitters, work etc). 

Continuously check travel sites like Agoda for great deals on air, hotel and ground transportation.

5. Additional Travel Logistics

Okay, so…you’ve booked your flight and hotel. Now what? The planning doesn’t stop there, in fact, what you do now will potentially make or break your trip. If you’re planning this trip entirely, here is a check list of things to do after you’ve booked your hotel and air.

  1. Arrange transportation to and from hotel and airport. Does the hotel have a shuttle? Can they arrange for a fee? If you booked your flight and hotel through a travel sites like Agoda, you can also book your connecting rides all in the same transaction. If not, call them, let them know you need a ride and they can help you add it to your itinerary. 
  2. Download the app for airline and make sure your settings are able receive notifications. It would suck to find out the day of the trip that your flight plans have changed. Airline apps will generally allow you to pull up your boarding pass and also alert you of flight changes, gate moves, and weather alerts.  
  3. Get your travel vaccinations. 6-8 weeks before your trip, call your doctors office and let them know you’re traveling abroad 
  4. Make sure your passport is current.
  5. If you’re taking a trip with kids, make sure you have copies of their birth certificates and vaccinations records ready, to travel with. I keep them in a plastic bag inside of our passport wallet. 
  6. Contact your credit card companies and give them dates and locations you’ll be traveling so your transactions won’t be denied, due to suspicious international activity.

Day Trips and Things To do: Ziplining though a jungle? Biking through the ruins of an ancient city? How about a cooking class taught by a native chef with decades of cooking experience? Research things to do in [insert destination] and if you see something you’d like to do, DO IT! Vacations are for mini-adventures and new experiences. Consider booking things to do in advance through Viator or ask the front desk at your hotel when you arrive. They’ll likely be able to handle a lot of the details for your or refer you to an agency who specializes in local activities. 

6. Packing for your Trip

Research the culture long before you start packing. If you are traveling to a modest or conservative country, don’t pack mini-shorts, tiny skirts and tank/strapless tops. If you’re going to a country where you are required to remove your shoes to enter tourist sites, pack slip-on shoes. Keep an eye on the weather and always be prepared for a surprise rain shower, even if you’re heading to the beach.

Don’t forget to pack your: Mobile Battery charger and power converter.

7. Currency exchange

Learn how to calculate the exchange rate and choose the credit cards to take with you. Traveler’s checks aren’t as acceptable as they used to be, but you can use your bank card to withdraw money from ATMs. For the most part, the exchange rate through the ATM is the most favorable even with a transaction fee. Know how to contact your company from abroad. Toll-free numbers do not work from outside the U.S., but credit card companies will accept collect calls at a designated number.

8. Phone Use in Another Country

Turn off your  mobile data when you land. Trust me, roaming charges are ridiculous. Once you arrive to your destination, theres a good chance that you will notice a bunch of different kiosks where you can purchase local SIM cards for your phone. Do this! Purchase a SIM card with enough data to last you for the length of your trip. With a data only SIM card you’ll be able to make calls via video chat apps, message through social media like WhatsApp, Facebook or Google Hangouts and check you social media.   

WiFi is almost universal in many countries, so if you don’t want to purchase a SIM card, you can rely on public Wifi. 

9. Travel Insurance

I know travel insurance sounds like just an extra expense, and many travelers wonder why a person would need to buy it, but trust us, there are a number of reasons you should have it. If you cant afford travel insurance, then you can’t afford to travel. Travel insurance may cover your out-of-pocket expenses in the event that you need to cancel your flight or if you miss a connection. Travel insurance may also provide you with assistance if you suffer an injury, illness or if your passport is misplaced. Compare rates, starting with RoamRight travel insurance, and choose a coverage that is right for you.

If you’ve been jonesing for a trip out of the country, but were clueless about where to start, I hope this guide was helpful. If you have any questions or if I left anything out, please leave us a comment. 

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