Traveling is exciting, however, it can also be stressful and intimidating. If this is your first time leaving the country, you are quite literally headed into the unknown, and that can be very scary. Knowing exactly what that feels like, here are some of the best tips for first time travelers leaving the United States, and all of the things I wish I would have known before leaving the country for the first time.
Tips for First Time Travelers Leaving the United States
Do Your Research
The best way to travel with the least amount of stress is to know what you are getting into. This means doing your homework and knowing what to expect when you arrive at your destination.
What kind of homework should you do? Here are things to research no matter where you are going:
- The language – aim to learn at least the basics. Even if the country you are traveling to generally has English speaking people it’s polite to know how to say hello, thank you, and please. If you are traveling to a country with English as their primary language this obviously does not apply.
- Learn their cultural norms – this is a bit broad, but things I have found helpful is to understand things like noise etiquette, clothing, physical space, etc. For example, other countries find Americans to be quite loud. Be mindful of this, and bring the volume down to be respectful.
- Currency – Know what they use for money and if you need to have it. Do they accept or prefer USD? Are they cashless? Do they accept cards most places? Do you need a PIN for your credit card (certain countries require a PIN with a credit card)? What is the conversion rate? It is very easy to overspend if you are unsure what the USD value is.
- Driving – If you are planning to rent a car do your homework – for real. For starters, you’ll need to bring your license. Some countries you will find that renting a car is not a good idea and other places you will absolutely need your own car. So, first decision is knowing whether you will be driving and if so generally you should understand the laws. Knowing things like where can I park, is parking free, what side of the road do I drive on (very important), etc. Also, if you do rent a car be sure to request an automatic if you’re not comfortable driving a manual. Most countries in the world, outside of the US, primarily have manual transmission.
- What to pack – Very important and ultimately, I personally, almost always over pack. I always figure it’s better to have it and not need it than to need something and not have it. However, keep on eye on just how much you’re packing because most airlines have weight restrictions and will charge extra if you exceed them.
- Potable water – Not every country will have potable (safe to drink) tap water so be sure to know this in advance. This will ruin your trip unless you want to spend your entire vacation in the bathroom…
- Food – sorry vegetarians and vegans, food can be quite tough depending on where you are traveling to. I am a vegetarian most of the time, but when I travel I do my best to stick to that, but sometimes it’s simply not possible since you may not know exactly what is in what you ordered.
- Electrical outlets – you likely will need to get a converter plug to ensure you can charge any devices you bring with you.
- Airline restrictions – save yourself one of the biggest headaches and know the airline rules as they do vary based on the airline. Things that you want to be sure to know:
- Weight restrictions
- Size restrictions
- Items that cannot be traveled with
- Country restrictions – entry to countries varies, some allow you to simply walk in, no questions asked, and other countries may require paperwork to be filed, a visa, vaccinations, etc. Know what’s required by the country you are traveling to
Be Prepared for Lines
Traveling means waiting in line. There is no getting around this. If you are an impatient person who hates waiting you will struggle with this one. Take a deep breath and know that you will get through the line, but you will wait almost everywhere.
Have Things to do
Not only will you wait in line everywhere, but you also will likely have time to kill. This may be during layovers, waiting for a flight, waiting for a tour, etc. Bring a book, download movies to your phone, etc. whatever will help you pass the time.
To Check or Not to Check
Many travelers will not check a bag due to the fear of their bag getting lost, or they simply want to save time by not having to wait for their bag at baggage claim. I personally always check a bag. So, this is personal preference and dependent on how light you travel. As I mentioned, I do not travel lightly and will always over pack. If you do check a bag one of the most important tips I can give is to always have extra clothes in your carry-on in case your bag would get lost. This does happen and it’s always good to be prepared for it.
Also, if you do check a bag know the weight restrictions, for most airlines this is 50 lbs and if you are over this weight it is very expensive or you may have to ditch items at the check in line which no one wants to do.
When you are traveling outside the US you will need your passport. It’s also important to know that certain countries have strange restrictions on your passport like it must be valid for over 6 months or there needs to be three full blank pages. Very weird, so just be sure to double check the country restrictions like I said above.
Packing Your Carry On
If you do decide to check a bag you should strategically decide what goes in your carry on. Here are some essentials to have with you:
- Change of clothes – as I mentioned above
- Toothbrush and toothpaste – if you have long travel days, a quick brush of the teeth in the airport bathroom can make you feel way less grimy. Yes, after may hours on a plane and in airports you just feel gross.
- Deodorant – again if you have a long travel time ahead of you not only will a refresh of pit stick make you feel refreshed, but your neighbors will also thank you.
- Face or baby wipes – Get some of the airport grime off with a quick baby wipe bath.
- Entertainment – I always bring a book with me, but if you are more a digital person download videos to your phone in advance in case there is no WIFI or data.
- Headphones or earplugs for the plane to drown out some of the noise so you can hopefully sleep.
- Eye Mask – These can be especially helpful to block out bright lights.
- Medications – Headaches and tummy aches happen be prepared for them. Also, if you have a long flight something to help you sleep can be a life-saver. Any prescription medicines as well should always be kept in your carry on.
- Empty water bottle – empty because you are almost always limited on liquids you can bring with through security, but an empty water bottle can help you save some major dough on buying bottled water and it’s better for the planet too.
- Converter plug – if needed where you are going.
- Anything breakable – checked luggage gets thrown around, hard. I have had many hard case suitcases cracked. Do not put anything in your checked bag like a camera, computer, etc. that is of value and breakable.
Also, know the size restrictions for your carry on. This can be tough as it may differ based on the airline. I generally opt for a backpack with a lot of storage compartments to keep me organized and that I know will fit under the seat in front of me.
Be Prepared for Things to go Wrong – It Will Happen
Things will go wrong. I guarantee this one, and so does Murphy’s Law. The best thing you can do is breathe and roll with the punches. Stay calm and work through it.