Knowing not to the drink the water is just one important travel tip for your first trip overseas. Did you also know not to ask for ice in your drinks? Yep. There’s a lot to know before you go. We rounded up our favorite advice from Traveling Moms to help make your first trip abroad all about fun and discovery rather than regret and misery.
29 Epic International Travel Tips for First Timers Abroad
Traveling abroad can be intimidating for the most seasoned travelers, but that first trip overseas can be especially challenging. Traveling Moms have been there! Here we share our favorite bits of travel advice to help take some of the stress out of your planning.
Health & Safety
1. Don’t drink the water. You already know that. You probably also know that means you need to buy bottled water, boil tap water, or bring along some purification tablets. But there’s more! Don’t order drinks with ice–it may be the frozen version of contaminated water. And drink your drinks straight from the bottle rather than pouring it into a glass that may have been washed in the contaminated water. If you buy fruit in one of those countries, wash it with bottled or boiled water. Or only eat fruit that doesn’t have to be washed and can be peeled, like a banana.
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2. Carry plenty of hand sanitizer and hand wipes. They are useful for so many reasons, including cleaning the toilet during and sanitizing your hands after a visit to one of those bathrooms, which isn’t any more likely to have hand soap than toilet paper.
3. Bring your own tissue and toilet paper. Many toilets around the world are not clean. Nor do they or provide toilet paper. And be sure to keep some coins on you. Many toilets around the world–even the not-so-clean ones charge a fee. Check out how one euro-less Traveling Mom risked arrest for peeing in Italy without paying.
4. Lock your passport in a hotel safe, or keep it with you at all times. Keep it (along with your cash and at least one credit card) close to your body–in a money belt under your clothes, in your sock, or in a front pants pocket. Backpacks can be slashed, purses stolen and pockets picked. Don’t leave your valuables in a place pick pockets can easily get to them. (If you don’t have your passport yet, click here to learn how to get your passport photo for free.)
5. Make paper copies of the photo page of your passport. Place one inside each piece of checked luggage along with a sheet outlining your itinerary. It will increase the likelihood the bags will meet you at your hotel if they are lost by the airlines.
6. Scan a copy of the photo page of your passport and e-mail it to yourself or upload it to a cloud storage such as Dropbox. That way, your information will be as close as the nearest Internet cafe.
7. Check with your cell provider before you leave. If you are taking your phone, change your plan before you go to avoid being stuck with high fees and roaming charges. If you forget to do this before you leave, set your phone to “Airplane Mode” and run your phone on wi-fi mode only for the duration of your trip.
8. Another cell phone option is to “unlock” your phone before you travel. This allows you to purchase a SIM card at your destination. When replacing a SIM card with a local one, you will pay the local rate for phone calls and data usage. Purchase these at airports, train stations, cell phone stores, and kiosks for a nominal fee.
9. Buy a power adapter BEFORE you leave. Different countries have different voltage requirements so check before you go to find out what you need. Don’t wait until you get there to try to buy one. Unless you’re in a major tourist center, you may not be able to find adapters. After all, no one in that country needs an adapter! Even if you can find one, chances are it will be more expensive than buying it at home at the local discount store or ordering it online.
10. Let your credit card company know where you’re going and when. The last thing you want is for them to put a hold on your cards while you’re in the middle of your dream vacation. Yep, it happens. It happened to us.
11. Get a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign exchange fees. Check with your credit card company. Those foreign exchange fees can add up fast if you find yourself using the card to pay for purchases along the way.
12. Change some cash before you go. Find a bank in your area that exchanges foreign currency for the destination you are visiting. This is helpful for paying for taxis on arrival, because many will only accept cash. If you’re headed to a country going through a financial crisis, you might want to read why it’s important to bring plenty of cash.
13. Find a bank that won’t charge fees for ATM withdrawals while you are overseas.
14. Carry small denominations of U.S. currency and coins. They can be useful if you run out of local currency or need to tip. Bills printed within the last 10 years, free from writing, and unripped, are often preferred. This is true for the majority of countries but it doesn’t work in some countries where tourism is just beginning–Cuba for example. There simply isn’t an easy way for the locals to spend dollars, so they would appreciate tips in local currency only.
15. Never exchange money at a foreign country’s airport. They are notorious for having the worst exchange rate.
Customs and Language
16. Learn a few words in the local language. At the minimum, learn to say please and thank you, hello, and where is the bathroom? in the native language. Those few phrases will take you pretty far.
17. Remember you are a guest in their country. Follow local laws and customs including dressing modestly in churches, mosques, and synagogues. Be respectful of the local culture and values. If you don’t know, ask. After all, isn’t they why you wanted to go in the first place?
18. If you have food allergies, purchase an allergy translation card. This way you can make sure there will be no mistakes when dining.
19. Don’t be caught off guard by holidays, mid afternoon closings, or strikes. Research in advance and pay attention to current events.
20. Hotel rooms in Europe are notoriously small, very expensive, and don’t live up to “American standards.” If a cramped, tiny room with a bathroom down the hall would put a crimp in your vacation style, consider staying in a vacation rental property instead, such as Airbnb or Home Away. They are more popular in Europe than the US, so you’ll have plenty of options for choose from.
21. Don’t get into a taxi before agreeing on the fare. If there is a disagreement, involve a local who speaks English or the police if necessary.
22. Carry a card or matchbook from your hotel. That way, if you or your children get lost, or the taxi driver doesn’t understand your accent as you try to pronounce the name of the hotel or apartment, you can show the written address.
23. Snap a photo. If you can’t find anything with the address of the property written down, snap a photo of the front of the hotel and/or the address and street sign. That way, you’ll have it if you need it. Even if you don’t, it’s a nice memory of this trip of a lifetime.
24. Check all of the transportation options before booking tickets. Sometimes the cheapest mode of travel is by air rather than train or car.
24. If you plan on renting a car overseas, check with your car insurance company and credit card before you leave. They may provide coverage and save you a ton of money in foreign “required” insurance fees. And check to see whether your driver’s license will be enough in the foreign country. Some require foreigners to have an international driver’s license.
25. Bring comfortable shoes. Fashion has its place, but the best way to see the world is by walking around. Italian women spend years learning to walk those cobblestone streets in spike heels. If you’re not as adept, don’t risk spraining an ankle or missing an adventure because your feet are killing you.
26. Plan for jet lag. If you arrive on the morning flight, try your best to stay up all day and acclimate to the next time zone. Go for a walk and spend time in the sun. This will help immensely with jet lag.
27. Bring some silverware. This tip applies only to people heading to Asia. You can pack your own silverware or, if you want to embrace the culture, learn how to use chopsticks before you go. Most restaurants only provide the latter.
28. Pack quick drying clothes. It’s difficult to know what your laundry options will be at your destination.
29. If traveling with children pack some chewable Motrin or Tylenol. Finding medicine for kids in a foreign pharmacy might be difficult.
It can be overwhelming trying to plan for vacation, but these travel tips, many of them learned the hard way, will make you a more confident traveler ready to get out and explore.