Very few people are immune to to the travel bug. If anything, travel has become a bit of an epidemic with social media spreading the disease, one wonderlust list at a time. Especially international travel! Years ago, traveling to a foreign country was reserved for study abroad students, wealthy families or business trips. This is no longer the case! These days, it has become much easier for everyone to get outside the borders of their home country + explore the world.
If you’re one of those people bitten by the international travel bug but you’re not sure where to start, we’ve created a list to use as a foundation. Of course, each country has slightly different visa requirements or travel recommendations. Use this list as a stepping stone + a resource to start asking yourself the right questions so you’re prepared when you arrive at your closest international airport!
Passports + Visas
Before you leave the United States you’ll need to get your hands on a passport. If you have never had a passport check out the US Department of State site for details. They’ll have links to get you all the forms + checklists. If you already have your passport, check the expiration date! Many countries require that your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the US. This is something you’ll want to check before you head to the airport!
Depending upon what country you’re visiting you may need a visitor’s visa. The visa requirements vary greatly by which country you’re visiting, so check each one individually. Some countries also require or highly recommend vaccinations. Both the visa + the vaccinations may be things you want to check into prior to booking flights, as they can be costly.
**Leave photos or copies of your passport + visa with someone at home, just in case you lose them + need to get replacements. It’s also wise to keep another copy stashed somewhere else in your luggage for quick access.**
Iceland’s Glacier Lagoons
Currency + Finances
Oh, money. The best ways to spend [+ save] money is very subjective to the countries you’re visiting, what you value most while traveling + how you prefer to spend your money. Some countries are very credit card based [Iceland] while others function better with cash [Mexico]. A few are a healthy mix of credit card + cash [Switzerland]. Do some research on the countries you’re visiting + make sure what you’re reading has been updated in the past 3-5 years.
As far as getting your hands on your own money once you arrive in another country, you have a few options. You can always exchange currency at the airports, but that is often quite costly due to extra fees. If it is possible, exchange some “emergency cash” before you leave the US.
Credit cards + debit cards are also very reliable ways to get currency in most countries. You’ll want to check with your credit card company + bank to see what they charge for international fees + to notify them of your travel plans [so they don’t shut down your account]. Keep in mind, you’ll be paying ATM fees for each cash withdrawal at an ATM — usually from the ATM’s bank + your own bank. This may make cash withdrawals from a credit card seem more appealing, as many credit cards have no international fees. However, a cash withdrawal is seen as a “cash advance” on your credit card statement + immediately begins accruing interest [ask your credit card company for details!]. This is why you may want a debit card for ATM withdrawals + a credit card without international fees for all other transactions.
**Take note of the international number on your credit + debit cards, just in case they get lost while you’re traveling. You’ll need to call this collect number to freeze your accounts.**
Trains, Planes + Automobiles
In the United States we are rather accustomed to depending upon our own cars for transportation. Depending upon where you’re traveling to, this may not be the cultural case. Many countries have very strong train networks, especially Europe. Other countries, such as Mexico, have extremely affordable Uber + Lyft networks. That said, the easiest way to get around Iceland is with a rental car or camper van.
Again, everything varies by country so do some research. For best results, look for articles or discussions that offer advice in the past 3-5 years. You may also want to consider reaching out to some of the tourism bloggers or Instagrammers from the region you’re visiting. They know their area very well + obviously love to share information, so feel free to ask them direct questions.
When you’re trying to plan out the logistics of your tripe, check out Rome2Rio. It’s an awesome site that allows you to enter your origin + destination then give you a list of the many ways you can travel from Point A to Point B. You can book some travel through the Rome2Rio site, but it’s more useful as a general planning resource.
**Ask about local passes, city passes or discount memberships for public transportation — the EuroPass + SwissPass could save you hundreds on train rides if you’re going to be moving around a lot.**
Catching Z’s + Down Time
Guess what?! The best + safest ways to find nightly accommodations varies by country. Whodathunk?! Many countries have very broad + interesting networks on sites like AirBnB + CouchSurfing. These sites are setup to allow each visitor to leave honest feedback for their host, so you’ll have a good idea of what you’re getting into. Both AirBnB + CouchSurfing are great options for getting to know the locals + getting more a feel for “living” in an area. However, you’ll need to be comfortable with sharing space with your host + essentially staying with a stranger.
Another option is hostels, which are very popular throughout Europe. Even the locals regularly stay at hostels if they don’t have friends in the towns they’re spending their weekend at. Of course, there are always many hotels to choose from if you’re looking for a more traditional place to sleep.
When it comes to down time, seek out cafes! Traveling can be exhausting. Sometimes you just need a few hours to stare at a book or catch up on emails. It’s not always easy to determine which coffee shops are open to you sitting for a few hours, as this is not a filter option on Yelp or Google. However, if you are in a city with a university, check out the cafes + coffee shops near the university. They’re often designed for study time [ie: down time, in your case]. Worse case scenario, you’ll rarely find a large city without a Starbucks!
**Staying with locals is an incredible experience + highly recommended. If you’re nervous, be sure to tell a friend back home where you’ll be + when to expect you to check in. If you ever feel unsafe, leave!**
Are you ready to travel yet?! You’ll probably need to create a packing list…but this is a start. It obviously doesn’t include every single detail, as so many things are subjective to the country you’re traveling to. That said, hopefully this list can be a solid foundation for your own research. Let that travel bug burrow in + get your planning your first international trip!