How to Travel Internationally for the First Time

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Where to begin?

Island of Comino right off the coast of Malta.

Everyone who has done something, even very successfully, had to start from the beginning. No one is born an expert, and everyone’s path to success has a day one. Travel is no different; even the most well-traveled backpackers had their first trip abroad at some point. Partaking in the act of travel can be intimidating because you are willingly lifting yourself out of your comfort zone and exploring the unfamiliar. No amount of books, blogs, or podcasts can take away the feeling of stepping into a new place and feeling the rush of excitement that comes with the unknown. That’s why we love to travel! Follow along and learn the basics for how to travel internationally for the first time.

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How to Choose a Location

Taken from the Cathedral of Seville in Seville, Spain.

When you are starting out, choosing a destination can be overwhelming. There are so many amazing places in the world with so many different metrics to play around with. Should you go to a region that is generally cheaper, like South America or Southeast Asia, or do you take the romantic getaway to Paris? Should you head to a beach and kick back in the sand for a week or should you go to Spain and hike the El Camino? The list goes on and on, and any source you look at will base their list on different metrics. While this research can be useful, try to avoid overloading yourself with information. When it’s all new to you, doing excessive research can just be off-putting because the world will feel too immense.

Instead, choosing the location for your first international trip should really be based on a combination of what you are comfortable with and what gets you excited. While embarking on a three month backpacking trip sounds really exciting, maybe it’s not in your comfort zone. Or anywhere close to your comfort zone. That’s perfectly fine! There are a million ways to travel, and as long as you’re excited about your trip and ready to embrace a new country, that’s all that matters.

That being said, traveling to a country where you speak the language is a much easier undertaking. From taxis to restaurants, and even when you’re trying to find a restroom, it’s helpful when you can communicate easily with locals. If you are particularly nervous about this side of the venture, travel to a country where you speak the language. You will still experience plenty of culture shock while having the safety net of communication to ease your mind on your first adventure.

Even if you are going to a country that presents a language barrier, in the major tourist centers you will be able find people who speak English in most countries in the world. If you are looking for a challenge and intentionally want to head to a country that doesn’t speak English, then go for it! To make the experience more enjoyable, learn a few common phrases in the local language before going. Download Duolingo for free language lessons that will teach you the basics in no time. Another useful tool for language learning and my personal favorite is Pimsleur. The quick, 30 minute daily lessons have you speaking the language of your choice, an area I have always struggled with. A little effort can go a long way; you’ll never know what relationships or experiences will come from attempting to communicate with locals in their own language!

Choosing a location can be difficult, but go with your gut. You know what you’re ready for and how far you can push yourself. Just keep in mind that this is just the first trip – if you’re like us, you’ll love it so much that you’ll be booking the next adventure before you even get home.

What Type of Trip Should I Take?

Taken on the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon.

The best way to find out how you like to travel is to give different options a try. Everyone has a range of different travel needs, and thankfully there are options available for all different types of travelers.

Relaxing

If you are looking for a relaxing, hands-off style trip, you should be looking into all-inclusive resorts and cruises. Both of these can range from luxurious to affordable and can suit all price ranges if you look hard enough for the deals. Cruises are great if this is the style you are looking for because you can bounce between destinations while your travel, food, and entertainment are taken care of for you. Fun fact, Erin and I actually met on a cruise! All-inclusive resorts are the ultimate break from reality – all the food and beverages are paid for ahead of time, it’s just time to lay back on a beautiful beach and unwind.

Semi-Adventurous

For those of you who are feeling more adventurous, luckily now there are a litany of options that fall in-between all-inclusive resort and backpacking. Especially for your first international experience, traveling with a tour company can be a wonderful, stress free introduction to travel. Tour companies generally take care of all of the logistics, such as booking your flights, ground transportation between locations (often on a bus), meals, and day-to-day sightseeing. The itinerary is completely taken care of so that you can focus your efforts on enjoying the ride. Whether you are traveling with a group or solo, this can be a great chance to make friends while you travel because you are all on the tour together. This is also a great option for families because the kids and parents alike will find friends in the group and have a more enjoyable experience.

If you are young and want a hostel experience in a group setting for your first trip, EF Ultimate Break is the way to go. With age restrictions limiting the experience to participants between the ages of 18 – 29, EF Ultimate Break offers trips to awesome locations all around the globe. Everything is taken care of logistically, even down to your flights, but you have a more rugged experience, often staying in hostels and sharing rooms with other travelers. It’s a great way to meet people while learning the ropes of international travel. I traveled with EF Ultimate Break on my first independent international trip and it was an incredible experience. I made friends on my 12 day trip through Spain several years ago that I am still in contact with to this day.

Roughing It

Roughing it really just means that you are independently taking care of all of the preparations, planning, and logistics for your trip. The level of “extremity” could vary tremendously. However, if you have it in your mind that you want to rough it, then it’s likely that you already know your comfort level and what you are excited about. This requires a certain level of organization and research to make sure you cover all of the essentials when planning and jumping from destination to destination.

The best advice I can give to those brave souls who are jumping into the world of travel independently is to roll with the punches. As much of a cliché as that sounds, it’s the most important thing to remember when you hit adversity in your trip. The reason I say “when” is that no matter how experienced you are issues of some nature will always arise. These difficulties often end up forcing us into uncomfortable situations that form the basis for our best travel stories.

Planning Your Trip

A shot taken on a canal in Amsterdam.

If you are going the relaxing or even the semi-adventurous route, the planning phase is pretty simple. Once you have figured out your location, then the research transitions to finding the right company that suits your needs. Look at customer reviews, both good and bad, to try to gain an unbiased opinion of a company to try to judge if it’s the right fit for you. Often, your budget can make this decision process easier for you.

Once you are set on a trip, hold off before you pull the trigger! Search high and low for deals because I guarantee they are out there. Research deals that the company has offered in previous years and see if there is a time when they always seem to offer large discounts. Join the email lists for the companies you are looking at; while no one enjoys being spammed on their email, this is often the way that companies offer flash deals to their loyal consumer base. You want to be able to jump on a deal right when they send it out. However, once you have booked the trip, your planning phase is essentially finished!

For those taking the “Roughing it” road, the planning is multifaceted. Not only will you have to book all travel and accommodations, you will have to do research into what you want to do in each place. You will have to make sure you do your homework on visas which depending on the length of your trip could be very important. The name of the game is research, research, research! We will be covering all different planning aspects while roughing it in a future post, so sign up for the email list so you don’t miss it!

Financial Considerations

A shot from the Pink Palace Hostel of Corfu, Greece.

Unfortunately, travel is rarely free and therefore financial considerations become very important when planning a trip. If you are booking a package deal vacation that is all-inclusive, you have a pretty good idea what you are going to spend up front. If you are roughing it, you’ll have to make a budget before you travel to make sure that you have enough money put aside to cover all of your activities. However, a common misconception about travel is that it’s too expensive. If you travel smart and plan accordingly you can budget travel and save a lot of money. For instance, staying in hostels and using public transportation will help you save immensely while on the road. It definitely can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be!

The most important financial aspect about traveling is making sure you have access to your money while you’re abroad. First of all, you will want to have a travel credit card that does not incur foreign transaction fees. Pretty much any travel credit card you get in this day and age will state specifically that it won’t have these fees, just read the fine print to be sure. Also, with many credit card companies you need to set a travel notice with them ahead of time for the dates you will be traveling or else they will freeze your card. Having no access to funds when you’re abroad can be an awful experience, and sometimes even if you set a travel notification your card is liable to be frozen. If you like to err on the side of caution, bring two travel credit cards.

Whenever you are traveling to another country, bring a couple hundred dollars’ worth of the local currency in cash. That way, if you have issues with your credit card, you won’t be stranded in a foreign country with no way to buy a meal or buy a place to stay for the night. In some countries, like Cuba, American credit cards will not work at all. Do your homework to try to avoid the small mistakes that can really put a damper on your first international experience.

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Packing

This shot was taken in Brugge, Belgium.

Pack lightly. I repeat, pack lightly! You will regret every ounce of extra luggage you bring on a trip, especially if you are on the move constantly. This extra weight will just weigh you down and frustrate you along the way. If you need a carry-on backpack, I highly recommend Tortuga Backpacks. If you use the promo code “TRAVEL”, you will receive 10% off your order! I personally have the V2 which is an older style, but I have had my eye on their newest backpack, the Setout. Through travel, you will learn that we really don’t need as much as we think we do; I promise that you don’t need 20 pairs of underwear for a week-long trip. Shed the extra weight, and if at all possible, travel with just a carry-on. Don’t give the airline a chance to lose your luggage and ruin your trip; keep your belongings as close to you as possible.

Unfortunately, when electricity was becoming widespread, the world didn’t get together and decide to choose one universal outlet to draw power from. All over the world outlets vary widely in style and in voltage. There are adapters you can find on Amazon that not only serve as an adapter, but convert the voltage so it doesn’t fry your devices. I highly suggest investing in a nice adapter because there is nothing worse than being in another country with a dead phone and no way to charge up. There are many other gadgets and tips when it comes to packing, but the details will be shared in another post. Make sure to subscribe to our mailing list so you don’t miss any exciting new content!

Enjoy Your Trip

The Rock of Cashel in Cashel, Ireland.

Just like life is messy, travel is messy too. Things will inevitably and predictably go wrong; I can personally guarantee it! However, these are the moments that turn into the best stories. Roll with the punches and try to laugh through the hard times. Try to assimilate to the culture as much as possible and if the language is different, try your hand at a few phrases. Take lots of pictures but try to avoid living through the screen; put down your camera and phone and have real encounters with locals. Embrace the moment for what it is; you are an adventurer in strange, exciting new land. Sure beats being at work, right?

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