2 Jun 2020
Posted by Mikaela
My first time traveling abroad is very spontaneous. It surprised everybody including my parents I am going somewhere internationally. Given that I’m the first from my family to do this, I was clueless with everything and I cram for visa application, flight tickets, accommodations, and packing.
Even though everything turned out great and memorable, I want to help you avoid these unnecessary hassles by writing this article about the essential preparations for your first-time flight (or even your next trip). Remember, it is better to feel excited than anxious and overwhelmed as it only comes to those who are clueless. This article is for those who have little to no experience in traveling internationally.
Why I wrote this article?
If you read my introduction, I missed the chance to plan out and prepare properly for my first time traveling abroad. With this, I kept wishing for things to go smoothly, especially for my visa application and flight ticket. I also spent more money due to express visa processing, flight ticket, and accommodation. All these being said, I want to help other aspiring travelers by eliminating these hassles and unnecessary spending.
Who should read this?
You’re still reading? Then, that’s an indicator you are one of those who need this guide. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first, second, or nth time traveling. You can still get great tips and additional information by reading this article and apply it for your next trip. You can save this for future reference or bookmark it and read it during your leisure time.
First Time Traveling Abroad: Pre- Departure Essentials
First things first, if you’re thinking about traveling, I’m assuming that you have your passport already. If not, it’s not too late to get one! Schedule an appointment with your local embassy and apply.
Passport is the most important document you need to have access in other countries hence, you need to settle everything before your departure. It’s the first step in traveling, and may take a few days up to many weeks to process. All you must do is provide the documents to get or renew your passport. Make sure that your passport is valid at least 6 months before expiry during your departure. This is a common entry requirement to other countries and allows you to enjoy the peace of mind that you’re abiding the right traveling procedure.
(I included this just in case you have a destination and already booked a flight. For those who are not, you may skip this section as you will encounter this again in # 3)
Travel visa has the power to let you enter and exit a foreign country and every single country has its ENTRY and EXIT conditions. Whether you prefer to get a travel visa first before booking or vice versa, you need to research your destination regarding visa application.
Depending on your passport (which country you’re residing), you need to know whether you need a travel visa to gain entry to your desired destination. Some countries follow strict travel procedures that requires a travel visa and those countries that don’t require one. Again, research your destination and see if you need to apply for a visa, electronic visa, or none. Keep in mind that there are different types of visa depending on your situation. Some of them are tourists, multiple entries, sponsored, working holidays, student, visa on arrival, etc.
Deciding Where to Go
In this section, we will make your dream destinations come to life through research. If you have a place in mind for a long time and did your research in advance, good for you! It means that you’re on the right track. Or, maybe you are still finding the right place and you’re just sure that you need to go. Don’t worry! It can be overwhelming for us who are so excited for an adventure. Here are some things to think about in choosing an international destination.
What kind of travel do you want to experience?
Think about the perfect definition of ‘traveling’ for you. Do you want a relaxing vacation and see the beauty of Bali? Experience other cultures such as taking a walk in Khao San Road, Bangkok? Or maybe go backpacking in Peru? Whatever it is, the important part is to consider a destination that you can fully enjoy. For first-timers, it is important to know whether you’re comfortable to travel near your home country or go far.
What are your interests and activities that you want to experience?
To fully enjoy your travel, consider your interests and activities you want to experience in your itinerary. For example, sight-seeing, people watching, food exploration, relaxing on a beach, hiking a mountain, or experience the nightlife.
Do you speak other languages?
Another thing to consider is the language barrier. Are you going to be alright to explore a foreign land with an unfamiliar language? For me, my first is in Seoul, South Korea. I tried to learn at least basic Hangul one week before our trip. But I was still overwhelmed at first because not everyone can speak English.
Are you comfortable eating food that differs greatly from your home country?
It is best to schedule your travel based on your desired weather. Above all, your comfort and preferences are the most important to consider. For example, if you want to see the cherry blossoms in Japan, you wouldn’t want to go there during winter, right? Make sure you’re at the right time of the year and choose a region where it is visible.
Last, your travel budget. Choose a destination perfect for your allotted budget. There is no shame for budget travelers! We don’t want to go home broke and crying. On the contrary, if you can afford a luxurious vacation then you should splurge to visit a country with a high cost of living or spend it all on luxurious accommodations, restaurants, and activities. This is an important aspect of traveling. Let’s be responsible and avoid begpacking.
Hopefully, after reflecting on these questions, you can narrow down your destination into 1 to 3 options. Then, consider the duration of your trip and prioritize the one you think is the best location for your current situation.
Just in case you’re still undecided and you’re living in Southeast/East Asia, other neighboring countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Singapore are suitable destinations for first-timers.
Visa Processing, Booking Flights and Accommodations
At this point, I’m sure you’ve done lots of research on your destination (research is the key). Remember, we should do these before your departure date. I recommend to always settle your visa, flight tickets, and accommodations ahead of time. So, let’s talk about visa, flight tickets, and accommodations.
This enables us to enter and exit a foreign land. Each country has their terms and conditions about this. Meaning, it varies from country to country. Make sure you’ve read about the country you’re visiting and apply for a travel visa when necessary. There are different types of visa depending on your situation. Some of them are tourists, multiple entries, sponsored, working holidays, student, visa on arrival, etc. You can choose either to do it on your own or have a travel agency to process it.
Booking Flights and Accommodations
In booking flights and accommodations, the key here is to have a clear travel date in mind. Some opt to get a visa first before booking a flight and others prefer to do them later. I prefer to apply for a visa first to avoid the risk of paying for a plane ticket and being denied a visa.
You can do this by visiting the website of the airline you chose and book directly online. If you’re not confident about this, you can go either visit their local offices or book through a travel agency.
Travel hack: To save money on flights, I recommend using an application called Skyscanner. This app presents a comparison of flights from different airlines based on your desired departure schedule.
For accommodations, decide first if you will spend money on a hotel, hostel, or Airbnb. Learn to prioritize and decide based on your needs. The primary focus here is your preference, whether you want to stay in a comfortable, budget-friendly, or luxurious accommodation. There are plenty of options out there such as the rising trend of pods or staying in a guest house of locals willing to host travelers for free (Couchsurfing).
The following sites and applications are my go-to for looking for the BEST accommodation around my travel destination:
Packing, Sim Cards and Money Exchange
Welcome to the part where we can finally feel that we’re close to getting on that plane and face the adventure. Here are some tips about packing, sim cards, and money during your travel.
Always pack ahead of time! Fix your luggage and prepare your stuff at least 2 days before your flight. You don’t want to leave things behind and forget to check the weight of your luggage (I can’t imagine the hassle of opening your bag in the airport only to realize you forgot something or repacking your luggage because of weight limit, yikes!).
If you haven’t read my post about the ULTIMATE TRAVEL ESSENTIALS GUIDE, just click on the link. It’s a comprehensive guide for packing with a free checklist you can use.
Another thing is to always pack LIGHT. Remember, traveling is hard if you make it hard for yourself (advice from a low-maintenance person). Besides, you can buy some items once you’ve settled to avoid bringing many things during the flight. Plan your outfits wisely to eliminate unnecessary over packing while still sporting an Instagram worthy travel outfit.
You can buy the sim cards inside the airport, although you can also do it before departure.
International sim cards help you remain reachable through international calls, internet consumption, and messaging. There’s also pocket wifi rental offered by some companies with big to unlimited data caps. To ensure that everything will go smoothly, make sure that your mobile devices can access international sim cards. Don’t worry! If things go south, many countries offer free wifi around public places, coffee shops, restaurants, and malls.
Last, make sure you have your pocket money, or you can access your money (ATM or credit card) abroad. One way to do this is to visit a money exchange outlet beforehand or while you’re at the airport. In my case, I use the 60-20-20 method in handling my money. I exchange 60% of my money to the currency of the country I’m visiting, then 20% for dollars (this serves as my emergency fund) and I keep the remaining 20% for my expenses when I go back.
Just in case you don’t want to go through with this process, contact your bank regarding international banking fees and whether they have partnered banks in your destination to avoid costly international ATM fees. Besides having on-hand money, bring a debit card and credit card for your first overseas travel. This will make you 100% equipped and ready to go about your trip.
Travel hack: Keep your money in different parts of your bag when you’re traveling. Also, don’t bring all your money with you when you’re going out of your accommodation. Leave some inside your bag and put it in a secured pocket (you can also put your debit or credit card for an emergency). It’s better to expect the worst (pickpockets, lost wallet, etc.) And have backup plans.
Making the most out of your trip
Finally, after all the preparations, we’re down to the last step: maximize and enjoy your trip. Your first time traveling abroad can be 2 things: your best travel experience, or your worst one. After all the preparations above, it all depends on how you will enjoy your travel.
- Ditch the plan (don’t stick with it like a bubble gum)
- Take your time in every landmark and take lots of pictures
- Focus on experience
- Interact with locals
- Take the less-traveled destinations
Your first time traveling abroad will take several preparations. It’s better to settle everything than regret it in the present. The important thing is to make a memorable travel experience for yourself.
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