While I love exploring new hiking trails across the U.S., experiencing culinary treasures in every state, and visiting historic American sites, I have always wanted to travel overseas, but either the timing wasn’t right or I didn’t know where to begin. The latter was the big stickler.
My wife and I have finally decided to carve out the time to make it happen. We thought we would start with an easy trip across the sea — either a trip to Ireland where my wife’s ancestors are from or the Czech Republic where my grandparents hail from. What we have learned is that there is a lot to know and things to do before boarding that plane.
For those of you who face the same dilemma — wanting to head overseas for a vacation but not knowing where to start — here are eight tips I learned in my journey that I hope will help you.
1. Get That Passport Early
No matter where you will be traveling to, you will need a passport, and the worst feeling is to have booked your dream vacation and then realize that your passport won’t arrive in time. Before you pay for your tickets, make sure you have obtained a passport or renewed your old one.
As of this writing, it takes approximately 6 to 9 weeks to obtain a standard U.S. passport, but remember, that does not include mailing time.
As of 2022, the standard price for a passport book is $130. The price varies slightly depending on if you are renewing your passport, getting a new one, if you are securing one for minor children, etc. And while it could take up to 9 weeks to receive your passport in the mail, you can expedite the process by paying an additional $60 fee.
You can apply for a passport online or at a local Passport Acceptance Facility (i.e. a post office).
The U.S. State Department website is a valuable and easy-to-use resource that can answer all of your questions about obtaining a passport.
2. Choose Your Destination By Asking These Simple Questions
Seems simple enough, right? Where do you want your first overseas adventure to be? For my wife and I, it was a no-brainer. We want to experience the homeland of our grandparents. For others, it’s not as easy.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What is your comfort level with interacting with new lifestyles and cultures?
While I relish the idea of immersing myself in a new culture, my wife, on the other hand, is more the “dip your toe in the water first” type.
- Do you speak a foreign language?
You could feel overwhelmed and frustrated visiting a far-off land where you have a difficult time communicating.
- What interests you most about traveling abroad?
Determine what you are looking forward to on an overseas vacation: visiting historical sites? Culinary adventure? Sunning on an exotic beach?
3. Find Out If A Visa Is Required
Now that you have determined where you will be going, find out if you need a visa to enter that country.
A visa grants entry into a country by a traveler for a certain period of time. For most countries in Europe, Asia, and Latin America, a passport is all that is needed, but some countries require an additional visa.
Learn more and find out if the country you are planning to travel to requires a visa on the U.S. State Department Americans Traveling Abroad webpage.
4. Shop And Compare Travel Options
Getting to a country is easy. Once on the ground, that is a different story. How you will move about the country and where you will stay are important considerations when booking your trip.
For the first-time traveler, many travel agencies and national tourist councils offer special packages that make your first overseas adventure much easier and enjoyable. For example, when looking into spending 2 weeks in Ireland, my wife and I found three possible options: guided tour, coach tour, or self-drive. The same options are available for many other travel destinations around the world as well.
A guided tour pairs you up with an experienced local driver who will personally take you to all of the sites you want to see. Generally, your schedule is less stringent when doing a guided tour.
A bus tour allows you to see the sights while traveling with a group of like-minded individuals. The schedule is very regimented on one of these tours.
The self-drive tour is the most leisurely, where you can pick and choose your destination and how long you will visit each one. Just be ready to adapt to completely different driving rules and regulations than you are used to.
What makes any of these tours nice is that they normally include dining packages and accommodations ranging from 5-star hotels in castles to quaint country inns and bed and breakfasts. The hard work of setting up these accommodations is handled for you — one less thing for the first-time traveler to worry about.
5. Give Your Bank A Heads Up
Before stepping on that plane, let your bank know about your travel plans and have them set up a travel alert so that they know when and where you are traveling. That way you won’t be surprised when you try to use that debit card in another country and find out there has been a block put on it for suspicious activity.
While you are talking with your banker, find out about what additional access fees may be charged when you use your debit or credit card in another country. They may be able to direct you to affiliate banks in your country of travel that charges reduced fees for accessing your money.
6. Bring Cash And Two Cards
Your debit card will “probably” work no matter where you travel, but it is still a good idea to carry at least $100 in cash and a credit card just in case.
Many travel professionals suggest that you take a debit and a credit card with you. When you are out exploring, take your debit card with you and leave the credit card in your hotel room. That way you will have a backup in case one is lost or if your wallet is stolen.
7. Prepare For The Dreaded Jet Lag
Even the most experienced traveler will experience jet lag, that feeling of exhaustion one gets after traveling through multiple time zone changes and extended duration flights. Jet lag may lead to extreme daytime sleepiness, fatigue, headaches, and a general feeling of not feeling well.
There is no way to avoid jet lag, but you can reduce its effects. First, get plenty of rest before you leave on your trip. The Mayo Clinic recommends that you start changing your schedule to match that of your destination before you leave. For example, if you’re heading east into an earlier time zone, go to bed one hour earlier each night a few days before you leave.
Also, stay hydrated on your flight by drinking plenty of water. And be sure to plan for a day or two of recuperation when you return home from your trip to relax before getting back to your normal routine.
A great source for tips on beating the dreaded jet lag is the British Airways Jet Lag Advisor. Simply answer a few questions about your upcoming trip and up pops some helpful tips.
8. Keep Yourself Safe While Traveling The World
Pickpockets and petty thefts are common no matter where in the world you travel. Keep these tips in mind for keeping you and your belongings safe:
- Never carry a backpack on one shoulder or hang it on a chair.
- Avoid putting your wallet and cell phone in your back pocket.
- The best deterrent is to use a crossbody bag or fanny pack to carry belongings and valuables.
- When making your travel plans, obtain travel insurance to protect your property and in case of illness.
Register with the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This program lets the State Department where you will be in the world and notify you of natural disasters, political unrest, and other emergencies in the area you will be traveling.
Entering The Unknown
You booked your flights, your hotel rooms, and your transportation. You have a whirlwind itinerary of sites to see all lined up. Now you’re standing in the terminal and getting the boarding call. Suddenly you feel apprehension. Nervousness and a bit of anxiety set in.
For the first-time overseas traveler, the feeling is perfectly normal. You are jumping out of your comfort zone and into something completely new and different. By carefully planning your trip, you will alleviate some of the anxiety but still, there will always be a bit of nervousness.
Try doing some mindfulness meditation to relax and think about the joys that the trip you have planned will bring you. It is an exciting moment in your life. As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Embrace that step and enjoy the world.
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