GET YOUR PASSPORT! IT IS TIME FOR YOUR FIRST INTERNATIONAL TRIP!!!
So you’re ready to take your first international trip? I went to mexico at 17, the same year as 9/11 (don’t do the math) and I didn’t need a passport– just parental permission. But now, a passport is needed to leave the U.S. period. And my passport never saw a stamp until 2014. I held on to it for years. And I was so proud and cheesing from ear to ear when the Brazilian government official stamped my passport and said “bem-vindo”. Actually i think he said “welcome”, but whatever.
If you don’t know where to start for your first international trip, I’ve got ten steps for you!
- Get a passport. I know that may seem like common sense, but you won’t believe how many people say they want to go to London or France or Japan, but they never take the first step to invest in a passport. In the grand scheme of travel expenses, its probably one of the best and cheapest investments you’ll make. $135 + cost of photo. PS- don’t expect your photo to be good.
- Pick a Country (and maybe a city). If you’re like me and lust after everything on the travel channel or inside national geographic, the choice could prove difficult. So for this I say follow your heart and go big. If your heart is torn, talk to friends and family, or whoever you intend to travel with. Actually, finding a travel companion can be harder than picking a location.
- Do Your Research. Common questions to have answered early that could change your decision: What language(s) do they speak? What kind of food can you expect? What are some local customs? When is the best time to travel? What’s the weather like? Does my church or alma mater offer group travel with excursions? How much is average for airfare and accommodations? Do I know anyone who has been? Do I know anyone who lives or lived there? Does our government discourage or regulate travel to this place? Does it require an entry visa in advance of travel?
- Apply for a Visa. Not all countries require an entry visa, but that should be part of your research. Is a visa required? How much does it cost? How long does it take to approve? How long is it valid? What are the requirements for approval? Some countries will give you the visa when you get there (aka the stamp in your passport) but others require advanced application. For Brazil, the process of gathering materials for the application and awaiting the response made me kind of anxious. It was all worth it.
- Book Airfare. Some visa applications require you to have your airfare already booked. And if you don’t need a visa, book it as far in advance as is feasible for you. Consider your financial, personal, social and professional obligations at this time.
- Book Accommodations. In your research, you already found out what prices were common, but you should remember that hotels are not your only option. Airbnb is blowing up. Hostels are getting better and better. And truthfully, depending on how exotic or remote your chosen location, those may not even be options. So be open minded.
- Make a List of Activities. When you pay the premium to travel internationally, staying in your hotel or laying on the beach all day probably isn’t the best use of your time. Go see something historic. Go do something philanthropic. Go learn something new. Your vacation will be better for it. And if it goes badly, at the very least you’ll have an interesting vacation story. But just keep in mind the cultural customs and try not to piss off the locals.
- Don’t Piss Off the Locals. Travel blogs, books and more can give you the do’s and don’t for nearly wherever you want to go. If the city you want to visit expects one to dress modestly, do that. If the city you’re visiting is one where people smile and say hello to strangers, try that. Most importantly: if they speak another language and you hit a wall of communication do not, DO NOT yell in english at the locals expecting them to understand.
- Prepare for the Expected. There are a few things that will keep coming up in your research, like the suggestions to learn to say a few phrases. If you leave your hotel, you’ll need them. And avoid high exchange rates by exchanging your money at your bank before you leave. Speaking of money, a flesh tone money belt to wear under your clothes may not be a bad idea– just don’t open it on the street. Again, most of the “common sense” international travel tips will come up in your research.
- Embrace the Unexpected. Some people say to prepare for the unexpected. That oxymoron doesn’t fit with international travel. No matter how much research you do, you’ll never be prepared for everything that comes your way. So just do your best to go with the flow. You’re on vacation now!