On my first backpacking trip, I didn’t know what to expect. The night before, my mind was full of questions, anxieties, and concerns. I turned to different guidebooks and organized tours to compensate for my lack of knowledge and experience. Still, I made a bunch of mistakes, and you will too. That’s just part of the experience through which you will meet helpful and fascinating people.
If you are new to traveling and looking for ways to start planning your trip, here are ten things you should take into consideration before traveling:
A travel visa is exactly what the name implies - it is a visa that allows you to enter a foreign country for tourist/leisure purposes and stay there for a predetermined amount of time. Whether you need a visa depends on where you are planning to travel. A general rule of thumb is that if your country has a visa agreement with the country you are planning to travel to, then you won’t need to apply for a visa beforehand. If your country does not have an agreement, you will either need a visa on arrival or a regular visa.
To find out where you can travel without a visa, check out the Passport Index.
Vaccinations and Prescription Drugs
Depending on where you are planning to travel, some vaccines that might not be on the routine list in your country may be recommended or required. It is recommended you get vaccinated six weeks before departure so your body has time to build up immunity after receiving the vaccine. Some vaccines are administered in a series over time, such as the new COVID-19 vaccine. Thus, getting a head start on country required immunizations is the best way to ensure you are protected for your upcoming trip.
To learn more about vaccination requirements for your destination, check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website.
There is a lot of uncertainty in the coming months and travel insurance is a good way to stay flexible. In some countries, such as Thailand and Costa Rica, travel insurance is, due to the pandemic, mandatory and more countries are likely to follow suit. Thus, this year, when deciding what coverage to get, make sure you understand the risks you are subjected to and the details of your coverage. Most importantly, make sure you pay close attention to the terms and fine print, as insurance companies are reducing the refund amount or providing vouchers instead of cash.
Financial risks are always a factor when traveling abroad. To get the most of your money, it is imperative you have a better understanding of exchange rates and ways to exchange currency. Exchanging money at local banks is convenient and less expensive than doing so at airports or hotels. However, to get the best rates and save money, use ATMs. Before using your debit card, double-check to see if they charge transaction fees and international ATM fees. If they do, look into getting an international travel card with a prepaid amount of money, often in more than one currency, which can be used to withdraw money or make purchases.
Using your phone abroad can be rather costly. People return from one or two-week vacation and receive a cellphone bill for a couple of thousand dollars. To avoid this you can do two things - buy a local SIM card or get an international data plan. If you are traveling on a budget, you can replace your existing SIM card with a local one. If you didn’t pay full price for your cell phone, it may be locked. This disables SIM cards from other carriers from working. Your cell company will be able to unlock the phone for you, especially if your cell phone is no longer under contract.
If you think buying a local SIM card is too much of a hassle or are short on time, your carrier should offer international plans with discounts on calls, international roaming fees, and data charges.
Electronic devices are extremely useful when traveling, but needing to recharge them and keep them safe are two major drawbacks. Bringing plug adapters and/or voltage converters is a must if you are traveling overseas. However, most travelers forget to pack or buy an emergency charger. Portable power packs can give you several hours of cell phone use when electrical outlets are not easily available. If you are an outdoor enthusiast or just love going to places off the grid, consider buying a solar-powered or hand-crank charger.
Language barriers can be frustrating and a huge inconvenience when you are traveling in remote areas where English may not be as widely spoken as in cities. Learning a few key phrases in a local language could make your experience much smoother and is also a great way to connect with people you meet on your trip. Phrases such as please, thank you, and excuse me are essential in almost every travel situation - start with learning those. Apart from those, there are a couple more phrases that are good to know as you prepare for your dream vacation - check out Go Overseas for some key phrases in seven different categories.
For me, the most exciting part of exploring a new country is trying different local dishes and specialties. Traveling outside of your zone of comfort means you are bound to make a few etiquette mistakes. Sometimes what is considered the right eating etiquette in one country, is extremely ill-mannered in another. This shouldn’t put you off from trying new food. Even though every country/region has its own set of rules, there are a few general rules you should keep in mind - check them out here. With a little bit of preparation, you’ll be ready to share a meal and make friends with locals.
Traveling can be especially challenging when you are lugging a ton of luggage. Each airline has its own set guidelines, so make sure you check with your airline what their specific rules are and if your ticket carries fees for carry-on or checked luggage. When packing, it’s a good idea to check what clothing, jewelry, and shoes are considered respectful. Even if you don’t practice the same religious or social norms, dressing appropriately is a sign of respect.
Special Planning Considerations
As you travel around the world, you will notice that many countries and regions have unique perspectives on race, gender, ethnicity, and physical disabilities. Precisely because of that, BIPOCs, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities need to take additional precautions when planning and traveling abroad.
It’s normal to be nervous about heading into the unknown. Remember that no matter where you go and what you do, you are not alone. There is a huge network of travelers who are more than happy to point you in the right direction.
So, take a deep breath and start planning your dream vacation!
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Born and raised in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Selma is currently studying Business Administration and Global Studies at Hood College. While she was always passionate about traveling, she caught the travel bug through Semester at Sea, a study abroad program. So far, she has visited four continents and 30 countries, mostly in Europe and Asia.