How To Travel Out of the Country For the First Time

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It’s officially been a week into the New Year and we’re so happy to close 2018 by crossing the number one thing off our bucket list: Travel Internationally!

Traveling out of the country can be out of most people’s comfort zones. And although there’s so much to see in our home country we were so excited to experience authentic cuisine, speak (attempting) a different language, and learn more about other cultures.

Now that we’re back from our first international trip, we’re going to go over a few basics on what you’ll need to know before traveling to a foreign country for the first time! ✈️

Before you book that flight to your dream vacation, you’ll need a passport to travel anywhere out of the country! If you’re from the United States, like us, you won’t need a passport to go to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands,  American Samoa, Guam, and the North Mariana Islands because they’re all U.S. territories.

Nowadays, getting a passport is pretty easy! You can apply in person at most USPS locations, but some passport office locations require an appointment. Getting a passport does usually take a few weeks or more so it’s recommended that you apply several months before your trip to ensure you have it in time. If you’re leaving in 2-3 weeks or less, you can always expedite it, aka rush it! (Of course, this has an extra fee.)

You’ll need to fill out an application, get your photo taken (most post offices can do this for you), and you’ll also need to bring: your U.S. birth certificate, certificate of citizenship, or certificate of naturalization, and a photocopy of your US citizenship evidence. A Passport Book will cost you all together around $145, add $60 if you need it expedited. You can read more about obtaining a US passport here.

Before you jet set off, call your bank and let them know you’ll be traveling out of the country! Bank of America makes it really easy, you don’t even have to call, you can do it right from the Bank of America app on your phone! Just go to manage debit/credit card settings and click on add or change a travel notice where you can easily add your travel info with the dates and where you’ll be traveling. This is good to do before you leave so your debit/credit card doesn’t get turned off for spending more than usual or making unusual transactions in other countries. If you don’t have Bank of America you can simply call your bank and let them know!

We found out by calling our phone company that both Mexico and Canada are within our phone plans, score!🙌🏼 But just incase you’re traveling to somewhere that is not included, most phone carriers also have pretty cheap international data plans too.

If you’re taking a connecting flight, things can happen and luggage can get lost. That’s why you should pack anything important in your carry-on luggage, such as an extra pair of clothes, a bathing suit (if visiting a tropical destination), any TSA approved sized toiletries, etc. Basically anything you would want for the first few days of your travel, just in case!

Your airline will hand out customs declaration forms to fill out which will have a few questions. They’ll ask anything from basic stuff like name, birthday, address to questions about the length of your trip, how many bags you’re bringing, the flight number, and you’ll need to claim how much money you’ll be bringing into the country.  

Once you get through the immigration line where they stamp your passport, more than likely, you won’t need to take your passport out once you’ve arrived (except when you’re exchanging money which we’ll get to later). We recommend locking it in the safe at your hotel or keep it in your luggage if it’s lockable.

🌟Always carry a photocopy of your passport, visa, and your driver’s license when traveling!

Girls, bring a crossbody bag when you’re out exploring! And limit the amount of cash you’re bringing for the day (leave the rest in the safe at your hotel). Using a crossbody bag or something attached to you will make it harder for someone to pickpocket or mug you.🙅🏼‍♀️

Traveling out of the country can be potentially dangerous so make sure to keep someone you trust back home in the loop. Tell them information about your hotel, flights, and itinerary. Cell signal can be spotty to nonexistent, so send a simple text once a day to let them know you’re ok. Keeping everyone updated on your plans will keep them at ease, knowing you’re safe while you’re away.

Register for STEP, aka the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This is a free service run by the U.S. Department of State that automatically registers your whereabouts to the closest U.S. Embassy or consulate. Basically you sign up by entering in all the details of your trip and contact information, allowing the nearest U.S. embassy to send you notifications. They’ll update you with things like warning tourists of going out in specific areas due to suspected terrorist activity, protests going on, or any natural disasters that may be occurring in the country you’re traveling to.

The currency exchange rate is different in every country. Some businesses in areas that have a lot of tourists like Cancun, Mexico may accept American dollars and some major credit cards. But be aware of any fees, typically around 3%. We exchanged some of our money at the airport. Which we heard has the best exchange rate, and from another that it can be a ripoff.🤷🏼‍♀️ We decided the best way was to exchange a couple hundred at a time and find another place that does currency exchange (like a bank) near our hotel. It’s interesting to note that currency rates fluctuate (kind of like gas prices), it’ll change and be different day to day. So definitely keep that in mind!

One of our favorite apps we used during our international trip is My Currency Converter & Rates app which you can download from iTunes or MyConverter for Android. This really helped us when paying for dinners, taxis, and little shops etc. Plus it was fun to know how much things would cost back home in the US!

In a foreign country service can be very spotty, so use Google Maps to download all the addresses and places you’ll be going, like your hotel and sightseeing destinations. If you’re in an area that doesn’t have great service, you can download an area to use on Google Maps offline and it’ll give you directions no matter how much signal you have. Genius!👏🏼 This helped us so much on our Mexico road trip while we were in and out of service trying to navigate!

You can be a target as a tourist in a foreign country so you need to be aware at all times. When we took a taxi from the Cancun airport to Tulum (a 1 1/2-2hr drive), we used Google Maps to track our drive to the hotel. We wanted to make sure the taxi driver was actually taking us towards the right direction, because you can never be too safe!

Skyroam Solis will be your savior when it comes to Wifi. This mobile hotspot gives you Wifi and Data in over 130 countries so you don’t have to depend on cafes and hotels to stay connected on your travels. It’ll cost you around $149-$199 and you can get it here.

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WhatsApp is a fast, secure, and free messaging app which will help avoid any international roaming charges on your next phone bill. It’s super easy to send a text, call, and even video chat.

It’s always worth it to learn a few simple words like “Hello”, “Where is the bathroom?”, “Thank You”, “Please” when you’re traveling out of the country. And you can let Google Translate help you with the rest. Again, it works offline so can use it anytime, any place!

Reading blogs from your favorite travel influencers can be really helpful when planning a trip especially if it’s from one that you trust and have been following for a while. More than likely you’ll enjoy some of the things they tried or saw and it’ll be easy for you to add it to your travel itinerary. Some may give you insider tips on an area, or show photos of a place that you didn’t know existed. And the best part is that it can pump you up for your next exciting destination, and may even inspire your next trip!

A few of our favorite travel blogs are:

Alyssa from My Life’s a Travel Movie (@mylifesatravelmovie)

One of the first travel bloggers to inspire us to be fearless and get out there! Alyssa Ramos is a solo female traveler and has been to all 7 continents, has seen all 7 World Wonders of the World, and has hit 91 Countries!! Her blog brings out all the vibrant colors and stories of the locations she visits! Not only is she beautiful, but Alyssa is also a true girlboss when it comes to being paid full time to travel!

Ady from Verbal Gold Blog (@verbalgoldblog)

This Atlanta-based blogger has been posting since 2012 and gives her readers a look into her travels and also into her real life! On her blog you’ll find beautiful vacation photos, fashion inspiration, as well as updates about her life at home. What we love most about her is her authenticity and that she engages with her followers as she invites them into her life!

Kiki from The Blonde Abroad (@theblondeabroad)

More than likely you’ve seen wanderlust travel photos of this California beauty! Kiki from The Blonde Abroad is another influential solo female traveler and you could spend hours drooling over the locations she’s been to on her blog! But the first thing you’ll notice from her photos is her enthusiastic smile and all the positive vibes she puts into her content!

Be aware of what’s going on in the country you’re traveling to and if any holidays or events are occurring during your travel dates. This could help you avoid any traffic, closures of restaurants and shops, or calm any nerves from a large festivals or celebrations that could be close to your hotel. We’ve all heard that traveling to a foreign country is very dangerous, but let’s be real, the world is a dangerous place these days and bad things can happen anywhere. So you shouldn’t let that stop you from traveling and seeing the world, but it is important to stay safe! As long as you stay aware of your surroundings and use your street smarts you’ll be fine!

We have to admit that traveling outside of the United States is pretty intimidating, scary, risky, and can bring on a bunch of other emotions; but it’s actually a piece of cake! We also recommend checking with your credit card company to see if they offer a Global Entry benefit. Similar to TSA pre-check, it’ll help you get through the U.S. Customs line faster! If your credit card doesn’t offer it, it’s $100 and will last 10 years. This will come in handy for any frequent jet-setters! We hope these essential tips will help make your first time travel a smoother process like it was for us! Bon Voyage! ✈️🌎

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