First Trip Abroad: Advice for International Travel

Going to a foreign country for the first time can be a little intimidating. You may worry about language barriers, cultural differences and whether you’ve prepared well enough for your trip. But don’t worry — we can help you feel confident about your travel planning; just read the advice below!

Documents you’ll need

You’re probably going to remember to bring your passport, photo ID and boarding passes to the airport, but what kind of documentation might you need when you arrive in another country? If you’ve made reservations for a hotel, car rental or tour, print out a receipt that shows what services you’ve already paid for; you may not be able to whip out your smartphone and show a clerk a receipt in your email inbox.

Get a short-term international medical insurance policy and bring proof of coverage with you. If you take regular medications, you should also bring a note from your family doctor that describes what medications you take, and why. To avoid potential hassles going through customs, keep medications in their original labeled bottles.

Phrases to know

Grab an English-to-whatever-people-speak-where-you’re-going dictionary, so you can quickly look-up important phrases like, “Where is the washroom?” No one expects you to be fluent in their language, but they might expect you to at least try to communicate with them in their language.

How to fit in

Sorry to break it to you, but Americans are — by comparison to some other cultures — loud, abrasive and impatient. If you want to do your part to change that perception, take a few minutes to read up on how people interact in the country you’re visiting.

In Mexico, for example, people are easygoing, non-confrontational and tend to avoid talking about serious topics like religion or politics. So never, ever ask people about their voting habits or waggle an accusatory finger at anyone. Some cultures may have expectations about appropriate attire, too, so that’s worth looking into. You don’t want everyone gawking at you in horror because your outfit is considered too racy. Blending in is a good thing when you’re abroad — you’ll avoid offending the locals or attracting the attention of pickpockets.

Managing money

Here’s what you don’t want to do: Arrive in Paris, dump all your dollars on a counter and ask an agent to exchange them for euros. You’ll likely be assessed a fee for making such an exchange. Plus, you shouldn’t be carrying loads of cash around — at home, or abroad.

Ask your local bank for an ATM card that will work overseas, and explain your travel plans; some banks will block account withdrawals from foreign locations unless you provide advance notice of where you’ll be. Your ATM should work just like it does now — you punch in a four-digit personal identification number and withdraw local currency from the machine.

Don’t worry about finalizing every little detail of your trip. While you should have a general itinerary, allow some flexibility so you can include other activities as you discover them. Plenty of people travel abroad without incident, so the odds are in your favor that your trip will be enjoyable.