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First-Time International Travelers, Listen Up!
If you’re planning your first trip abroad, this article can help you come up with destination ideas and assist you in organizing any necessary documentation. Yes, your first trip abroad can come with a bit of stress, but with proper planning it'll likely be a breeze.
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Tips for Traveling Abroad For the First Time
Visiting family overseas or traveling for work or school can be very exciting (and nerve wracking). If you’re flying internationally for the first time, you may be nervous about navigating airports, documentation, and more. If you’re seeking tips for traveling abroad for the first time, you have come to the right place.
In addition to general international travel tips for 2022, we will also review some airport procedures for first-time flyers. And, if you are flying for the first time by yourself, you may want to review what you can expect in airports as well as during flights. We also have a few tips for long flights that can help you feel as refreshed as possible when you land.
Important Thing to Prepare Before Traveling Abroad
Learning how to travel abroad can feel overwhelming at first, but you'll be a pro in no time. In fact, with a little preparation, you'll be the one teaching your friends and family how to get ready for international travel.
Here’s what NOT to forget when preparing for your trip:
- International Travel Documents Checklist – Travel documents are one of the most important things to prepare before traveling abroad. Use this handy checklist to ensure you have everything you need before you head to the airport.
- Carry-On Bag – You will want to make sure you have packed everything you may need to tide you over in the event that your luggage is lost or your flight is delayed or canceled. This may include travel documents, electronics, chargers, travel-size toiletries, a change of clothes, etc.
- First Day Plans – Even if you like to "wing it," be sure that you have everything set for when you arrive at your destination. This includes planning transportation to your accommodation ahead of time.
- Prescriptions – Have your doctor prescribe enough medication for the entirety of your trip so you won't have to worry if your medication is available in your destination country.
- Translation Apps – Download a translation app even if you are somewhat fluent in the native language of the country you're visiting. This can help you to communicate in all types of situations.
What to Do at the Airport: Step-By-Step
If this is your first-time international travel airport experience, it's always a good idea to allow yourself some extra time to plan your airport procedures.
Here’s what to do at the airport, step by step:
- Step 1: Before you leave home, be sure you know what the regulations are at every airport and country you will visit. (This includes airport layovers as well.) You will likely need to wear a mask for your entire travel period. Additionally, you may be required to show proof of your vaccination status and/or a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding an international flight.
You’ll also need to know how you’re going to get to the airport (ride from a friend, Uber, etc.) and where you’ll park if you’re driving yourself. Many airports have garages and/or lots that you can park in for a per-day fee.
- Step 2: If possible, check in for your flight on your airline’s website or app and download your boarding pass onto your phone (this is usually available within 24 hours of your departure). This will save precious time at the airport. Print out a copy to take with you too—just in case.
- Step 3: Head to the airport. A good rule of thumb is to arrive 3 hours early for international trips so you will have time to check in and get through security. Your trip counts as international even if your first flight is domestic.
- Step 4: When you arrive to the airport, find your airline and check in for your international flight. You will need to present your passport, visa (if necessary for your destination), and any additional documentation required for your destination, such as a completed health form, vaccine card, or negative COVID-19 test.
You will hand over any luggage you want to check (be aware of fees and restrictions regarding the allowed weight and number of items you can carry on or check) and the airline employee will print your boarding pass.
- Step 5: Make your way through security with your passport or government-issued ID and carry-on luggage. Keep any additional travel-related documents close in case you need them again, like your passport, boarding pass, negative COVID-19 test result, or vaccine card.
(Note that when you arrive at your destination, depart your destination, and return home, you will also need to go through customs, so be sure to leave plenty of time for this process when preparing to return home.)
- Step 6: Once you make it through security, find your gate and verify that your flight has not changed gates and is on time. Flights can be delayed or canceled at a moment’s notice, so make sure you stay informed. Set up notifications on your phone using your airline’s app to let you know if/when your flight is delayed or listen to the announcements made at your gate.
(Review our guide for delayed or cancelled flights to help navigate these situations.)
- Step 7: Wait for instructions for boarding the plane. For international flights, you may need to fill out a form handed to you by an airline attendant mid-flight. Make sure to complete this form before you land.
We hope these tips for traveling abroad for the first time help you feel prepared to navigate all the airports on your journey with ease.
More Tips for Flying Internationally
If it's your first time flying international, you may be unfamiliar with some of the unique procedures that come with international flights and you might be wondering, “How does international travel work?”
Here are some more tips for flying internationally:
- Try to minimize connections when planning your trip. The fewer connections you have, the less likely you will be to encounter delays or lost luggage. This can also mean less hassle when traveling with kids. Direct flights can often be worth any additional cost or expense.
If you must have connections, ensure they leave you enough time to navigate a new airport and get from one gate to another. Also ensure there is extra time built in since there’s always a chance your prior flight could be delayed.
- Sign up for frequent flier and rewards programs. Longer flights, like international trips, could mean more rewards from your airline or hotel, so these programs might be worth signing up for.
- Review all required international documents for your destination. This is something that you should do prior to booking your trip. Make sure you have everything you need before you leave home.
- Review COVID procedures in the foreign country you're visiting. COVID requirements can change quickly. Be sure to check for any restrictions at your time of booking and as your departure nears. Also, make sure you are informed of any requirements that are in place for returning to your home country.
- Upload a copy of all your documents to a cloud. Even if you like to have physical copies of your important papers, having a digital copy as well is always a smart move.
- Pack sensibly. Since international trips tend to be longer, choose clothes that can do double duty to minimize the amount of stuff you need to bring. Don't forget to have all your essentials in your carry-on in case your travel is disrupted. (Click here to learn more packing tips.)
- Get to the airport early. The more time you have to check in and get through security and customs, the less worry you will have. A good rule of thumb is to show up to the airport at least three hours before your flight for international trips. Follow your airline's guidelines and even add in some extra time to get settled and ready to go before your flight.
- Download items to watch or read ahead of time. Overseas flights are often long ones. Bring a book or download an off-line language learning app to help you get ready for your visit to a foreign country. You can also download shows to phones and tablets on apps like Netflix and Hulu so you can watch movies or TV on the plane without paying for Wi-Fi.
- Get up and move around. Don't sit still! Walking during a long-haul flight is important to keep yourself from getting too stiff. Avoid alcohol and salty foods to feel refreshed when you land. Don’t forget to review more tips for flying before your trip.
- Complete all necessary forms prior to landing. Your airline may provide entry cards or other necessary documentation for you to fill out. This usually occurs mid-flight, so don't wait until you land to complete them. (Note that many countries have made these forms digital and require you to fill them out online prior to travel.)
These are just a few tips that can help your flight go smoothly if you are traveling abroad for the first time. Visualizing yourself arriving at the airport, boarding the plane, flying, and then reaching your destination can help to calm any worries that you may have.
First-Time International Travel Destinations
Let's take a closer look at some popular first-time international travel destinations. One tip that many expert travelers suggest is that you take your first international trip to a place where your native language is spoken. For example, many Americans find a trip to London a lot less intimidating than a trip to China because of the shared language.
Some of the best places to travel alone for the first time may surprisingly be outside of your home country. And for anyone who is for the first time flying internationally, you’ll will want to carefully choose your destination. Here are a few ideas to get your creative travel juices flowing:
- Toronto, Canada – This cosmopolitan city has something for everyone!
- Nassau, Bahamas – International travelers who are looking for some fun in the sun will love Nassau. Check out the official Nassau website for top tourist recommendations.
- Barcelona, Spain – This is a popular destination for good reason. The food, culture, and shopping in this coastal city are unmatched.
- Edinburgh, Scotland – This historical city has amazing architecture to enjoy. Be sure to stroll through Edinburgh Castle and visit St. Giles’ Cathedral.
- Paris, France – What's not to love about Paris? You will be setting the bar high if you opt for the City of Light as your first international destination.
Get ready for an amazing experience! International travel may take a lot of preparation and can feel nerve wracking at times, but the benefits far outweigh any discomfort. Take time to do some research and plan ahead. With the right preparation, an overseas trip can be seamless with limited stress.
Traveling to Another Country During COVID-19
Before you plan your international trip, review this international travel checklist during COVID to learn more about what to expect. Many countries are beginning to ease their requirements, but you will need to do some research to find out which nations are requiring vaccinations, negative tests, or quarantines for foreign travelers.
Every country is different in its international travel restrictions. Traveling to another country during COVID-19 may require some advance planning, but it is definitely not impossible! Be sure to take the requirements into consideration when you are determining where to travel during COVID.
One of the most important things to do before traveling abroad during COVID is to double check any entry restrictions or requirements. That's why this interactive travel restrictions map is such an amazing resource to learn more about travel restrictions by country.
Two other places to find up-to-date information about U.S. travel restrictions and restrictions for countries around the world are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “COVID-19 Travel Recommendations” page and the U.S. Department of State’s “Travel Advisories” page.
Note that regulations may change from the time you book your flight to the date of your departure, so check back frequently. Also consider that you will need to meet any requirements that your home country mandates for when you return home. Remember, there are entry requirements that apply to both citizens and visitors.
Download your International Travel Checklist During COVID and start preparing for your trip.
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