You just booked your first international trip! You’re ecstatic!
Then you quickly realize that you’ve never traveled internationally before! AHHHHH! That feeling of ecstasy quickly fades as you realize that THIS IS YOUR FIRST INTERNATIONAL TRIP! There is SO much to do, and you’re not sure what all of the things you SHOULD do EVEN ARE!
You asked, and here it is! My detailed guide of everything you should consider before you do any international travel! Right now, my international travel has been limited to Europe, so bear that in mind. If you see something that’s missing from this list, please reach out in the comments and let me know! I’m always looking for new tips and suggestions.
I look back on my first trip now and laugh (Paris 2010). I had no freaking clue, and I was so unprepared. I thank God for my mom…truly. I guess it’s true what they say…You don’t know what you don’t know. So, learn from my experience, prep yourself, and get ready to have the time of your life!
1. Phone Coverage
This one is first because we can’t seem to live without our phones anymore, and quite frankly, they are so damn handy especially when traveling. We shouldn’t have to go without them! (As long as you remember to put your phone down and enjoy your trip!)
I have Verizon, and I have tried different variations of international phone coverage plans through them. You can pay like $25-40 for 100 GB of data…so not much. I used this option before on my trip to the UK and Ireland back in 2016, and I was afraid to turn my cellular data on the whole time! No fun!
I tried to use that option again on my trip to Greece for yacht week in 2017, and I just ended up switching to the travel pass like halfway through. I turned my data on at one point and got so many notifications that it used up like 50 GB at one time. Stupid. Travel Pass through Verizon lets you keep your normal phone coverage, but they charge you $10/day. It also slows your phone down and drains the battery quicker. Plus $10/day adds up fast!
Now imagine a family of 5 going on a week-long trip and spending $10/day EACH on phone coverage. You can tack an extra $350 onto your phone bill for the month. No thank you.
Guess what!? There’s an easy (and much cheaper) alternative!
Depending on the length of your trip, I recommend getting a SIM card when you land in your country of choice!
For this to work, you need to contact your service provider ahead of time to make sure your phone is “unlocked.” When I say unlocked, I am NOT talking about your pass code.
Sometimes phones are “locked” to a specific carrier and will not work if the SIM card is changed. Call your provider to find out. I ended up using the chat box on Verizon to do this. Quick, easy, painless.
Please DO NOT ASSUME that your phone is unlocked! (You know what happens when you ASS-U-ME right?)
My iPhone 6 was not unlocked until I spoke with Verizon before my Portugal trip just this past August. It is three years old and paid off, but it was not unlocked. Everything I read online told me that it should already be unlocked.
I have the Verizon travel pass hooked up on my phone too as a backup ($10/day while abroad to keep your regular phone service). On this last trip to Portugal, I ended up using the travel pass for two days before I could switch the SIM card. It was nice to have that set up as a backup plan.
You can check out my crazy experience in Portugal in this post later.
Turns out, I could have bought the SIM card at a kiosk in the airport, but I was a little overwhelmed and preoccupied at the time. They had Vodafone stores all over the city, so it was easy enough to get a card.
The SIM card I used in Portugal was €20 and lasted for the entire month. In fact, I think I only used up about half of the 5 GB of data I paid for. Totally worth it. If I had used Verizon’s Travel Pass, I would have paid over $300 extra to keep my normal cell service.
In conclusion, I recommend waiting to get the SIM card until you land. Make sure your phone is prepped/unlocked. Practice popping your SIM card slot open ahead of time. Pack some extra paper clips to get the job done (no need to buy a special tool). And make sure you have a backup plan like Travel Pass just in case. Having reliable cell service is important! (How did we ever go without?!)
If you’re going to go the SIM card route, download “What’s App” on your phone as well. Changing the SIM card will change your phone number (while the card is in). You won’t want to use your phone for texting or calling family and friends back in your home country unless it’s an emergency. You’ll run out of minutes and texts. What’s App is really popular overseas.
This is where What’s App comes in! If you take a minute to set it up beforehand, it uses your original/home cell number, and you CAN use this app to text and call home (as long as you have data or WiFi). Magic! With the SIM card, you will have plenty of data…way more data than you do international texts and calls. Set up What’s App before you leave home!
One more thought about phones… Does your battery die quickly? It may be time to invest in an external battery or one of those phone cases with the extra battery built it. Your phone won’t do you any good if it’s dead!
Check out my recommendation for an external battery >>HERE<<
One of my biggest pieces of advice here is to make a copy of your passport. You could carry a copy with you and leave a copy with family (or someone you trust) at home.
Make sure that you know where your passport is! You do NOT want to have a night-before-travel freak out. Also, make sure that your passport is up-to-date.
You will be in trouble if your passport expires too close to your travel dates. Give yourself a 6-month buffer from the return date of your travel. You won’t be able to travel if your passport expires in 3 months or less. You probably will not be able to even board the plane in the US. Maybe you’ll get lucky, but I have heard of this happening more than once…
3. Visa Requirements (Yes, even for layovers!)
Are there any visa requirements?
Even if you are only stopping in a country for a layover, you may still need a visa. I know of a few ladies who completely missed their trips (turned away at the departure gate) because of an unknown visa requirement for a layover.
One gal was not allowed to board her flight departing from the US because of a layover in China. If I am remembering correctly, it was due to the length of her layover (even if she was not going to leave the airport) that she needed a visa. She didn’t know, and she wasn’t allowed to board the plane in the US. Sad sad day.
4. Handy Dandy Phone Apps
Some of these will vary based on your specific destination.
A few of my favorites are TripIt (keeps all of your itinerary info in one spot), Hopper (great tool for tracking flight prices), and What’s App (for communicating with friends and family back home…or anyone interesting you meet while on your travels).
There are also the more obvious apps like Uber and Cabify (used this one in Barcelona, and it was GREAT).
Some examples of location specific apps would be Rick Steves’ Audio Europe, CityMaps2Go (can download city maps to use without WiFi or data), TimeOut London, Tube Map, Hotel Tonight (for the spontaneous traveler), etc.
I have a post in the works on all my favorite apps! It’ll be dropping soon. In the meantime, make sure you’re signed up so you don’t miss it!
5. Travel Insurance/Health Care
For your grand international adventure, you should seriously purchase travel insurance.
I use Travel Guard. Eliminate all of those pre-travel-what-if-jitters and have some peace of mind. God Forbid something happen, I have extra protection. I can be airlifted to a good hospital, and I’m covered medically (more coverage than my normal health care would provide). Travel insurance also helps out with unexpected delays, lost baggage, etc.
Pro Tip: If you use one of my travel hacking techniques, this one might already be covered, and you won’t need to spend anything extra on it! 😉
Stop by your bank well ahead of time. Euros (€) are pretty common and some banks will have them on hand. If you need anything besides Euros and you wait til the last minute, you might be SOL. (I’ve used that one on my students before on accident. It slipped out, and they asked me what it meant. I quickly covered with “Students Out of Luck” hahaha.)
At most banks, you will have to order foreign currency. You’re gonna get screwed over on this no matter what bank you use or even if you wait til you get to the airport and get money from the ATM. I prefer to have some cash with me ahead of time. This helps me cut down on my travel anxiety.
One week should be enough time, but this also depends on where you are going. If you’re taking out Euros (€), a day or two should be plenty of time. English Pounds (£) should only take a few days as well. If you are going somewhere else, you may need more time. Call your bank and ask to be sure.
Whatever you decide to do, DO NOT use those currency exchange desks at the airport. Those are the ultimate rip off.
7. Put a travel alert on your cards.
Call your bank/credit card companies and put a travel alert on all of your accounts. I can do this by using my bank’s app on my phone now too.
It also might be helpful to know the max you can withdraw from an ATM at one time. I was blocked from withdrawing money in Greece right before getting on my boat for yacht week. I ended up having to call my bank because I forgot to put the travel alert on my account.
Turns out, that wasn’t even the problem! The problem was that I was trying to withdraw more than my daily limit! Sheesh! A whole lotta headache and panic for nothing!
Consider learning how to say hello, thank you, and other common phrases where you are going. Making an effort goes a long way with the locals. Also, learning a new language is cool, and it’s good for your brain.
I am headed to Italy in May, and I’ve been practicing Italian with DuoLingo! It’s a free app that allows you to spend a few minutes every day learning a new language! I’ll let you know how it works out after my trip.
I have a couple of different recommendations here!
The most important lesson (that I keep learning the hard way) is to pack light! Even when I thought I was staying put in one or two spots for my whole trip, I ended up moving around a lot more. Europe is full of narrow cobblestone streets, steep staircases, general lack of elevators/lifts, subways, you catch my drift? Picture yourself lugging a 50 lb suitcase around behind you, up and down subway stairs, on and off trains… That beautiful little European dream has turned into a nightmare.
Packing cubes will save your life here! I love ebags packing cubes. I’m addicted! You can check them out >>HERE<<
Next, purchase some luggage locks for peace of mind. These will come in hand when you’re on the plane, trains, hotels, hostels, whatever.
Make sure your locks are TSA approved too! I have linked the locks that I prefer >> HERE<<
Try to pack only one carry-on size bag and a personal item like a backpack. If you’ll be using any international airlines during your trip, make sure you check their luggage size requirements. They are often different from US maximum sizes. Just another reason to pack light and only take a carry-on!
Get a carry-on that has GOOD wheels too. I like to have the option of pulling or gliding my bag. Look for bags with four swiveling wheels.
If you’re only going to bring a carry-on, you’ll need to get creative with your liquids. How are you going to manage bringing all of them without going over the 3oz/quart size bag rule? In some countries, toiletries like these can be hard to find and EXPENSIVE, so you’re gonna want to bring your favorite conditioner.
I have a post in the works on this topic just for you! A few of my secrets are powders and shampoo bars 😉
Also, save those little travel/sample size bottle of your favorite products and refill them.
Health should be your number one priority!
Are you required to get any shots before traveling? Are there any health advisories that you need to prepare for? Zika or Malaria anyone? Are there any preventative measures or medications that you can take with you and have on hand? Do you need to refill any prescriptions? (You don’t want to be calling doctors and pharmacies at the last minute.)
If you are a diabetic, for example, it is especially important to plan ahead. What medical supplies do you need to bring? Do not count on the same supplies you use in your home country being available abroad. Better to be safe than sorry!
11. Feminine Products
Do you really want to take up valuable space in your luggage by carrying around pads and tampons? Nope. Not me. Do you want to purchase these items overseas and chance your preferred brands not being available? No again.
Well, there is a wonderful (and inexpensive) solution to this problem as well! Every lady should travel with a Diva Cup. Hands down. The best device for your period ever invented.
Check them out on Amazon HERE. (Typically about $10 cheaper than Target.)
12. Know the Laws!
Ok, I’m not asking you to get a law degree here, but a basic understanding or research of a few things will go a long way here.
For example, in the US I carry pepper spray on my key chain, and I think nothing of it. I have had far too many run-ins with creepers to NOT carry some form of protection.
I was considering packing some in my checked bag the last time I went to London. I had the sense to do a quick Google search, and I discovered that it’s illegal to carry and/or possess!
I am in a popular group on Facebook called Girls Love Travel. I have seen too many stories of girls traveling with certain objects, toys, sprays, etc and almost getting arrested over them.
If you’re passing through the Middle East, be ESPECIALLY careful about what kind of goodies you carry. The laws, the culture, the tolerance for certain things is not the same in all corners of the world.
13. Airplane Survival
Long flights are tough on your body and they can be brutal! I have a whole guide just for you (and a special freebie too) in this post HERE.
14. Adapters & Converters
Take some time to look over your electronics situation.
You’re going to need outlet (plug) adapters. An adapter changes the size and shape of your plugs to fit foreign outlets. What you need varies from country to country…especially across Europe. A quick Google search will tell you what you need.
You can always buy a few universal adapters too. Take at least two for yourself! Consider getting more if you are traveling with someone else.
The next thing you need to check is the voltage on your electronics.
US voltage is around 120V. European voltage is 220-2240V. This can cause major problems if your electronics are not equipped to handle the extra voltage.
For example, if you try to take your regular hair dryer and use it in Europe…you’re gonna fry it. I recommend a dual voltage travel size hair dryer.
Some appliances can handle the extra voltage, but you MUST check.
For example, my CHI hair straightener, my laptop, and my phone can all handle the extra voltage…no voltage converter required! (All of the appliances I listed say something like 120V-240V on the power supply.) Again, do not make any assumptions. Check!
I do not recommend buying a voltage converter. They’re bulky and heavy, and they do not always work. Take the money you would spend on one and buy that dual voltage travel size blow dryer instead.
I love the Babyliss Pro Travel Dryer. Cute, durable, good wattage, foldable, light…everything you could hope for! Check it out by clicking >>HERE<<
Check all of your electronic devices. Are they dual voltage? If you have an iPhone & a CHI hair straightener, you might be in luck. ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL…even if you are going to Europe. The electrical outlets in London are different from those, in say, Paris.
15. Credit Cards
Now would be a good time to assess your credit card situation as well.
Visa is widely accepted overseas. American Express is not.
You’ll also want a card with no foreign transaction fees. Even at 3% per transaction, this adds up quick.
If travel is a priority in your life, then it’s worth it in my opinion to invest in a credit card with travel-based rewards.
Interested in a good travel card with no international fees + THE BEST travel rewards?
Will you be renting a car? Just one more reason to purchase that trip insurance! Or another reason to start travel hacking with my favorite card 😊
17. Travel Journal!
Please do yourself a favor and take/make a travel journal. This does not need to be anything fancy. My friend Meera and I started doing this on our trip through Ireland and the UK. It turned out to be THE funniest thing ever. I still look at it and laugh so hard that I cry. Also, you don’t realize how much you forget unless you write it down!
18. Pick Pockets, Friendship Bracelets, Flowers, & More.
Pick pocketing is big in Europe…any destination, but especially the big tourist cities (like Barcelona is notorious for this). Be aware. Wear a cross body bag. Wear your bag to the front. Get a money belt. Get an anti-theft bag. Don’t put all of your chickens in one basket, etc.
When I was in Paris, there were guys standing around at the Eiffel Tower and Sacré-Cœur. The try to hand roses to the girls and demand payment. They ask you to watch a trick, tie a friendship bracelet on you, and hassle you for payment. Now you know and now you can be all the wiser about it. Just say no and walk away. Be firm. Be confident.
19. Getting Around
If you are using uber or other apps or taxis, just be cautious…especially if you’re a female traveling alone. There are people who work in the sex trafficking industry who try to pose as uber drivers and pick girls up. Check the plates. Be cautious.
20. Other Random Thoughts…
…about Europe in particular.
There aren’t usually many outlets in a room. You may want to bring extension cords and/or a power strip.
I tend to find that most places do not have overhead lights either. I find this one really frustrating.
I have learned to bring a hand-held mirror that I can prop up in better lighting in order to do my makeup and hair.
21. Get ready to have the time of your life!
Smile. Be friendly. Talk to people. Say hello 😊
I can’t tell you the number of times that a simple hello completely changed the course of my trip (and possibly life). It’s ALWAYS worth the risk of rejection to put yourself out there and strike up a conversation.
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