Tips for First-Time Overseas Travelers

by Paul Konrardy

Traveling out of the country? Here are some tips from our interview with southern California resident Candi, who “crossed the pond” to visit Scotland—her first visit overseas!

WHN: This was your first time traveling internationally. Did you go on your own or with someone else?

Candi: I traveled with my best friend Sara who has previously visited several UK countries. We planned our trip on our own and selected the city of Edinburgh as our main hub for the week because we did not want to hop from hotel to hotel; we wanted to be able to spend quality time in one area. We did use Rick Steves Scotland as a guide when planning activities. We found his book to be very helpful!

WHN: What were your biggest concerns about traveling overseas?

Candi: Losing my passport, getting stuck in Customs, not being able to understand the language, getting confused with the money (Scotland uses pounds), not being able to find anything to eat (I feared meals would only be potatoes and haggis)… But I discovered so many meal options and the menus were easy to read! Lots of fish!! The only meal I didn’t like was the Mexican dish.

WHN: In retrospect, what do you wish you had done (or packed!) that would have made the trip easier?

Candi: More hearty food for the hotel room. The first night, I woke up at 3:00 totally starving due to my body not being adjusted to the time difference. I couldn’t go back to bed because I was hungry and had to wait for kitchen to open four hours later.

Also, I should have brought bug spray. We discovered we needed it for visiting the Highlands. They don’t sell bug spray at local grocery stores so we had to find a pharmacy. And cleansing wipes, because you never know what the bathroom situation will be!

WHN: What advice do you have for first-time travelers to a foreign country?

Candi: If the country you visit drives on the opposite side of street (to your normal), you really need to be mindful when crossing the street because the cars will be coming from the opposite direction.

Plan for weather changes. Going to Scotland, we packed for cold, rainy weather (40 degrees). They had a heat wave our first two days with the temperature 70+ degrees and we had to buy some cooler clothes. Also, the hotel did not have air conditioning, so the long flannel pajamas I brought were too hot for sleeping.

If you are planning to explore the sights on your own (not with a travel group), you should make a list of all the places you want to visit. From that list, narrow down the top three to five sites that are a “must see” and plan to visit those places first. Realize you will not be able to see everything on your initial list (unless you want to run around from sun up until sun down).

If you are planning to use your cell phone, don’t forget to contact your carrier about temporary phone plan “extension” options. Without a plan “extension,” the cost for data usage will be huge. (Remember you will need data for arranging Uber rides or using the “map” feature for walking around.) Most carriers will offer plan “extensions” at a flat rate so you can work it into your budget. If you are not planning to use your cell phone, turn off your data while exploring the sites so you don’t automatically start looking up something on the internet or trying to find directions.

WHN: First-time travelers sometimes get so caught up sightseeing that they forget to be safe. Any tips from your own experience?

Candi: When shopping for souvenirs, bring an unmarked bag or backpack to put all your purchases in. Nothing says “tourists” like seeing someone walking around with tons of shopping bags or with a large bag with the logo from the local tourist attractions.

If traveling as a pair, when one person stops to ask for direction or looks up directions on the phone, the other person should be keeping track of the surroundings and purses and packages. Don’t both be looking down at the phone!

Register your trip with STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). This lets our government know where in the other country you will be staying and allows them to send you text messages if the unexpected occurs in the country you are visiting. Also, make sure to locate the nearest American Embassy where you are staying.

If you know someone in the country you are planning to visit, touch base with them. Let them know you will be in their country should you need help or assistance.

Finally, make sure to bring copies of your driver’s license, passport, medical insurance card (check to see if you will be covered) and credit cards (call your provider to advise them of travel dates). You can bring hard copies or have digital copies (i.e. in an email that you can print if needed).

For More Information

Planning a trip overseas or just across the border? These posts have lots of information and tips.

Photo Credit: Candi Aubuchon

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