hear Japan is lovely in the spring. Cherry blossoms and rain might be just the escape you need after you submit that project you’ve been working on all year. There’s a whole lot of world for you to see. Wherever you decide to venture to next, you’ll want to make sure you plan well in advance to make the most of your time abroad.

How to Travel Abroad: Preparation

I know, I know. There’s nothing more appealing than the thought of just hopping on a random plane so you can touch down in a new, exciting place that’ll offer you plenty of adventures. Why not just go wherever the wind takes you? In theory, this is a great way to live life to the fullest. But in practice, you’re bound to hit a few snags along the way, so we’ve compiled a list of things you should definitely prepare for before embarking on your next adventure.

Make sure you have a valid passport.

You have to have a passport in order to both leave and re-enter the country--there’s no getting around that. You won’t even make it through security without one. If you already have a passport, check the expiration date.

It needs to be renewed every ten years, so if you can’t quite remember how long you’ve had it, you’ll want to make sure it’s still valid for the duration of your trip--and with a little wiggle room as well because you never know when you might face an untimely delay. Some countries also require that your passport is still valid for six months after your trip.

If you don’t yet have a passport, you’ll want to get started on requesting one as soon as possible. Both applications and renewals take a minimum of two weeks to process, but we recommend submitting yours 3-6 months in advance of your trip because it can take that long for your new passport to arrive.

To apply for your first passport or a renewal, head over to usa.gov’s passport page and follow the instructions they list for applying for a new or renewed passport.

A passport sticking out of a black suitcase - the first step in learning how to travel abroad
Depending on how busy passport producers are at a given time, it can take quite some time to get yours back to you, so be sure you apply for one well in advance.

Research the place you plan to visit.

What language(s) do they speak? How much does the average meal cost? What is there to do on a rainy day? A sunny day? Any of these questions is going to affect your stay in a completely foreign place, so making sure you have a little background about your destination will make your trip go a lot more smoothly.

If the new-to-you country does not speak English as its first language, this is something it might benefit you to know. Languages can wind up being a real barrier when you’re traveling to new countries, so even just knowing which other languages you might encounter while you’re on your trip can help to alleviate some of the anxieties that accompany the language barrier.

Unless you have a lot of time on your hands, we don’t recommend hunkering down to become fluent in the languages you might come across while abroad, but we do recommend researching some key phrases and niceties before you go. A little effort can go a long way when it comes to communicating with the locals. We suggest searching for polite words and phrases like “please” and “thank you,” as well as where you can find the nearest bathroom.

Knowing how much the average meal will cost can actually help you a lot when it comes to budgeting for your trip. Research the restaurants you might be interested in visiting, and see if you can take a look at their menus to get a sense of how you should be divvying up your savings.

Always make sure you’ve saved more than you think you’ll need when you go abroad, because you never know when you might need that extra little cushion of cash to get you through a few days.

Sometimes luggage doesn’t make it onto your connecting flight and you need to buy a few essentials to get you through the first few days. Sometimes you come across a street artist who you desperately want to draw a caricature of you. Having extra money on reserve means you can enjoy your trip abroad without worrying about the little things.

Before you leave, get a good idea of any attractions you might want to see while you’re abroad. Learn the layout of whatever place you’re staying. It won’t do you well to decide there are two Paris museums you want to see, only to find out that they’re on opposite ends of the city. By knowing where the different attractions around the place you’re staying really are, you can better prepare by grouping your sightseeing together according to location.

a camera and blue scarf sit on top of the leather suitcase of a world traveler
If you can, try to keep your packing down to a single bag, and maybe a carry-on. It’ll cost you less money and make your trip more enjoyable overall if you aren’t worrying about having a different outfit for every day.

Going Abroad: The Actual Travel

Travel in and of itself can be one of the greatest rewards or the greatest pains. We can’t always control things like the weather or engine malfunctions they may need to delay the flight to check over before it takes off. To make your traveling experience a little easier, though, we suggest making careful choices about what you pack and choosing a travel schedule that will cause you the least potential grief.

Check your destination’s weather before you pack...and pack light.

The temptation to stuff as many outfit options as you possibly can into your suitcase might be overwhelming, but try to resist. You’re not going to need a different outfit for every occasion. In fact, in most cases, you really only need a few staples to last you a couple weeks.

If you pack a few pairs of jeans, you can wear them multiple times over the course of your stay abroad and be no worse off for it. One or two nicer outfits for nights out on the town should hold you over for the entire trip. Bringing different pieces to mix and match will save you from the headache of extra luggage fees when you inevitably end up going over the luggage weight limit because you needed to bring all three of your leather jackets.

A precursory glance at the weather you’re going to face can also help you to determine what you need to pack. Is it going to be hot? Maybe you’ll want to settle for your most lightweight clothes. Is there a forecast for rain? You might want to pack a raincoat--and some wellies as well if you plan on doing any trekking through muck.

Whatever you wind up packing, there are a few essentials you should always be sure to bring with you. Sneakers are an almost guarantee must. Even if you don’t necessarily plan on doing a ton of walking, you might be surprised by how much you actually wind up doing. Having a pair of comfortable, closed-toe shoes will make that walking as comfortable as possible.

In the same vein, pack extra socks to wear with your sneakers! You’ll probably wear out a few pairs while you’re away, so having extras to switch out in the middle of the day if the heels of the socks you’re already wearing start to develop holes is a safe bet.

Pick the most stress-free travel plan you can--and stick with it.

When you’re eager to begin an adventure, your first instinct might be to pick the travel that takes the least amount of time possible. We suggest going the route that’s going to make your life as easy as it can be, though.

Rather than choosing the shortest flight route with the shortest layover (if there is one), look for flights that leave you with ample time to get to your next terminal if you have to switch planes. The shorter your layover, the less time you’ll have to be sure you make your connecting flight--and most international flights do have a layover.

Unless you happen to be not actually getting off the plane to get onto a new flight, you’ll want to leave yourself a little wiggle room to make it to your next gate.

We also suggest arriving at the airport at least three hours early for an international flight. The luggage check and security process for flights out of the country can be a lot more vigorous than anything you may have experienced within the country.

Depending on the time of day, these can also become backlogged with swarms of people who are also traveling abroad. If you arrive early, though, you should be in good shape to check your luggage, pass through security, and find your terminal with plenty of time.

And don't forget to bring things to make the flight easier -- dramamine if you're concerned you might get airsick, travel ear plugs to block out jet engine noise, neck pillow for comfort, and a book or handheld game to pass the time.

a young woman with a ponytail takes a photo of ancient ruins on her travels
Traveling offers you so many new places to see. Visit the attractions, but also go out and see what you might find that you aren’t exactly looking for!

Exploration: Get the Most of Your Trip Abroad

When you finally touch down on foreign soil--that’s when the fun can really begin. Depending on how far you’ve travelled, you might need to give yourself a little time to adjust to the time change. Try, if you can, to avoid any naps. See that you head straight for one of your planned activities if you can. It will help to keep you awake, if only for a little while.

Don’t bind yourself to a strict schedule.

Some people can thrive under a planned-to-the-very-last-detail itinerary, but if you can, try not to box yourself in with one. Having a rough plan is always good, but it’s easy to miss out on all of the amazing things you can only see in another country if you’re constantly worrying about where you need to be next.

Traveling is all about exploration. So explore! Walk along the River Thames, step into a local bakery, or talk to some locals. Challenge yourself to experience something new every day, and if you don’t like it, well, at least you can say you tried.

Try new foods.

It’s easy to get lost in your own comforts, but part of experiencing everything a new-to-you country has to offer is submitting yourself to all of the niche aspects of their culture. Try the haggis in a pub near the Scottish moors. You’ll probably hate it, but it’s something you should experience.

Get lost.

Yes, on purpose! The best way to familiarize yourself with completely new surroundings is to get completely lost in them. See what you can find, what (mild) trouble you can get yourself into, and what you learn about yourself in the process. You’ll find your way out eventually, and even if you don’t, you can always ask someone for help.

There are so many rewards you can gain from traveling to a new country. As long as you prepare for your travel well enough to make sure you land where you need to be (roughly) when you’re supposed to, you’re in for some amazing new experiences.

Mar 13, 2020