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How to Plan Your First International Trip

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Typically when we receive email and social media messages asking us questions about travel, we will reply with blog links if we have written on the subject. Often times, we get the same question over and over and if it isn’t something we have written about, we realize it is a blog that needs to be written. For years we have been receiving emails asking us, “How do I travel?” “Where should I travel first?” “How do I plan my first international trip?” This blog is LONG overdue, but for those of you who need a bit of inspiration and some tips for your first trip, here is how to plan your first international trip!

Get a passport

Typically passports are provided by your home country’s state department. For US citizens, visit the State Department website for passport requirements. You’ll be required to fill out an application, provide a photo, and pay a fee. If you’re in a hurry, you can choose to expedite your passport for a small fee.

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Pick a Destination

Perhaps the #1 question we get asked in regard to how to travel is, “Where should I travel?” Well, for us the answer is everywhere. Over the last 4 years we have traveled to over 30 countries together, and have each visited a total of almost 40 countries. Visit our destinations page and click on the interactive map to reap blogs about each of the countries we have visited.

Be sure to pick a destination that offers what you’re looking for. There is a reason that we never respond to this question with a direct answer. “Where should I travel?” is such a loaded question and with differing opinions of how to enjoy a holiday, there is no one answer. If you want to eat the best food you’ve ever had and see some of the richest history on earth, maybe travel to Italy, if you’re planning a honeymoon, book a trip to Bora Bora, and if you want to fill your trip with adventure, maybe book a trip to Machu Picchu in Peru. The world is such a wide-open landscape of beauty and rich culture. Make a list of what you want to do on your vacation and let that guide the destinations you choose.

Do your research and Plan Activities

Once you’ve chosen your destination(s), be sure to do your research. Use our destinations map to explore the countries we have visited and read our travel guides and advice for those destinations. Leverage guides from Lonely Planet and other travel resources for information on destinations that we haven’t visited.

Use Instagram, Pinterest, and other social platforms to search for tips, guides, and pertinent information for the destinations of your choice. We invariably create folders on Instagram of places we want to go, restaurants we want to eat at etc. These platforms can be amazing search tools.

We also use Google Maps to save and favorite restaurants, attractions, beaches, etc. that we want to visit. Then when you arrive, it’s easy to scroll around on Google Maps and see what’s near you. This allows us to be more spontaneous, because we can say, “Oh, hey! That restaurant we wanted to try is right around the corner.”

Check visa requirements

As Americans, we can travel to something like 166 countries without a visa. An American passport (similar to a UK or Canadian passport) is virtually a ticket to the world. Each passport has different visa requirements, so check with your state department. For instance, Russia and China both require a visa and charge Americans to enter the country. Indonesia allows Americans to enter with a visa on arrival (you fill it out in the airport) for free, and Americans can spend 90 days in the Schengen Region in Europe for free without a visa (although this is set to change in 2021).

Visit the State Department website for both visa and safety information for each country.

Check CDC for immunization requirements

Depending on the destination you choose and your immunization record, you might have to get some shots before you hop on the plane. Check the CDC for your destination’s immunization requirements.

Apply for a travel rewards credit card

Using the right travel rewards credit card will enhance your trip and help you travel for free in the future. We use the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the AMEX Platinum. These cards make sure that our trips, our bags, and ourselves are insured. They mitigate foreign transaction fees, give us access to Global Entry so we don’t wait in customs queues when we return to the US, and provide access to more than 1,200 airport lounges worldwide. Using these cards for your daily spending, you’ll regularly earn enough miles for free flights and hotel stays.

Enroll in Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check

Your new AMEX Platinum or Chase Sapphire Reserve will give you a statement credit toward Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check. Global Entry has saved us HOURS upon HOURS of time in customs queues. When you return to the US, you literally scan your passport at a kiosk and walk straight through. The customs line at LAX usually takes about an hour…we get through in 1-2 minutes.

Book flights and accommodation

We always cross-reference flight and accommodation costs across multiple providers, but typically we book cheap flights on Skyscanner and book accommodation on Airbnb. Sign up for Airbnb and you’ll get $25 – 40 travel credit toward your first trip!

If you’ve earned enough miles from the sign-up bonus for your new credit card, use those miles to book your flight or hotel.

Purchase travel insurance

Travel insurance is imperative to protect your health, property, and trip as a whole. From trip cancellation to coverage in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack, World Nomads provides the most comprehensive travel insurance on the market. They’re a partner of ours and our go-to provider any time we need extra coverage.

Upload photos of all important docs to Dropbox

We keep a folder with photos of our passports, driver’s licenses, social security cards and other important health documents in Dropbox. We have the app on our phones so that we are able to access these documents anywhere in the world in the event we need a backup or emergency copy.

Notify your bank

If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve or AMEX Platinum, you don’t need to notify the banks that you’re traveling as these are global cards. However, other credit cards and virtually all ATM cards require that you place a travel notification on your card. This can be done online or in the app for most banks. If not, you can call the bank directly.

International mobile phone plan

Be sure to either contact your mobile phone provider and add an international travel pass or purchase an international sim from our partner KnowRoaming.

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Try to learn the language

With free apps like Duolingo and Babel, you can learn a new language for free. Neither platform will make you fluent, but you can learn words and phrases that will make your trip more enjoyable. If you’re more invested in learning the language, buy Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur, or follow these tips to learning any language without taking a class.

Have the time of your life

Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Plan, but be spontaneous. Don’t burden yourself with an itinerary unless you want to. You’ll probably catch the travel bug after your first international trip, so enjoy the journey!

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