Tips for taking your first international trip

The opening line of a email I received, a quote by the late Maya Angelou, got my attention. It read, "Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends," and reminded me of an experience I had on my first international trip.

My first international foray (beyond Canada and Mexico) was a trip to London in 1987. Some six years after the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran had ended, feelings were still a bit raw between the U.S. and Iran. Then, something rather remarkable happened.

The London Eye at night
I was in a café at London's Heathrow Airport (LHR), trying to get a quick bite to eat before getting on my flight home. It was my "salad days" and I could barely afford the lettuce. I had a few pounds Sterling left, and a few U.S. dollars, but not enough of either for my meal, which the cashier had explained had to be fully paid for in one currency or the other.

The man in front of me, whose Iranian passport I had glimpsed, dumped a plastic bag filled with British coins on his tray and said, "Take whatever you need."

That experience, and many others I have had while traveling internationally since, gave me the same sense of humanity that Angelou expressed so articulately. So, when I read the article, "How to Take Your First International Trip," sent to me by travel sales company MyTravelBiz, I was intrigued.

At its heart, travel unlocks a world of possibilities.

Technologies continue to advance and connect the global community in many ways, from real-time views of far-flung lands beamed to those back home to apps like Google Translate, which helps bridge the language barrier that often intimidates people into staying home.

Add to those advances the fact that, in real dollars, airline fares are a bargain compared to 20 or 30 years ago, and many more people have become inspired to broaden their travel horizons. If you're among them, read more in this article from MyTravelBiz.

If you’re planning your first international trip, there a number of things to take into consideration, such as the best day to book a flight, finding eateries that suit your dietary needs, surviving jet lag, and even choosing the right shoes for your intended destination.

As daunting as this list may seem at first, these checklist items can actually become fun and exciting parts of the planning journey. Once complete, you may feel as savvy as the seasoned traveler seated next to you!

Warsaw's Palace of Culture
To learn more about some of the most beautiful and captivating countries on the planet like Cuba, Portugal, Croatia, New Zealand or Sweden, go directly to their tourism bureau websites or promotion videos on YouTube. Each offers their own unique flavor and flair of some of their most iconic cities, hidden gems, gastronomic adventures and more.

Travel experts like Peter Greenberg and Carol Margolis of SmartWomenTravelers.com have garnered throngs of loyal fans all over the world for their wealth of international travel experience, high-quality travel content and personal insider tips.

Cost is usually one of the most important considerations for any traveler. However, there are a myriad of ways you can save money—before and during your trip.

Before packing your passport, stash away some cash by getting rid of that gym membership you never use, eat out a little less often, or have a garage sale (it will help you clean out the garage too!).

While on the road, stretch your buck further by dining where the locals dine—not at the most popular tourist spots—using any hotel travel points you may have earned for business, and getting around via public transportation in lieu of paying high taxi fees.

When it comes to making purchases while traveling abroad, according to U.S. News & World Report, not all credit cards are created equal, many carrying foreign transaction fees. To help navigate these surcharges, they have published a guide aimed at improving financial literacy among travelers. Editor's note: I also recently published an article on the best credit cards, as you will see below.

Diversity and inclusion are worth celebrating, and international travel offers rich and meaningful opportunities to learn about different people and lifestyles. Travel make us stronger, opens our eyes and hearts to the global community, and helps us change the world.

I couldn't agree more.

Here are some additional tips for your first trip.

Choose your credit card carefully.  The best credit cards for international travel can depend a bit on how and how often you travel. If you're a young person and/or have limited credit, your choices will be more limited.

Write down the international contact number for your issuing banks (which is different from the toll-free number used in North America), along with whether it's a MasterCard or VISA, and debit or credit card. Do not write down the account number; if your card is lost or stolen, your bank will be able to find the number by asking you a few questions only you would know.

A traveler's security belt
If you have cards issued by more than one bank, carry one in your wallet or purse, and carry the other in a security belt worn around your waist, under your shirt. If one card is lost or stolen, you'll have the other to get you by. If you only have one card, you'll have to decide whether carrying it in the waist belt is worth the inconvenience.

It's always good to have a little of the local currency in your pocket when you lands so, before you leave home, get some from your bank. Most major financial institutions can get pounds, euros, or whatever in a couple of days, and the rate will be much better than at an exchange kiosk at the airport.

If you're one with a lot of apps on your phone, particularly those that access financial information, consider renting a "clean" phone for your trip to protect you if yours goes missing.

Before you leave home, establish a code word or phrase with a close friend or relative in case you have to call them for help. These days, with so many scams afoot, it helps to have a way of verifying that the person on the other end of the text or email is really your friend or relative, as I detailed in this post I published after my son's wallet was lifted during an international trip.

If you're traveling to a country or countries where English is not the primary language, download Google Translate. That app also allows the downloading of many dictionaries that can be used off-line in case you're somewhere your data plan doesn't work, or you don't have Wi-Fi. If you have the ability, try to learn to count to five, and how to say, "Please," "Thank you," and "I'm sorry." Accompanied by a bit of pantomime, those simple phrases can get one a surprisingly long way in a country where you don't speak the language.

Lufthansa 747-400 at SEA
Choose your airline carefully. All else being equal, I prefer to fly an airline flagged in the country to which I'm traveling. Being more immersed in the culture to which I'm headed makes me feel like my vacation starts even before I land.

Chose your seat carefully, too. All seats are not created equal. Some have more space in general while others vary rather widely. The legroom in American Airlines' (NASDAQ:AAL) narrow-body jets ranges from 30 inches to 36 inches; that's a huge range and shows that, just because you've booked a Standard Economy seat, it doesn't necessarily mean it will have the same amount of legroom as one a few rows forward or behind.

SeatGuru.com is an excellent resource, and will even tell you facts about the seats, such as whether the box for the in-flight entertainment is under the seat in front of you, restricting your legroom, or under your seat, making it hotter than the seat next to it. Consider paying a few extra dollars for extra comfort if you're a taller or larger person. It could be money well spent.

Whether your overseas trip is a long-haul flight of six to 12 hours in duration, or exceeds 12 hours and is considered ultra-long-haul, here are some things you can do to make the trip more bearable.

Osteria al Pesador on the Grand Canal in Venice
I completely concur with the advice to eat where the locals eat. One of the things that stood out during my first trip to Venice were the restaurant signs that said, "Menus for Tourists." RUN, don't walk, away from such places. Also, learn a little about whether tipping is part of the culture and, if so, how much is appropriate.

Try to blend in as much as possible. In general, European men don't wear shorts in the city; doing so will make you stand out. Leave the Seahawks/Patriots/Green Bay/Yankees, etc., shirts, caps and other items of clothing at home. Opt instead for plain jeans, which are ubiquitous, and conservative tops. Watch virtually any program by travel expert Rick Steves and look at the way he dresses.

Make two copies of your passport. Keep one with you, separate from your actual passport, and leave the other with friends or family back home.

Finally, if you realize you've found your dream, MyTravelBiz offers this final bit of advice:

Another way to satisfy your international wanderlust is by owning your own online travel business! MyTravelBiz offers the life-changing opportunity to become an Entrepreneur, get paid to travel and help others experience the joys of travel. The company has a unique patent-pending technology that offers the best price and travel selection, coupled with a travel platform with more than 15 years of proven success in the travel industry.

Safe travels!

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.



Photos by Carl Dombek
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