12 Tips for Your First Trip Abroad

Tickets are booked, passports are secured, you are ready for your first international trip. If you are making the plans on your own and not through a tour or travel agent, there are a lot of pieces to pull together to make the trip as smooth as possible. Below are a few things to consider and to help you prepare for your adventure. 

1. Re-think backpacking, it’s an easier way to carry your gear if you’ll be taking public transportation and covering a lot of ground
Taking a backpack doesn’t mean you need to be hiking the Andes or staying strictly in hostels. I made the mistake of bringing my Tommy Hilfiger rolling luggage to Italy on a trip where I was moving a lot from city to city; the cobblestones and stairs didn’t treat the luggage wheels so well.

2. Be prepared for the fact that you will never be fully prepared
This is where the thrill comes in. Do your best to prepare and then just let go and enjoy the ride.

3. Expect the unexpected
Don’t let your tail feathers get ruffled easily. If something isn’t like home, let it be interesting, not annoying. It’s the reason you are traveling, to see what is different about the world. Need I say more?

4. Know your self and plan accordingly
When I arrive at a destination to kick off a trip, I like to rest for a day. I often get so excited I push myself to explore and that’s when I get run down and catch a cold or get sick.  Now I always plan to spend my first day resting, it's a great way for me to start a trip on the right foot.

5. Your travel experience outcome is directly correlated to your attitude and expectations
I had a coworker who once told me she would only travel to places that had her favorite vodka and wine accessible. On one hand I applaud her for knowing herself, on the other hand I can't help but think about all the wonderful new experiences she will miss out on in life with such limited thinking. You have to be open to try new experiences, have a positive attitude and expect that things will be different to enjoy your travel experience.

6. Choose a travel partner wisely
Traveling with someone is different then just hanging out at a barbecue with him or her. It can be challenging to find the right person to travel with. Sometimes it’s the person who complements you in a unique way, for instance, they love to plan things so they can take on the planning role while you relax or vice versa. If you don’t think you can find a good travel partner, read my article on why you should travel solo.

7. Socialize
The biggest mistake I made the first time I traveled abroad was not opening up to others. I was nervous, I didn’t speak the language and I felt isolated. It takes courage to not only learn new phrases but to also  speak up and practice a foreign language by interacting with others. You have to be willing to make a fool of yourself, not an easy task for some of us. You have to challenge yourself. Learn some phrases and tell yourself no matter how nervous you are, you will walk into the shop/restaurant etc. and communicate with someone. Trust me, most of the time people will appreciate it and open up to you. If not, it’s no sweat off your back, just move on to someone else, don’t take it personally. Communicating with others will make you feel connected and ensure that you don’t unnecessarily isolate yourself and block out wonderful new experiences.

8. Plan/book in advance with the opportunity to change your plans if necessary
I always thought it would be more spontaneous and exciting to decide where you are going on a whim. The truth is I find it a little exhausting. The need to constantly make new decisions gets in the way of enjoying myself. Now that I know this about me, I like to plan with flexibility. I book most of my lodging in advance, with the ability to cancel/change plans in case something else comes up.  I enjoy always having a place to go with the ability to still be spontaneous and change plans if needed.

9. Make sure to plan down time
When I look at a map, I tend to go a little crazy, I want to see every place possible. By the end of my initial planning, I’ve created a non-stop exhausting itinerary that is above and beyond my normal capacity for enjoyment. I’ve had to learn to edit myself and pull back. For some of you, if you like being on go constantly; by all means go for it. What I’ve learned about myself is that I am a better person when I take it a little slower. I always stay somewhere at least two nights (unless it really just warrants a one night stay) so I have time to look at sites and down time, not just running from place to place. In those moments of down time I often experience the most rewarding moments of the trip.

10. It’s okay to be a tourist
Ok, I hate to break the news to you but you are a tourist. I hear so much about going off the beaten path, not doing tourist things, I believe there really is value to both. In the past I often refused to go with tour groups or go on any tours. When I got pulled into a walking tour of Berlin I was not very thrilled at the thought of hours stuck with a guide rambling on while I wanted to explore. I was completely wrong. Not only was the walking tour entertaining and educational but it gave me the full lay of the land in the city and saved me an enormous amount of time when I was left to explore on my own. After the tour I was able to roam freely off the beaten path. I learned way more then I ever could have. Don’t be ashamed that you don’t know the ins and outs of a city, how can you, you’ve never been there before.

11. Get the museum audio guide or tour
Visiting the Louvre in Paris, France without any guidance was like…so overwhelming. My two years of Art History in college were not enough to prepare me for freely wandering a huge museum and understanding and appreciating what I was seeing. I had no idea what I was looking at most of the time and was completely overwhelmed. We shuffled through the museum in a zombie like crowd to stare at the Mona Lisa surrounded by 100 people. I remember being in awe of everything but it was just too much to look at and take in without any guidance. It's very helpful to have the highlights and details explained to you in a personal or audio tour the first time you visit a museum. Save the wandering for a future trip. 

12. Have fun

What are some travel tips you have? Please feel free to share this with anyone you know who may find it useful. Cheers!