If this is your first trip out of the country, you might be stressing over the details. Foreign currency rates, labyrinthine lines at immigrations, and what if you lose your passport? There are dozens of things that could go wrong… but many more that can go right!
Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a newbie to international trips, we’ve rounded up 20 top hacks for making your trip smooth and stress-free.
— Before You Go
Proper planning is the key to any successful trip. Sure, you want to be spontaneous, but a little bit of prep work will help ensure that everything goes as smoothly as you’d like.
1. Check Your Passport
As soon as you even start to think of taking a trip, check your passport to make sure it’s up-to-date. Verify the expiration date, and remember: most countries won’t let you enter unless your passport is good for another six months after your travel dates. It can take 6-8 weeks for a new passport to arrive, so give yourself plenty of time if you need to renew it.
2. Make Copies
Make several copies of all of your important papers. Your passport, flight and hotel information, driver’s license, credit cards – if it’s important, make a copy. Take one copy with you, in case of an emergency (leave them in the hotel safe) and leave a copy back home with a trusted friend or family member.
3. Check Your Credit Cards
Not every credit card can be used abroad, especially debit cards. Call your bank or credit card company to make sure your cards have the necessary tech. While you’re on the phone with them, inform them of your travel dates and destinations. If not, they could flag your account for suspicious activity, leaving you stranded without access to your credit card.
4. Buy Tickets Ahead of Time
Once you’ve picked a destination, spend some time researching the top sights. If there are any “can’t miss” spots on your list, buy your tickets online ahead of time. Popular sights and tours often sell out well in advance, so this will guarantee your entry. Most sights also offer special entrances for ticket holders, so you can skip the long lines.
5. Pack a Change of Clothes
Lost or delayed luggage is just a fact of life. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. And after spending a long flight in your clothes, the last thing you’ll want to do is have to wear them even longer while waiting for your suitcase to arrive. Pack a full change of clothes in your carry-on just in case.
6. Drink Your H2O
Airport security won’t let you pass through with liquids, which forces you to pay for the overpriced bottled water at the gate. Instead, bring an empty water bottle from home, and refill it as often as you need from the water fountain while you’re waiting for your flight.
7. Avoid the Alcohol
Although it’s tempting to toast the start of your trip, avoid drinking alcohol in the air. Combined with the dry plane air, it will leave you even more dehydrated than your usual night out. On top of that, the effects of alcohol mid-flight are increased due to the low cabin pressure. Who wants to land in a foreign country with a hangover?
8. Plan to Sleep
If you want to make the most of your first day abroad, you’ll have to be well-rested from the get-go. Plan to get your sleep on the plane by bringing everything you need: neck pillow, eye shades, and noise-canceling earphones.
9. Avoid Connections
Whenever possible, try to book direct flights. Yes, even if you have to spend a little extra. It’ll save you the frustration of having to wait for connecting flights when you’re already impatient to arrive at your final destination. Not to mention, if one flight is delayed, you’ll have the added stress of trying to catch a connection. No one wants to sprint through the airport!
10. Bring Snacks
Even if you don’t snack much at home, bring extra snacks with you in your carry-on. The boredom of sitting in an airplane for hours on end can make you feel hungrier than usual. Choose protein bars, nuts, or dried fruit for healthy sources of energy.
11. Know the ATMs
Most domestic banks have partners abroad. These partners offer banking customers access to ATMs – and local currency – with no transaction fees. Even if you plan on mostly using credit cards, it’s good to know where you can get fast cash in the case of an emergency.
12. Bring an International Charger
Foreign outlets are completely different. You probably won’t be able to just plug in your usual phone or laptop charger. Do your research before you leave and make sure you bring the necessary adapters.
— While You’re There
You’ve landed safely, fantastic! Now it’s time to enjoy your trip.
13. Use an Offline Map
Nothing screams “tourist” to the local pickpockets like an oversized foldout map. Instead, use the maps feature on your phone, even if you don’t have international data. Most map apps have an offline feature that allows you to download the maps you need for the day, so you can get where you need to go, but discreetly.
14. Carry Local Cash
You change money before you leave or at the airport, or get money from an ATM. But carrying small local bills for tips and minor purchases will make your life much easier.
15. Get Recommendations
When it comes to top-notch local cuisine, no one knows better than the locals. Put down your guidebook, ignore online recommendations, and talk to everyone you can. Employees at your hotel can suggest their favorite nearby places. Ask a taxi driver to take you to their favorite cafe. Most people are proud of their city and happy to share suggestions for good food!
16. Use WiFi
International data isn’t cheap. Even if you purchase a plan before you go, the cost can be astronomical. Try to avoid using data as much as possible by sticking to WiFi at hotels, restaurants, and popular tourist sites. If you don’t want to pay for international texting, stick to messaging apps that use WiFi to stay in touch with everyone back home.
17. Grab a Business Card
Ask your hotel’s front lobby for a business card and put it in your wallet. If you get lost while exploring the city, you’ll have the hotel’s name and address to show locals or a cab driver. It’s easy to get turned around, but this hack will make sure you’ll find your way back without any trouble.
18. Beat the Crowds
If you want to visit a popular attraction, try to get there right when it opens. While most tourists are still sleeping, you’ll have the place to yourself. You will also be able to take the most beautiful photos, thanks to the soft, diffused morning light.
19. Stay Charged
Even if your phone battery usually lasts the full day at home, you’re going to need extra battery life to get you through a day abroad. Maps, translation apps, and photos/videos all will drain your battery. Bring a portable charger for a mid-afternoon boost. If you’re using a camera, make sure you have an extra, charged battery with you for that, too.
20. Journal Every Night
Whether it’s on your laptop or with a pen and paper, write down your memories while they’re still fresh. A travel journal is a free, easy, and beautiful souvenir that you can enjoy for years to come.