Your first international vacation can be one of the most exciting events of your life. You've probably saved up money for a while, and you probably have lots of ideas about things you'd like to see and do that you've always dreamed of. Every year, 900 million Americans journey overseas, and if you're planning to be one of them this summer, it's important to know a few of the most common pitfalls for first-time world travelers that could make your trip a lot harder than it has to be. Whether you're staying at a nice hotel or backpacking to a hostel, traveling through Europe or island-hopping in the South Seas, there are some universal tips that apply to everyone. When you're leaving the country for the first time, it can be hard to know what to expect. These are the mistakes you don't want to make.
1. Not Planning Ahead.
Never make plans to travel to another country without knowing something about the local customs, because no matter where you go, they're guaranteed to be at least a little different from the U.S. Grab a couple travel books and read up on your destination, especially if you're going somewhere where you don't know the language. Practicing a few key words or phrases in their native tongue will make people more open to helping you - and you're probably going to need them to. You should also plan for being away from home by making sure someone is picking up your mail and keeping an eye on your house. Burglaries can occur because a house is left too obviously vacant by someone on a long vacation. Inform your bank you'll be leaving the country so they don't flag your account for identity theft, and even talk to them about money exchange so you'll have some cash on you when you get there.
2. Foregoing Travel Insurance
Many people think of travel insurance as something frivolous, but nothing could be further from the truth. Going abroad is both scary and expensive, and there legitimate chances for accidents, illness, injury, crime, and emergency trip interruptions, especially if you are gone a long time or visiting multiple countries. Travel is an investment, and you don't want to lose out for any reason, but you have to shop smart for insurance, too. As soon as you know when you're traveling, you should look for an insurance package, and be honest about your trip details and any pre-existing medical conditions. Read your policy thoroughly and know what the exclusions are and whether it only covers trip cancellation for certain reasons. If you need coverage for auto rentals or other specialized areas, make sure you know they're included.
You're constantly moving when you travel abroad, and it's more than likely you will spend half your trip walking or riding public transportation, especially if you want to save money. So it makes no sense to bring the largest, heaviest luggage you can find and weigh it down with too much stuff. You don't need as many clothes or belongings as you think you do. You'll be able to pick up any necessities you need along the way, and you'll probably pick up plenty of souvenirs whether you plan on shopping or not. If you leave some extra room for purchases, you won't regret it. You'll also be glad when you're not pushing, pulling, dragging, or loading giant bags every time you need to transition somewhere. It's also way easier than you imagine to exceed weight requirements on flights, which vary from airline to airline and can cost you too much in overweight luggage fees.
4. Choosing the Wrong Companions
According to the U.S. Travel Association, only about 11 percent of travelers go it alone, and yet statistically lone travelers often have the most enriching experience. If you've been planning a trip with your friends for a while now and you have the same goals in mind for traveling but are willing to let each other explore their own interests, you won't have a problem. But when it gets down to the wire and you invite someone to travel with you simply because you don't want to go alone, it can actually hinder your enjoyment. If they're not as passionate or invested in your plans as you are, they could end up bringing you down or complaining. And at the very least, they might have wildly different ideas of where to stay, what to do, and how much money to spend. If your traveling companion isn't on the same page as you, it's much better to leave them at home.
5. Being Short on Cash
You may be used to relying heavily on credit and debit cards at home, but it's much easier to carry enough cash on you when you're going into unfamiliar territories. You could find yourself in places where your cards don't work, unable to find an ATM machine, or in need of money for tips or vendors. You can also seriously deplete your finances with ATM fees which may be higher from your bank in foreign countries and come from the ATM itself, too. The best plan is to exchange money at your own bank and bring along the right cash from the beginning. There's no way to know how much you'll spend and it will probably be more than you imagine, so be lenient on yourself when it comes to withdrawals but budget when you need to.
It might be impossible to really prepare for traveling the world until you've done it, but thinking ahead will definitely make all the difference. Flights might be stressful, hotels might be small, and weather might be uncooperative, but chances are you're going to remember this trip for the rest of your life. And if you do it right, it will only be for good reasons.
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