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How to Prepare for Your First International Vacation

A first international vacation to a new country is a thrilling experience. It’s an unforgettable way to learn about new cultures and perspectives. In this post, you’ll learn 8 pro-traveler hacks to make sure your first international vacation is an amazing experience you’ll want to repeat over and over.

You’ve got your passport ready and your bags are packed; it’s finally time to take your first international trip! Before you hop on the plane, though, there are a few things you should consider:

Male traveler standing on a bridge with smile in response to their first international trip.

8 Piece of Advice for Your First International Vacation

Make a Plan for International Phone Service

Your cell phone is the number one tool you’ll bring on your trip. It’s so much more than just a communication device: it’s your camera, your map, and your translator, too! That’s why it’s important to make sure that your phone is just as ready to travel as you are.

There are several aspects to consider:

  • 🔌 International Adaptor for Phone Charger: Make sure you have an adaptor or charger that fits the outlets in your destination. A quick internet search for “what adaptor do I need to charge my phone in (insert destination country)” will bring up photo examples of what you’ll need based on which country you’re traveling to.
  • 📶 International Phone Plan Coverage. Does your current service provider offer services in your destination? If so, is it cheaper or more expensive than getting a SIM card after you’ve arrived? Can you order a SIM card ahead of time and bring it with you? Whatever the case, be sure to check all of your options so that you can go with the best choice for your needs and budget.

For your first international vacation, I recommend keeping it simple. Planning well in advance will allow you to focus on enjoying your trip- not panicking in search of cell phone service.

My Recommendations:

As a professional traveler, here are my recommendations for simple, reliable cell phone management on your international trip:

The following section may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Google Fi. Lots of travelers switch some cards on arrival and their destination country, but I love the convenience and safety of my Google five plan – which works in more than 200 countries as soon as I my plane lands. Fi’s international data rate, incredibly, is the same price anywhere in the world as it is in the US. Check out Google fi via my referral link.

Universal International Adaptor. With a little bit of research you can pick up the correct adapter for your destination country – some travelers even grab one from a market on arrival. However, since a cell phone is such a critical piece of travel equipment I don’t take any chances. I recommend travelers – especially first-time international travelers – to travel with the universal adapter that fits plug-ins in any country. Grab the one I use on Amazon.

Learn Some Key Words in the Local Language

Of course, no one expects you to be fluent by the time you leave for your first international vacation. However, a little bit of language prep can help you get what you need when you’re on the ground. Start with simple things like “hello” and “thank you.”

Duolingo is honestly a great tool for travelers- and you don’t have to invest a lot of time.

Don’t be a perfectionist! You don’t have to learn the language! Set more realistic goals. Even 5 minutes a day for one week before you depart will help you:

  • Begin to recognize the most basic words and
  • Become familiar with the sound of the language.

Both will go a long way towards easing the often-overwhelming experience of leaving an English-speaking country for the first time.

If you’d like, try and learn some basic phrases. After you’ve mastered those little phrases, try learning how to say “I would like…” or “I need….” Pair these phrases with the names of your favorite food and drink, and you’re ready to order like a local!

In most countries, you’ll be able to use English to communicate, especially with people who work in hospitality (like hotels, restaurants, or tourist sites). But don’t miss out on the excitement of using the local language, even for a few little phrases! Making an attempt to speak the local language is often a great way to build relationships while traveling.

Inform Your Bank you’ll be Traveling Internationally

I’ll admit, I’ve forgotten to tell my bank that I was traveling before. It didn’t seem like a big deal as I was checking on visa requirements and trying to fit more stuff in my suitcase.

Let me tell you- once I was in a foreign country without access to my account, then it was a really big deal!

Before you head abroad for your first international vacation, make sure to tell your bank where you’re going and how long you’ll be there. Many banks offer this service on their mobile app; you can also call or send an email to your bank representative. It’s an easy task, and it’s definitely necessary for a smooth trip.

Prioritize What You Want to Do

On your first international vacation, you will want to see and do everything. That’s normal! It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of researching and planning a vacation in an exotic destination, but it’s not always possible to execute all of those plans.

Remember, factors like jet lag, transfer days, and transportation delays can cut into a busy vacation schedule.

That’s why you should rank and prioritize the experiences you want to have so that you can definitely hit all of your must-sees.

Plus, when you leave time for just wandering around and getting lost in a new place, as I did in Valparaiso, Chile, you open yourself up to new and beautiful experiences that you never could have planned for in your trip planner!

Don’t Forget the Budget

As a first-time international vacationer, you’ll need to be mindful of exchange rates. When our money has more or less buying power after conversion, it can really throw a wrench in a typical travel budget.

Calculating currency conversions adds an extra step in the budgeting process. Make sure that you’re planning your travel budget according to the accurate exchange rates. A good way to find out he current exchange rate is to use the currency converter built in to Google’s search. For example, searching “6 YEN to USD” instantly brings up the raw conversion rate.

Beware of “Free money exchange with no fees!” offers

Money changers currency converting booths, and even predatory ATMs will convert your money at a much less favorable rate. By offering fewer pesos (etc) on the dollar for US dollars than the actual exchange, these services profit off unaware and/or first-time travelers.

💳💲💰 How Pro Travelers get the Best Exchange Rates:

People who take many international trips know that the best way to get funds in a local currency is through these two steps:

  1. Find a Bank-Branded ATM. (These are easy to find in airports and city centers, but harder to find in tourist areas) Unlike some for-profit ATM companies (looking at you, Euronet!) that specifically prey on tourists, bank ATMs generally offer the option to take advantage of the next step.
  2. Don’t accept the standard conversion. When you withdraw money from a foreign ATM, a bank ATM will offer a conversion rate and ask if you accept. If you refuse, the funds will be withdrawn from your account “in the local currency” and converted at whatever rate your bank assigns. Virtually every time, rejecting the ATM’s rate and opting for the unknown rate will save you money.

For some tips on staying on budget- and what’s worth splurging on- while you’re traveling, check out my guide to travel budgeting.

Know Your Limits

Remember, the ultimate goal of a vacation is to get some rest! Don’t pack your schedule too full, and don’t wear yourself out running from one spot to another. If you do, your first international vacation might just feel like a job!

Instead, make some time to rest, travel mindfully, and go slowly through the place you’re visiting. I think slowing down and seeing fewer things more mindfully is the best way to take in the authentic sights and sounds of your destination.

It can be tempting to think, “I’m in a new country, so I have to do and try everything!” but that’s simply not the case. Stick to things that you enjoy and which bring you rest.

For example, if you don’t enjoy nightlife in your own town, chances are staying out all night in a foreign city isn’t really restful for you. Or, if you loathed hiking at scout camp growing up, you’re not going to magically start enjoying it just because you flew to the other side of the world!

Yet, your first international trip is a great opportunity to step out of your comfort zone! Try the local’s favorite version of activities that you know you’ll enjoy, and then use those experiences as a jumping-off point for trying new things.

Don’t Get Weighed Down With Comparisons

From the moment the plane lands in a foreign country, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in what’s “different” and what’s “familiar” for you. This often translates to “good/bad” or even “safe/dangerous” splits in our minds. These snap judgments can prevent us from seeing the beauty and value in the culture that we’re visiting.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have opinions about what’s around you. Instead, be aware of the ways that you’re perceiving and judging what you see, hear, taste, smell, and do. This self-reflection adds a new dimension to your international travels that will allow you better understand yourself, your own culture, and to experience the personal growth that comes through travel.

Take it All In!

Most importantly, be sure to savor the experience of your first time traveling in a different country. Make the most of every opportunity! Interact, ask questions, and be open to seeing things from a new perspective. By being present in the experience, you can build strong memories to last a lifetime.