Essential Tips for First-Time International Travelers: 20+ Must-Know Insights!

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

Calling all first-time international travelers! Are you fully prepared for what international travel has to throw at you? Are you aware of the best travel hacks to eliminate the risk of a grueling travel experience? At one point, I believed that there was nothing that could truly prepare someone for their very first international trip, but I was wrong. As I progressed from a novice traveler to a pro-globe-trotter, I picked up a few travel hacks I wish I had known when I first traveled internationally. 

Planning for your first international escape is bound to be an exciting time, but if you don’t plan for it properly, you could find yourself wallowing in discomfort and feelings of self-pity and frustration. Take it from someone who learned the hard way.

Let’s take a moment to explore each of our main international travel hacks – and then you can get packing! As a newbie globe trotter, you can use these 24 travel hacks to simplify your first international trips.

These are 24 helpful tips and hacks for first-time international travelers:

1. Opt for travel insurance.

The first time I packed my bags and headed to a foreign land, I skipped on the travel insurance. In fact, when it was offered to me, I scoffed internally thinking that it was a waste of money. I also thought I was smarter than other travelers and had managed to save myself a chunk of change, thanks to foregoing travel insurance. I really did learn the hard way with this one. 

While abroad, my personal belongings, including my passport and money, went missing, and because I didn’t take travel insurance out, I was left to deal with the fallout myself. Of course, there is no guarantee that you will suffer the same plight as me, but it’s best to be prepared (and safe). Travel insurance provides cover for a variety of things as follows:

  • Emergency medical expenses,
  • Lost luggage and personal belongings,
  • Delayed, canceled, or interrupted flights.

2. Use accommodation booking sites that offer valuable extras.

Here’s the thing about booking accommodation online – most international establishments will usually charge you more if you arrive in their reception in person on the day of your travel, or if you book online or via email on their website. The problem with directly booking online (e.g., through hotel websites) or via email is that you might miss out on the perks that online booking services offer. 

Let’s take, for instance, Booking.com. This online accommodation website is geared towards providing accommodation at suitable prices for every budget. Also, a lot of their offers will include added extras that the establishment might not have offered you directly, such as breakfast included, free upgrades to a better room, and a watch service that can offer you the room at a cheaper rate if it is found advertised cheaper on another online site. 

3. Avoid planning too much to do.

When you plan a trip to a bucket list destination, you are bound to have a long list of things to do and places to see. Unfortunately, you may run out of time or start to feel exhausted if you try to squeeze in too much to do in a short space of time. On my last trip to a tropical island, I hired a scooter and got a flat tire which destroyed an entire day’s plans. I also had two days of seasickness that I never expected to get, which means that I missed out on a lot of my plans/activities. 

Try to factor in morning sleep-ins, potential transport delays, travel distances, and natural tiredness. Also, select your top pick of things to do and plan them – give yourself some free time to relax and unwind too.

4. Hunt for two-for-one activity deals.

If you are traveling to a destination, use Google to find out if there are any 2 for 1, or similar deals for activities. This might save you a lot of money in the end, especially if you are traveling as a couple. Take, for example, the Days Out Guide website in the UK. This website provides information on all activities offering 2 for 1 tickets to all foreign travelers with a passport. Simply print the tickets and arrive at the attraction or activity – and only pay for 1 person!

5. Take your mobile phone USB charger along (no need for an adaptor).

Before you rush out and buy a plug adaptor so that you can charge your mobile phone and devices while traveling, ask if the hotel you are staying at has a television in the room. Most modern televisions have a USB port at the back or on the side that you can use to charge your mobile devices. 

6. Download a language app (or learn a new language).

If you are traveling to a foreign country where the language is different to yours, you might need to spend some time learning a few basics so that you can ask directions, order food and drinks, and get basic information. 

I have found that Duolingo is a great app for learning just about any language, and you absolutely have to download Google Translate to assist you in times when communication gets a little…complicated. Make sure that you download the Google Translate offline version before you leave your trusty Wi-Fi so that you can still translate words and sentences when you are nowhere near an internet connection.

7. Don’t get lost! Download Google’s offline maps feature.

Most people use Google Maps on their mobile phones nowadays. While Google Maps works great in your local area because your mobile data is working just fine, keep in mind that there may be times when you are out of signal while you are traveling. You can download the offline version of maps for the area you are visiting so that you can find your way, even when there’s no internet connection or mobile signal available.

8. Share costs with a travel buddy.

Traveling alone has its value, but traveling with a friend can add even more value to your experience. Not only is it fun having a travel buddy, but it’s also a great way to cut on costs. Think about accommodation costs – cheaper rooms when you split the cost. 

9. Prepare for international payments.

International payment preparation is something that I cannot stress enough. I once arrived in a foreign country and have absolutely no access to cash. Let’s just say that the first few days were extremely hard for me.

Before you head off to a foreign country, let your local bank known that you will be swiping your card internationally so that they don’t block it. Also, as you land in the airport, find a local ATM and withdraw money in local currency. This will ensure that you aren’t stuck trying to do a foreign exchange where you will undoubtedly lose the value of your currency.

10. Pack a few comfort & hygiene essentials in your hand luggage.

Long-distance travel is long and grueling on the body. Make sure that you stash the following items in your hand luggage – you will be ever so grateful that you did. A toothbrush and mini travel-size toothpaste (lots of people brush their teeth at the airport – do it!), wet wipes, deodorant, and a hairbrush/comb.

11. Live in the moment (put that phone away).

When you arrive at your destination, you are probably going to start snapping pictures left and right. Try to spend some of your trip camera free. While it is great to have amazing pictures to remember the adventure, you could miss out on the real authenticity of the experience if you are stuck behind your camera all the time.

12. Take a pillow slip or laundry bag.

Dirty laundry happens while on holiday. Some hotels will offer a laundry service, which is great if you have packed light. To keep your clean and dirty clothing separate, have a pillow slip or laundry bag to stuff dirty items into. 

13. Stash a pen in each bag.

Arriving at a foreign country and joining the customs or visa line is no joke when you realize that you have paperwork to fill out before you arrive at the service desk. Make sure that you have a pen handy and that if there is paperwork to fill out, do so while you are on the plane (you might notice a hostess walking around with visa/customs books, handing them out on board).

14. Book an aisle and window seat.

Traveling in a pair? Book a window and an aisle seat online. Most other travelers will avoid booking the middle seat, so it could mean you get a free seat to spread out onto during your trip. What happens if someone books the middle seat? Just ask them to switch with you (be kind, give them the window).

15. Bring a clothing peg along for your toothbrush.

Don’t want your toothbrush lying on the basin of your hotel? If you are squeamish about germs, simply attach a clothing peg to the bottom of your toothbrush so that it can stand up, with the bristles free from any surface.

16. Research the nearest local grocery stores to your hotels.

Don’t buy water and other basic essentials from the hotel, airport, or tourist-geared store. Look for a local grocery store where these things are typically cheaper. 

17. Avoid taxis, use public transport instead.

Taxis are notoriously expensive. Avoid using them at all costs, unless you absolutely have to. Rather use public transport as these services are aimed at locals and generally cheaper. You can also make use of transport services that are generally cheap in main areas, such as Uber or Lyft.

18. Pack less and smartly.

If you are traveling for 3 weeks, don’t take 3 weeks’ clothing with you. The lighter you pack, the more convenient and comfortable your trip will be. Simply ask the hotel about their laundry service and wash clothing while on your trip. To save space in luggage, roll your clothes instead of folding them and packing them flat.

19. Prepare for a quick transfer through security checkpoints.

At security points at the airport, some people sail through seamlessly while others seem plagued with stops, questions, and reshuffling of bags and belongings. You can avoid being the latter by preparing. Have all liquids (they, usually, must be under 100ml) packed in a clear Ziploc bag and out of your hand luggage, don’t have any water or bottled liquids with you above 100ml, and make sure that anything metal is not on you (remove watch, belt, bangles, etc. that might set the scanner off).

20. Take an empty water bottle to the airport.

Don’t buy water at the airport. It will be expensive, and when you get to the security checkpoint, you will have to discard it. Take an empty water bottle (or a travel mug) with you through security and fill it up on the other side.

21. Ditch the idea of roaming – use Wi-Fi on the move and save.

For many people, roaming is expensive. And the idea of getting a local SIM card in a foreign country might be a waste of time and money. There is no real reason to have mobile services while on holiday. You can use Wi-Fi in most of the hotels that you stay at, and if you look on Foursquare, you can find the Wi-Fi passwords for a number of hotels, pubs, and restaurants in the area that you are visiting. Use free Wi-Fi access as you go and save yourself a lot of money.

22. Print out all travel plans and carry them with you.

You might think that saving your flight details, hotel bookings, and payment proofs on your phone is a great idea. What if your phone battery dies or your phone is stolen/goes missing? Print a copy of everything for your own peace of mind and convenience.

23. Take a few instant oatmeal packets along.

Some hotels don’t offer or include breakfast in their room rate, and when you see the price of breakfast in the local currency, you might cringe. Paying for breakfast every morning won’t be good for your budget, so think about taking instant oatmeal packets with you. You can make yourself a quick breakfast on the go and won’t have to pay the high cost of a restaurant meal. 

24. Memorize (or write down) your credit card and online banking login details.

It’s no fun losing your credit card and then realizing that you don’t remember your online banking details either. Access to money is vitally important while traveling, so take the time to memorize (or write down) your card and banking details to avoid potential disasters. 

Hopefully, these 20 plus travel hacks ensure that your upcoming international trip is seamless and comfortable. Happy travels!

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who share their experiences and knowledge about the "Seven F's of Life".

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He mainly focuses on content about faith, spirituality, personal growth, finance, and sports. He graduated from Mercyhurst University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business, majoring in Marketing. He is a certified tennis instructor who teaches in the New York City Metropolitan area. In terms of finance, he has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.