24 Handy Tips For First-Time Travelers

The joy, nerves, and excitement of being a first-time traveler are unmatched! It is your first big adventure internationally or domestically. So naturally, you want to make the most of it and do it right.

Travel can be stressful, even for a seasoned globetrotter. But for a first-timer, it can feel outright overwhelming. After a long flight, you must orient yourself in a foreign country, where the time zone, language, and currency may differ from what you’re used to.

Not to mention any surprises that will likely pop up along the way. With this in mind, preparing to travel ahead of time will make for a smoother journey.

Here are some tips to get yourself ready for your first trip abroad:

  1. Take The Leap Into The Unknown
  2. Consider Signing Up For A Travel Rewards Card
  3. Learn The Different Types Of Baggage And The Rules
  4. Keep Checking Your Itinerary And Flight Status
  5. Arrive At A Good Time
  6. Wear Easy-To-Remove Shoes
  7. Respect Other Passengers’ Space
  8. Have A Backup Plan Ready
  9. See Your Doctor If You’re Anxious
  10. Exchange Currency Beforehand Or Online
  11. Don’t Panic Over The Security Procedures
  12. Notify Your Loved Ones You Made It Safely
  13. Give A Heads-Up To Your Credit Card Issuer
  14. Check Your Documents
  15. Give Yourself A Long Booking Runway
  16. Be Selective About Lodging
  17. Consider The Not-So-Common Essentials
  18. Give Yourself Enough Time To Get Over Your Jet Lag
  19. Keep Yourself Safe
  20. Dress Comfortably
  21. Bring Your Entertainment
  22. Consider The Climate Of Where You’re Flying To
  23. Bring Your Food
  24. Stay Hydrated

So without further ado, Let’s dive in (:

Tips For First-Time Travelers

24 Most Helpful Tips For First-Time Travelers

If you just starting your travel journey. Here are some of the most helpful tips for first-time travelers that will help you plan an amazing trip easily:

1. Take The Leap Into The Unknown

As your departure date gets closer, you may get more nervous as you get more excited — this is your first time leaping out of the comfort and familiarity of your own country.

That’s quite scary, but it eases with time, trust me. The benefits of travel and the thrill of experiencing a new place and new people far outweigh the stress of planning that first trip.

When you feel overwhelmed, remember: every new destination involves some trial and error, even for seasoned travelers. Take any mishaps in stride and know you’re gaining valuable knowledge the next time you board a flight.

2. Consider Signing Up For A Travel Rewards Card

You’re about to rack up some serious travel expenses, so why not use them to earn a sign-up bonus? With a card that rewards travel purchases, you’ll get extra points in the bargain — and a slew of valuable benefits.

Make sure the card you use for this trip does not charge foreign transaction fees and that it works abroad, particularly where you’re going.

Some travel rewards cards, including the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve®, offer up to a $100 credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.

This is a great time to sign up for one of these Trusted Traveler Programs to help speed you through airport security lines. Since you’re traveling abroad, you’re probably better off with Global Entry.

Once you have the perfect card for your trip, use it to maximize rewards on your international trip.

3. Learn About Types Of Baggage And The Rules

Checked baggage, carry-on baggage, and personal item. What’s the difference? If you haven’t flown before, you should learn about the different types of baggage and the items you can bring.

A great place to start is our guide on the difference between carry-on baggage and personal items. But we’ll also give you a breakdown here:

i. Checked baggage

checked or held baggage is an item stored in the aircraft’s hold and can’t be accessed during the flight. The weight and size allowance for checked baggage is bigger than the allowance for carry-on baggage and personal items, and there are generally fewer restrictions on what you can put in a checked bag.

Checked baggage has to be weighed and dropped off at the airline’s check-in desk at the airport.

ii. Carry-on baggage

carry-on or hand baggage is an item of baggage kept on-person during the flight and stored in the cabin of the aircraft, where the passengers sit.

The carry-on baggage size and weight allowance are usually less than the checked baggage allowance (half the size or more) but bigger than the personal item allowance.

Carry-on baggage must be taken through security. Several items can’t be stored in your carry-on baggage and taken with you on the plane.

iii. Personal Item

a personal item is a small item of baggage, such as a handbag, laptop, or small rucksack. Like carry-on baggage, a personal item is kept on-person during the flight. It has the same security regulations regarding which items can be stored in the bag.

The weight and size allowance for each type of baggage will differ from airline to airline, so you’ll have to check with the airline you’re flying on to find this information.

4. Keep Checking Your Itinerary And Flight Status

Keep checking you’re itinerary and ensure your flight details are as you expect. Some cities, such as New York City, have multiple airports, and you’ll want to ensure that your travel plans align with that airport.

It’s equally important to continually check the status of your flight in the week leading up to it in case of any schedule changes — these occur more frequently than you might expect. This can usually be done on the airline’s website.

This was especially important during the coronavirus pandemic. Because travel restrictions are constantly changing, airlines might be forced the cancel flights with little warning.

You should keep checking the status of your flight up until the day of the flight.

5. Arrive At A Good Time

Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to go through airport procedures. This is especially important if you must arrive at the airport or drop off checked baggage.

Airports are unpredictable. You can never know how busy it will be or how long it might take to get through security. And, if it’s your first time visiting an airport, look around it, shop, or grab something to eat.

If you’re checking in at the airport or have baggage to check in, you don’t want to arrive too early! Check-in counters usually open 2–4 hours before your flight, depending on the airline and the destinations you’re flying between.

If you arrive before check-in opens, you’ll be stuck around the landside with little to do other than wait. So, look up when the check-in counter opens for your flight.

While it’s still important to arrive in plenty of time to avoid missing the check-in deadline due to COVID-19 (though it has been reduced), arriving for your flight too early and hanging around the airport is not advisable.

6. Wear Easy-To-Remove Shoes

Going through airport security might be the most stressful part of flying — but if you know what to expect, the whole rigmarole can feel much less taxing.

Typically, unless you have TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, you have to:

  • Remove your shoes (unless you’re 12 and under or 75 and older)
  • Empty the contents of your pockets and remove your hat, belt, jacket, wallet, and bulky jewelry
  • Remove your laptop and liquids from your bag
  • Send these items — and your carry-on bag — through an X-ray machine
  • Walk through a metal detector or a body scanner (or opt for a pat-down)

Preparing for this — say, by wearing shoes, you can easily slip on and off and make sure the items in your carry-on are TSA-compliant — can make the process faster.

7. Respect Other Passengers’ Space

These days, flights are generally fully booked, and most seats offer limited legroom. This might stress out your fellow flyers, so be sensitive.

If your stuff or body parts are entering another space that’s not yours, you must be mindful of that. It can be as simple as you put your ponytail over the top of the seat, and now it’s hanging, across someone’s TV screen, and you don’t even realize it.

Similarly, if you wear perfume or cologne, eat smelly foods, or listen to loud music, you might unintentionally upset the person sitting next to you.

Of course, you can’t plan for everything — maybe you’re traveling with an upset child, for example — but do what you can to avoid an in-flight faux pas.

8. Have A Backup Plan Ready

Now for a game of “worst-case scenario,” first-time flyer edition: What happens if you miss your flight?

First, take a deep breath. Suppose you miss your plane because of unforeseen circumstances, such as a major traffic delay. In that case, the airline will often put you on standby for the next flight without charging extra.

Remember that you generally notify the airline within a few hours of missing your flight to get rebooked for free.

If it looks like you’ll miss a connecting flight, check the smartphone app offered by your airline or the screen in the airport to find out which gate your flight departs from and whether you’ve missed it. If the flight is delayed, you may still have a chance to board.

But you missed the connection, and the airline was responsible. In that case, you can generally rebook that flight for free — and maybe even get some free meals or hotel vouchers for the hassle.

The key in both cases is: Be proactive. Have the airline’s customer service phone number handy if you get stuck in traffic so you can call as soon as possible.

Or, if you’re already at the airport, go to the customer service desk and ask about rebooking. Missing a flight can be a setback, but it doesn’t have to derail your travel plans.

9. See Your Doctor If You’re Anxious

If you’re nervous about flying, consult your doctor before your flight. They’ll be able to give you advice and might prescribe you medication to help you with anxiety.

If you’re taking any other medication, it’s important to note that there are restrictions regarding what you can and can’t take.

10. Exchange Currency Beforehand Or Online

If you’re flying with money and exchanging your cash for another currency, don’t use the currency exchange companies at the airport, as they usually give terrible exchange rates.

Instead, exchange your money with a reputable currency exchange service before the day that you fly. The only time it might be a good idea to use the currency exchange companies at the airport is if the company you use allows you to pre-order your currency online and pick it up at the airport.

When you pre-order online, these companies usually offer a better exchange rate which is more in line with what other companies outside of the airport offer.

11. Don’t Panic Over The Security Procedures

Before the flight takes off, the cabin crew will take you through some procedures that you need to know. This includes some of the cabin rules, how to fasten your seatbelt, and some information on what to do in an emergency.

But don’t be alarmed! This is a standard procedure that every airline undertakes for every flight and is put in place to reassure you.

12. Notify Your Loved Ones You Made It Safely

Remember to check in just because you are out here now on your first trip. Make contact with a loved one upon arrival. Let your loved ones know you made it safe.

I am sure someone will be looking for you regardless! You notifying someone first relieves them of any anxiety too. Doing so also makes it feel more real than you are at your destination.

Also, send someone you trust or love your itinerary. If anything were to happen, someone needs to know your whereabouts.

Traveling for first time tips

13. Give A Heads-Up To Your Credit Card Issuer

Here’s a scenario you’d probably prefer to avoid: You’ve finally arrived at your destination and begun making purchases with your credit card — and your card is declined. It’s possible this happened for your protection without your knowledge.

Credit card companies take foreign transactions seriously. They want to ensure no funny business happens with your accounts. And if your issuer doesn’t know you’re suddenly making these foreign transactions, they could suspend your account.

So before you head out on your world tour, let your credit card company know when and where you will be traveling. A phone call beforehand will save you a lot of trouble on the road and free you up to make the necessary purchases.

14. Check Your Documents

Before booking flights, you need to ensure certain documents are in order. For starters, international travel requires an updated passport. You’ll need enough pages in your passport for visa stamps.

While most countries only require a quarter page for their stamp, others require a half page or more. If this is your first trip abroad, that shouldn’t be an issue since you’ll have a brand-new passport with plenty of blank pages.

Once you have your passport sorted, it’s time to check on visas. Many countries will offer U.S. passport holders a tourist visa on arrival.

However, other destinations, like Australia or Vietnam, require you to apply ahead of time and often charge a fee. Check the visa requirements for your final destination and take care of any paperwork.

15. Give Yourself A Long Booking Runway

It’s important to book international travel at least a month ahead of time to get the best ticket prices. Start looking for flights when you know when you want to travel.

You can use an app like Hopper to keep track of flight deals for your desired destination.

Ensure you’re taking advantage of mileage loyalty programs and travel rewards cards to get the most out of your flight.

If you’re a loyal member of an airline or hotel chain, especially if you have a co-branded airline or hotel credit card, look into promotions and special offers to see if you can get in on some deals.

16. Be Selective About Lodging

Most international trips will require you to fly there but consider other options such as buses or trains to reach your destination.

Rio2Rome is a great tool for seeking all the route options from point A to point B and figuring out which mode of transportation will be the quickest and cheapest.

Bus rides are usually the most cost-efficient and eco-friendly mode of transportation and also offer you the chance to take in the vistas and chat with locals.

Some countries even have ride-sharing apps like BlaBlaCar, which is common in Spain and Germany and can be more direct than a bus route.

Take a look at your options before booking your accommodation. While hotels are always a good option, remember to research hostel, guesthouse, and Airbnb options where you’re traveling — these offer you the chance to connect with other travelers and locals.

Boutique hostels are becoming more common and are often equipped with much nicer amenities than budget hotels.

17. Consider The Not-So-Common Essentials

Whether or not you’re the type who spends hours contemplating the clothes to take on your travels, there are some essentials you’ll want to bring along.

For starters, a digital luggage scale will allow you to track the weight of your checked luggage. It is handy with all your souvenir purchases, especially on your return flight.

You’ll also want to pick up a universal power adapter to keep all your electronic devices charged — just in case the place you’re staying doesn’t have one.

18. Take Time To Get Over Your Jet Lag

As you start booking your first international trip, pack it all in. How many cities can you fit in one trip?! How much can you see each day?! Take my advice: slow down, at least for the first day or two, to recover from the bane of every traveler: jet lag.

Recovering from a long-haul flight is challenging enough — but when you add on a time change, you’re bound to be a bit jet-lagged. Adjusting for every eight-time zone you change can take up to a week. So, if you’re flying from Los Angeles to London, you can expect several days when your brain and body adjust to the new time zone.

Fight the jet lag by getting plenty of rest before your trip and slightly adjusting your schedule — think staying up an hour or two later — to get your body prepped. Do the same with meal times. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after the flight.

Once you arrive, do your best to avoid naps, even when your body screams for one. Take a stroll around your neighborhood to get a sense of local life and relax in a cafe for a bit — coffee helps! No matter what, be sure to consider whether you need an extra day or two in your schedule to adjust.

19. Keep Yourself Safe

Your first international trip may seem scary, but it’s almost always scarier in your mind than it will ever be once you’re traveling.

Here are some quick safety tips to keep in mind while abroad:

i. Pickpockets and petty theft: to avoid becoming a victim, always keep an eye on your belongings and hold your bag tight. A crossbody bag or fanny pack is the most effective way to deter pickpockets.

ii. Stay in contact: You can register with the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). That way, the local U.S. Embassy will know to contact you in the case of a natural disaster, political unrest, or another emergency.

iii. Travel insurance: any seasoned traveler knows that travel insurance is necessary. Get one that covers both health and property.

iv. Above all, use common sense: ask locals which areas of town or city neighborhoods you should avoid, travel with a buddy at night, and don’t drink too much, especially if you are alone or not in a group of people you trust, and meet new potential friends in public places, at least at first.

While you shouldn’t focus on what could go wrong, being aware of your surroundings and taking simple steps to keep yourself safe will go a long way in enjoying your new adventure.

20. Dress Comfortably

Dress in clothes that are unrestrictive and make you feel comfortable. Sitting on a plane for hours in clothes that give you discomfort can be a nightmare, especially on long-haul flights.

If you’re meeting someone you’d like to impress when you land, you can take a change of clothes in your carry-on baggage and get changed at the airport when you land.

21. Bring Your Entertainment

Create a music playlist on your phone, take a book to read, or bring a device to watch your favorite TV shows and films.

It’s essential to bring your entertainment on medium-haul flights (between 3–6 hours), as these flights are long enough to get boring and usually don’t have an in-flight entertainment system.

Although the list of airlines offering Wi-Fi is growing, Wi-Fi is still unavailable on many airlines, or they won’t be able to stream music, TV shows, or films.

As a result, we suggest downloading any music, TV shows, or films to your electronic device before your flight to avoid disappointment.

22. Consider Your Destination Climate

Wearing a jacket and jeans is a good idea when leaving a colder country. Still, you’ll quickly regret it when the destination you arrive in is in 35ºC heat. And it’s the same and vice versa.

That’s why it’s best to bring some removable layers or even pack a change of clothes in your carry-on baggage, especially as you might feel colder on the plane than you will at your destination.

23. Bring Your Food

Some people get on with airline food better than others. And the truth is, you won’t know if you like it until you’ve tried it.

If you’re flying for the first time, I suggest bringing back-up food so that you’re covered if you discover that it’s not your thing and you must go hungry for the whole flight.

This also applies if you’d like a special meal type. Many airlines provide the option to pre-order a special meal, but some won’t have every meal type.

So, you might need to bring your own if you lack a choice.

24. Stay Hydrated

High altitude and low cabin humidity might cause headaches and dizziness if you’re not used to it. The best way to combat this is by drinking lots of water and staying hydrated.

You should also be careful with alcohol. We’re not saying to avoid it completely.

If you’re on holiday and a flight attendant offers a free cold alcoholic beverage, we won’t stop you! But it’s worth noting that alcohol will make you more dehydrated.

The Bottom Line

To summarize, I was once told that you wouldn’t remember how much an experience costs, but you’ll never forget the feeling that that experience gave you. Some moments occur only once in a lifetime; you wouldn’t want to miss out on that.

Your first time traveling can be a memorable experience, but only if you are prepared! Before you go, you should know where you are going and what to expect once you arrive. You should also ensure you have all the correct documentation to avoid trouble getting through customs.

Following these tips will help you to avoid any unnecessary headaches and make the most of your first trip away from home.

Thanks for reading.


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Optimos Travel is a travel blog to help you travel the world, and explore different lifestyles, traditions, foods, and everything in between.