The Best International Travel Tips No One’s Ever Told You About

by Published

Google “travel hacks” and you will get a billion similar results. Ask the gate attendant for an upgrade, bring chocolates for the cabin crew, roll your clothes when packing to save room, etc.

Colorful buildings along rocky coastline with boats in the water, Romagiorre, Italy.

No matter where you’re going or what you’re doing, these international travel tips will totally change your life. 

Those are great tips, to be sure! But, for those who might be heading out on an international trip for the first time, I wanted to share some international travel tips that are uniquely applicable for those traveling internationally for the first time. Here are the tips I wish I’d known before traveling, that are especially helpful if you are on the hunt for tips for traveling abroad for the first time. Don’t worry, travel veterans—there are some nuggets of wisdom and international travel tips in here for you too!

The best international travel tips no one’s ever told you  

Take these tips to heart and you’re sure to have a meaningful experience abroad. Trust us, we’re the experts! 

International Travel Tip #1: Limit Social Media, Trip Advisor, Guided Tours

I have never really understood people’s desire to go on guided tours. Being herded like cattle between pre-planned activities, TripAdvisor-approved restaurants, and fabricated “cultural” experiences doesn’t seem like a ton of fun. It is like jumping off your bed and saying you went skydiving. Technically, you sort of did, but did you really?

Guided tours may have their place in travel, but I do suggest that if you are traveling abroad for the first time, to take some time to explore in an Anthony Bourdain-esque way. Put your phone away for the day. Walk around the city.  Explore an alleyway. Ask local people for food and drink suggestions. Shake some hands. Go off the beaten path and wander wherever your curiosity takes you.

[Tip #1(a): An Online Advisor can still match you with your perfect program]

If you spend the whole trip snapping pictures, taking videos, posting to social media, and being guided through tourist traps, you might miss the experiences you travelled across the globe for. We are big believers in meaningful travel at GoAbroad—that means putting your phone away and truly exploring with curiosity as your compass. This is a great way to achieve it.

hip blond girl scrolling on smartphone

PUT. THE. PHONE. DOWN.

International Travel Tip #2: Pack These Things You Probably Overlooked

First things first: Bring half the amount of clothes you think you need. This piece of advice almost always makes it’s way onto lists of international travel tips. If you are traveling abroad for the first time, you might feel the need to be bring everything you own. I assure you, this is a mistake.

The truth is, you will end up wearing the same yoga pants/shorts/sandals/three shirts everyday. This always happens and it is actually amazingly freeing being forced into a minimalist lifestyle for your travels.

Having said that, below are a few items that can make your travels much more comfortable and less stressful if you think ahead and throw ‘em in:

  • International Phone Charger: different countries have different shaped outlets. Don’t start your travels off by having to scramble to find the correct kind. Snag a universal charger or converter and rest easy.
  • Change of Plane Clothes: Got a 4 hour layover? Nothing feels better than to snag a shower in the locker rooms or lounge and change into some fresh clothes halfway through a travel day. Plus, having a change of clothes and some travel-sized toiletries in your carry-on might just save the day if your luggage gets lost!
  • Amazon Kindle: Reading on your Kindle rather than scrolling mindlessly through your phone will save your phone battery and, hey, it’s good for you
  • International-friendly debit card: Before you leave for your trip, figure out your bank's international usage fees. If you have a bank like Wells Fargo that actually stabs you in the eye with a pointy stick every time you use an ATM abroad, you may want to set up a more friendly account with another bank (like Charles Schwab) before you leave.
  • Sony MDRZX110NC Noise Cancelling Headphones*: I just bought two pairs of these. At $30 on Amazon, they are super affordable, have good sound quality, and block out 90% of airplane noise. If you are being forced to watch Paul Blart Mall Cop on the plane, you may as well have good audio quality.
  • Baby Wipes: Just trust me and throw these in.

*Uhm, this isn’t sponsored, unless they WANT to send GoAbroad some Noise Cancelling headphones. Otherwise, this is just a great tip and shout out. 

Looking out the wing of a plane in the early morning sun over the clouds

Got a 13 hour flight? Don’t waste it! How many “blockbuster action” flicks can you really stomach in a row, anyway?

International Travel Tip #3: Make Your Flight Productive

Most people, understandably, go into an international flight like it is warfare. It is purely hacking it, fighting through, and surviving to the end. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. I love international flights. Several hours of no phone, free booze, wifi and time to yourself? Yes, please.

International flights are a unique chance to be productive. Sure, you could watch awful movies, but what if instead you finish the book you're reading or writing? Or did some drawing? Or worked on a business idea? Or wrote down your goals for your time abroad?

I am not Tim Ferris; I am a normal human who likes to kick back and relax. I readily acknowledge you can’t be productive for an entire long-haul flight. My flight home from Vietnam is always brutal and by the end of it I am a grumpy, sweating, caged animal.

But, I do usually get in a few hours of reading and writing while sipping wine and eating airplane snacks, and really, how often do you get hours of uninterrupted time to just work on a passion project? Might as well take advantage of it. You could even start penning your own list of international travel tips to share with friends!

[Tip #3(a): Make your pre-trip planning productive and compare programs side-by-side with MyGoAbroad]

International Travel Tip #4: Do Your Visa Homework

Important information being lost in translation is part of the fun of international travel. However, finding out you cannot board the plane for the final leg of your trip because your final destination requires you provide verification you have a visa waiting for you is more than a small inconvenience.

It is worth it to put in some time making sure you know the visa situation of any country you are visiting. For example, my current home of Vietnam says all over online that you can get a “Visa on Arrival.” This is technically true, but you need confirmation from a visa company that you have a visa ready for you before getting on the plane to Vietnam. The airport does not allow you to apply for a visa on arrival, they only issue them.

Technicalities like this, and constantly changing visa laws, are no rarity, especially in developing countries. Make sure you do your research and know ahead of time what documents you need for which country.  

Hip cafe with people working and studying and drinking coffee

ProTip: Working and traveling means you can travel longer without going broke.

International Travel Tip #5: Work and Travel

Here is a secret: Funding your international travels with a travel blog is unrealistic. I know, it looks like lots of people do it, but they (mostly) do not. That niche is crowded and breaking through the noise takes a long time, let alone monetization. We’d be remiss with not sharing this insight on our list of international travel tips.

However, there are other ways to fund your trip. If you are interested in making travel a lifestyle, a remote job is a fantastic way to travel and work at the same time. Teaching English, seasonal work, and working at hostels in exchange for room and board (and other short-term), re all viable options for keeping some positive cashflow rolling in while you travel.

But of course, there are out there. You just have to find the right one! (P.S. You might love this other piece I wrote: “Travel for a Living, I’m Doing it—You Can Too!).

International Travel Tip #6: Team Up with Other Travelers to Split Costs

Depending on your budget, you may find yourself coming across tours or activities that you would love to do, but that either don’t make sense to do alone or are out of your budget. I mean, a solo banana boat ride? That’s a bit sad!

But, if you add a few friends to the mix and split the cost, suddenly that banana boat ride makes a lot more sense!

Teaming up with fellow travelers is a great way to meet new people, make friends from around the world, explore different types of activities and save a pretty penny.

[Tip #6(a): Travel Abroad Scholarships Because You Like Free Money & Adventures]

International Travel Tip #7: Take Advantage of Travel Programs

Interested in traveling while also lending your hand to awesome causes and nonprofits while you do it? Then an international program is right for you. These are especially great options for first time travelers, or if you are heading to a destination that is wildly unfamiliar. Why? Travel programs take out the pains of logistical coordinations, and give you guidance along the way. This helps you make the most of learning AND travel.

Group of friends walking into sunset on beach in France

Travel programs give you access to people and experiences you might not have had access to otherwise. They make meaningful travel a walk on the beach. 

Travel programs to get you started

Below are some pretty badass travel program offerings that should satisfy any travel itch.

gap force logo

1. Gap Force: Seven Week Australian Adventure

Seven weeks of surfing, environment conservation, snorkeling the barrier reef and more in Australia. It is a close call, but this Gap Force promises to be a bit more exciting than living in your parents basement.

bamboo travel logo

2. Bamboo: Two Countries Tour—Thailand and Cambodia

Interested in dipping your toe into international volunteering before making the decision to take the deep plunge? This 14-day program offers a travel and volunteer experiences helping with childcare and community development. 

global nomadic logo

3. Global Nomadic: Forestry and Wildlife Conservation in Madagascar

Learn the rich ecosystems of Madagascar while aiding conservation efforts over this two to four week adventure.

languages abroad logo

4. Languages Abroad: Live and Learn Japanese in Tokyo

Live in the heart of Tokyo? Check. Private Japanese language tutor? Check. Live with your tutor for a full immersion experience? Check. If you have any interest in Japan or learning Japanese, Language Abroad offers the program for you.

nacel

5. Nacel: Spanish Homestay in Spain

Experience Spain and learn Spanish in a full-immersion experience. Live with a local family, learn local customs and traditions and enjoy everyday Spanish life while learning the language.

Whether you want to study, volunteer, teach, intern, or simply adventure travel, there’s a program out there with your name on it. Since there are thousands to choose from, a little help can go a long way on your program search. That’s why we recommend you…

[Get free program matches from our Online Advisor]

These little known international travel tips will set you up for success

We know we could’ve focused on smaller, more trivial tips—like roll your clothes instead of folding them—but we figured you have the common sense to know what’s best for you, even if you’re a first-time international traveler. That’s why we focused on these fat international travel tips. Now, you’re bound to have a meaningful, fun, AND safe adventure. .

International travel is incredibly rewarding, but it can quickly become stressful without the right preparation. Make sure to do your research beforehand, know the culture and a little of what to expect from each country, and adjust your expectations accordingly. Happy travels!

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