How to prepare yourself for your first trip abroad?

This is the second part in my ‘tips for first foreign travel’ series. Check last week’s post: How to decide your first foreign travel destination?

Now that you have decided where to go and booked your flights, chances are you have absolutely no clue what next- How to go about planning it, what to pack and what not, and so on. Chances also are that your family members may not be able to help you out much because they themselves perhaps have never been on a foreign trip before. But fear not, here are 10 tips that will ensure you can easily prepare yourself for that maiden half-way around the world voyage:

1. Get the visa or prepare yourself for it:

Once your flights are booked you are now certain about your trip, the number of days you have in hand to explore and you know your budget. The first step now is to get the visa. (It is always recommended to check visa details before booking your flights) Apply for a visa, e-visa or visa approval letter, depending on the country you are visiting. Most European countries, UK, Australia, USA- they all have long visa procedures- check the guidelines on the VFS site or on the country’s consular site in India and accordingly apply for your visa. Indians don’t require a visa for Bhutan and Nepal. Thailand provides direct visa on arrival. Vietnam and Cambodia provide e-visa to Indians. Indonesia has free visa for Indians. Check and get the visa accordingly.

2. Sort the accommodation:

Unless you are visiting a country in the absolutely peak tourist season, usually you can book good accommodation about a month before your trip. Check sites like to look up room costs and book accommodation. If you are traveling with family you would want to book good hotel rooms. If you are backpacking solo, it is better to book popular hostels in town. If you are traveling in a big group, perhaps sites like airbnb can help you rent an entire villa for your stay duration. Depending on what kind of trip you are on, decide on the accommodations, check the reviews, and book. The advantage of using is you don’t have to pay for your stay in advance and most properties have free or flexible cancellation policies. This is also helpful if getting your visa requires you to show confirmed accommodation at the destination country.

Couchsurfing is also gaining slow popularity among Indians. It’s a great way to meet locals who host you at their home for free.

3. Create an itinerary and set a budget:

Take help of Google and prepare an itinerary for your trip. It needn’t (and shouldn’t) have every tiny detail of every minute of your day planned leaving you with no flexibility, and at the same time, you don’t want to land in a city with no clue of what to do. Just list down things you want to do and how much each would cost you. Is there a packaged group trip you want to join for a day excursion? Is there a particular adventure activity you want to do? Is there a particular restaurant you want to eat at?

Once you arrive at your destination, your hotel reception would most likely be able to help you out in planning the days you have there when you tell them what all you want to do. Be flexible and open to new adventures and ideas. It’s a new country and the internet may not tell you where you would get the best sunset view over the river like a local can.

If you haven’t done so already, budget your trip. Research and include your expected expenses and add some amount to it for emergency situations.

4. Foreign Currency (Forex)

I remember asking my Kashmiri friend last year- Are there functional ATMs in Srinagar? He laughed and said ‘You are not going to a different country, you can easily withdraw money in Kashmir!’ In the current situation, you definitely need to figure this out. Are there going to be functional ATMs in the country you are visiting? Will your debit card work there for ATM withdrawals or will it cost too much? Does the country accept credit/debit card transactions at most places or you need to have a lot of local currency? If so, how much is enough? Speak to your bank and inform them that you are going to the particular country on the particular dates and that they shouldn’t block your card for a sudden transaction happening in another part of the world. (Indian cards do not work in Nepal and Bhutan)

If you are visiting a European country, carrying a forex card is a good idea. (A forex card is like a debit card with pre-loaded money that works in foreign locations for transactions without incurring additional fees) If you are visiting South-East Asia, you might have to carry enough cash and cards may not be very useful for transactions. Talk to your bank for forex rates, check with sites like bookmyforex to get forex cards or currency notes, talk to local money changers in your city- see who provides the best rates and get your required amount of forex from them. Airports are usually the worst places to exchange your money- they give the worst rates.

5. Acquaint yourself to the local culture and learn a local word or two:

I remember my aunt telling how difficult it was for her to simply head back to the hotel at the end of a day in Hong Kong because no one understood English and all signs were in Mandarin. It’s always good to learn the basic words of the language in the destination country. Things like ‘Hello’, ‘Goodbye’, ‘My name is’, ‘Thank you’ will always help. Don’t we love it when a foreigner says something in Hindi or one of the local languages while visiting India? We love that they are making an attempt to learn our language. Do the same when you head out to a new country. You will get a lot of smiles and helpful people in return.

Additionally you should be aware what things might offend people of a particular region or what etiquette is acceptable there. Usually wikitravel pages of cities/countries list these things well.

This picture was taken at Buddha Point in Bhutan during my maiden foreign trip in November 2016. Prepare yourself for your first trip abroad. Plan an itinerary but be flexible.

6. Buy a local SIM card (or not):

You definitely don’t want to stay out-of-touch with your family when you are in a new country. (Or at least your family would want daily updates about your whereabouts) Figure out how you are going to do this. Do you need to get a local SIM card- if yes, where to get it and how much does it cost? Or does the country have extensive wifi coverage and you are going to rely on that? Figure it out beforehand and keep your family in the loop.

7. Keep documents, money and yourself safe

Your passport and visa are the most important documents you are traveling with. Scan them and keep a soft copy on dropbox or a shared folder and email. Keep a photocopy with you when you are traveling around the city and let the originals stay locked in your bag back at the hotel. Keep the contact number and address of the local Indian embassy in the country you are visiting handy for the ‘in case of emergency’ situation.

Similarly for money, keep it in separate places in your suitcase, wallet, carry bag. For day trips, carry just enough money on you; let the rest remain locked in the bigger suitcase in the hotel.

Additionally check out ‘scams’. Are there any notorious scams that locals tend to play on unsuspecting tourists? Google and check. You don’t want to get ripped off on your arrival in a new country. Know and be safe.

8. Things to carry

You are most probably going to require a travel adapter when you are going abroad. Get a universal adapter (like this one) and you should be sorted in most places.

The kind of clothing you would require depends on the weather and the activities you would be doing. So pack accordingly. If you are staying in a hostel, you don’t want to miss carrying your towel and slippers/flip-flops.

9. Travel insurance

Having insurance is always a precaution for the bad situation you don’t want to be in. Medical expenses in most European countries can be very high, and traveling without travel insurance is not recommended. Get one from Worldnomads online or from brands like Religare for your travel dates. They are usually cheap and cover basic things like loss of luggage by airlines, robbery, medical emergencies etc. Just hope that you never have to use the insurance.

An important thing to note here is that these insurances don’t usually include adventure activities like trekking, scuba diving, etc. If you are headed for the Everest Base Camp trek, you might want to get the adventure cover that includes helicopter evacuation in case of emergencies which otherwise costs as much as 5 Lakh Rupees!

10. Worry less, have fun

This is your first trip abroad. Make the most of it. Don’t worry too much about anything. Stay safe, stay connected to folks back at home, make new friends, click beautiful photographs and have the time of your life. Bon Voyage!

So that’s about it. Travel planning isn’t as strenuous and daunting as it might sound at first.

Is there something you would want to add to the list? Do mention in the comment section below. Also, what were your apprehensions the first time you went abroad?

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