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15 Essential Tips for First-Time International Travelers

Regardless of how much you’ve traveled domestically, traveling internationally requires a bit more preparation and research. Your first international trip will be an unforgettable experience that may come with a few challenges and learning curves. But, by preparing adequately and keeping these tips in mind, you can ensure a smoother, safer, and more enjoyable journey. 


Apply for Your Passport

First things first, If you haven't done so already, apply for your passport. If you already have your passport, make sure it's valid for at least 6 months after your planned return date, and that there are at least 2 blank pages for immigration to stamp upon your arrival and departure.


Apply for Your Passport

Check Visa Requirements

A visa is a document that allows you to enter a foreign country. Several visa types are available, and your eligibility for them depends on your destination and the country that issued your passport.


  • Traditional Visa: Must be applied for in person at the local embassy. The visa will be added to a page in your passport prior to traveling.

  • E-Visa: Applied for and approved online, you will print out the approval page and present it at the airport when you check-in, and to immigration at your destination.

  • On Arrival Visa: You can be granted a visa automatically and pay the fee at the airport once you've arrived.

  • Visa Exemption: No visa is required, and you may be granted a temporary stay for tourism for up to 90 days.


Be sure to check your specific visa requirements at least a month before your trip to allow time for processing in case a visa is needed.


Connect with a Community in That Country

Black travel and expat groups are great resources that can provide a wealth of knowledge to travelers of color. These groups give you the opportunity to connect with the community before you arrive. They are a space to ask questions, find information on things to see and do, and learn about upcoming events from black travelers who have been, or are currently there.


Connect with a Community in That Country

Staying Safe During an International Trip

Venturing out on your first international trip can be an empowering experience, but there are certain safety precautions to consider:

 

Share Your Itinerary: Share your travel plans with a trusted friend or family member who will raise the alarm if you don’t return or check in as expected. 


Use Safe Transport: Download local rideshare apps, or use a reputable car service. When using public transportation, always be mindful of your surroundings and keep valuables close.


Trust Your Instincts: If you feel uneasy, or if a situation feels off, trust your gut and remove yourself from it. Better safe than sorry.


Stay Connected: Purchase a local SIM card, or add a global roaming package to your current plan so you are connected and reachable.


Know Local Emergency Contacts: Save local emergency numbers, and the information of the nearest embassy on your phone.


Register with S.T.E.P: The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), keeps travelers informed about safety conditions at their destination and facilitates communication with the local embassy or consulate in case of emergency.


Those are a few basics of safety and international travel, now it’s time for the black traveler addendum to that list. As black travelers there will always be an additional question or two we have to ask such as:


  • Does the population include a range of ethnicities?

  • What are their attitudes towards race?  

  • Is there a pattern of racial discrimination? 

  • Is there a black expat community I can lean on as a safe space if I do encounter racism?


These questions aren’t meant to discourage you from traveling, they are meant to keep you safe. Understanding the cultural context of your destination can help you prepare for and navigate any potential racial issues. Look into the experiences of other black travelers at your destination through blogs, black travel groups, and social media. 


Consider Local Holidays When Planning Your Trip

Before confirming your travel dates, find out if there is a national holiday during the time to plan to visit, and adjust the dates if needed. 


Traveling during a holiday can either enhance or ruin your first international trip. Depending on the destination and holiday, some countries, like Vietnam for example, pretty much shut down for a week during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, while traveling to London during Christmas, could result in having more activities and attractions to choose from while you were there.


Booking Your International Flight

I would recommend that you start researching international flights three to four months in advance, keeping an eye on the price fluctuations, and booking with at least 2 months' notice. Prices generally increase closer to your departure date. Also, note that if it is peak tourist season, this can have a major impact on the cost of your flight.


Booking Your International Flight

Booking Your Accommodation

When booking your accommodation, always check the exact location of the hotel or Airbnb to find out its distance to the attractions and sights you plan to see. You should also find out if it’s walkable to essentials such as a convenience store, grocery, restaurants, or a laundromat if there isn't one at your hotel or guesthouse. 


Other things to note when booking accommodations are the check-in and check-out times, if they offer luggage storage, and the responsiveness of the host or hotel in answering your questions. This is often indicative of how communicative and helpful they will be during your stay.


Travel insurance provides coverage for unforeseen events that can happen during your trip, from reimbursing non-refundable expenses due to trip interruption to covering emergency medical treatments abroad. It may also include compensation for lost or damaged baggage, and financial protection if you need to cancel or cut your trip short.


Gather Travel Documents

Having all your travel documents in order can help ensure that you have a smooth trip. Keep digital as well as a physical copy of your passport, visa, traveler’s insurance, flight and hotel confirmations, and vaccinations if required. 


Preparing Your Home Before Your Trip

To keep your home secure, arrange for someone to collect your mail, water your plants, and check on your home. You can also purchase a timer that can turn the interior lights on and off periodically, giving the illusion that someone is home. This can keep your home safe and also give you peace of mind while you're away. 


Inform your bank of your plans, where you will go, and how long to avoid any issues with using your credit or debit cards while traveling. You should also set up auto-payments for any bills that may be due while you are away. You know you are NOT thinking about that light bill while you are sprawled out in the sun on an island somewhere. 


Financial Preparation

Download Essential Apps 

Every traveler should have Google Maps, a currency converter, language translation, and local transportation apps downloaded. These can be lifesavers in a new country. You may also want to consider downloading an E-Sim ahead of time and activating it once you are in the airport. They are more convenient and usually cheaper than purchasing and activating a traditional SIM card. 


Overpacking is a common mistake made by veterans and first-time travelers alike. This can be avoided by choosing clothing that you can mix and match into different outfits. But, if you are not quite ready to join team carry-on, and absolutely need those 10 pairs of shoes for your two-week trip, invest in a *luggage scale. It is significantly cheaper to add additional weight to your checked bag online versus at the time of check-in. 


Airport Check-In

Arrive early, stay hydrated, and aim to be at the airport at least three hours before your international flight. Yes, three hours. Missing your international flight is not like missing a flight to Miami, where you can just hop on the next one a few hours later. Depending on the airline, and destination, there could only be one flight daily, or one a few days per week. 


Check in online if possible to save time, and once you arrive at the airport you may be able to skip the check-in counter and go to the significantly shorter bag drop line instead.


Arrive early

Arriving at Your Destination

Once you’ve deplaned, you will immediately go to immigration, present your documents, and have your passport stamped. They may ask you a question or two, usually where you flew in from, what you do for work, or how long you will stay. 


From there you can collect your bags, make your way to your accommodation, plan a meet-up with the local black expat group, and officially cut loose and start enjoying yourself!


Remember, every experienced traveler was once a beginner, and with each trip, you'll gain more confidence and more stories to share. 


Happy travels!


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