- Don’t overpack. You might think you need fourteen different sets of clothing for a seven-day trip, but you really don’t, and after about five minutes of lugging that stuff around you’ll wish you had kept it to a minimum.
Also, with security checks and excess luggage fees being what they are these days, it literally pays to pack light. Don’t forget, you’ll probably see some great stuff over there that you want to buy, so you’ll need space and weight allowance in your bags for that.
Worst case scenario, if you do run out of clean clothes, just ask the hotel about laundry options. Many times they can do laundry for you while you’re out sightseeing, or at the very least they can point you in the direction of a local laundromat.
- Don’t show off your affluence. This is not the time to dig out all your best jewelry and finest designer handbags. Sure, visiting another country is a special occasion, and you want to look your best, but the last thing you need is to make yourself an obvious target for muggers or pickpockets.
Also, the fewer extravagant items you take with you, the less chance there is of accidentally misplacing something and losing it forever. You don’t want your trip to be remembered as “the time I lost my diamond Rolex” when your nice-but-cheap sports watch would have been more practical anyway.
- Don’t trust stereotypes about the weather. Seek out a real information source (like an international weather service), and find out just how hot, cold, wet, or dry it’s likely to be during your visit.
Many places with a reputation for sun and heat do actually have a snowy winter or an intense rainy season. It’s worth it to find these things out in advance and pack accordingly. There’s no point in taking a suitcase full of beach wear if it’s going to be raining the whole time you’re there!
- Don’t get so caught up in the excitement of travel that you start making bad decisions. Keep your wits about you. Sure, most people working in the tourism industry just want to see you have a good time, but there are others who are out there to take advantage.
Use your common sense, same as you would back home. Beware of anyone asking for a large deposit in advance, and double-check before getting into cars — in many places people pose as taxi drivers and promise low fares, while actually charging exorbitant amounts to take you very short distances. If someone promises something that seems too good to be true, it’s probably best to steer clear.
- Do take the time to read up about your destination and find out what will be happening there at the time of your visit. There’s nothing worse than getting home from an exotic place only to learn that there was a once-in-a-lifetime local event going on while you were there, and you completely missed it. In these days of the all-powerful Internet, it takes almost no effort to get on Google and get informed, and it can make all the difference in your enjoyment level.
- Do make photocopies of your passport and other important documents. Do not carry your passport around with you while shopping or sightseeing, unless you know you will specifically need it for some reason. Carry the photocopy instead, and keep your original passport and travel tickets locked up in your hotel room’s safe. If you lose your passport or flight tickets while you’re out and about, the rest of your vacation will be defined by annoying trips to the embassy, and a lot of hassle and expense to get your documents replaced.
- Do make sure you will have access to money. This sounds ridiculously obvious, but many people assume their ATM card from home will automatically work everywhere, and that’s not always the case. Double-check with your bank to make sure that all your cards (credit, debit, ATM) can be used in the country you’re going to.
It’s also worth mentioning to your credit card company that you’ll be traveling abroad, so that multiple charges in a foreign country don’t trip their security lockdown procedure. You don’t want to get to your vacation and find that your credit card is being denied everywhere because the card company thinks the charge attempts are fraudulent.
- Do learn a few phrases in the language of the country you’re visiting. Although it is quite common for people working in the tourism industry to know at least a little bit of English, you never know when you’ll find yourself surrounded by locals who only speak their own language.
It helps to know how to ask for the bathroom or inquire about the price of an item, and even if your accent is terrible most people will find your attempts charming, which might gain you brownie points when you want to barter for an item or learn where the best local restaurants really are.
All in all, the main thing to remember is to be smart. It’s easy to get caught up in the joy of new experiences and forget that the key to a smooth trip is good planning combined with intelligent decisions.
It doesn’t have to be a chore — planning your trip can be one of the most exciting parts of the traveling process, and can help ensure that your first trip abroad yields nothing but positive memories.