Guide to Traveling Outside of the U.S.

It is vacation time and you’ve decided you’re taking a trip overseas this year. So much fun awaits you: new food, new people, and new sights. In fact, there are so many new things, you may feel a bit nervous. Not to fear. This guide provides plenty of information to help you manage foreign currencies, foreign languages, foreign food, and foreign weather like a local.

First Things First: Safety

Our U.S. Department of State provides critical information regarding areas of the world that may pose a threat to your safety and security by issuing travel warnings and alerts on their website under the “Travel Alerts & Warnings” portion of their webpage at U.S. State Department. There is also a search bar so that you can enter the name of any country for more information. It is important that you check this website to understand any health and safety risks associated with the county you plan to visit.

Get a Passport

If you don’t have a passport, get one. If you do have a passport, make sure it hasn’t expired and won’t expire within six months after your travel dates. Without a passport, you cannot enter another country. In fact, in many countries, your passport serves as your main form of identification. It takes about six weeks to receive your passport after submitting the application, so begin the process as early as you can. Expedited services are available, but at a much higher fee.

The United States Department of State offers international travelers a wealth of information on its site. Start by printing and completing the application linked above, but do not sign it until asked to do so by an authorized agent, per the passport form instructions. You will need to provide proof of citizenship, such as an original, government issued birth certificate or certificate of naturalization (the hospital version is not acceptable). If you don’t have a government issued birth certificate, one can be obtained from the Department of Vital Statistics of the state in which you were born. In addition, you need a government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license or military ID, as well as a single-sided photocopy of the front and back of your identification.

When submitting your application, you must also provide a recent color photo that measures 2 inches by 2 inches. It should include a full-face view with a neutral expression or natural smile, with both eyes open. You can usually get a photo made at stores near a Passport Acceptance Facility. Request extra copies and attach them to the passport cover. Some countries request them, and you may need one for a visa as well.

The cost of a passport plus execution fees is around $135 as of 2016.

Deciding Where to Go

You may already know where you want to go, but some people may actually only have a vague desire “to travel”. Here are some pointers to help with your decision:

  • Research the destination to understand any health, safety and weather risks in the area.
  • Choose a place with good public transportation. You don’t want the expense of a car rental or the fear of driving in another country. Most countries’ driving laws vary widely from America’s.
  • Base your stay in a city to truly immerse yourself in a new and different culture. You can, and should, travel around and outside the city, but cities make great base camps.
  • Consider the local cuisine, and ask yourself if you can handle eating it for the entirety of your trip.
  • When conducting your research (see the next section) discover when the tourist season happens, and then consider avoiding visiting during that time. The prices are higher, and the sheer number of people makes enjoying your trip more difficult.

Next, you need to choose housing for your visit. Hostels are a popular, low-cost option that are especially popular with young people. You may also choose to camp, either in an organized site or out in the wild.

Hotels and home/room rentals through sites such as AirBnB are other popular options. You can also find free lodging with On the other hand, there are typically luxury resorts, boutique hotels, quaint inns, villa rentals and all-inclusive locations also available.

Research, Research, Research

When you’re home, you don’t have to think about things like:

  • How much colder does it get at night?
  • Does it rain a lot in March?
  • How much is this in U.S. dollars?
  • Does anyone in here understand English?
  • What happens if I get hurt, can I go to the doctor?

The fact that you don’t need to think about these things means that you don’t typically think about these things when planning to travel. You know that $5 is $5, that it’s about 20 degrees colder at night where you live, and that everywhere you go, people speak English. Answering these questions before traveling, though, makes a huge difference in how much you enjoy your trip.

Look up the weather in your country of choice; don’t expect it to mirror yours. For example, if it’s August in Melbourne, Australia it is winter, so pack accordingly. And, if you’re going to Europe, plan on rain no matter what time of year it is.

Look up exchange rates, as well. You’ll need cash for some activities; not everyone accepts credit cards. With a basic knowledge of the exchange rate, you also know the approximate price in dollars and won’t panic when you see a trinket in Mexico priced at 100 Mexican pesos, because you’ll know that’s only about $ 5.30 in US dollars (subject to exchange rate changes).

On the subject of money, call your bank and credit card companies before you leave. First, you need to let them know to expect, and approve, foreign charges. Second, most countries no longer accept credit card with only a magnetic strip and not a chip.  Most U.S. financial institutions have issued chipped cards, but some have not. Request one if you don’t have one.

As for the language barrier, try to learn a few basic phrases before you go. The first should be, “Do you speak English?” In most countries, you’ll find plenty of people who speak English, but it’s always polite to ask in the local language. Making an effort to learn and use basic pleasantries in the local language can help break down barriers and connect with the locals. You should learn how to say things like “Please”, “Thank you”, “Good morning”, as well as helpful words and phrases such as “Where is the bathroom?”, and “Police”, “Emergency”, etc.

For medical emergencies abroad, you may need to look into supplemental insurance.

You also need to worry about different laws and rules when you travel. For example, some countries require both a visa and a passport. The U.S. State Department  provides a lot of these answers. Just click on the country you want to visit and it shares everything from embassy information, restrictions for entering and leaving the country, whether you need vaccinations, and much more.

What to Pack

You know the weather from your research, so pack accordingly. If possible, use only carry-on luggage that holds enough essentials for a week. If you need to check luggage, look at the airline’s weight restrictions. First, weigh yourself. Next, weigh yourself while holding your suitcase. The difference is what your luggage weighs. In addition, if you check your bags, pack enough clothes for 24 hours in your carry-on bag.

The weather isn’t the only thing dictating what you wear. Be respectful of the local culture and dress appropriately. In addition, pack clothes reflective of the country you’re visiting. Most cultures are a bit more formal than Americans are when it comes to dress.

Don’t forget items like chargers and converters so you can plug them in. Also, packing a few snacks for the plane as well as the hotel room is always a good idea.

International Flights: What Should You Expect?

Before your plane takes off, save yourself a bundle on roaming rates and switch off your mobile data. You’re on vacation anyway. Upload all of your selfies after you get home, or use public Wi-Fi.

This is likely a long flight, so dress comfortably. You can change before landing if you prefer. Pack items that help you relax or fall asleep, like a neck pillow or eye mask. You also want something to occupy your time.

During the flight, the airline may try to help passengers avoid jetlag by dimming cabin lights to match the sleep time of your destination city, and even serve meals the same way. Feel free to walk around occasionally to remove stiffness, but try to remain quiet if other passengers are attempting to sleep.

Before landing, most airlines provide passengers with the required customs forms to complete before deplaning. These usually include questions about the flight number and departure city, as well as recent travel and whether you packed anything unusual.

Act Like a Visitor, Not a Tourist

There is nothing wrong with being a tourist, visiting the big tourist attractions, and taking pictures. However, recognize that tourists get a bad reputation in nearly every country and probably even in your hometown. Not for being tourists, but for acting like tourists.

So, how do you act like a visitor instead? Be humble and curious with the people you meet. You’re visiting another country; take an interest in the people living there. Listen to them and be open to the differences you’ll find. Just because they do some things differently than in America, that doesn’t make them weird. They’re just different.

The locals know the best restaurants, the best shops, and the best attractions, so ask them. Then give their recommendations a try. By adapting and adopting the local attitudes, and living life at their pace, at least during your visit, you seriously increase the odds that you’ll have a great time.

We would like to thank Covington Travel for providing their professional input for this Guide.

DISCLAIMER: This guide is provided only for informational purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for legal or other professional advice. This guide does not contain nor is it intended to provide legal or other professional advice for any specific situation and readers should not take action or refrain from taking action, based only on the information provided in this guide. Goldberg & Osborne has attempted to provide accurate and current information in this guide, but cannot and does not guarantee that the information is accurate, complete, or up to date. This guide may contain links and/or search terms that will lead to external websites as a convenience to the reader, but Goldberg & Osborne is not responsible for the content or operation of any website other than its own website. The presence of a link or a search term does not imply and is not an endorsement by Goldberg & Osborne of the website provider or the information contained on any linked website or on any website contained in search results from a search term provided in the guide.