Are you new to the travel world? About to set off on your first international experience? Maybe you’re just looking for a nice checklist for your upcoming trip overseas? Whatever the case may be, I want to share my list of the seven most valuable things to do as a new (or returning) traveler. If you complete all of these items, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of amazing travel experiences!
Apply for a passport: US passports are valid for ten years which ends up costing approximately $16-18 per year. With a passport, you can see the world and are not limiting yourself to travel only within the states. If someone calls you and says, “Hey, I won a free trip to Spain, let’s go!” you can hop on that plane and not have to think twice about it. Passport applications can be found online as well as at any US post office. Once your application (with photos) is submitted, it can take up to six weeks to receive the passport in the mail. So, make this the first thing you do now to not miss out on any chances to travel!
Find a great set of luggage: While most good luggage doesn’t come cheap, there is nothing like a great set of luggage. Consider what will hold all of your items but can withstand the harsh elements of airport handling. You have to decide what is best for you; what is the most comfortable as you go from home to the airport and back again. In the past, I have purchased luggage, traveled with it once, and then never used it again. To avoid this (and throwing away money), do a bit of research based on your expectations. I also recommend going into various stores and trying out different options. Luggage is like shoes—you have to make sure it’s the perfect fit!
Find a great travel agent: Once you have the passport and luggage sorted, you can start your trip planning. But instead of spending your time researching online and sifting through all the suggestions out there, why not find a good travel agent who can help guide you through everything you need to know about traveling. When you are a new traveler, there is a lot that you don’t know or haven’t considered. Having a good travel agent who can not only provide you with good advice but also help you book trips and make sure you’re prepared, that’s priceless.
Sign up for all airline loyalty programs: Signing up to the programs is free and easy. Every time you book a flight or vacation package, be sure to give your frequent flyer number. If your hometown airport has a dominant airline, make sure you sign up for their program first. Being a frequent flyer member can get you free flights, seat upgrades, lounge access, and more. When you earn enough points to redeem some sort of perk it is an amazing feeling, so don’t give away points for little things. You would be surprised how quickly the points can add up, particularly with international flights. Here are the links to a few major airlines for you to sign up:
Sign up for at least one major hotel rewards programs: Unlike airline programs, I don’t recommend signing up for any and every hotel loyalty program. When choosing a program, think about the hotel chains that have the most properties in areas that you frequently travel or hope to travel. Also, consider which hotel chain you like the best. For example, I am a Marriott type of girl, so I am going to select this chain before any other. I also earn the most points there because I focus on this hotel chain the most. If you are not part of a hotel loyalty program, you may miss out on a lot of amenities such as access to special lounges, upgraded rooms, snacks, Wi-Fi, and most importantly, the opportunity to earn free stays! As I said, hotel reward programs should not be considered the same as airline reward programs. If you are only a rewards member for one or two hotel chains, that’s probably enough. With airlines, the more you sign up for the better off you’ll be to get inexpensive or free flights.
Sign up for TSA Pre-Check: At the low cost of $85 and good for five years, the benefits of having TSA Pre-Check greatly outweigh the cost. To start with, you don’t have to take your laptop out of your bag at security. Plus, you won’t have to take off your shoes and belt before going through the metal detector. If you’re running late and the security line is long, you can move through TSA Pre-Check pretty quickly. I want everyone who travels with me to have TSA Pre-Check because I am not going to stand in line and wait for you to get through standard security—I will meet you on the other side! LOL.
Know your cell phone’s international plan: One potential pitfall of overseas travel is limited communication with family and friends back home. It’s important to make sure you have an international plan option from your service provider. Even more important is to know what your carrier will charge you for and what they won’t. Unwanted international roaming fees can add up faster than you can upload photos to Instagram so don’t end up coming home to a whopper of a phone bill. If your service provider doesn’t have reasonable international options, look into getting a SIM card upon arrival to your destination. Frequently getting a local SIM card (which is easy to swap out in your phone for your US one) can provide you with inexpensive data and a certain number of international minutes/SMS texts for up to 30 days. A lot of international airports have kiosks for this very purpose and make it quick and easy. Just be prepared to present your passport for ID reasons (good thing that’s # 1 on this list!).
As soon as you’ve completed all seven of these suggestions, you are ready to go anywhere—Mexico, India, Japan, or maybe just up the road for a nice staycation weekend. While traveling experiences can sometimes be stressful, being prepared as a new traveler will make a world of difference, pun intended! So get out there and explore, after you’ve finished my list of things to do first. J
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