Before traveling to Ireland, I had only ever explored the East Coast of the United States. The only flights I had been on were to Orlando and Newark, and I didn't have a passport. International travel was completely foreign to me. In addition, my parents were unable to help with my overseas journey. They weren't sure how to apply for a passport or what documents I would need. In fact, they subtly discouraged my adventure. Both were paralyzed with fear I'd be kidnapped, just like in the movie Taken. Fortunately, the process of traveling abroad was quite easy. My passport came weeks earlier than expected, my flights were punctual, and I managed to avoid getting mugged while roaming the streets of Dublin. Because of this, I've created a list of invaluable tips and tricks for making your first global expedition a positive experience.
1. Get a passport. I received my passport 8 months before my trip to Ireland. I had no idea I'd be on a plane to Dublin the following August, but I knew I wanted to travel abroad eventually. The process of applying for a passport can be intimidating, but it was incredibly easy. After getting a photo taken at UPS, filling out the necessary paperwork, and pulling together my birth certificate and various documents, I was ready to send off my application. If you're interested in getting a U.S. passport, click here to get started.
2. Stay organized. Fortunately, Michael is just as meticulous as I am. In preparation for our trip, he printed out flight/hotel information, tour tickets, maps of places we wanted to visit, and emergency contact information. We researched hospitals in Ireland that would accept our health insurance, as well as the Embassy of the United States in Dublin. He put all of the documents in a handy little folder and kept it in his backpack during our trip. It's never a bad thing to be over-prepared, especially when traveling overseas.
3. Pack light. Despite being tempted to pack several different pairs of shoes, I limited myself to one small suitcase and a backpack. Packing light made the flight to and from Ireland much, much easier. Plus, if you don't check any bags, you don't have to wait around at baggage claim.
4. Don't forget medication. This includes both prescriptions and over-the-counter medications (such as ibuprofen and pepto bismol). If you're bringing prescriptions, make sure you have a paper copy of your prescription from your doctor. This will come in handy if you encounter any questions or concerns at airport security. In addition, make sure to divide your prescription between your checked suitcase and your carry-on bag. This way, if your luggage gets lost, you'll have enough medication to tide you over.
5. Bring plenty of snacks. Trying new food while traveling is a lot of fun. However, finding somewhere to eat in a foreign country can sometimes be a chore. Bring plenty of nonperishable snacks that you can dive into if hunger suddenly strikes. Granola bars and beef jerky are great options.
6. Carry a cross-body bag instead of a purse. Leaving my leather satchel at home was a fantastic decision. I opted instead for a small cross-body purse. Tucking only my ID, credit card, cash, and cell phone into the bag made it ultra light. I barely noticed it was there, which was great for long days of exploring.
7. Withdraw cash instead of using your credit card. Everyone has their own preferred method for spending money overseas, but withdrawing cash at the airport worked great for Michael and me. Not only did it help us stick to our budget, it prevented international fees on our purchases. It can be nerve racking carrying a large amount of cash, especially in a foreign country, so Michael brought a money belt he purchased on Amazon. If you choose to use your credit card while traveling, don't forget to notify your bank so your account doesn't freeze while you're away.
8. Know what to do with your cell phone. While traveling overseas, you have a few different options. You can put your cell phone on airplane mode and only use it when WiFi is available. This will prevent you from racking up a huge phone bill while you're on vacation. Or, if you'd rather have access to data, you can activate your cell phone company's global plan. There's typically a charge for this, but it's much less than roaming charges.
9. Bring outlet adapters. Each country has a unique outlet. Check out this handy electricity guide to figure out what kind of adapter you'll need. I ordered my adapters from Amazon.
10. Explore by foot. Bus tours are great for day trips and brief introductions to new places. Even better than a guided tour, however, is exploring the area you're visiting by foot. Get lost! Explore every nook and cranny around town, and keep your map in your pocket. You never know what hidden gems you'll stumble upon while roaming the streets of a new city.