Travelling abroad for the first time? Things to take care of…

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Tips for first time travellers

Travelling abroad for the first time? Things to take care of…

Planning a honeymoon, babymoon or travelling abroad for the first time with family? Or you could be doing a solo trip. Travelling abroad for the first time is exciting, but sometimes scary too. I remember the first time we were on an overseas trip, I had jitters thinking how the other country would be. With little planning, you can have a very exciting holiday.Here is a list of things you should take care of:

Passport

Make sure everyone in the group has a passport. Even an infant needs passport. As a rule of thumb, always have passports. Most of the countries need the passport to be valid for 6 months from the date of return.

There are some exceptions to this rule. For eg. an Indian travelling to Bhutan by road does not need a passport. But he/she needs one if travelling by air (except for infants, for whom birth certificate is enough). Or an Indian can travel to Nepal without passport. So read the rules carefully before planning a trip. Usually a quick google search/ tripadvisor forums should help (for eg.does an Indian need passport to travel to Bhutan?); but if not go to the travelling country embassy’s website and find out.

Tickets

If travelling by air, everyone needs a ticket. Tickets for infants (babies less than 2 yrs of age) are fixed price and they do not get a seat; but you have to buy the tickets in advance. If travelling by rail/road,find out the rules before you book the tickets.

If you are travelling for your baby’s 2nd birthday and have planned it in such a way that he/she is less than 2 yrs old when doing the onward journey but more than 2 on the return leg; rules vary from airlines to airlines. Some of them specifically ask for babies age at the time of return travel during booking. If there is any confusion, call the airline’s helpline number to confirm. We travelled for our kiddo’s 2nd birthday to HongKong, Macau and Thailand and booked with Thai Airways. We did not have to get a seat for him even after the return leg, but rules differ from airlines to airlines.

Visa

Many countries give Visa on arrival or do not require visa at all. Do a search before travelling (“Do Indians need visa for travelling to Mauritius?” or “Countries where Indians do not need a visa”). If in doubt, call one of the travel agents in your country and find out. You do not need to book through them, but can always inquire as a prospective customer.

Accommodation

Most of the countries want to make sure you are not a prospective immigrant and therefore require a few things before granting visa – return ticket, accommodation details and bank statement to make sure you can support yourself in their country). It is also a good thing because you do not want to get lost in a new country trying to find accommodation for yourself. If you are staying with a friend/ relative; ask them to send you a letter stating the same and also have their full address/ phone no./ valid ID of that country. While bank statement is not required by all countries, find the same before you travel. Its not a great idea to stand in front of immigration officer responsible for granting your visa and not having supporting documents with you. You can get deported!!

Travel insurance

Get a travel insurance before you travel. You have an option to buy one when purchasing the ticket; but if you missed it, you can buy one later too. This ensures you are insured in case of delay of flight, missing baggage, missed connected, passport loss etc.

Currency

Find out the currency of the country you are visiting and the exchange rate. Also, read about the preferred currency in the country. For eg. in Seychelles, though they have their own currency Sechellois Rupee (SCR), EURO is a preferred. You get better exchange rate for euro, prices can be negotiated a bit if you pay in euro. So though the ATMs there would dispense in SCR, you can carry euros in cash or you can swipe your card in euros if it makes financial sense for you. Similarly, most of the transactions in Maldives happen in US Dollars.

Also, swipe your credit card somewhere before you travel to make sure it working. Pay the credit card bill to make sure you can use it up to the credit limit if required. Also, call your bank once to find out if the card is acceptable in the country you are visiting and the exchange rate. Though the exchange rate is higher than travel card; its good to have a backup in case of any emergency.

Money exchange

Now that you know the preferred currency, you need to decide how to carry the money you plan to spend. Its not very wise to take all the currency in cash; mostly for safety reasons. Some countries also have rules on how much cash you can bring from other country. The best way is to get a travel card. Now this suggestion is very India specific. There are prepaid travel cards that can be loaded with foreign currency. ICICI/ Axis Bank/ SBI/ Bank of India and most of the banks have their own travel cards. They let you load card with around 14-20 currencies. Depending on which country you are visiting, you can get currency loaded. When you visit the country, swipe your card or withdraw cash like any other ATM card. If the currency of the country you are visiting is not available, get a strong currency like USD, Euro loaded. Though you pay the exchange rate, its better than getting INR exchanged or swiping your Indian credit/ debit card.

Vaccination

Find out if the country you are visiting need travellers to get any vaccines before entering. A quick google search like “Do I need any vaccinations to go to Seychelles” should tell you if you need any vaccines. If you suffer from any ailments, check with your doctor if you can travel to your preferred destination.

Climate

Knowing the climate of the country at the time you are visiting helps you pack adequately. For eg. December in Mauritius is summer; but it can get chilly towards the evening and its a good idea too carry a light jacket. Also, it can rain anytime in Singapore and its advisable to carry an umbrella/ rain jacket. Do a quick “Singapore weather in September” kind of search before you go. This ensures you do not end up overspending on things you would have rather carried easily. This will also help you plan your activities.

Cost of living

This is important from budgeting point of view. Depending on the country you are visiting and the kind of meal you prefer to eat, per meal charges could vary a lot. An Indian meal in Seychelles can easily cost around 4500-5000 INR (for a family of 3). But if you prefer to have a pizza there, you can be done in around 2000 INR.  Similarly, if you buy a water bottle in a restaurant in Mauritius, it would cost 3-4 times more than if you buy the same in a supermarket. So its better to buy from supermarket in bulk. Knowing these details help you be prepared.

Food

Find the kind of cuisine available in the country you are visiting. This becomes even more important when you are a vegetarian. For eg. I am a non-vegetarian; but I could not eat non-veg in Hong Kong and many places and Thailand too because of the smell. Noodles in Hong Kong, Singapore etc are not made the same way as Indian Chinese food is prepared.

When travelling for the first time, try to find the area where there are restaurants of the cuisine you are comfortable with. Try to book a hotel around this area. Also, if you are a vegetarian or prefer to have Indian food, carry some ready to eat meals.

Things to do

Every country has its own charm and it is good to know what things you plan to do. While things to do depends on one’s taste, TripAdvisor’s list of things to do is a good resource to plan your itinerary. Read reviews on Tripadvisor, travel blogs for those attractions and figure out details like best time to visit the attraction, how much time it requires, how to get the tickets, does it need advance booking, how to reach the attraction, does it have restrictions for kids/ adults etc. If you want to do SCUBA/ private tours etc, it may want you to get in touch with operators and book them in advance. Attractions like “At the top – Burj Khalifa” are sometimes booked well in advance and you may not get the desired slot if you book at the last minute. Also check out for discounted tickets on websites like Klook, Groupon etc before booking the tickets.

Travel at your destination

Decide on how you are going to travel in the country you are visiting. While its easy to book an Uber/Ola in India, same may not be feasible in other countries. Most of the developed countries have very good public transport system and taxis are very expensive. Read about their metro lines, buses etc find out how you can go to the attractions you plan to visit. It saves a lot of time and trouble if you know in advance. Some places like Seychelles, Mauritius, Malaysia etc also have taxi/bike rentals for tourists which work out very economical. If you are planning to rent a vehicle, find out about the licence too. You may need an international driving licence.

Know rules about carrying money/ liquor/ cigarettes/ fruits etc:

Most of the countries limit the amount of cash you can bring into/ take outside of their country. You will need to declare the same in immigration form that you fill. Find out the limit beforehand. Also, find out rules about carrying liquor/ cigarettes etc if you plan to carry. When you land at the airport, read rules written on the boards. Some countries do not allow some fruits/ seeds/ flowers etc to be carried of their country. Countries that are known for their beautiful beaches are particular about preserving their corals and carrying live/ dead corals can land you in trouble with customs. Adhere to the rules.

Pack your medicines

If you take medicines on a regular basis, pack them in your hand luggage. You may not be able to get the same medicines outside and sometimes they may even need local doctor’s prescription. Also, the rates could be very high compared to your own country. This is very important, especially if you are travelling with a kid. Always carry their medical book and medicines for fever, cold, cough, thermometer, ORS and any other medication you think he/she needs frequently (like my kiddo’s first reaction if food does not suit him is to vomit; some may have indigestion in such cases. I carry the medicine that his doctor has recommended in such cases).

Travel documents

Keep a copy of all your travel documents with you. Also, keep a soft copy in your phone/tab. Unless required, do not carry original passport after you have reached the hotel. Keep it in a safe and always carry copy of the passport when outside.

Let someone close to you know your travel itinerary and contact number of the hotels you are staying in; in case of any emergency.

Know the culture

Read a bit on the culture of the country you are visiting. Its not a great idea to offend your hosts. For eg. Hindu temples in most of the countries requires visitors to wear clothes than cover their entire legs. So one cannot go in shorts or any other revealing clothes. Sometimes they provide sarongs/ dupattas/ stoles outside the temple; but not always. Its better to be prepared when visiting such places. Mosques in UAE require women to be in burqa. If its specific dress, they would have provisions for visitors to rent/ buy outside the place.

Find the tipping culture of the place you are visiting. While most of the tourist places encourage tipping, there are exceptions. For eg. Singapore, Seychelles do not have tipping culture. In Japan, staff feel offended if you tip and may even return the tip.

Know about the shopping culture. Bali, Bangkok, Dubai all are known for being shopping haven. But are the prices fixed? In Bali and Bangkok there is heavy bargain, but prices are fixed in Dubai (that’s what I like about Dubai 🙂 ). Knowing how much to bargain helps you in getting the best deal.

Language is another thing you should read about. Knowing simple phrases like Thank you, sorry, excuse me, how to stop a taxi etc helps. While most tourist friendly businesses know English, some local eateries, souvenir shops etc may not know English. This becomes more important when you are a vegetarian/ vegan, because veg food is not common in many cultures.

Some tips that come in handy during international travel

  • While you can find many packing lists online, and packing mostly depends on the country you are visiting and its climate/ activities it has on offer; there are a few small things to take care of when packing.
    • Take a powerbank if you plan to use your phone.
    • Keep a universal travel adapter. There are adaptors that have pins to work for every country. Its a must-have because electronics can cost a lot in some countries.
    • Pack 2 days of clothes in your handbag. In case your luggage is delayed/ lost in transit, you do not want to be stuck in the same cloth you are wearing. We learnt it the hard way when we went to Langkawi. Our luggage was delayed by 12 hrs. We knew it was not lost so did not want to buy new clothes, but hardly had any in our handbags.
    • If you are travelling with an infant/ toddler, carry your baby’s stroller/ pram. Most of the developed countries allow strollers inside public transport like Metro/ bus. Also, it comes in very handy when visiting attractions like zoo, theme parks etc. You can also rent one at these attractions (usually will cost anywhere between 500 INR-2000 INR per day depending on the country and attraction), but having one of your own is definitely an advantage; especially when your kiddo wants to sleep. The ones you rent may not have reclining seats or very comfortable.
  • Download offline Google Maps for the country/ city you are visiting. It helps tremendously in finding restaurants/ attractions etc.
  • If you plan to get a SIM Card, read a little about which one has best connectivity. Depending on your usage, you can choose the plan. We usually take SIM card only for data, but you may want to call back home and need voice too. If your hotel has WiFi and you have your plans well chocked out, you may not even need SIM card.
  • Find out best apps for tourists in the country you are visiting. For eg. if you plan to use public transport, get an app for that. Get an app that shows restaurants in areas by cuisine, taxi apps if you plan to use taxi, attraction maps if available. Do a quick “best apps for tourists in Singapore” kind of search to find out more useful apps.
  • Look at deals available in the destination country. See if the Groupon, Klook etc have discounted deals. Grab them if you can 🙂

With these in place, you should be relaxed and ready to enjoy your first international trip 🙂

Have you travelled and think I have missed on some important points? Leave a comment and I will add them with due credit 🙂 If you think this post will help someone who is travelling, do share it with them.

3 Comments

  1. Hi,

    Thanks for detailed check list. I will be travelling for the first time in August. I have a suggestion based on my experience in planning a trip on my own. It helps in checking a calendar of a country you are visiting for public holidays. As in my case, I reversed my itinerary to avoid a long weekend in Malaysia and accordingly booked air tickets. As per previous itinerary, I would have been in Kuala Lumpur on an Independence Day followed by Hai Raya Haji followed by Saturday & Sunday. On long weekends chances are that tourist spots will be overcrowded.
    In my colleague’s case, travelling on a tour package next week, who is going to Thailand next week. Tour operator has cancelled 2 day stay in Bangkok due to some festival celebrated in Bangkok for four days. Its a sad state due to lack of advance information.

    Thanks,
    Rajendrakumar

    1. Thanks! That’s a good suggestion. Will add to the list 🙂 Regarding your friend, its sad that even the tour operator did not have advance info about the festival..

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