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Travel tips

Tips for first-time travelers

Feb 08, 2016 by Jamie Burke

All of the adventures we’ve yet to embark on keep us dreaming big here at Go Ahead. We’re always looking to head out on new journeys and cross a few destinations off our wish lists. If you want to start seeing the world, or if it’s been a while since your last trip, check out our tips for first-time travelers—and happy voyages!

Our best tips for first-time travelers

Start your passport and visa application early

Whether you’re applying for the first time or renewing an expired passport, it’s best to start at least two months before your trip to give yourself plenty of time to get everything ready. You don’t want to be biting your nails waiting for your passport to arrive when your departure is just around the corner—trust me.

If you’ve never had a passport, you’ll need to visit an acceptance facility, like a post office, to submit an application in person. If you’re renewing (check to see if you’re eligible first!), you can send in your paperwork by mail.

Don’t forget, some countries require a tourist visa for entry, so make sure to check in advance to avoid any surprises. You can read about specific passport and visa requirements in the “On-tour info” tab of your tour’s itinerary page, or by visiting our partner VisaCentral. If you still have questions, email our team or give us a call!

Discuss your travel plans with your doctor

Even if you won’t need any immunizations to enter the countries you’re visiting, it’s still a good idea to chat about your trip with your doctor. They might have tips on staying healthy while abroad and could give you helpful advice that’s tailored to your medical needs. You should also invest in travel protection, which will help protect you in the unlikely event of an emergency.

Read up!

From finding the best shops to figuring out when museums are open, doing a little research before your trip helps you hit the ground running once you arrive. One of my favorite ways to get to know a place before my visit is learning where I’ll find great local cuisine, whether it’s beignets in New Orleans or Vienna’s best schnitzel.

Other good things to know are what the weather will be like when you’re visiting, what public transportation is available and a little about local customs, like if you’ll want to dress conservatively out of respect in certain sites. Once you’re on tour, your Tour Director and local guides can always answer any lingering questions you might have!

Make a packing list

The best advice out there is always to pack light. You’ll probably want to bring home souvenirs, and you definitely won’t want to lug around a heavy suitcase between airports and hotels.

Making a list is a must, especially for longer trips. It’ll keep you from overpacking things you don’t need and help ensure you’ve got all the essentials. Don’t forget to pack anything important—like identification and medications—in your carry-on, just in case.

Call your bank and cell phone company

Make sure to let your bank and credit card companies know about your travel plans. Otherwise, you risk having your card canceled while you’re abroad. If you don’t have one already, consider signing up for a card with no foreign transaction fees.

Picking up local currency is a great idea, especially for tipping your local guides and drivers, and in most cases is as simple as visiting a local ATM! Check out our blog about exchanging currency, especially if you’re headed to a country that uses the Euro.

Wondering how you’ll stay connected while you’re on the go? I like to keep my phone on airplane mode to avoid roaming charges, using Wi-Fi and apps like Skype or Facetime to keep in touch while I travel, but there are plenty of options available. From buying an international SIM card to getting a plan through your provider, it’s easy to find a solution to using your phone abroad.

Our best tips for first-time travelers

Don’t give in to jet lag

You took a seven-hour plane ride, navigated your way through Heathrow, hopped on the tube to King’s Cross and made it to your hotel—it’s been a busy day already and it feels like you stayed up all night. Curling up in bed seems like a brilliant idea, but this first day is critical when you’re fighting jet lag.

You don’t have to head out immediately and see all the sites. Take it easy, explore the neighborhood and stop for a coffee (or two). Staying awake until a “normal” bedtime (even if it’s a bit on the early side) and sleeping through the night, instead of the afternoon, makes a huge difference in your energy levels the next day.

Learn a little local lingo

Though it’s amazing to learn, you don’t have to master a whole new language before your trip. Just picking up a few phrases will do. Try hello and thank you to start—being friendly and polite will get you pretty far. You might also want to memorize a few helpful phrases like “How do I get to…” and “Do you speak English?” Don’t forget, your Tour Director can always assist with translating while you’re on tour.

If your first trip is to Germany, France or Italy, check out a few key phrases for brushing up on your Deutsche, Français, and Italiano.

Talk to the experts

Your Tour Director will be your go-to for all the information about your destination, but don’t forget about the experts all around you—the people who live there! Learn all the ins-and-outs by talking to anyone, from shop owners and hoteliers to locals you meet on the street. You might find an interesting market, an off-the-beaten-path art gallery or a delicious dessert shop (the possibilities are endless—that’s one amazing thing about traveling) that you wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

Most of all, have fun!

Soak in the amazing sights and scenery, immerse yourself in a new culture and take incredible photos to share with loved ones once you’re home. Seeing the world, whether it’s your first time or your fiftieth, is an amazing experience—the most important thing is that you make sure to love every minute!

Looking for a new adventure? We can help with that. Explore our tours? and get in touch with us about making your travel plans.

About the author | Jamie Burke
Always on the lookout for the next best meal ever, Jamie loves exploring the world—and all the great food in it. When she's not working to inspire new travelers, you'll find her biking around Boston, eating at her favorite sushi place, or hanging out at home with her family (and cat).