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. Never having left the country, they didn't know 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.
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. Carry a cross-body bag instead of a purse. Leaving my leather satchel at home was one of the best decisions I made before traveling to Europe. I opted instead for a small purse with a long strap. 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. Also, the cross-body style is handy for discouraging muggers.
5. Withdraw cash instead of using your credit card. Everyone has their own preferred method for spending money abroad, 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 chose to strap a money belt under his shirt. You can find a large variety of comfortable money belts on Amazon. If you do choose to use your credit card abroad, don't forget to notify your bank so your account doesn't freeze while you're away.
6. Take some tours, but explore on your own, too. Tours are great for faraway day trips and brief introductions to new places. Even better than a tour, however, is exploring the city you're visiting by foot. Get lost! Explore every nook and cranny around town, and keep your map stowed away in your pocket. You never know what hidden gems you'll stumble across while roaming the streets.