• Hannah Smentkowski

The 5 Things You Need To Do Before Your First Trip Abroad

Updated: Dec 17, 2021

Looking out onto an airplane wing from the cabin on my first international flight

I’ve always wanted to be an adventurous person. Someone who was always on the move, jet-setting around the world at a moment's notice, with friends all around the globe and endless exciting stories to tell about my fantastic travels.

While I’ve traveled all over the United States, until recently, internationally I had only been to Canada for a day and Mexico for a weekend, so my "jet-setting" lifestyle felt a bit lacking.

That was until my trip to Cartagena, Colombia. While it was the first of hopefully many international trips, I wanted to write out everything I had learned from this trip. From language barriers to exchanging money to navigating the streets.

I’m hoping my mess-ups and triumphs can hopefully inspire some of you looking to start doing some international travel yourself. And maybe we'll all learn something along the way.


 


 


1. Download These Phone Apps




- Currency Exchange (Apple / Android): This is great for the less math inclined (meaning me), so you can put in the foreign price of something and it will tell you how much it will cost in your native currency. Very useful when you're decided to get a nice meal or a souvenir and you're not sure if you want to spend that much money.

A flat lay of a phone on a white table with a succulent

- MAPS.ME : This is an awesome app that allows you to bookmark places and use maps offline to find routes to your bookmarks. Unlike Google maps where you would have to save the route while you have internet, this app has already downloaded the entire area so whatever place you bookmarked you can find a route offline.



- Google Translate (apple / android): Something I found quite useful was downloading an entire language on the Google translate app (didn't even know I could do that). While it can be strange to use in the moment of a conversation, it can be very helpful to look up words on a menu or to save certain words or phrases you know come up a lot like "where is the bathroom?" "Or another beer please!"


- Whatsapp: This app is used worldwide by many different tour companies and hotels to text over WiFi. Once you have the company's phone number you can book a tour, ask questions or even get room service at your hotel. There are a ton of uses for this app so make sure you download it before leaving your home country!


 


2. Research These Things Before Leaving


A Colombian woman dressed in a colorful dress on the streets of Cartagena

Of course, you'll be looking up "Top things to do" or "Best cocktails in town" but here are a few more things you may forget to research for your country of choice.


- Tourist traps in the area: This can be anywhere from a simple hustle to get some extra money off of you, to potentially putting you in danger. So always be aware of these scams because they're different in every city, and luckily there's a YouTube video about every one of them to help keep you safe.


- Drinking-Water: Always try to do a quick search to see if you need to bring a water filter with you or use only bottled water on your trip. You may get very sick consuming certain bacteria from different water sources.


- Dangerous Areas: While there may be entire areas to avoid in certain cities, there can also just be certain roads, alleyways, or trails you don't want to take. This is something to consider alongside the scam research.


- Electrical Outlet Wattage: Pretty much each continent has a different kind of electrical socket to plug your appliances into. You can always get a universal adapter, but even wattages might be different. If you're just charging your phone or laptop you should be fine, but be aware that your hairdryer just might not get enough power in every country.


- Visas/Vaccinations: While this is more for either long-term travel or travel to more Southern continents. It's always best to do a quick search at least 6 months before your trip to make sure you don't need any visas or vaccinations to be able to travel. These can take a while to procure, so make sure you do this step early!


 


 


3. Brush Up on These Life Skills


- Budgeting skills: You will try your hardest to budget out every penny of your trip only to notice two days in you've already spent $50 over what you said you would! Travelling, especially in another country with different exchange rates, will make you will look at money in a whole new way. Always leave some wiggle room in your budget and think twice about every souvenir you think you or your friend back home "needs".


Colombian people crowding the streets of Cartagena

- Navigation Skills: You thought you were only going to need this if you were lost in the woods? Incorrect my friend! Navigating busy new streets full of tall buildings and signs in a different language is almost as complicated as using a compass and following the north star. Luckily, there are google maps and other apps you can use on your phone for offline maps to follow, just stay aware of your surroundings.


- Self Awareness Skills: This is the best part, realizing that with all of this planning you're becoming just a bit more confident each day and being the person you always wanted to be.



You'll also discover what kinds of situations you like being in. For example, are you a nightlife person, a group tour person, stay in one hotel or move around to different cities person or not even a city person at all (something I discovered the hard way). A lot of this will be learned on your travels, but it's best to self-analyze and plan out the trip that you really want.


 


 


4. Find Some Patience


Hannah Unbound being patient about the humidity in Colombia

I was so anxious to get everything out of my first trip, I wanted to see all the sights and get every picture I could. So Badly, that my anxiety started to rule the entire trip, I started getting irritable and the stress just crept up on me and I never felt like I could take a break.

It's always best to set time aside to be doing things and to just be. this is probably the most important tip I could give anyone going on any kind of trip.


Hannah Unbound relaxing on the beach in the Caribbean



Also, crazy shit is going to happen that is out of your control, you may get sick, tours are canceled the weather turns, but it's all okay. Always have an easy backup plan to turn to and just relax into it. Unless someone is dying, everything will be okay.





 

5. Miscellaneous Tips