So you've booked your first international trip. You've booked your round-trip flight. You've found hotel/Airbnb/hostel accommodations. You have your visa. Maybe you're going solo, or perhaps you're going in a group. Your friends in the group chat can't stop talking about the trip.
You're excited, but yet, you're also terrified. Maybe this is too much, too soon? Perhaps you aren't ready yet? I get it. I wish I could tell you that your first international trip will go entirely without a hitch, that you'll hit the ground running as soon as you land, and that you won't get food poisoning. I can't tell you that -- but I can tell you the experience will change your life. What you make of that experience is up to you. Here are three tips:
1. Being afraid is alright -- and normal
I can't tell you how terrified I was on my first flight out of the country. I worried about my health, whether I could acclimate to a new culture, the plane, not having cell service, being harassed, missing my family, and whether I would mesh well with the people on the trip. Some of these worries are uniquely "American," I can admit. Some are specific to traveling the world as a Black woman. But some were real worries. My advice is to embrace your emotions at all ends of the spectrum, but don't let them consume you or make you feel like you aren't brave enough. You are.
I've always thought that travel was an exercise in vulnerability. On my trip to Haiti -- which was the second time I'd ever been out of the country, and the first time I flew on an airplane -- most of those fears disappeared. I loved the folks I traveled with. I found myself rarely checking my phone, and my health wasn't an issue. I'm not saying all of your fears go away once you land, but you may think less about them once you arrive.
2. Flexibility is key/plan for anything
I can't stress this enough. As much as you want to avoid it, missed flights are possible. You may get to your destination and lose your cash. Or your AirBnB suddenly cancels. Or -- God forbid -- you get the dreaded food poisoning. It sucks, but it happens. I try to minimize risks as much as I can by staying prepared. If you're prone to sickness, I recommend keeping Cipro and ginger ale handy. Keep your doctor's phone number on speed dial if you have service. If you don't have service, buy or rent a cheap burner once you arrive.
To that point, I always recommend registering for the State Department's STEP program, so the U.S. government is aware you're in the country. Keep your credit cards on you, but always have local currency to catch a cab or pay a tip.
If time is an issue, I recommend signing up for TSA Pre-check or Global Entry to expedite getting in and out of the country. No lines are the best lines!
3. Try new food!
As Americans, we can sometimes be picky about our food. We go with what we know -- and I get it. But you aren't home, and it's alright to step away from what you know and try something you don't. You're in a new place -- don't go to iHop. Or, if you do, have dinner somewhere else.
I'm very guilty of this -- I won't tell ya'll the story of the time I flew nearly 30 hours to Malaysia and ate at Red Lobster. But the point of traveling is to get out of your comfort zone. Try something different! Ask the locals what they recommend -- folks are usually more than happy to tell you where and where not to grab a bite. People worldwide can bond over food. Ask the front desk/AirBnB host/hostel host what the best restaurants are in the area. I'm a huge bruncher, so in Cape Town, I made sure to hit a restaurant that had an authentic South African brunch. In Cuba, one of the first meals I had was at a hole-in-the-wall spot that served ropa vieja, and I immediately fell in love. You can eat American food in the States. Try something new!
Here's to a great trip!