Maiden Voyage? Five Steps to Your First Trip Abroad

For some, the anticipation of travel brings excitement and glee. For others, it causes stress and anxiety. If traveling abroad seems like an overwhelming hurdle but you just can't wait to explore, here are five easy steps to get you started on your first international excursion.

Departing on our first flight around the world. Next stop - New Zealand!
Departing on our first flight around the world. Next stop - New Zealand!

1. Spend your way to rewards.

If you are going to spend money at home, you might as well get travel benefits while doing it, right? After multiple flights and hotel stays for free on our rewards, our family recommends investing in a credit card that brings you benefits. We love the Starwood American Express card for hotel point redemption and the Delta SkyMiles American Express card for airline travel rewards. We also recommend the Chase Sapphire Visa card which converts dollars spent into redemption points of virtually any kind.

My husband has a knack for squeezing the drops out of every earned mile and hotel stay, but he also has a knack for hacking. Travel hacking, that is. He follows several travel bloggers and websites and has managed to digest and multiply their collective knowledge. Some of his favorites include Bootsnall.com, Extra Pack of Peanuts podcast, and Nomadic Matt.

While you must be responsible in paying off your credit cards every month, there's no reason you can't earn the benefit of travel with your regular monthly expenses.

Trading budget accommodations for high-end hotels with rewards was a great perk of using the right credit card.
Trading budget accommodations for high-end hotels with rewards was a great perk of using the right credit card.

2. Read and dream to reality.

Do you have a bucket list? Or are there too many choices to narrow down your first destination? It's always hard for me to choose where to travel next, so I love to immerse myself in travel reading to get inspired. Dive into the Pinterest ocean of content, read travel blogs or enjoy a "bookstore date night" and peruse the travel section. My husband and I will often grab a coffee and spend hours inside our local bookstore pouring over Fodors, Frommers and Rick Steves to see what strikes our fancy.

Need a Top Five to get you started? In my humble opinion, these are the cities I would consider traveling to for my first overseas adventure (in no particular order): London, Barcelona, Hong Kong, Hoi An or Sydney.

Sydney is full of iconic landmarks and beauty. It's one of my favorite cities in the world!
Sydney is full of iconic landmarks and beauty. It's one of my favorite cities in the world!

3. Apply for your first passport. And maybe even a visa.

The paperwork can feel overwhelming, but getting your first passport is not as difficult as you might think. The trick is planning ahead so you don't have to pay those pesky expediting fees. Follow these easy steps and Google "passport photos near me" to find out where you can get that all-important headshot. Oftentimes your local library will accept passport applications, but remember - if you are applying your children for their passport, BOTH parents must be present. Made that mistake!

Some countries require a travel visa and since the rules vary from country to country, it can be intimidating to understand and prepare. My best advice is to Google "U.S. citizen visa requirements to [country]". In your results, choose the U.S. State Department website and it will take you directly to that country's information on entry, exit and visa requirements.

We also recommend registering in the STEP program with the U.S. State Department. Their Smart Traveler app allows you to easily document details of when and where you will be in case of an emergency in that country.

Mugshot or Passport photo? Make sure not to smile!
Mugshot or Passport photo? Make sure not to smile!

4. Pick your pack.

Before you lift off on that first flight, you must pack your bags, and finding the right suitcase is critical. When we were planning our trip around the world, we feverishly researched all the necessary travel items and accessories, including the suitcases themselves.

After trying out multiple small, soft-sided rolling bags, we decided on the PacSafe twenty-two-inch rollers. Our hope was to purchase a bag small enough to carry onto most flights, and the soft sides allowed for it to expand when we bought a few too many souvenirs.

If you are a true "backpacker," our friend Trav from Extra Pack of Peanuts recommends Tortuga backpacks and you can get a 10% discount with the EPOP subscriber code.

Our Pacsafe suitcases were the perfect size for our journey.
Our Pacsafe suitcases were the perfect size for our journey.

5. Pack it light.

Whatever pack you choose, it's critical that you pack light. We were gone for nine months, and we packed enough clothes for one week. With the help of my favorite packing accessory, Bago travel cubes, we rolled our clothes into tight "sausages" and found that our general rule of thumb became simplicity and re-wear. I try to abide by the 5-4-3-2-1 rule, no matter the length of my trip: 5: Five tops (t-shirts, long-sleeved shirt, and a thin, pullover fleece) 4: Four bottoms (skort, maxi skirt, trousers, and jeans) 3: Three shoes (comfortable walking sneakers, flip-flops, and flats) 2: Two swimsuits 1: One jacket and one dress

Wherever you choose to go on that first trip abroad, it will be spectacular. Take a leap of faith and step out of your comfort zone. These tips will help pave the way, and you will be so glad you did it!

Suzanne Rutledge has always had an itch for adventure and a good story. She was the public affairs and communications manager for Coca-Cola Enterprises for nearly ten years which took her around the world to places as far as Antarctica. While raising their son, Luke, she and her husband, Mitch, decided to quit their jobs, get out of their comfort zone and explore life around the world. Their memoir, "From the Rut to the Ledge," is available on Amazon and you can read more about their adventures at www.ruttotheledge.com.

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