Chances are if you're reading this, you are preparing for your first lone trip. Here are a few things I wish I knew before my first lone trip into the world.
1. Try to book a nonstop flight.
If possible, you can skip over the stress of making connecting flights by just booking a plane ticket that takes you straight to your destination. Do not put off booking your return ticket, or you may get turned around at the immigration checkpoint.
2. Do your research.
For everything from your destination country's immigration and tourist requirements to TSA baggage and liquid allowances, doing research on your own will help to ease your mind and keep you informed as you prepare for your first voyage into the unknown.
3. Students get cheaper flights.
Websites like studentuniverse.com give discounted ticket listings to registered students. Try to book flights a few months ahead for a Monday or Tuesday in the middle of that month for the cheapest tickets.
4. Get your passport as soon as possible.
Most sources recommend applying for a passport up to six months before your departure.
5. Get your money exchanged for the country's currency at a bank.
Provided your bank has good international support, you can call them from an international phone number and still withdraw money from any ATM in your destination country for a fee. Estimate how much cash you need for your trip and order it from your bank.
6. Buy a luggage scale and TSA-approved locks.
If you get these things online, they are about 15 dollars each. Note that you must use the TSA-approved locks, but most of these will emit a light if the lock was removed and your checked baggage was inspected.
7. Buy durable luggage.
Most airlines are rough on checked baggage. Spending a little extra on hard-sided lightweight luggage is worth it, especially if you'd like that luggage to last multiple trips.
8. Only take cards that have chips.
Some places will still swipe cards, but others will refuse. Avoid any hang-ups by having reliable credit cards with chips.
9. Put something on your bag that makes it easy to spot.
If your bag is all one neutral color, it will look like all the other bags on the luggage carousel after your flight. You may either pick up the wrong bag or worse, someone might pick up yours. Do everyone a favor and do something to make your own luggage look unique with colored duct tape, a luggage tag, or custom paint.
10. Check in online.
You can check in online as early as 24 hours before departure to add any extra bags, upgrade your meal, and reserve a seat. I would advise getting an aisle seat because if you don't do this for a long-haul flight, you will get stuck between two grumpy-looking sleeping people for the entire trip.
11. Arrive early.
Try to arrive three hours before your flight. If you're anxious already, do you really want to make yourself and others miserable by being late and panicking your way through security? No, you'd rather watch other people do that. Those people always look ridiculous.
12. Always, always, always have your ticket and passport ready.
Whether these documents are in your hand, in a secure pocket, or a special passport wallet, it's important to keep them both ready at all times so you can make sure you don't misplace them and to ensure efficiency. The employees will appreciate this.
13. Pack smartly.
Don't pack too many heavy items into your large bags to avoid fees. Also, don't pack too many heavy items in your carry-on suitcase, because no one likes the embarrassment of needing help with getting that bag into an overhead compartment.
14. If you can't pack smartly, be crafty.
If your checked baggage is over the weight limit and you don't want to pay the fee, take your bag away from the checkout counter, pick out the heavier items, and shove those items into your carry-on. Go back to the counter, check in the previously overweight bag, and head to any of the airport shops. Buy one inexpensive thing and ask for a big bag, then put all your extras in said bag.
15. Bring entertainment.
When you're at the typical altitude that a plane travels, the air is thinner and you'll feel more sluggish. For this reason, I don't usually plan on doing much on my 9+ hour flight. Some people are amazing humans and can still be productive, but those people are usually not in the economy class.
16. Ask for wine before and with your meal.
Assuming you are of age and do drink, the mini bottles of wine some airlines provide are a great relaxer to either help you to sleep or else to not think about the fact that you're being hurtled through the air in a metal tube about 35,000 feet above the ground.
17. Upon landing, do not panic.
If you're coming into the country for the right reasons, you have nothing to fear from the stony-faced immigration officers who will ask why you're there and when you're going back. Just be polite to them and remember they are basically paid to be that way. Most of the time, they're not going to turn you away unless they have a good reason.
18. Space out your modes of transportation, if you can.
Leave at least two hours after arrival for a booked bus or train journey. Remember what I said about people who rush through airports - don't be that person.
19. Treat yourself after landing.
Whether it's a nice coffee or the country's sweets, treats soothe a tired traveled soul.
20. Enjoy yourself.
You made it to a whole new country! Enjoy yourself while you're there and try not to stress about details.