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First time heading abroad? Here is some advice I've recently given friends in the same position:

I've recently had a couple of friends come to join me on my travels so I've had the joy and honour of playing both 'tour guide' and 'travel agent'. I feel lucky to have been able to have helped these friends feel comfortable and confident heading abroad for the first time, so thought I'd collate some of my advice here as it might help someone else make the same big step!

Me saying goodbye to my friends as I set off on my big trip in May 2022!

Travel insurance

Travel insurance is really important! While there are a broad range of options when it comes to travel insurance, I like to go for a simple insurance that just covers medical expenses. We become so accustomed to free healthcare in Australia that it's easy to forget you don't get the same luxuries when you travel!


I use SafetyWing for my travel insurance. They have a useful month to month subscription system that you can start and stop at any time. The insurance works out to cost about $2 AUD per day, so is super affordable too. I have an affiliate link with SafetyWing, so if you want to sign up for their insurance please do through my link as it helps me a lot!


It's worth me noting that you can't get SafetyWing insurance while physically located in Australia, but can activate it the second you're abroad - weird, I know. My friends simply activated their Nomad insurance plan as soon as they arrived in a country outside Australia (either at their layover or final destination). The insurance begins from the moment you sign up, so it's easy to do as soon as you arrive abroad, when you're lining up for immigration or waiting for your bag! This is only an issue for those currently physically located in Australia.


Pictured: me and three of my friends who each came to visit me in SE Asia! (Pic 1: Phi Phi Islands, Thailand, Pic 2: Khao Sok, Thailand, Pic 3: Hoi An, Vietnam)


Flight / baggage tips

If you're travelling for a long time and have a big bag, you're likely going to need to pay for some checked luggage. How much this costs will depend on how much weight you need (I usually go for 15-20kgs). You check your luggage in at a desk at the airport, usually at the same time as when you check yourself into your flight and get your boarding pass etc (though you can often check-in in advance online, the baggage drop will of course always need to be at the airport).


You shouldn't have any batteries in your checked luggage, so bring chargers etc. with you in your carry-on. Also remember that your checked luggage might be thrown around a little, so I recommend keeping anything valuable in your carry-on luggage!


You will be given a kind of 'baggage receipt' that will either be stuck to the back of your boarding pass or passport, this is so your baggage can be tracked if it somehow gets lost along the way! If you have a long flight with a layover, your luggage should automatically be moved across to the next flight for you. Usually, you don't see your checked luggage again until you reach your final destination after you go through immigration.

Me (left) with checked and carry-on luggage & my friend with just carry on!

Flying with checked-in luggage makes your traveling experience a little longer, as you need to line up for your bag drop at the departure airport, and will then need to wait for your bag at the other end of your journey too.


If you can travel just with carry-on luggage, your flying experience will be a lot quicker and cheaper, just make sure your bag isn't overweight or bigger than the allowed dimensions, otherwise you might end out getting charged at the airport.


For international flights, all liquids in your carry-on bag should be in a clear, sealable plastic bag (you can get this at airport security if you forget or don't have at home). No one item should exceed 100ml (so be careful with big tubes of toothpaste or moisturiser, as they will get taken off you if over 100ml). You can bring snacks in your carry-on luggage for the flight, but again be careful with liquids! Remember to empty your drink bottle before going through security - you can fill it back up afterwards.


To make airport security effortless and drama-free, it's a good idea to put any technology devices in a tub by themselves, along with your little clear bag filled with toiletries. If you leave all of this in your bag when it goes through the scanner, it sometimes ends out getting pulled aside and has to be manually checked! Pulling things out separately before being scanned saves this hassle, it just means you need to do a little unpack and re-pack!


Baby Nia setting off on her first solo backpacking journey at 18 years old to Indonesia!

Visas

You should always look up visa requirements in advance before arriving in a foreign country. While some countries have a visa-on-arrival available, others require you to apply online in advance. I usually google something like 'Cambodia visa Australian passport' to get this information.


If you need to apply for the visa online in advance, be sure to check out a few different websites offering the visa service, as the cost of a visa can differ depending on the website you go through. I paid about $80 AUD for my one-month visa to Vietnam, when a friend afterwards told me she got hers for $20 through a different website - frustrating! Remember that if your visa gets rejected, you do not get refunded, so make sure you put the correct information down in your application.


For visa-on-arrival processes, you almost always will need a passport-sized photo of yourself and potentially some cash in that particular currency. It's good to always have a few of these photos of yourself on hand (when I run out, it's very easy to find a little shop that you can pay to get new ones). In terms of currency, there should always be an ATM available at the airport for you to get back out and pay for the visa.


ATMs, travel cards and foreign currencies

The need for special 'travel cards' today is pretty redundant, as most bank cards nowadays work abroad. Read up about your current bank or speak to a teller to understand the costs associated with getting money out from an ATM or paying with card while abroad.


When it comes to getting money out from an ATM abroad, an important piece of information I was once told and like to tell people is to always click 'decline conversion' if the ATM presents you with a potential conversion from your local currency to the foreign currency. This is because the conversion the ATM offers you is almost always worse than the one your bank would offer. Declining this conversion will not stop you from getting money out. The ATM will likely also tell you if it has a fee and you will have to select whether you accept the fee charge or not. This is where you have to click 'ok' as declining the fee will stop you from getting money out.


Once again, research is important to know how much cash to get out. For example, you would need a lot of cash somewhere like Vietnam, where it's rare to pay on card, while you hardly have a need for cash at all in a place like Norway.


If you do get lots of cash out, stash it in different areas of your bag. Worst case scenario, if you lose your wallet, you don't want to lose all your cash too! I also have more than one bank card, again stored in another area, so I should never be left in too big a pickle if my wallet were to go missing with my cash and card in it.


My friends and their backpacks in Kathmandu, Nepal

SIM cards

While I know there are now these fancy e-sims that exist (and that I can't completely wrap my head around), I still currently opt for buying a physical, local sim in the country I am visiting.


My biggest tip when it comes to buying a sim card is to try and avoid getting one at the airport if you can - they're usually about 10x the cost of somewhere in the city! See if you can just rely on wifi to get you to your accommodation, then find a local store or 7-11 where you can get a much cheaper sim and can potentially also barter for a better price (you can ask your accommodation what a reasonable price might be to give you an idea).



Photocopies

I have photocopies of my bank cards, license and passport. Again: worst case scenario if things get lost or stolen, you have physical copies of all your important things!


Getting into a city from the airport

Google is again your friend here, and there is bound to be various blogs out there telling you about the different ways you can get from a particular airport into the city. Regardless of if I have googled or not, I usually head straight past the various taxi requests and try to jump on a public bus or train that's bound to exist and is usually considerably cheaper.


Finding accommodation

I like to have my first night or two booked when I am first arriving somewhere new, then plan from there. My most used apps are Booking.Com or HostelWorld. I have an affiliate link with HostelWorld, so if you want to book through them please use my link here, it helps me out a lot :)



If you have any other first-time travel advice, put them down in the comments - I feel like the amount of advice out there is never-ending!




- N

xxo

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2 Comments


lisah.tutor
Mar 01, 2023

Great tips Nia! The biggest stress I had when in SE Asia for 6mnths was with phones and banks. Tell your bank you are travelling o/s on a holiday. If you say you are living there and working there, they may want to cancel your account and report you to the ATO! Banks can freeze accounts if they see o/s transactions they are unaware of. Most banks let you inform them of your travel plans online. Where possible, before you go, change any SMS verification to email. It was a constant headache. Hang onto your old SIM too, just in case. Worth keeping and labelling SIMs if you go back to certain countries. Also, if you can get any docume…

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N.Harrison
N.Harrison
Mar 05, 2023
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Ooo fantastic tips! Thanks! Your home bank texting your home number has definitely been a problem for me in the past.

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