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Everything you need to know about traveling abroad for the first time

Get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!

Traveling outside of the U.S. can be an incredible experience. New places, new people, new food ⁠— there are so many things to immerse yourself in and to educate yourself about in the process.

With the world at your disposal, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the choices. Condé Nast Traveler contributing editor Mark Ellwood shared three different destinations for first-time foreign travels that offer their own unique experiences.

Where to go:

Experience the best of the Mediterranean

Norwegian Cruise Line

Why you should visit: Looking to go around (at least part of) the world in seven days? Cruises offer a chance to explore many different countries and cities often within a week's time. Surely a week or a few days is not enough time to see all that there is to see, but you just might return home with a little bit of the travel bug.

How you should stay: Norwegian Cruise Line has a variety of excursions available for Mediterranean travel. Ellwood describes the cruise as being the perfect introduction to traveling abroad — you can pack in a day's worth of activities and return to the ship to regroup at night. There is no need for a visa prior to departure for the first-time traveler, and the trip "is like a tapas menu for your next trip abroad," Ellwood said.

London, England

Conde Nast Traveler

Why you should visit: "Nowhere will help you better understand what's distinctly, and distinctively, American about you than London, whether the fries or the bars," Ellwood joked.

If you're looking to get away for a while across the Atlantic, London is a great city to spend some time in. Although English is the language spoken by a majority of the population across the United Kingdom, the Office for National Statistics reported that London had the highest proportion of the population with another main language across England and Wales — so you're more than likely to encounter a wide range of cultures. Additionally, you can really stretch your dollars, as the U.K. pound holds less weight than the U.S. dollar at the moment.

Where you should stay: Ellwood recommended The Bloomsbury for a great stay during your time in the largest city in the United Kingdom. Its location in West London and beautiful exterior will make you want to stay there for the photo-op alone.

Tokyo, Japan


Why you should visit: Ellwood noted that Tokyo is a great destination for the first-time traveler who wants to truly experience a different lifestyle than the one that they lead here in the U.S. "The meditative, contemplative approach to life that's characteristically Japanese is an extra boost and a contrast with our frantic pace," Ellwood said.

From the public bathing houses (sentō) to the centuries-old temples and tea ceremonies to Tokyo's dim sum scene (Ellwood says the delicious food alone makes the journey worth it), the city offers a lot of historically rich and new experiences alike. As the city will be home to next year's Olympics, preparation is already underway for foreign visitors.

Where you should stay:

Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills: This modern hotel was ranked one of the Top 10 Hotels in Japan by Condé Nast readers in 2018. With 164 rooms, this stay boasts a great reputation among travelers who rave about its great food and stunning views that overlook Tokyo.

Claska: This contemporary hotel features 20 stylish rooms and intriguing designs in every corner. "The lobby is just as much an attraction for guests as locals," Condé Nast contributing writer Keith Flanagan wrote. This gem offers comfort and convenience at a reasonable price in a perfect location for travelers.

You've picked the destination ⁠— now what?

Once you've decided where and how to spend your first time abroad, all of the preparation comes into play. From obtaining your passport to booking your first activity, Ellwood shared a few tips to make sure things go smoothly.

1. Get your passport early

The time it takes to get your passport will probably take longer than it takes to plan your trip (usually takes about eight weeks), so Ellwood recommended giving yourself ample time in preparation. If, by chance, you already have a passport, check the expiration date to make sure that it fits the requirements of the country that you will be traveling to, Ellwood noted. For more details on how to obtain your passport, check out the Government Information and Services resources page.

2. Call your credit card company

Making sure you have enough funds while you're abroad is absolutely crucial to a successful trip, but there's plenty of room for error while you are across the ocean. Ellwood recommended calling your credit card company to see if they charge a foreign transaction fee.

"Many, like Capital One for example, do not," Elwood said. "It's the best way to pay for things, as you can keep track of expenses." He also noted the importance of notifying your bank that you will be out of the country so they know to approve your purchases.

3. Call your cellphone provider

If you don't contact your provider prior to departure, you might find yourself glued to your phone looking for Wi-Fi rather than looking around you. "T-Mobile, for example, offers International Passes for as little as $5, though you'll also have slightly slowed-down service overseas included in many plans," Ellwood said.

Inquiring about an international data plan might also prove beneficial, as many apps can help you navigate new cities, order a ride-sharing service or make a table reservation at that local spot when you need it.

4. Book a tour

The best way to see a new city or country for the first time is to have someone show you around! Ellwood recommended booking a tour with a local guide on your first day to best orient yourself with an unfamiliar destination. Make sure to book through reputable companies such as Viator or Airbnb Experiences while you are abroad.

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