So you Want to Leave the Country?
(with this administration...who wouldn't)
Here's a step by step guide to help you plan your first trip abroad.
Step 1. Do you have your passport?
If the answer is no- time to apply! Visit the State Department's website on passport applications for all information regarding the process and costs: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/apply-renew-passport/how-to-apply.html
The United States Postal Service offers appointments for your passports as well as passport photos. You can find more information here: https://www.usps.com/international/passports.htm
You'll want to apply for your passport as soon as possible! On average, it'll take 4-6 weeks after your passport appointment to receive your passport. You are able to request express service for your passport, but that's gonna cost extra.
If you already have your passport- make sure your passport is valid before leaving the country! Some countries will not allow you to visit if your passport has 6 months or less before it expires.
Step 2. Where do you want to go?
The United Nations recognizes 192 countries- that's a lot of options. Narrowing down where you want to go can be hassle. African Safari? Hiking through the Alps? Exploring Mayan Ruins? Rolling down sand dunes in Namibia?
Once you've made the decision it's time to find the ticket! My go-to sites for cheap airfare is Skyscanner, Google Flights, and the Hopper App. Let's compare these options.
Skyscanner is a great website where you can find and track cheap flights around the world. My favorite feature is that you can search flights going "everywhere"- meaning they'll show you fares from your home airport going everywhere around the world. They'll also show you when the cheapest flights for your destination are. Skyscanner is also available as an app on your phone!
Google Flights (Google.com/flights)
Google Flights is my most used website. It's very similar to Skyscanner, but I find Google Flights is easier to use. Best feature on this site is their flight tracker. I get an email every time a flight I've tracked has increased or decreased in price!
Hopper is similar to Google Flights but it's available as an app on your phone. Hopper analyzes price trends for flights and tells you when it's the best time to buy your flight.
Scott's Cheap Flights (https://scottscheapflights.com/ )
Another great option for flights are email subscription lists! My favorite (and who should sponsor me) is Scott's Cheap Flights!
Scott's emails me multiple times a week with insane flight deals! This email subscription service is how I got to Beijing for 390 usd (round trip) and Barcelona during this summer for 370 usd (round trip). I personally pay for their premium subscription, since they've helped me to save hundreds of dollars on flights over the years.
My top secret tip: Book your flights on Wednesdays! This is usually when flights are the cheapest because airlines usually release their sales on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
Step 3. Do you need a Visa? More shots?
You did it! You booked your first international flight and you'll be heading off soon. What's next? For me- the next logical step is to figure out if you'll need an entry visa or any additional immunizations.
If you are a US citizen, the US State Department site is a life saver! Through the site, you can research about the countries you'll be visiting, visa requirements, safety precautions, and other useful information regarding entrance to the country. Link here: https://www.state.gov/travelers/
The CDC has a immunization recommendations and requirements for all countries. Please note- certain countries require proof of vaccinations for you to visit. All of this information is located here on CDC's website: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel
Step 4. Where am I going to sleep?
Well, hopefully with someone hot. Just joking... (not really).
When I travel, I typically stay at Air Bnb's and hostels. Since I'm young and cheap, these tend to be the most affordable options when I travel. I primarily book my accommodations in local, hip and safe areas! I scare my mom enough jetting off around the world- so I try to be extra careful and research the neighborhoods I'm staying in.
Airbnb is a lodging service that allows hosts from around the world to rent out their rooms and houses. While this may seem sketchy- it's become a worldwide phenomena. I like Air Bnb because they're relatively inexpensive, have more space than a hotel room and give you access to amenities like a kitchen. Also your host can serve as your local concierge- providing you with the best recommendations on how to explore their city!
On my recent trip to Puerto Rico, we stayed in an Airbnb in the heart San Juan. I paid 150 usd for my four night accommodation.
To many Americans, hostels are a completely foreign concept. When my European friends introduced me to them, I too did not understand. My thought process- I'm paying... to sleep... next to strangers? Hostels went from my biggest nightmare to one of my favorite parts of traveling!
Hostels have their upside and downsides. You're definitely not going to get the thrills and amenities that hotels or even Airbnb's provide. You pay for a bed, a locker and maybe a very cheap breakfast. To me, hostels are worth it for the experience. I've met some incredible people staying in hostels around the world. The hostel life, in a way, forces you to interact and meet with strangers!
And finally, Step. 5 What am I going to do?
So your flight is book, the accommodation is set, and your passport and other necessaries are secured.... Now what are you gonna do when you get there?
Time to research! I use a collection of different methods to find fun stuff to do.
My favorite sites for research:
Trip Advisor (tripadvisor.com)
Trip Advisor is a great site to find things to do in the place you're going to. They provide reviews on experiences and you're able to book excursions on the site as well.
Did you know that Instagram is an amazing place to research what to see on your trip? I often look through location tags to see what people are up to!
Air Bnb Experiences (airbnb.com)
Airbnb now has an travel experience option! Through the site, you can book experiences with local hosts. Often times, these experiences are far cheaper than what you'll see on sites like Trip Advisor. The excursions are versatile! You can do everything from street food tours to Instagram photo shoots. It's also a great way to meet other travelers.
I'm a member of a couple of Facebook travel groups: Black Travel Movement, Black Girl Travel Movement and Girls Love Travel. These groups are essentially travel forums where you can ask any and anything about your upcoming trips! Often times, people will post their itineraries and experiences in the places they visit.
And there we have it! You're officially prepared to leave the country. Time to pack!