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First-Time Travelers

Planning your first international travel experience can be exciting, but you also have a lot to consider. From packing right to planning the perfect itinerary and everything in between, it may feel a little overwhelming at times. We’ll get you started on two very important pieces: getting your passport and managing your money. Without those, you aren’t going to get too far.

Get A Passport

Ready to apply for your first passport? Here is your simple checklist to obtaining one:

Plan ahead: Applying for a passport can be a long process. Allow at least ten weeks to process your application, or you could face steep fees and last-minute approvals that could have you sweating it out right before you’re supposed to depart.

Have important documents ready: You need a proof of citizenship (i.e. a birth certificate) and proof of identity (i.e. your driver’s license or government-issued ID). Send in original copies of these documents with your passport application.

Get photo-ready: A passport photo must be provided with your application. Among other specifications, it needs to be a specific size (2x2 inches), taken within the last six months and with a neutral expression. While you can take the photo yourself, we recommend putting the smartphone away and having a professional passport photo service take it for you. Most chain drugstores offer this service at a very reasonable price.

Complete the paperwork: Fill out the DS-11 form and bring it to the nearest acceptance facility.

Calculate the fees: For adults, your first passport book will cost $135. A minor (under age 16) passport book is $105. Passport card options are less, but can only be used when traveling to certain countries by land or sea.

Track the application: You can easily keep track of your application’s status online.

Money Matters

Almost as important as your passport is understanding how to manage your money overseas. Credit cards, cash and traveler’s checks are all options, but the right choice for you should be based on where you’re going. Below is a general list of the pros and cons of each but you should always research the country and/or city you’re traveling to, so you understand your options fully.

Credit Cards

Pros:

  • Credit cards typically offer the best-possible exchange rate.
  • You can cancel the card easily if it is lost or stolen.
  • You can review your purchases when you return home to avoid fraud or identity theft.

Cons:

  • Some cards aren’t universally accepted. Always check to ensure your card is accepted before you try to make a purchase.
  • Review guidelines to determine whether your destination transitioned to “chip and pin” credit cards, which are making their way to the U.S. in 2015.
  • Also, make sure you call your credit card provider before you leave to alert the company that, yes, the Parisian pastry will be an authorized transaction.

Cash

Pros:

  • Cash (in the country’s currency) is accepted anywhere, whether you’re at a small vendor’s booth or a nice restaurant.
  • If you have a few small coins or bills leftover, you can take them home as inexpensive souvenirs.

Cons:

  • Currency conversion fees can change frequently and depends on where you’re changing your money. Make sure you research ahead of time and exchange or withdraw from an ATM large amounts to cut down on the number of fees.
  • If you misplace your wallet or your purse is stolen, you are not able recover any of your cash.

Traveler's checks

Pros:

  • They can be replaced within 24 hours if lost or stolen.
  • Traveler’s “checks,” which are now in the form of pre-paid cards, are a great item to stow in a safe place – in case of emergencies.

Cons:

  • Many vendors do not accept traveler’s checks.
  • Exchange rates are not as good as credit cards or cash.