India, Travel Tips
Comments 44

Traveling Abroad First Time? 10 Questions on Your Mind.

traveling abroad, travel abroad advice

In retrospect, I consider myself incredibly lucky for the opportunity to study and live abroad at the age of 17. I grew up in a protective middle class family in the small bubble town of Dehradun. In search of my independence, I applied to and got accepted in a university abroad, and flew away with a big study loan and bigger dreams.

I remember being extremely nervous about traveling out of the country all by myself. There are too many myths circulated among Indian families, and after years of traveling, I hope to simplify it for you:

1) How to choose your first foreign destination? 

how to travel abroad, first time traveling abroad

It’s a pretty amazing feeling to look at the world map and pick where to go. Photo by Riccardo Cambiassi

My advice: Don’t follow the crowds.

I’ve met many travelers who swarm to museums abroad just because everyone else does, even though they don’t particularly enjoy art or history. Choose a destination based on your personal interests, check the weather during your travel dates, research the visa process for Indian citizens, and find someplace within your budget. It’s okay to miss popular attractions if they don’t appeal to you; find your bliss and don’t feel judged. Remember that it’s your trip and you alone decide how to enjoy it the most.

Read: 7 Travel Destinations for Solo Travellers

2) How to apply for a visa with an Indian passport? 

Indian passport visas, visa on arrival for Indians

Photo by Baigal Byamba.

It’s true that the Indian passport (and those of many developing countries) allows us to visit only a handful of countries spontaneously, and is subjected to far more scrutiny than other passports (those security checks are never random, are they?). But don’t let that dampen your spirit. Try to pick a country that allows visa on arrival. If your heart has settled on one that doesn’t, browse the country’s embassy website to find the visa process for Indians.

Most visas require confirmed flight and hotel bookings for your entire trip, bank statements for the last 6 months, salary slips, income tax returns, a letter from the employer and a ton of patience. I usually book my flights when needed, but book fully refundable hotels on booking.com across 2-3 cities – that I cancel once I receive my visa. In lieu of salary slips and an employer’s letter (I’m a self-employed freelancer), I include a cover letter and my resume. As long as you can prove that you need to come back to India at the end of your trip, getting a visa shouldn’t be too difficult.

Read: Canada Tourist Visa for Indians: Tips & Requirements

3) How to plan and book your first trip abroad? 

why use Airbnb, Airbnb reviews

My home on an organic farm in Nicaragua, found on Airbnb.

I’m surprised at how many people still use traditional travel agents to pick popular albeit boring itineraries. Plan it yourself and you’ll likely save a ton of money and have experiences unique to you. I use the following websites:

  • Wikitravel, BBC travel, Guardian travel, blogs and anything interesting on Google to choose my destinations
  • Booking.com to book hotels for short stays
  • Airbnb and travel blogs to find unique experiential accommodations
  • Tripadvisor to verify accommodation reviews
  • Twitter to seek tips and suggestions

Besides a rough idea of my first few destinations, I don’t plan anything else in advance. That way, I leave things to chance based on local recommendations and unexpected encounters. The more you travel, the better you’ll know how much planning works for you.

If you’re not on Airbnb yet, sign up with my referral link and we both get INR 1,500 off.

4) Should you carry cash or cards and how much?

how to carry cash abroad, foreign travel advice

Use ATMs abroad and simplify your life. Photo by Judit Klein.

Are we still tucking money belts on our tummies and looking for places to encash traveller’s checks? Don’t complicate your life. I carry debit cards (multiple, incase one bails on me), and withdraw money from ATMs abroad when needed. The amount you pay extra (if at all) in ATM fees and exchange rates is almost negligible, and you save yourself a ton of time, effort and bother.

Even in touristy parts of cities notorious for theft, you’ll be fine as long as you don’t flash expensive jewelry or a lot of money. It’s important to have a few secret stashes of money and an extra card in your luggage incase of an emergency. Also, many hotels abroad require a credit card at check-in, so it is wise to have one even if you don’t plan to use it.

Read: How to Earn Money While Travelling?

5) Should you get travel insurance and how?

travel insurance, trip insurance from india

Find some peace of mind with a good travel insurance to take on any adventure! Photo by Beshef.

Yes, you absolutely should! The probability of something going wrong is low, but it’s not worth risking the high bills you might get slapped with. You can only purchase one before you start your trip. I browse different travel insurance policies on insurancepandit.com, find a cashless insurance, compare prices and benefits, and buy from a reliable company like HDFC Ergo; it offers instant email delivery and you’re all set to go.

A top-notch travel insurance literally saved the lives of Canadian travel bloggers, Dave and Deb of The Planet D, when they were stranded in Peru. Read their story.

6) How to get through immigration at the airport?

airport immigration tips, traveling abroad

Airports make the world feel smaller. Photo by Nick Harris.

It’s simple really. Check in online, reach the airport 2 hours before your flight, drop your bags, get your passport stamped at immigration, and scan your handbags through security check. That’s the standard process at any airport (yes, even in the US, despite what everyone seems to believe!). You are likely to be asked similar questions by immigration officials – where are you traveling, why, how long will you stay. Dress well – I’ve noticed that wearing harem pants is asking for additional security checks. Relax and be truthful, you’ll be fine.

Read: The Coolest Way to Fly Out of India

7) How to call India when you are abroad? 

how to call India from abroad, first time traveling abroad

Buying a local SIM card gives you easy access to calls and internet. Photo by Fe Ilya.

If you’re traveling for a week or longer, buy a local SIM card – they are cheap, let you make local calls, and give you internet connectivity on the go. That way, you can call India for free on Skype or Viber, and keep in touch with Whatsapp and Facebook. If it’s a short trip, choose a hotel that offers free Wifi (most hotels do). Calling cards are passé – I find them expensive and inefficient.

Read: Why a Top Travel Blogger Won’t Leave Home Without These 5 Things 

8) What to pack for your first trip out of India?

packing light, what to pack for first time abroad

My High Sierra backpack lets me carry everything I need, yet not too much.

I’ve never figured out what people carry in 3 big suitcases when they travel for a week or two. If you can help it, don’t be one of those people. Don’t plan for every contingency. It’s not difficult to find a supermarket in another country and buy something you didn’t carry – infact, it’s a great way to get a peek into how the locals live. Check the weather, pack in layers, carry only the essential clothes and toiletries, and feel the freedom of travelling light.

And well, I know we have our traditional clothes and customs here in India. But if you really want to mingle with the locals and not be taken for a tourist everywhere, it helps not to wear a monkey cap or sneakers with a sari in Europe. What’s the fun of traveling abroad if you’re going to do the same things you do at home?

Read: Practical Ways I’ve Learnt to Stay Safe While Travelling Alone

9) How can you find vegetarian food when you travel abroad?

traveling abroad from india, vegetarian food  while traveling abroad

People all over the world are turning vegan and vegetarian. A sumptuous farm-to-table platter in South Australia.

It breaks my heart when people travel far from India for a short while and eat every other meal at an Indian restaurant. Even for a vegetarian like me, I’ve found that the world is full of delicious flavors. Research online (Tripadvisor, happycow.net, blogs, local food review sites of the country that Google pops up) about the local vegetarian food in your destination, note the names of ingredients in the local language, and don’t be afraid to ask for a customized local dish. Thanks to being a little adventurous with my food, I discovered that Turkish cuisine is full of vegetarian dishes (though it doesn’t occur to Turks that these are indeed vegetarian), Romania has a vegetarian fasting menu, and it is possible to survive Spain without eating meat.

Read: Why I Turned Vegan – And What It Means For My Travel Lifestyle

10) How to make the most of your trip? 

Panama Dolphin bay, traveling abroad tips

Slowing down on Panama’s Caribbean coast.

India has quite an obnoxious reputation when it comes to travel – we are often too demanding and loud, with little self awareness. Learning a few simple words in the language of the country you are going to – hello, thank you, where’s the bathroom – and reading about what is culturally acceptable (asking personal questions is considered intrusive in most cultures, unlike in India), always delights locals. It shows that you are interested in their way of life and can make for a great conversation starter. Be open to new adventures, talk to people who seem very different from you, put away the camera on some days, and do things you’ve never done before.

But beware, once you’re bitten by the travel bug, there’s really no way to cure it.

Do you have other questions or tips for traveling abroad from India?

Connect with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

[Featured image by martinak15]

44 Comments

  1. Loved this. Very useful. I want to add one more thing – One must keep a per day budget (approx) depending on the currency exchange rate and after that, stop calculating and converting money every time one stops to buy or shop something. On my first trip to Europe, I think I wasted half my time feeling guilty that I am spending so much. Cos when you keep converting every Euro or Pound to rupees, you’re bound to feel miserable. I now tell people to account for a budget of Rs.8-10k per day when in France for example… this is an average per day cost that includes stay, food, travel, tourist attractions’ tickets etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You nailed it Bharti. I wanted to make this point but couldn’t quite figure out how to put it. I absolutely agree. We are suffer from guilt at conversions, but it has to stop if you really want to enjoy your trip. Love your suggestion, thanks for sharing it 🙂

      Like

  2. ThinkingAloud says

    I loved this. Its been some time I am thinking of taking a trip abroad, although nothing materialized yet. Your blog gives me the inspiration to kick the conversation once again 🙂 Specially the vegetarian part is a relief 😉 I would love not to starve!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! This is such a great list. Loved reading. I don’t get a chance to travel much but I know that these are really great call outs – simple and effective.

    Like

  4. Amazing write up. It’s answered so many doubts I have had in mind. Also, people here in India do ask only personal questions. It’s really very, very intrusive. Not to mention, annoying. I really like your back pack, I am looking for something similar but with wheels.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, hope it’ll be helpful on your trip! I would’ve loved to have something with wheels too, but that increases both the weight of the pack and the cost. Let me know if you find something suitable though, it’ll help to go easy on them shoulders!

      Like

  5. Nice collection of tips for beginner travelers!

    I know that a lot of people get hung up on picking a destination. It’s really hard when you have a whole beautiful world out there. But once you start traveling, you realize that the every destination has so much to offer and that it’s more about the experience of traveling that is beautiful than the actual destination.

    I’d argue that people should just go with their gut, give themselves as much time as possible, and after having some bucket list items, just give themselves flexibility to enjoy being somewhere knew and go with the flow.

    In my experience, that really helps 🙂

    Like

    • Great tip! I completely agree that the experience of traveling is really what makes a trip (first or hundredth) special. Thanks for sharing the inspiration 🙂

      Like

  6. First solo trip to Canada and I learned one very basic thing about Canadians.. Don’t buy a sim card!

    Due to the low population density, call rates are expensive, more so if they’re international calls. Almost all hotels have a free local calling system on their telephones.. I found the calling cards the most effective way to call Mumbai from Montreal. 2.50$ for the card and you’re set for 4 hours of talktime and valid for a month. Much better than a 20$ sim with additional costs of keeping internet and calling going.

    Though this is specifically to do with Canada.

    Like

    • I hear you! I didn’t end up buying a SIM card in Canada either – exorbitantly priced data. But it was easy to walk into a cafe (or even hang around outside) and use Wifi when needed. It’s an exception though (as is the US), but in most other countries, I’ve saved a ton of money buying a local SIM card.

      Like

  7. The post has been bookmarked! Thanks Shivya.
    I am set to go on my maiden international trip soon and this has to be the perfect guide for me. I agree when you advise of not choosing travel agents due their itinerary constraints. They end up making your vacation a task. Being Indian, I also particularly liked this statement, ‘India has quite an obnoxious reputation when it comes to travel – we are often too demanding and loud’. Thats something we need to alter when in foreign lands.

    Liked by 1 person

    • All the best for your first trip Pavan! I know that statement could be offensive to some, but I felt like one of us needed to put it out there. Glad you took it in the right spirit 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I feel living my dreams when I read your blogs and advises. I love travelling, but I am apprehensive about travelling alone. I do travel with family, friends and colleagues but never traveled alone too far from home. Being fully aware of how in India a lonely women in the streets are treated whether in city or in village, when I think of moving away from my safe haven, I get quirky notions. What would you advise if you feel you are being stalked cheated or approached inappropriately in a new land where you don’t know the language or culture?

    Like

    • It’s natural to feel such anxiety before you go solo, Rashi – whether in India or another part of the world. I suggest you do your research and avoid being out alone after dark. Have a weapon (like a pepper spray) at hand just for your peace of mind. Speak to the local women to know what places you should avoid, and seek out their help if you feel threatened. Trust your gut, but also trust the world a little 🙂

      Like

  9. What an informative post! Thanks for the amazing advice! My husband and I are in the midst of leaving the working world behind and travelling Europe together. It is always so helpful and so inspiring to get tips and tricks from those that are doing it! I look forward to following your journey 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great post! And very useful indeed! I would like to add a little suggestion. It is practical to carry some common medicines – anti pyretics like Paracetamol, analgesics, anti-emetics, anti histamines like cetrizine( anti-allergic)..etc before one sets out.. some of these Over-The-Counter Drugs may not be freely available in a foreign nation and you would require a valid prescription each time. So it is very handy to get a few of them before the journey..

    Like

    • Great suggestion, Ritam. I carry a small medicine kit with essential meds, that’s a permanent fixture in my backpack and always useful. Thanks for sharing it 🙂

      Like

  11. Also it is good to know the diseases endemic to an area/place/nation…. a valid vaccine certificate is mandatory in some cases that requires you to be vaccinated before you leave for that country…and also once you come back, and you are required to produce that certificate…..

    Like

  12. Hi Loved reading it. I am 22, a photographer and going to make my first solo trip to Singapore. Yes scared. Yes excited. Moreover it’s going to be my first foreign trip too; and exactly as you put, I don’t want to end up in Museums or over hyped tourists spots where my heart doesn’t lie. I want to meet and interact with the locals and I want to know the varied culture and Ishhh I just don’t know how am I going to do all of that. Yes I am an Indian girl belonging to a highly protective middle class family too. And all I am reading about solo traveling is, they end up being the best holidays of your life. I hope that happens. 😐

    Like

  13. A really interesting post. I have just travel to Australia solo for the first time two years and loved every second of. I really enjoy reading other peoples tales of travel.

    Like

  14. Amitha Puranik says

    Truly inspiring post Shivya!. I am hoping to travel someplace soon. But I was just wondering, how do you financially manage to travel to so many places?? Just curious 😀

    Like

  15. I’m an Indian getting married to a Canadian sweetheart :D. Haven’t traveled anywhere outside India. I was just checking on google for the documents required to travel overseas. then i found this nice article just perfectly written for me 😛 .
    Thanks
    God bless you 🙂

    Like

  16. Raman Chopra says

    Shiyva:
    I have lived in Montreal-Canada for 35 years,sponsored loads of relatives, sent invitations to each and sundry-with – success-all the time and STILL found your instructions to be clear,structured and precise. Extremely helpful. I also saved your letter to the Canadian High Commission for further use.
    I like your nomad style. It is something I always wanted to do but was never able to and at my age I just enjoy details of your travels. God bless you.

    Like

  17. Chandra says

    This is amazing!! I’m an middle class Indian kid who’s aspiring to travel the world “my own way”. This post is a great inspiration with information.Thank you so much. Tiny random tip-If you know anything like roller skating or skateboarding carry them along cause they’ll be helpful to travel over short distances (where the transportation prices are sky high) plus it’s great fun!

    Like

I'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s