With over 22 countries down, here are my tips to getting started with International travel.
Before you do anything, you will need a Passport. Even traveling to Canada and Mexico it is now required. Once you get your passport, make a copy. I carry one on my person, one in a bag, and leave a copy with someone at home. Guard your passport! They are a commodity on the black market!
Pick a location; While I encourage people to travel practically anywhere, I strongly advise a place where English is at least spoken on a basic degree.
Visa; Do our homework, many countries require you to get a visa before visiting, countries also have a limited amount of time you can visit for usually. www.travisa.com will give you the info in this area you need.
Money; Usually I will simply use an ATM when I disembark from a plane at whatever country I have went, however you can make a request from your bank to get the type of currency you plan on using. Now keep in mind that once you leave a major city, you may not be able to have access to an ATM or a place to exchange money.
Type of travel; Ask yourself, and be honest what type of travel most suits you. While adventure travel gets you the greatest experience, possibly your body is not capable, or your will at this point, so perhaps a cruise, tour or resort is optimal.
I have only taken a two Tours one while in Finland the other Korea, while they offered probably the best explanation of sites in Helsinki & Seoul. The adventure aspect was gone, so the fun part which is getting lost, looking at the wrong places etc was not there. I did enjoy the massive history inputs however. Now with that said there are tours for every type of traveler, my Aunt and Uncle are now traveling the world via cruise ships. I also have a dear friend who offers adventure tours, ranging from Mountain bike tours, to Writing/Photography tours. http://kirstenkoza.com/expeditions/halloween-transylvania-romania-dracula-expedition/
My tour in Seoul was actually the most optimal as Seoul offers tours based on your flight lay over. I had a 12 hour lay over so I was able to take a full day tour! So while it was not my preferred way to see the city, it did allow me to experience a place which otherwise I may not have. This is of course up to the individual and their own personal goals and comfort level.
Vaccines; Depending on where you are going, and what you are doing, this is something you will need to be looking into well before your leave date.
Make arrangements at home; Make sure your place is being watched, animals cared for and someone to water your plants. Have a auto light on and make it look like the house is still being lived in. Also do not publish your leave and return dates, thieves look for such things and will take advantage.
What to pack? This of course is tailored to your type of trip. If you are going on a tour all the basics from anyplace you go in the US is all that is necessary. If you are adventure traveling you will want to travel light with emphasis on toiletries.
Medications you will need, while most countries you will not need to see a doctor to purchase medication, they may not have what you need.
Make sure you look into local travel laws as pain killers and other narcotics can get you in serious trouble.
If you are planning on driving while in another country, you will need a International Drivers license, these can be obtained from any AAA office. I highly recommend these regardless for your ID as they are in all reality meaningless and one can simply leave them with a corrupt cop and continue on your way, promising to go to court :P
Arrangements to and from the Airport also have to be made; If you drive, you will need to decide if you will pay the daily parking fee on site, or pay for an off site place to park your vehicle.
Insurance; You will want to have travel insurance for the entire length of your stay, make sure it covers your medical aspect which IMO is the most important as items, such as cameras can be replaced.
A Will and a Living Will are also something which every person should have. While I am sure you dream of having a fun and exciting trip, and I certainly hope you will, people still die or are seriously injured while traveling.
Make sure loved ones know where you are going, and where you will be on your entire trip, this also applies to not being on a tour. Again the reality is something could happen to you, and in order to make some sort of a search and rescue possible, people have to know where you are. I will be clear, any kind of a rescue is probably beyond your families financial realities and the Marines are not coming to save you.
US Embassies are not wonderful accommodating flag waving places the movies make them out to be so do not count on much assistance on that end.
Keep a positive attitude: Make the best out of your trip regardless of what happens. Even after being arrested in Croatia I still enjoyed my trip and wanted to continue, my traveling partner however started the trip sour, and would end it sour, which of course hastened our trips end. If I could do it all over again I would have told him to part ways and I would have continued, something to think about for yourself.
Last, have fun. Regardless of where you go it will be the trip of a lifetime, so make sure you stay light hearted and happy.
The world is a big beautiful place filled with amazing sites, sounds and people to experience.
More to come!