Know Before You Go (For the First Time Traveler)

I have a dear friend who is planning to travel to Italy this year. It is her first time traveling outside of the United States.  I had written a blog for her Italian voyage which you can read, but I realized later I needed to write another blog for her trip:  what to expect on the way over there and on the way back.

Obviously, one needs to have a valid passport, but also be aware of the expiration date of that passport in relation to your travel.  Second, you will need to have your travel information (flight, hotel, etc.) printed out as well as stored in digital form (Evernote, OneNote, Google Drive, Google Keep, et. al.) for safe keeping.  Also, bring a photocopy of your passport with you. It’s also a good idea to keep your passport in an RFID shielded sleeve to protect against ID theft. Here is a list that I check before every travel:

Trip List on Evernote

Two things that you will need to keep in your carry on are a pen and earbud headphones.  The pen you will need to fill out customs forms before you arrive at your foreign destination, as well as your return trip back to the United States.  This includes any layovers not in the United States. You can also use this pen for doing crossword puzzles to pass the time either in the airport or in the air (check the free airline magazine provided in your front seat pocket).  The headphones will come in handy when you want to watch a movie or listen to music.  Often times airlines provide headphones, but sometimes they will ask a price to buy or use them.  Cheap headphones will work just fine, but you can also go high end by using a noise-cancelling headphone if you just want peace and quiet.  Some other items you may want to consider are:

  • Gum
  • Hand moisturizer
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Tissues


Whether you like it or not, you will have to cross a security checkpoint once you have your ticket and checked your baggage.  Here’s how to make sure you go through this process without a hitch. While still in line, take everything out of your pockets, including keys and even gum wrapping.  Take off watches, bracelets, and any other “heavy” jewelry–wedding rings are okay, but I take it off anyway.  If you have a laptop, take it out because security wants to see that in a tray. Ask if they want to see a tablet, but usually border security will tell you.  Take out your plastic bag with your liquids.  Take off your coat, and you may have to remove your shoes. Security will want to see your boarding pass as well as your passport. Make sure to take your passport out of its sleeve.  If the sleeve is RFID protected, it will set off the scanning device.  After you’ve cleared the scanning device, gather all your belongings as quickly as possible.  There’s usually chairs or benches nearby so you can put on your shoes, coat, and make sure you have everything.  Keep in mind that you may have to go through this again if you have a layover, especially outside of the U.S.  Good news though, if your layover is in a European Union country and your final destination is in another EU country then you will not have to go through customs again once you make it to your destination.  For example, we had a layover in the Netherlands, a member of the European Union.  Our final destination was Venice, Italy and we didn’t have to go through customs again.

During your trip, try to keep track of how much money you’ve spent on souvenirs or anything that you will take back home with you.  You will be asked on the customs form on your flight back to the States the dollar value of goods you have with you from your trip (i.e. souvenirs, bottles of wine, cigarettes, et. al.)

If there is anything else I have missed, please let me know.  Happy travels and bon voyage!

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