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What you need to know before your first trip abroad

Travel is unpredictable, and sometimes that’s a good thing. You spot a humpback whale during your boat tour, for example. Other times, those unpredictable travel moments are utterly aggravating, like when bad weather cancels your flight or the hotel you’ve booked can’t seem to find your reservation.

Obviously you want to minimize the frustrating experiences as much as you can. Here are a few tips for a smooth first trip abroad.

Staying awhile? You might need a visa.

You won’t need a visa in most countries unless you’re staying for more than 90 days, but there are a few countries with shorter requirements. Aruba and the Philippines require a visa for tourists staying longer than 30 days, for example. Visa information for different countries is available on the State Department’s website.

Save cash with boutique hostels.

Despite their long-standing reputation of being grungy crash pads, some hostels are downright luxurious. In recent years, there’s been a trend toward boutique hostels: upscale options with cafes, fun community activities and well-­decorated rooms. You’ll still have to share a space (and a bathroom) with fellow travelers, but you’ll save a wad of cash. Some of the most upscale hostels charge only $30 a night. Search on sites like and

Set a travel alert on your credit cards.

Before using your credit or debit card abroad, call your carrier and place a travel alert on your account (you may also be able to do this on their website). This way, the credit card company won’t mistake your foreign transactions for fraud and freeze your card.

Ask about your bank or credit card company’s policy on foreign transaction fees. Many charge a fee to use the card abroad, usually as a small percentage of every purchase.

Be wary of bank fees.

Most foreign countries have easily accessible ATMs that will accept credit and debit cards from U.S. banks. But before you leave for your trip, look up your bank’s fees and policies for withdrawing cash at international ATMs and see if they’re part of the Global ATM Alliance Network or Allpoint network. If so, and you use an in-­network ATM, you can at least avoid usage fees, though you’ll probably still be charged an international transaction fee.

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