First Time International Traveler

Old Aug 1, 14, 2:21 am
  #1  
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First Time International Traveler

So I have never traveled out of the US before and in the next year will be flying to Okinawa, Japan to see my boyfriend who will be stationed there. I've been trying to do some research on all that I need to do/know before my trip but am overwhelmed by all the information. I have flown locally before but never alone. I am a 20 year old female and wouldn't welcome any information. I know pretty much nothing about international travel except you need a passport (at least I know that right? Haha) I just don't know where to start. I am fairly independent and smart but this is just something I don't have experience with.

Last edited by Katja; Aug 3, 14 at 4:15 pm Reason: fix typo in thread title
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Old Aug 1, 14, 5:33 am
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What fun! First off, you'll be fine, deep breaths, it'll be a wonderful trip!

For specifics, when I'm getting ready to travel (anywhere, really) there are a few things I do, mostly online.

1) See if I need visas to enter the country. If you hold an American passport, you do not need a visa for Japan for tourist visits of less than 90 days, but always check directly with the embassy website.

2) Check cdc.gov Traveler Information page to see if I need any vaccinations (at this point I'm up to date on pretty much everything but I always like to check)

3) Check online for the expected weather during your trip so you can pack appropriately.

4) Once you know what airports you will be flying through, check online for the maps of the airports - I like to do this so I have a decent idea of where I might need to go when changing planes (this is an extra dorky move but whatever, I have a type A personality when it comes to planning)

5) Start reading up online of activities you might want to do when you are there. Maybe you want to hire a guide or take a bus or train to a more distant area to visit other sites - you should be able to research all these things online as you plan.

What did we do before the Internet?? (Don't answer, it was hard, and we needed to use magazines, books, libraries, and even travel agents)
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Old Aug 1, 14, 7:58 am
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Og goodness I didn't even think to check my vaccinations. It's the sort of technical/legal stuff that I feel like I will screw up. I've traveled a lot domestically so I've got packing figured out but I don't even know where to begin imagining what customs looks like
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Old Aug 1, 14, 9:27 am
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Are you planning on bringing things into Japan that might be limited? You shouldn't have problems (heck, in Europe there are some airports I don't even realize I'm going through customs)

http://www.customs.go.jp/english/summary/passenger.htm

This pdf even shows you what the customs form will look like https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/arrange/e...eclaration.pdf

I use a neck wallet (I have an OLD Eagle Creek I've had since 1992, which is before you were born, yes?) to store money, passport while traveling - and I keep a pen in there too because I know I'll need a pen to fill in the customs and/or immigration forms when I land.

I'm sure you'll cover the basics - passport, plane tickets, luggage - fun!
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Old Aug 1, 14, 11:54 am
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You almost certainly don't need to get a visa in advance for Japan, unless you're staying more than 90 days, but it depends on your citizenship. See Japan Visa Information for specifics.

Okinawa is a lovely place once you get outside the cities (Naha, et al), so I hope you'll get a chance to see some of it. For that matter, I'd recommend including a stopover in Tokyo en route so you can do some sightseeing there, too.
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Old Aug 1, 14, 5:07 pm
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Some tips on international travel:

Make copies of your passport and keep them in separate locations in case you loose your passport - helps to have a copy when you have to apply for a replacement. Good idea to do the same with your itinerary too.

Go through your wallet and remove credit cards that you will not be using in your travels (just in case your wallet gets stolen). Inform your CC and bank that you will be using your CC and ATM card in another country. Do this in advance of your trip so that your cards do not get blocked when you try to use them.

Try to be familiar with where you are going - looking confident makes you less of a "tourist target". So review maps and directions in advance.

Take a look at your handbag/purse and make sure that is has some kind of zip on it so that it makes it more difficult for someone to reach in and stell your wallet.

Experience the culture and have a wonderful time.
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Old Aug 2, 14, 2:06 am
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And

(You may already know this if your boyfriend is already there)

Japan uses a different cell phone system than most U.S. carriers. If you plan to use one, check to see if yours works (and what ridiculous charges might ensue). There are services to rent one while you are there. I had a decent experience with http://www.rentafonejapan.com/

In Japan, be ready to carry lots of Japanese cash. For such an advanced country, they still rely on cash transactions to a very high degree.

If you are looking for very cool authentic ryokan (Japanese guesthouses) experience, I highly recommend this service (I think it is still free):
http://www.japaneseguesthouses.com/

I highly recommend an overnight at a monastery on Mt. Koya.
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Old Aug 2, 14, 3:29 am
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Just ask people at the airport and people will be happy to help.

Have a fabulous time.
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Old Aug 8, 14, 12:56 pm
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Another tip (for domestic and international): if you are checking a bag, take a picture of it with your cellphone or other device that will be in your carry-on. If your checked bag takes a detour, you can show the picture instead of trying to describe it.

I was on a trip to Sofia, Bulgaria, and my suitcase decided to have a little stopover in Paris without me. The clerk in Sofia spoke very little English; a picture is truly worth a thousand words!

Edited to add: I'll second the advice about asking for help in airports. The times I've transited through NRT, I've found all the staff to be very kind and helpful. IME, the best ones to ask for directions are the cleaning staff. They seem to know the airports in and out.

And have fun!!

Last edited by carole_d; Aug 8, 14 at 12:58 pm Reason: clarity
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Old Aug 8, 14, 6:31 pm
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Originally Posted by carole_d View Post
a picture is truly worth a thousand words!

Cell phones & cameras are SO HELPFUL. I'll take pictures of my hotel room number, my parking location at the airport (these days I use a park & ride because of discounts through work, but otherwise....) Once in Bulgaria we had a spice mix on the table I enjoyed with lunch and my husband took a photo - I couldn't find it in the grocery store but then I showed the photo to a clerk, and voila - found my salt/spice blend
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Old Aug 12, 14, 9:58 am
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You don't want to lie, but some countries aren't real happy about someone entering to visit a boyfriend or girlfriend because they fear that you will try to overstay, work illegally, or even marry in their country. I would imagine that this is less of an issue when the SO is foreign military who is stationed there temporarily. Still, if you can say that the purpose is to do tourist stuff (with friends?), you might save yourself some hassle. I'm not sure how credible this would be for a first foreign trip where the destination is only Okinawa.

If immigration officers have any doubts, be prepared to show that you have ties to the USA (I assume) and intend to return: a RT ticket, perhaps a work ID or business card, a school ID including something like a transcript showing courses for which you have registered for the current or future semester, evidence of sufficient finances such as credit cards or even a printed copy of a recent bank statement or payroll document, etc. In some countries, a young female entering alone can give rise to suspicions, although passports other than USA are more likely to raise alarms.

Entry forms for Japan do ask where you will be staying during your visit, although only one hotel name/address/phone number is requested. They also ask the purpose of your visit and how long (how many days) you plan to stay. You fill in these forms in English on your TPAC flight, where they will be distributed by the purser. [Be sure to complete and sign both sides; the Japanese official will stamp your passport and give the small portion of the form back to you to keep with your passport and return when you show your passport on the way out of the country. IIRC Japan now has a second customs form that they keep when you enter the country, but the customs questions might be on the back of the immigration form. I vaguely remember some written questions about guns and drugs.]

If you're planning to do tourist stuff in Japan too, it would be easiest to visit Tokyo first just on the slight chance that a boyfriend visit would raise issues at immigration. In this case, you should have a printed copy of a Tokyo hotel reservation confirmation with your name on the booking. The name of a second American (male in this case) on the same room reservation for a person traveling separately who will meet you at the hotel would not be a problem.

Last edited by MSPeconomist; Aug 12, 14 at 10:03 am
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