Keep an open mind. Leaving home for the first time is scary no matter where you’re going or how much research you’ve done. Going to an unfamiliar place where you know nothing about the people and the culture can be scary. But that’s why we travel, to learn these things. Don’t judge a culture based on the misconceptions you may hold, just because they’re different from your own views doesn’t mean they are wrong. Even if you don’t agree with something, keep an open mind and you’ll be amazed what you’ll learn. Just because you’re not Catholic doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit the Vatican!
Pack Light. You don’t need hair straighteners or a sequined dress on the road. Leave room for souvenirs and let’s be honest, there’s very little that you can’t buy if you desperately need it. Do a little research before you go to ensure that necessities (medications, tampons, underwear in your size etc.) are available at your destination in an emergency.
Phoning Home. Data roaming charges can end up costing you more than your holiday if you’re not careful. The cheapest way to keep up your communication level is to utilize free texting and calling apps (such as Viber) and the free wifi, which is available in every corner café in Europe. If you’re in more rural settings or you want the security of knowing GPS and a Skype call is a button push away, buy a sim card and a data pack when you arrive in the country. Cheap sim cards can be placed into any unlocked phone and loaded with minutes. Double check though, often it’s cheaper and easier to actually just buy a phone when you arrive than getting your phone unlocked, buying a sim card and working out the top-up system.
Have some sort of itinerary. ‘Go with the flow!’ ‘Fly where the wind takes you!’ Great advice if you’re on an unlimited budget and no strict timeframe. If, however, you’re taking some precious vacation days and don’t want to waste them, having some sort of itinerary is a good idea. Don’t pre-book and pre-pay everything and leave no time for flexibility. Rather, make a list of the things you want to do and see and decide the day before what you’ll do and when. Prioritize and do the most important things first and then if something amazing comes up, you don’t have to miss it because you’ve already booked your whole day with other activities. Also factor in jetlag, tiredness and the fact that sometimes you just want to lounge around and do nothing so leave a day or two free for that.
Don’t be scared. While one of the many benefits of traveling is that there are so many unfamiliar and crazy opportunities present themselves, many travelers are wary or worried about what may go wrong. Don’t be. Think about what might go right. Even if you end up stranded on a raft on the Meekong with a bunch of monkeys for company, who else is going to be able to say they did that?!
Don’t be shy. If in doubt, ask. Most people will be happy to help you with a restaurant recommendation or directions, it’s their city and they want to give you the best impression. You’ll get some of the best insider tips from locals, they’ll know all the juicy tidbits about their city and which food cart have the best hotdogs. If you don’t feel comfortable asking a stranger, ask the hotel clerk or front desk staff. If you’re staying in a hostel, get into the common rooms and socialize! You’ll get some of the ground information from people who have been there and done that and will be able to give you advice not found in your guidebook.
Try to learn a little about the culture before you go. There’s nothing like being immersed in a culture to learn all about it, but it’s always a good idea to learn the dos and donts of a place before you touch down. You don’t want to learn the hard way that the O.K symbol is highly offensive to Brazilians.
Learn the Lingo.Locals will appreciate the fact that you’re trying even if you order a floral couch instead of a beer. Particularly in Latin American countries, the locals are so impressed with any tourist who tries to speak Spanish, they will show you a lot more respect. Even if the locals speak English, they will appreciate the effort and may be a little more generous with their beer pouring than they would be otherwise.
Try the local Delicacies and Beers.You’ll really get the flavor of a place by its street food and traditional dishes. There’s honestly nothing better than eating a pizza in Italy, sushi in Japan or tacos in Mexico. The meal is an experience in itself. Street food vendors often offer the best value options and most authentic tastes. The $2 Pad Thai in Khao San Road far outstrips the $15 noodles you’ll get at your local Thai takeaway. Plus expanding your beer horizons beyond Miller Light never hurt anyone.
Have traveler’s insurance. No brainer. This should always be the first thing you pack. You don’t want to be at the center of one of those horror stories people tell about being stuck with a lifetime of debt from that skiing accident because they didn’t have insurance.
Keep your passport safe. Email yourself a copy and keep a photocopy at your hotel. It is often a good idea to keep your actual passport in the hotel safe and just carry around the photocopy. In the event you need to show authorities, the photocopy will usually be enough to convince them to let you go back to retrieve the real thing. In the unfortunate event that something happens to your passport, having photocopies and other proof of identity can go a long way in helping you when it comes time to beg the Embassy for help. Some even recommend traveling with passport photos as well, but these are easy enough to get done if you need them. Also helpful, is to keep the address and phone number of the local Embassy. If you ever need help or advice, they’ll tell you where to turn.
Wake up early for less crowds, better lighting for photography and less scam artists. The early bird catches the worm. And the sunrises. And the best photos. Getting up before dawn on your holiday may seem like the beginning of a nightmare but you’ll be able to avoid the crowds, take better photos (no squinting) and get in before the scammers start descending. It’s also the perfect chance to see the sun rise over a different part of the world. Anyone can see a sunset, but not everyone will see the sun rise over Macchu Picchu or behind the Eiffel Tower.
Splurge a bit if you can.Everyone deserves a bit of a treat and what’s the point of traveling if you can’t experience some of the amazing things the world has to offer. Budget as best you can but allow some extra for those extra-ordinary experiences that you may never get the chance to do again.
Enjoy getting lost. This is where you can find some real hidden gems that aren’t in your guide book. Walking the streets is the best way to do this. Just give yourself a day to wander and orient yourself, discover the little teas shops or the street art of the wonderful local hangouts that won’t appear in any guidebook. Getting lost in the streets of Barcelona can be the highlight of a trip, and it can lead to the best stories! It also help you to relax and learn to just go with it, not everything can be perfect and sometimes the best times come from the scariest.
Keep on traveling! Don’t let anything get you down or stop you from following your wanderlust. Just take it one country or city or beach at a time and go at your own pace. This is your adventure, not anyone else’s.