Updated: 9 April, 2019.
About to head off and see the world but feeling a bit daunted by the whole thing? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. The great thing is that it really doesn’t have to be that hard –- a little knowledge goes a long way.
Here are a few useful tips I wish I’d known before I went travelling for the first time.
Planning and Packing
- If you’re not sure if you need it, you don’t.
- If you’re pretty sure you need it, you don’t.
- If you’re absolutely certain you need it, you probably still don’t.
- Take more money.
- Take more pairs of underwear.
- Take fewer pairs of shoes.
- If it can’t be worn for three days then washed and dried in a hostel laundry room, don’t bring it.
- Your airline’s baggage allowance is a limit, not a challenge.
- Shampoo, conditioner, shower gel. Pick one.
- If you can’t carry your luggage up a flight of stairs easily by yourself, it’s too heavy. See hints 1,2 & 3
- Make sure your passport has enough pages and validity (> 6 months) to last your entire trip.
- A little planning is good. Accommodation in Western Europe is hard to find in peak season.
- A lot of planning is not. The best experiences are often spontaneous – detailed itineraries don’t allow that.
- Aspirin, Band-Aids and Imodium. The traveller’s trifecta.
- Contraceptives are not the stupidest idea in the world either.
- Take another memory card for your camera. You’ll need it.
- Arrive early. Airports suck, but missing your flight sucks a lot more.
- Jokes about security are hilarious. Spending time in jail is less so.
- The only thing worse than the taste of airport food is the price. Eat beforehand.
- Having a few drinks on the plane is fun. Being hungover on the plane is horrific. Your call.
- Earplugs are your friend.
- So is an eye mask, even if it makes you look like a dork.
- Mild sleeping pills complete the arsenal, for when the people beside you really just won’t shut up.
- Learning to eat using plastic utensils, with your elbows tucked in and your knees bumping the table, is an essential flying skill. Start practicing now by sitting in a cardboard box during your next meal.
- Take something that can entertain you for several hours. A novel. Playing cards. An iPad. A ball of twine. Whatever. Just take something.
- Set your watch to your destination timezone as soon as you get on the plane, and use that time when deciding when to sleep. It’ll help with the jetlag. Maybe.
- Get up and go for a walk now and again when you’re in the air. It’s good for the circulation and helps relieve the crushing boredom of a long haul flight, even if only slightly.
- After 20 hours in planes and airports, toothpaste will change your life.
- When it comes to conversations with border officials, less is more. Answer questions truthfully but don’t volunteer too much.
- Distinctive luggage is a good thing. Surprising as it might seem, yours will not be the only black suitcase on the conveyer belt.
- Having a change of underwear in your carry-on will be the smartest move you’ve ever made when the airline loses your bags.
At Your Destination
- Being polite goes a very long way.
- A smile goes even further.
- If somebody doesn’t speak your language, that’s your problem, not theirs.
- Lack of a common language does not equal deafness. Speaking more loudly will not help.
- Be alert for scams and danger but don’t let that dictate your trip. Most people are not out to harm you.
- Opening your heart and mind doesn’t have to mean opening your wallet.
- Get out of your comfort zone. Eat, drink and do things you wouldn’t go near in your normal life.
- Bum bags / fanny packs are the stupidest travel accessory ever, for more reasons than I can even list.
- Money belts aren’t much better, but if you must use one, don’t keep diving into it every five minutes. Hiding your valuables isn’t much use if they don’t stay … y’know … hidden.
- Things will be different to how they are at home. That’s kinda the point.
- Public transport can be awesome. It can also be the bane of your life. You will experience both.
- Meet the locals. If you’d wanted to hang out with people just like yourself, it would have been much easier just to go to the mall back home.
- Have an emergency source of funds hidden away somewhere, and treat your passport as if it were made of gold. It’s not quite the end of the world if you lose it, but it’ll feel like it at the time.
- Don’t be afraid to screw up. It’s ok. We learn a lot more from our failures than we do our successes.
- Having flip-flops for the hostel shower can be a really good idea.
- Don’t be the one who comes back to the hostel smashed after a big night out, turns on the light and wakes up the rest of the dorm. No really, don’t. Payback’s a bitch in the morning.
- If your friends back home haven’t seen an updated Facebook status from you in the last hour, it’s ok.
- When looking for somewhere to eat, find the place where there’s nobody who looks like you inside. Bonus points if it’s not in the guidebook, and extra bonus points if the menu isn’t in your language (or there’s no menu at all). The food will be better and cheaper, and the experience more memorable. Trust me.
- There will be times when it’s all too hard. Tough it out. You won’t remember the bad times in a couple of months, but the good times will stay with you forever.
Got some more handy hints for first-time travellers? Share them below!