If you are a first-time traveler, especially if you are traveling internationally for the first time, then your head is probably spinning right now. Between all of the travel planning, questions about what to pack, the unknowns of dealing with a different culture and perhaps even a different language, and the uncertainty of what you can expect to experience when you arrive, it can be a little bit overwhelming.
Even though it has been well over a decade since I traveled internationally for the first time, I can still remember the range of emotions I went thru when I was planning and booking my first trip. The excitement, the nervousness, and the uncertainty were all palpable. Those same emotions are what got me absolutely hooked on travel.
Unlike you, when I was getting ready to travel internationally for the first time, there weren’t nearly as many online resources that I could turn to for advice on how to navigate my first big travel experience. However, the advice that I did get from online resources and from other travelers that I talked to was invaluable. For that reason, I want to pay it forward, if you will, and provide some of the wisdom I have picked up along the way to you.
In this article, I am going to give you the top 10 tips that I think every new traveler should be aware of. Some of these things I was taught by others before I started traveling a lot internationally, and some of these tips I learned thru my own experiences traveling. I sincerely believe that all of these tips are essential to making your trips the most fulfilling experiences they can be.
Venture Outside of Your Guidebook
One of the best tips that I can give you when you are just starting to travel is to not get caught up in everything you read in a guide book. That includes what you read in my visitor guides. Everyone has different interests and it is impossible to write a visitor guide that is tailored to the likes and dislikes of everyone who is going to read the guide. While a guide book or visitor guide can be great reference material to use when getting to know a destination and doing the planning for your trip if you just stick to what is in the guide book you may miss out on some of the best adventures of your trip.
When I start planning for a trip, I will typically consult a myriad of different resources to get information on the destinations I will be visiting. Some of the information that I get from these resources I will use, some of the information I won’t use. That gives me a good foundation to start planning my itinerary, but I am always flexible with that itinerary when I arrive. Some of the best experiences I have had when traveling have been things that locals have recommended to me after I arrived. I am so glad that I pursued some of those experiences.
Try Something You’ve Never Done on Each Trip
By nature, human beings tend to be creatures of habit. This is just as true with travel as it is with other things in life. When we find something we are comfortable with, we tend to keep going back to that well over-and-over. Whether we find a location that we love to travel to or an activity that we love to do when we travel, we find ourselves repeatedly doing the same things on our trips. I am not trying to discount the value of doing something that makes you happy, but if all we ever did when we travel is what we know and are comfortable with, we will never have the life-changing travel adventures that help us grow.
When you travel, I would suggest you look for at least one activity that you have never done before and give it a try. Get into the habit of trying new things. That doesn’t mean you can’t find favorite things to do when traveling. On the contrary, if you find things that you really enjoy doing, you should continue to do them. However, you never would have discovered you loved to do those things if you hadn’t tried them the first time.
Don’t Spend Your Whole Trip Behind a Lens
This is something that is really hard for me, even to this day. I love to travel, but I absolutely love photography as well. Finding a balance between not missing great photo opportunities and spending a whole trip looking thru my camera’s viewfinder is hard to find for me sometimes. As great as it is to have wonderful photographs of your travel experiences, the last thing that you will want is to look back on those photos years later and not remember the experience because you were too concentrated on getting the photograph.
When I travel, I will force myself to put the camera away for certain stretches and just absorb the moment. Photography is still a big part of my travels, but I also have memories of my travels that don’t involve trying to take a photograph of something. That is important because a photograph isn’t worth nearly as much if you don’t have a story to tell about it.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Unknown
One of the questions that I get asked the most frequently from people I speak to who are thinking about traveling internationally for the first time is whether I was nervous when I traveled internationally the first time. The answer is, of course I was nervous. I think it is human nature to be apprehensive about what we don’t know or don’t understand. That nervousness is a good thing as it means your awareness is heightened. However, it shouldn’t stop you from traveling or having wonderful experiences when traveling.
Overcoming that apprehension and learning about new places and new cultures is part of the personal growth that makes travel such a wonderful and rewarding thing. It broadens our horizons and helps us to better understand the world that we live in. So if you are feeling a little nervous about traveling internationally for the first time, I would tell you that those feelings are normal, but implore you to not let them stop you from having adventures and learning.
Be Strategic With Your Travels
One of the ways that I like to make the most of my travels is to really be strategic about how and where I travel. Instead of traveling to see just one country, I typically see at least a few different countries or destinations on my trip. One of the biggest costs associated with travel, especially international travel, is the transportation or airfare cost. Instead of paying for airfare or transportation multiple times to visit multiple countries in one region of the world, I try and see at least a few on the same trip.
Obviously, this has to be balanced as you don’t want to try and stuff too many things into one trip. If you try and do and see too much, you won’t have time to really enjoy the experiences you are having. For instance, if I am traveling to Western Europe for two weeks, I probably don’t want to try and see France, Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium all in one trip. However, it would make sense to see a few of them in one trip or at least see several different regions of one country.
Another great tip that I like to give first-time travelers is to really try your best not to overpack. Not only will you have to lug around your heavy suitcase while you are on your trip, but overpacking can actually cost you money as well. Most airlines will charge for baggage that is over their weight limit. Those costs can quickly add up if you are taking multiple flights on your trip.
I know, it is really hard not too overpack, especially when you aren’t as experienced traveling and don’t really know what to expect. That’s why I am here to help. If you haven’t done so already, take at the helpful guides and checklists that I have put together to help you out.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
When things go wrong during your travels, and no matter how much you plan or prepare, things will sometimes go wrong, you need to be able to go with the flow. I once got to the airport in Lima, Peru 3 hours early for an 11:30pm flight so that I could make sure I was ready and prepared only to have the flight canceled and have to find a hotel near the airport to stay in at 1:00am. Needless to say, it was stressful, but it would have been a lot more stressful if I would have let it get to me.
When you travel, make sure to build some flexibility into your itinerary. This will make flight delays and other mishaps less stressful when they do happen. I always try and book flights that have no less than an hour layover if they have to have one. I also try to always avoid booking tours and excursions on my travel days so that I don’t miss out on a tour because of delayed travel. The more flexibility you can build into your trip the less stressed you will be if you do run into delays.
Bring More Money Than You Think You’ll Need
When it comes to the amount of money that you should bring on your trip, from experience I can tell you that you will probably need more money than you think you will need before you leave. I would recommend bringing about 1.5 times as much money as you think you will need. If you do need to take out more money when you are traveling, I would suggest taking out a larger withdrawal than you think you will need. You are going to get charged fees from your bank and it is better to take out one larger withdrawal and pay the fees once than it is to pay the fees multiple times on smaller withdrawals.
I would also suggest looking into getting a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. While credit cards may not be accepted everywhere you need money, they are accepted at more places than you would imagine. I have traveled to small towns in Tanzania that have had stores that accepted VISA credit cards. When I travel, I always try and use my credit cards with no foreign transaction fees first, then use cash when credit cards are not accepted.
Talk to the Locals
The best piece of travel advice that I can give to new travelers is to always talk to the locals when you arrive. Some of the very best travel advice that I have gotten has been from locals when I was in-country traveling. When we were in Tanzania, we were recommended a coffee tour from locals and the tour ended up being one of the best experiences of our trip.
Not only did we get to learn a lot about the local culture and how coffee has played a big part in the resurgence of their local economy, but our tour guide also took us to a local school and we got to have an experience that I never imagined we would get to have when we were planning our trip to Tanzania. This was all made possible because we talked to the local people. So don’t be shy about talking to people when you travel and see what they recommend you do and see. It will undoubtedly lead to some of the most amazing and authentic experiences of your trip.
Always Buy Travel Insurance
The last tip that I have to give new travelers is an important one. When you are planning a trip, whether domestic or international, I cannot stress strongly enough how important purchasing travel insurance is. Not only does it protect you if your travel plans change or something happens to affect your travel plans, but it also protects you in case you have a medical emergency while out of the country.
Emergency medical care and evacuation, emergency dental procedures, lost or stolen luggage or personal effects, trip cancellations, trip delays, and repatriation are all things that most good travel insurance packages cover. One of my favorite carriers for travel insurance is World Nomads. If you aren’t familiar with them, I would suggest you check them out. They have multiple plans that are designed to fit different needs and budgets.