If I could go back in time to my very first trip and do it all over again, I DEFINITELY would have done things a lot differently. I probably wouldn’t have accidentally tried to drive across the border from Detroit, Michigan to Toronto, Ontario with live ammunition in my vehicle (what are the odds I get pulled over for a random check 🙄) or been kicked by a homeless woman in New York City for refusing to give her a dollar (I didn’t have change and she WASN’T trying to hear it 🤣). Needless to say, when in NYC, I always carry a dollar bill in my back pocket.
From the time I decided that traveling is what I wanted to do, the journey has been thrilling yet challenging. To help you avoid the same blunders I made, here are my Top 11 Travel Tips for First Time Travelers!
1. Slow Down
Rather than trying to cram in multiple cities in a short amount of time, take a few days to truly explore each destination. This will give you a chance to see all the top attractions and go beyond the tourist spots. You’ll be well rested and more relaxed which will help you take in the sights and culture. When I first started traveling, I wanted to visit every place but then I realized it led to a burnout. Now, I make itineraries where I incorporate activities that the city is known for and visit attractions in the city that are culturally relevant.
*If you’re in a crunch for time and want to see all the “hot spot” I recommend starting your trip with a bus tour. It will stop at the major attractions and from there, you can see which ones you like and plan a return visit during your trip.
2. Don’t Worry As Much
We all know I am a big proponent of individuals stepping out of their comfort zones and as a first time traveler, you MUST embrace this. Everything that you are accustomed to from the luxuries of sleeping in your own bed at home to normal routines that make you feel comfortable are thrown out the window. When you begin to travel you learn to go with the flow and expect lost luggage, cancelled flights, and problems checking in to hotels. Fortunately, it almost always turns out okay in the end, it just might not be on your terms. Worst case scenario, at least you’ve got a good story to tell.
3. H2O is Your Friend
We all know that drinking water is the key to survival but so often we find ourselves dehydrated ESPECIALLY when on vacation. You begin to feel the symptoms: sickness, dizziness and exhaustion while traveling but can’t figure out why. Nine times out of ten, it’s because you haven’t drank enough water. Between flying, extreme heat and exploring, your body is going to need rehydration, so it’s important to always bring a filled water bottle with you.
*Make sure to research where you’re traveling as many countries do not have safe drinking water.
**Bring a collapsible water bottle with you to protect the environment and take up less space in your luggage
4. Pack Light
When most people first start traveling, they pack for EVERY worst case scenario imaginable and come to the airport with 2 checked bags, a carry on and their personal, all for a 7 day trip 🤯. Picture drawing all that luggage on the cobblestoned roads of Peru to get onto a train at 3am or checking into a hotel in the middle of the jungle of Brazil where you room is on the 4th floor and they’ve never even heard of an elevator. Once you leave the USA, you’d be surprised to learn that many of the luxuries that we are accustomed to don’t exist in remote travel destinations. Packing for travel is an art form that is developed over time. The more you travel, the more confident you’ll become in knowing what you actually need and what you think you actually need.
5. Travel Off The Beaten Path
While we all want to remain relevant with where influencers are traveling to, I am super passionate about traveling off the beaten path. Even if you do decide to stick to the status quo of the “Instagrammable” locations, do your research first so that you don’t come with unrealistic expectations of what a destination actually looks like. Also keep in mind, the more tourists a location has, the more expensive, crowded and less authentic it becomes. If you are wanting warm weather in Mexico, instead of going to the common tourist places like Tulum or Cancun, venture out a bit and head over to the surf town of Sayulita and catch some waves with the locals. You’ll have experiences nobody else has, while meeting locals and creating memories that will last forever.
6. Get a Sim Card or Make Sure Travel Plan
In the times that we are currently living in, being without our mobile phones is not an option. Whether you are needing to load Google Maps to make sure you don’t get lost or looking up the phone number and address to the hotel you are staying at, having a working phone with data is imperative.
Yes, you could use the public Wi-Fi of a nearby coffee shop, but once you start traveling, you’ll quickly learn that depending on that alone won’t get you far. Some speeds in remote countries can be virtually non-existent.
So before your trip, call your mobile provider to see what travel plans they offer for the country you are traveling to (the last thing you want to do is to come home with thousands of dollars in roaming charges). The cheaper way is to pick up a sim card upon arrival at the airport of your final destination as there are always booths selling sim cards.
7. Keep Two Hands on Your Wallet
While I have been fortunate to never have been robbed in any country, I can’t say the same for others that I know. And while yes, banks and credit card companies will reimburse you, it’s quite the hassle when you are traveling, to have have your accounts and credit cards frozen.
Always ensure you have a back up credit card. You could very easily be the victim of fraud by simply swiping your credit card in a store or an ATM. I can speak first hand to the ease of this, having had it happen to me while I was in San Diego, CA. So if it can happen stateside, the likelihood is increased when traveling abroad. In the event that it does happen, having a back up credit card will give you peace of mind while things get sorted out with the one that was stolen.
If you’re someone who would rather pay in cash, only carry a SMALL amount in SMALL bills, that way if you are robbed, it is not for very much.
*Don’t flaunt that you have money by wearing expensive jewelry. Thieves are looking for easy victims, so don’t make yourself a target
8. Blend In
Have you ever heard of cultural appropriation? Well, this is it, with a bit of respect as well. If less is more in most fashion circles, dressing in traditionally Muslim countries is just the reverse – cover up. In traditional Islamic countries, covering your arms and legs with loose clothing and your hair with a scarf is always advised when you’re out in public and goes without question when you enter a mosque – regardless of your own religious beliefs. I can’t imagine how locals would react to seeing a woman walking around in a mini-skirt and a tank top and her hair flowing in the wind.
By blending in, you assure yourself a low profile to not garner any unwanted attention and potentially dangerous trouble. Always research where you are traveling to and learn about how locals dress.
9. Avoid Airport Exchanges
One of the WORST things you can do while traveling is utilize an airport exchange. They prey on tourists who have waited until the last minute to get local currency. They offer highest exchange rates and hidden fees and are placing you in a vice grip because the know you have no other choice.
*Exchange currency at your local bank before leaving on your trip and ask your bank if they offer free international withdrawal options on your debit card.
10. Don’t Wait
I never take a single day for granted and go after everything I want to do now, not later. Once you’ve experienced hardship in life, you begin to realize what’s most important to you and it’s not the possessions, it’s the memories that you create while you’re still here.
I hear excuses all the time about why people are not following the passion for traveling, “next year” or “when we have more money” or “maybe one day.” Today is the day. Today is the day you book your first flight and figure out the rest later. If you want to know when the “perfect” time to travel is. The perfect time is NOW.
11. Get Social, Meet strangers & Hang With Locals
One of the best parts of traveling is getting to meet new people. The relationships that are forged will be what you remember most about many of your destinations. For me, meeting another solo traveler or being invited to join a traditional local family for dinner stand out in my mind as some of the best times I have ever had. Most recently, I was sitting at dinner by myself in Curaçao around Christmas time when my waiter began to chat me up once he realized I was alone. 30 minutes later, I’m in the car with him and his family and they are taking me around the island showing me what the true island life is all about.
I believe everyone has a story to tell whether it be other travelers or locals and you will learn more about the world and just how different it is from home by “putting yourself out there”. Most people you meet along your journey will be genuinely interested in learning about you.
*Avoid meeting or traveling with people you don’t know to secluded places. Always stay in public areas where you can ask for help if needed.
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