20 Tips for First Time Travellers
Travelling for the first time can be quite daunting; you’re by yourself, alone in a new country with a completely different culture. This was my exact feeling when I went on my first trip abroad: a mix of excitement (I CAN’T WAIT) and fear (I’M SO SCARED). And honestly, I get this mixed feeling every time I travel despite having traveled over 100,000 km in 2018 alone. Yet the moment I step foot onto new soil, all the fear goes away and I’m overcome with the excitement of the adventures I’m about to experience. So, I’ve decided to come up with a list of tips and tricks to strip away your fears and worries, making your travel experience more relaxing and enjoyable.
1. Be open to new experiences.
This might sound obvious, but it’s actually a lot harder than it sounds. This means trying new foods, talking to strangers (common sense of course), and doing things you won’t do. Like back-flipping off a boat in Indonesia or waking up at 2 AM to climb a mountain to see a sunrise at the summit. These are the stories that will last forever and keep you smiling till you’re 80. My best stories are from doing spontaneous adventures.
2. Have a backup plan ready.
I’ve found that throughout my travels that no matter how well I plan, things change. Perhaps the weather doesn’t cooperate, a flight gets cancelled, or the route you wanted to take is blocked. Have a backup plan ready, so that you’re not left in the dark.
If you don’t have a backup plan, don’t panic. Remind yourself that everything is going to be okay, and start thinking of possible solutions. Ask for help. Look around for signs. I always find that the more time I spend panicking and worrying is less time thinking of ideas to solve the problem.
3. Bring LOCAL CURRENCY, AND USD.
Depending on where you are travelling to cash may be essential. European and North American countries often accept cards, but if you’re travelling to remote locations or most places in South East Asia cash is often the only accepted method of payment. You can:
Purchase currency prior to travelling. This is great if you know exactly where you’re going, and how much you will be spending. You can order foreign currency from your bank!
Use local ATMs/banks. However, beware of fees as both ATMs and your banks have foreign exchange fees that are hecking expensive. If you do pull cash out, pull out enough so that you only need to do it once or twice. Try not to carry too much cash on you though.
Exchange currencies at airports or at any currency exchange (exchanging cash for cash saves you a bit, and often airports are a bit more expensive).
Remittance (click here to learn more about remittance).
I also find it useful to bring about $50-100 USD in case of emergencies, as in my experience USD is the most accepted currency. If you’re travelling to developing nations make sure the notes are crisp; my cash has been rejected in Rwanda due to a few wrinkles and tears.
4. First-Aid Kit.
If you’re clumsy like me you’ll find yourself in situations that might require first-aid. If you’re doing a lot of hiking or physical activities, bring a medical kit with you. Band-aids, alcoholic swabs, compression wraps and scissors can be very helpful. It might not be used, but hey better safe than sorry!
5. Google Translate + offline maps.
I once spent three days camping with a local from Thailand who did not speak English, and the only way we communicated was through Google translate. Google translate can be downloaded for offline translation and is very useful when you don’t speak the local language. I highly suggest downloading it before you head off for your travels. Similar to Google Translate, Google offers offline maps in their app. I highly suggest downloading the areas you’ll be visiting prior to travelling. This has saved my butt countless times. You can also get other apps such as Maps.me that outlines trails if you’re going hiking.
6. Transportation can easily eat up your budget, SO prepare for that.
There have been times where I thought I lucked out on an accommodation, but then realize it’s an hour away from where I want to be. I’d then have to pay hundreds of dollars for taxis and Ubers, making it completely not worth it and stressful. Research where you’ll be going and how you’re going to get there! For example, rides from airports to accommodations are often forgotten about and can easily eat up a couple bucks.
7. Battery packs are life savers!
Bring a battery pack for your electronics. They come in different sizes and charge, so choose one that fits your travel style. Keep in mind that many airports only allow certain sizes on board. My current one is the Anker PowerCore+ 13400, as it’s very portable, looks sleek, and can charge my phone 3-4 times before recharging.
8. ADAPTERS vs. Converters, know the difference
Do you need an adapter or a converter? Here’s the difference. Adapters only change the prong type (here’s a list of them); they don’t convert power so you will be getting the same power output as the original outlet. If your electronics says 100V-240V or something similar, you can use an adapter with no problem as your electronics can handle any power between said power. If it doesn’t say that, you’ll need a converter. Converters take power such as 240V and convert it to 110V (or vice versa) so you can charge and power up your electronics without overpowering it (possibly causing a fire). North American electronics are often 110V, where some countries (lots in the EU) put out a lot more power such as 240V. Converters are only necessary if your electronics can’t handle more than the amount of power indicated. Also, be careful when plugging in electronics that draw lots of power in converters, as many converters have limited output. Generally, you will only need adapters; most modern-day electronics such as phones, laptops and camera chargers have built-in converters.
9. Get a local SIM card.
Depending on where you are going and for how long, it is often cheaper to purchase a local or tourist SIM card and put your cellphone plan on hold. Most North American providers offer travel options but charge 5-10$ a day which can rack up after a month.
10. Notify your friends and family of your trip.
This might sound weird but letting your family or friends know of your itinerary can save your life, especially when you are travelling solo. If you’ve gone missing/are injured without reception and they don’t hear back from you for longer than expected, they can call local authorities and send them to general locations that you told them about.
11. Research the best times to go.
This one is a biggy! Researching the best time to go to a country can drastically change your travel experience. For example, the Philippines isn’t exactly the greatest place to visit from May to October as it is typhoon season. Or if you wish to visit Dubai in August, expect it to be close to 40 degrees Celsius. There are also plenty of special festivals and events, so if you want to see cherry blossoms in Japan, go around March/April. Lavenders bloom around July/June in France, and in India, you can observe the Holi festival in the Spring. I’ll be releasing a list of my favorite places to go for each month soon!
12. Dress for the weather.
I once paid 70$ for an XL pair of sweats (even though I’m a small) and never wore it again. Why is this relevant? Well, I decided to visit Istanbul, Turkey for a day in January (I had a layover) and when I stepped out into the city, I realized my mistake: it was hella cold. Six degrees Celsius with blowing winds and rain, I was freezing and after a few hours of roaming the streets I broke and went to find warm pants. Turns out there’s not a lot of retail in the area I was in, and the only available thing was, you guessed it, those 70$ XL sweats. So if you’re travelling to say, Scotland, bring rain pants, raincoats, and dress in layers. It’s almost constantly raining there, and it would be a waste of time and money to purchase new things overseas if you already have it at home. Do the research! Also, if you’re doing a multi-country trip, plan according to the weather too. I find it annoying to have to pack for two different seasons as it takes up quite some space in your luggage.
13. Talk to strangers!
Granted, do this wisely. Don’t talk to that aggressive looking drunk guy on the street at three in the morning. But if you’re on a ferry boat with other tourists, say hi! You’re both travelling, so there’s a common topic to build a conversation off! Or talk to the locals, find out about their culture, food, family, etc.; You can learn a lot by just listening. My motto is that it (usually) never hurts to strike up a conversation.
14. Do you have a budget? Great, now add more.
I often set budgets when I travel, and more than often I find myself going way over. I’d make a budget, and add $500 on top of that just in case. Maybe you missed your flight and need to buy a new ticket, or you saw this gorgeous Turkish carpet that you HAVE to get for your mom’s birthday gift. Always plan for more.
15. Stay healthy, bring hand sanitizer.
Even if you’re not a germaphobe, bringing hand sanitizer is a great idea for travelling overseas. Airplanes are literal sprouting grounds for viruses and bacteria, and meeting all the new people can expose you to germs. Grab some hand sanitizer along with you, and if you can wash your hands often.
16. Do your own laundry.
Doing laundry in hotels can rack up quite a bit so if you have the time, do your own laundry in-house. Buy some detergent (a buck or two), fill a bath up with some hot water, throw your dirty clothes in and slosh them around, wringing out the dirt and grime. Rinse them again, wringing it out and set to dry! Another cost efficient way is to let your hostel wash your clothes, or find an inexpensive laundry service/coin wash (some coin washes are very cheap, and have change machines as well).
17. Sunrises are the best!
If you want to skip the crowds, visit attractions during sunrise. There will be 90% fewer people, so you can enjoy the experience with a lot fewer selfie sticks and actual peace and quiet. However, do your research and find when the best times to go are; If the attraction faces a certain direction, sometimes the sunlight won’t reach that attraction and you might have woken up early for no reason.
19. Check if you need a visa.
Check online whether or not you need a visa to enter a country, or if there are any restrictions. It would suck to show up to a country and be denied entry simply because you didn’t fill out a form back at home. Most places that do require visas are acquirable on arrival (called a VOA), but places like China and the Democratic Republic of Congo require processing prior to travelling. Some countries have VOAs but require information and passport style photos so bring those along.
20. Research local laws and customs.
I can’t stress how important it is to know at least a little bit about the customs, culture, and law of the country you’re visiting. I got detained in Rwanda because I didn’t know that drones are not only illegal to be flown, but illegal to enter the country. If you’re renting a car, be cautious about the driving speed limits; I had to pay close to $1000 USD in fines when driving in Europe (you can barely go 5km/h over the speed limit in France, whereas in Toronto you’ll often find yourself getting tailgated even if you’re going 20km/h over).
Above all, have fun.
Okay, this one is a given. No matter what happens, have an open mind and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime. Make the most out of your trip and do things you would never normally do. Those stories are usually the ones that last the longest!