Hello all you new travellers. If you are preparing for your first big, especially international, journey – this post is for you. Welcome to the club! This is the beginning of something truly beautiful. I am not an expert, but I have a few pieces of advice for you to think about before you embark.
- Always keep and open mind and an open heart. This world is a truly beautiful place full of beautiful people. The world is also full of amazingly complex cultures and religions and worldviews, not everyone thinks the same way and it’s easy to be afraid of or even hate that. However, entering into another culture with an open heart and the desire to learn from and about these different people will change your life (and that’s okay).
- Be organized. Make a pretty detailed plan before you leave. Know where you’re going and when. Find train schedules, RESEARCH HOLIDAY SCHEDULES (especially in Europe, even on bank holidays trains don’t always run or they’ll have a different schedule). If you plan on going to a lot of museums, research what is in the museums before you go so you know roughly what you want to see. Otherwise, it’s easy to wander around the museum for a whole day and feel like you didn’t see anything.
- Be flexible. Realize now that not everything will go according to plan. Some days nothing will go as planned. Don’t freak out, go with the flow. A lot of times, the best memories we make are the ones we never intended to make in the first place.
- Be present. You are going to experience amazing new places and people and culture! This is an amazing opportunity that not a lot of people get to experience. You can’t fully enjoy it if you are tied to your electronics or other distractions. I know it’s really hard when you’re jet-lagged and culture-schocked (yes, both are very very real), and all you want is some kind of normalcy or a tie to home. Resist that urge! Focus on the sights and smells and sounds around you instead of staring at your phone, obsessively trying to call home, or hiding in your hotel room.
- Don’t be afraid to talk to the locals. Or at least try. For the most part, the locals are very welcoming and love it when you try and speak their language. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions, where the bathroom is, that sort of stuff. Learn a few basic phrases. Being able to ask if someone speaks English (or whatever language you speak best) is the most helpful. Usually someone will speak at least a little English and will be able to help you.
- Do as the locals do. Don’t just stick to tourist sights – in fact the fewer the better. You’ll have a better, richer experience if you stick with the locals and get off the beaten path. Also, don’t steamroll their culture. If you look around and realize you’re doing something that no one else is doing and you’re getting some nasty looks, then you probably aren’t doing the right thing. Just because it’s okay where you’re from doesn’t mean it’s okay here. I call this the Observe & Adapt rule.
- Don’t let fear keep you from trying something new. (Within reason- don’t break the law or yourself.) Don’t let fear run your life. If you’ve always wanted to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, then don’t let your fear of heights keep you from doing that. I’m afraid of heights but I was in Paris on my birthday and wanted to go up, so I did. I found that the breathtaking sunset over the most spectacular view kept my mind off the nausea. That being said, see number 8.
- You are your best protector. Listen to your gut. If a situation seems shady, even just a little, it probably is.Don’t put yourself in impossible situations. You will obviously be a tourist, you can’t hide it – your accent, the amount of pictures that you’re taking, your clothes, your backpack – depending on where you are, pick pockets and the like could be an issue. Pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t be the gullible tourist.
- Keep a journal. This may be hard for a lot of people, just because I know not everyone is a journaler. But keeping a journal to record your thoughts and feelings while you’re travelling will not only relieve stress, but is great to have to look back on after your trip. Fill it with thoughts, quotes, drawings, pictures, notes from museums. Even keeping an electronic one is a cool idea. The trip goes by really fast, and it’s good to have something tangible that can organize your thoughts to go with the 876390265 pictures you’ll probably take.
- Don’t believe the “once in a lifetime” lie. This is a very discouraging statement. It’s also a statement that will try and entice you to be reckless because, hey I’ll never experience this again right? A lot of people from home will tell you this. And, yes, for many people it’s true. But travel is becoming much more accessible these days. And if you want to go again, you will. I’m still a (extremely blessed) teenager and I’ve lived out of the country, been abroad 4 times for extended periods, and I am by no means done.
Your horizons are about to expand big time. Travelling (especially for the first time) is a learning process. Enjoy your journey, enjoy yourself, enjoy these new horizons.