In a recent job interview, I was asked, “How would you prepare or put someone at ease before their first international trip?” This question was an interesting one for me because I have actually given it thought in the past. I have had people ask me for advice on traveling as they know that I have done a fair amount of it. On some of my recent trips, I have become very spontaneous and do the bare minimum planning.
Usually I just plan my airfare and a few places for accommodation. However, on my trip through Europe last summer, I didn’t even plan accommodations. That being said, planning is probably one of the most important steps in your first trip abroad. As an American it isn’t as necessary because we don’t require many visas to enter countries, but for some of my friends, it can take weeks of preparation just to leave their country. It is important to know your destination, your budget, and your style of travel. Below I will give you five tips to travel that should help you along the way.
Know your destination.
If you don’t want any surprises, the internet has provided you with all the information about your destination at your fingertips. Research the cities and country that you wish to travel to. Begin to understand a little bit about their culture and customs so you are not surprised when you arrive. Learn to say hello and thank you in the native language of your destination. This will take you a long way (especially if you only speak English, as I do).
Use websites like Tripadvisor to guide you. Tripadvisor is my go to for city guides, hotels and accommodation, museums, monuments, and restaurants. It provides daily feedback from thousands of travelers just like yourself on all manner of things in the tourism industry. That being said, don’t always take a bad review from the site as a reason to not see something. While it can be useful to read other comments, use your discretion and decide for yourself.
Know your Budget.
It is important to know your budget. The last thing you want to do on your trip is to run out of money. Know the current exchange rates of your currency to the local currency. You don’t want any surprises when it comes to changing money and realize you didn’t come with enough. Let your banks know that you will be traveling so that they don’t freeze your debit and credit cards. I don’t know how many times I have had my cards frozen (even after calling the banks), but it can put you in a sticky spot when you have no cash and no access to your US banks.
These days, you can plan a pretty accurate budget by visiting the websites of the attractions you wish you see. Most will give entrance fees on their home pages. Also you can check how much transportation will cost in most cities online now as well. It is always good to plan to save a little extra cash in case something along the way doesn’t go quite as planned. For example, you might need an extra cab ride, change in plane ticket, buy new clothes…whatever the scenario, be prepared.
Don’t be afraid to deviate.
Okay, so you spent months planning your trip. Now you are at the destination and having a great time but you feel a time crunch. Don’t be afraid to skip something on your itinerary. Sticking to a ridged plan will just cause unnecessary stress on you and your travel companions. If you don’t make it to everything on your list, it’s not the end of the world. Always travel with the idea in mind that this is a first time experience…not a last time experience.
You can always revisit the destination in the future if you didn’t have enough time to see everything you wanted. When I travel, I rarely research every attraction in a city because I go with that in mind. For example, I have been to the city of Amsterdam 6 times and I have seen something new each time. Rather than stressing to see it all in one or two days, it’s easier just to spread it out.
Travel with an open mind.
This is something that I have stressed to many people who talk to me about traveling. As an American, it is very easy to fall into the trap of comparing everything to your own home. We have everything we need in the United States…which is not always the case in a foreign country. Things do not operate the same in every country.
You are bound to encounter something along the way that will irritate or frustrate you. On your trip abroad, go with an open mind and willingness to embrace the differences, the diversity. Embrace the culture and local customs. They might be different, but that’s what travel is about; experiencing something that is not typical of your home. If everyone was the same around the world, there would be no reason to venture outside your front door.
Have an adventure.
Have fun. You are going on the adventure of a lifetime. Traveling makes us wiser and allows us to glimpse into the lives of other people, to experience another culture first hand. Don’t stress. Go with the flow. Something is bound to go wrong. But if you keep a positive attitude you can make even the worst experience into a learning experience. During my travels, I have lost valuables, missed my flights, arrived in destinations before my luggage, arrive at destinations without accommodation, racked up massive international phone bills, etc. Each of these could have stressed me out to the point where I should have just packed up and gone home.
But instead, you just learn to go with the flow. Adaptability is key to international travel. Valuable objects: phones, laptops, and cash can all be replaced. It’s not the end of the world if you miss a flight, the airline will help you get on your way as soon as possible. Luggage not found? The airline again will help you either by compensating you for your loss or delivering your luggage when it does arrive. Don’t have accommodations? Well, there are always hostels, hotels, and now Airbnb to help you when you’re in a jam. Part of the adventure is venturing into the unknown. To experience some of these mishaps will create memorable experiences that you will be able to pass on to others. Go on your adventure and embrace the good times with the bad. It will be well worth it in the end.