Travel alone can be an intimidating thing. If you’ve never been outside your home country, the idea of getting on a plane bound for an entirely unfamiliar place can be terrifying. When I first decided to move to Thailand, I had never been to Asia, never traveled much on my own, and didn’t have any idea what I was doing.
To say I was nervous would be a big understatement. But what you’ll quickly discover when you travel to a new place, is that while it might be intimidating at first, it’s almost always worth it.
If you’re a new traveler, you probably have a hundred questions, doubts, and concerns about what it will be like. Whether you’re going on a weekend trip or traveling around the world for a year, it can be a lot to prepare for.
Here are a few tips to ensure your next trip includes all the fun and none of the stress.
Be Cautious But Not Fearful
When my friends and family heard I was moving to Asia, I got a lot of mixed reactions. Some of them were excited, some were jealous, and some were downright certain that I was going to get murdered or lost or get eaten by a tiger. I wasn’t nervous about leaving, but their extreme reactions got me thinking…should I be more afraid?
As it turned out, no…there was no need for fear. I felt much safer and the quality of my life was much better living in Thailand than in many of the places I’d lived in the U.S. I had no reason to be worried. Letting fear govern your travel decisions will only limit the adventures you’ll have!
That said, you should always exercise caution, no matter where you are. Most places are not as dangerous as worried foreigners would like to believe, but that doesn’t mean you should wander the streets alone after a heavy night of drinking. Keep your wits about you, keep your valuables safe, and use the same caution you would in any city.
Make Use of Technology
Staying in touch with people and making use of technology while traveling used to take a lot of effort. When I studied abroad in college, I had no internet access in my dorm, and if I wanted to make a phone call, I had to purchase a prepaid calling card and wait my turn to use the one phone in the building. (Am I aging myself, here??)
These days, things are a lot simpler. You can purchase local SIM cards, buy international data plans, or even download apps to refill your data on the go. Mobile Recharge is a company that allows you to refill your data online so you never have to worry about running out of data, even when you’re traveling abroad.
Staying connected easily allows you to use mobile applications like Google Maps, Airbnb, Skyscanner and other apps that make traveling a lot easier. Gone are the days you have to wander around lost!
Doing this also takes the stress out of worrying about staying in touch when you’re in an unfamiliar place. Instead of trying to navigate to a mobile store in a new foreign country, just log in on your phone or computer and top up your phone from the comfort of your bed, the hiking trail, or even the airport gate.
Get a Good Carry On Bag
One of the best things I’ve done to make my life easier while traveling was getting a good carry on sized backpack. Mine is 33 liters and the perfect size to fit in the overhead compartment on a plane. Traveling with a big suitcase is great if you’re trying to bring everything you own with you, but you’ll quickly find that lugging that much weight around really slows you down.
Packing light in a carry on bag means you don’t have to wait forever at baggage claim, don’t have to worry about lost luggage not arriving when you do, and don’t have to struggle through dragging a heavy back everywhere you go.
Make sure your carry on is comfortable for you, has pockets and compartments for everything you need, and is durable enough to withstand travel to whatever destinations you might go to. While I’m sure you’re tempted to pack everything you own during your first trip abroad, you will do yourself a favor by downsizing and just sticking to the essentials.
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Book Your Flights Through Comparison Sites
Getting deals on flights is its own art form these days. Searching through dozens of websites to find the lowest fares can be a time-consuming and overwhelming endeavor. One way to simplify things? Search for your flights on comparison sites, like skyscanner.com or momondo.com.
These sites do all the work for you, comparing the best flights on the cheapest sites and showing you all the top options. I always find great deals on these sites, like a round-trip flight to Thailand from California for under $500.
P.S. If you don’t have the Skyscanner App yet, download it here! It’s free, super useful, and can help you score awesome deals anywhere in the world.
Connect with Other Travelers
As I mentioned earlier, traveling can be an intimidating experience, especially if you’ve never done it before. One way to minimize the stress is to connect with other travelers. Whether you’re completing your Europe bucket list, taking a cooking class in Barcelona you’re bound to find other travelers like yourself.
And while it’s easy just to run into other adventurers in hostels, hiking trails, and bars, purposefully seeking out a group of other travelers can ease your stress.
Explore online communities in order to connect with similar individuals. Facebook groups, meetups, and local postings at hostels are great ways to get connected. Finding the right people to ask questions to can take future travel from uncertain to exciting and can provide you with friends as soon as you arrive!
Take Advice From the Locals
You can do all the research you want before you travel, but there are still things you won’t be able to know until you get there. One of the best ways to ensure you’re getting the most out of your travel destination is to make use of local knowledge.
Want to find the best waterfall, the spiciest noodles, or the most beautiful hiking trails? Ask around! Locals know their home so don’t be afraid of talking, asking questions, and making new friends.
They can help you find the best spots (and spots to avoid), get the best deals, and quickly turn a foreign place into one that feels like home. So don’t be afraid to make conversation- some of my best adventures came from local recommendations.
Despite being super prepared, something will almost certainly go awry when you travel. From missed flights to delayed buses to language barriers and allergic reactions…travel is inevitably unpredictable. If you’re the type of person who needs to have everything 100% certain and planned beforehand, you might be in for a shock.
Planning is wise, but you also need to learn to have flexibility and be prepared for the moments when things don’t exactly go according to plan. When this happens, simply smile, go with the flow, and remind yourself why you’re traveling in the first place.
Bring Extra Cash and Cards
Losing a card in an ATM machine was almost a rite of passage amongst the friends I made while traveling in Southeast Asia. Whether by machine sabotage or sheer forgetfulness, it seemed that almost everyone at one time or another would lose their debit card. And if not in an ATM machine, then left at a hostel, or stolen on a bus.
Keeping track of your valuables can be a challenge, which is why it’s important to have backups. Keep extra cash around for emergencies (though not a crazy amount!) and a backup credit card in a separate location from the one you usually use.
Having photocopies of important documents like insurance plans, passports, and other items somewhere online is also advisable.
That way if one goes missing, you still have something to rely on. This will prevent you from being stranded without money in a new place, which you definitely don’t want!
Try New Things
One of the best things about traveling somewhere new is it’s an opportunity to do things you normally wouldn’t do. It’s easy to fall into a routine at home of doing the same things, eating the same things, and going to the same places. But getting out of your comfort zone is the gateway to so much more.
Delicious foods, incredible adventures, and amazing friendships are all the result of not being afraid to try something new. Use your travel experience as an opportunity to do things you wouldn’t normally do and to try things you’ve never tried before.
Don’t Try To Do Too Much
Lastly, if you have a limited amount of time to devote to traveling, it can be tough to decide what places and activities you’ll include in your trip. It can be tempting when planning a trip to try to visit as many places as possible and pack in as much as you can. And while that can be great, it can also make your time feel stressed and chaotic.
Instead of trying to visit five countries in three weeks, why not slow down and really get to know the places you’re visiting? Really taking the time to experience a place and its culture can make the difference between a whirlwind trip and a meaningful stay somewhere. You don’t have to pack it all into one visit. Slow down–and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.
Hopefully, these tried and tested tips have given you a few valuable nuggets of wisdom to take with you during your next trip.