Traveling for the first time filled me with a crazy mingling of emotions that left my stomach in knots. A bit of nervousness, mixed with defiant fearlessness and excitement for the adventure that awaited. There is something about pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone for the first time in a way that scares the pants off you, yet leaves you yearning for more.
To further my excitement and alleviate my fears, I turned to the things I knew – my fellow travel bloggers and travel books. I looked for a mixture of self-guided tours with excellent reviews and a bit of wherever-my-feet-will-carry-me whimsy. In the end, it all turned out okay, but if I have any advice to give it would be this:
Must Read Advice for New Travelers
You don’t like heights. You’re afraid of eating a fish with it’s head still on, fried crickets or worse, balut, because it grosses you out or you can’t read the menu. You’re afraid of the ocean. It’s getting dark soon. It’s hot out. It’s raining.
There are millions of reasons to say no, but let me assure you – a fish with it’s head still on still tastes like a fish without a head. The ocean is a whole other indescribable world that will likely capture your fascination immediately. And most of all,
“The brave don’t live forever but the cautious don’t live at all. The only thing that’s truly terrifying is the unlived life.” — Bill See
One of my favorite life mottos is that “adventure waits at the edge of your comfort zone”. So go to it. Challenge yourself. Try something new. You won’t like everything, but you’ll be a better person for trying it.
“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”― Jack Kerouac
Always Plan for More Cash Than You Think You Need
Don’t get me wrong, budget travel can be a great way to see the world on the cheap and travel certainly doesn’t have to be expensive. But even when you’re trying to keep costs low, you should always plan for the unexpected. Don’t pinch so many pennies that you’re not prepared for a small disaster, a sudden plan change or maybe just a bit of a necessary splurge. The best part of travel is experiencing the unexpected. Many times your best memories didn’t cost a penny, but sometimes they do.
If there is anything that standing in airport lines day after day teaches you, it’s patience. And nothing ruins an experience faster than lack of it. The restaurant you had your heart set on is packed? Take the opportunity to chat up the local next to you. Or take it as a sign you’re meant to try something else. Can’t catch a taxi to save your life? Take a stroll and see more of the city or try the local public transportation. Everything going absolutely wrong? Laugh it off and think of what an epic story it’s going to be later. Attitude and perception goes a long way in life, but even more so during travel.
Always Pack a Pashmina and a Paper Fan
I can’t tell you how many times these have saved me. A simple pashmina (or sarong or scarf) can be one of the most useful travel accessories you will ever pack. It easily doubles as a travel blanket, a beach towel, religious covering, a pillow, or simply something to block out the sun. Likewise, never underestimate the power of a paper fan in 100-degree heat at full humidity in the middle of an Asian jungle. Plus, it takes up virtually no space.
Go with the Flow
When the travel bug bites, and trust me, it will, it can feel like you need to check off every item on every “must see/do/eat” list in every locale you visit. But checking off list is one of the worst ways to travel. By all means, make a top 5 list, or even top 10 (check out the local food blogs for the best restaurants), but when every day is planned out to the minute you’re going to be left stressed and exhausted. You’ll be so busy rushing through your list that you’re not leaving any room to experience, or simply enjoy the moment.
One time I missed my tour to visit the Amalfi coast while in Sorrento, Italy. I decided to walk to the bus station to try and see *something* that day and was stopped by a young man trying to get customers for the restaurant he worked at. I was on a mission to get to the bus station and this was only a block from my hotel, a ways from the center of town and I said “no”.
He persisted and to make a long story short, his mother ended up teaching me how to make fresh gnocchi from scratch and his brother took me on the most amazing scooter tour of the Amalfi coast – complete with an intimate tour of Sorrento with stops at his family farm, a Limoncello orchard and a local restaurant with the best homemade Chianti I’ve ever had.
It’s still my best travel adventure to date that would have never happened if:
1. I had made it on the tour I originally booked and
2. I not said yes to make a stop to eat somewhere I didn’t want to!
Leave a day to wander wherever your feet may take you. Don’t be ashamed to take the day off and just veg out on the beach with some locals. Remember, enjoyable travel you’ll grin about for years to come isn’t about that checklist!
Never Underestimate a Smile
Maybe you’re feeling like there’s a sign that says “kick me, I’m a tourist” on your back today. Or maybe you’re just desperately lost, running late for a scheduled tour and there is no finish line in sight. Never underestimate how far a friendly smile and a few bits of sheepishly broken language (hey, we can’t all be polyglots) will get you. Don’t be afraid to ask a local for help, I’ve had so many go above and beyond for me for no reason at all!
I try to never take more than a carry on, no matter where I go, or how long I’m going for. You would be surprised at the amount of stuff you don’t need, how easily clothes wash in a hotel sink, and how much your back (and neck and feet) will thank you. This is especially true when traveling in Europe!