You’ve finally done it, you’ve purchased that plane ticket to the destination you’ve been day-dreaming, and drooling, over for as long as you can remember. Maybe you’re flying solo, or eagerly anticipating a couple’s adventure. Whatever the reason today was the day that you put dreams into action, and took your first tips to becoming a beginner traveller. I just want to say good on you, the first step is always the scariest. That is until you look at your brand-new travel to-do list and let out a little scream – that’s an awful lot of work to do and things to learn before stepping onto the plane. But fear not as you did as most people, including me, would do and entered your problem into faithful old Google, which lead you here: to my top 15 tips for Beginner Travellers.
We’ve all been there, experiencing equal parts terror and excitement as we wave goodbye to our loved ones, gussy through security and customs, and brace ourselves for the longest flight you’ve ever experienced. Trust me, every flight feels like the longest. But don’t worry, because the reward at the end that arduous journey –that is your dream destination of choice – is absolutely worth the trouble.
Lucky for you, I’m here to ease the stress of planning so that you can enjoy your well-deserved holiday in as much peace and quiet as you desire. So, read on – if you dare.
1- Research is your friend
I thought I’d preface this whole list with the note that the term research is going to come up a lot in the following, but the above statement really is true. By researching ahead of time the places where you’re going you can avoid many of the stress-inducing pitfalls of travel, as well as save money and avoid potentially life-threatening situations. Plus, it’s just nice to be able to enter a new destination with an arsenal of knowledge on how things are in that place.
2 – Avoid scams* (*by researching)
Before I arrived in Paris I had never heard of the type of small-scale scams that seem to be fairly common in the streets of Europe. Thus I was unprepared when a man insisted I had taken a “gold” ring he was absolutely sure I had dropped, despite the fact I own no gold jewellery. Obviously I refused, because come on that’s just weird, but others in our hotel had not and were promptly asked to pay for the ring and harassed if they did not.
For a first time traveller these experiences can quickly taint an otherwise rosy trip, but thankfully they can mostly be avoided with a bit of pre-travel research. Just google scam [insert destination here] and some other friendly internet denizens have likely experienced and avoided the types of scams you are likely to encounter.
Remember: if someone throws a baby at you at a train station in Italy, be prepared to choose between catching a real baby and having your luggage stolen. I truly wish I was joking.
3 – Don’t be culturally insensitive
I hate to sound like a broken record, but again research is key here. Different countries and cultures have different expectations of how you should behave, dress and generally be while dropping in on their lives. Note the emphasis there, because it’s an important thing to remember that the people you meet while travelling can seem exotic and fascinating but to them their lives are normal, you’re the different one.
Be respectful of other people’s cultures and religion to avoid any social mishaps, and to really immerse yourselves in the country you are visiting. I wouldn’t wander around India in a spaghetti-strap singlet and cut-off shorts, just as I would expect an Indian person visiting Australia to be cool with me eating meat. Cultural sensitivity is the key to successful travel.
4 – Don’t look like a tourist
You’ve probably heard this piece of advice before, but it needs to be said. We’ve all seen those gaggles of people in our hometowns dressed in resort-worthy clothing with sandshoes and open maps clutched in one hand. They scream tourist, and for the nefarious evil-doer they may have a target on their back just begging them to fall victim to petty crime.
So fold that map up, put your camera in your bag, and leave your sandshoes and sparkly sequin tops at home for this trip, even though I know you’ve been dying to bust them out. When in doubt: boots, leggings and layers with a medium to high neckline and covered shoulders work for most occasions and destinations. If you really don’t know what to wear, wear what the locals do! At the very least they’ll appreciate your effort.
5 – English-speakers are more common than you think
The first thing beginner travellers ask me when I say I backpacked around Italy is “But how did you get by when you couldn’t speak the language” to which I always reply that most people I ran into could speak English, or at least understand what I was asking after some complex miming.
In many European countries, at least, English is taught as a compulsory subject in school just as English-speaking countries are taught Mandarin or Spanish. As a result, a basic level of comprehension seems to be carried into adulthood, or enough to be able to understand the hopelessly lost tourist asking where the bathroom is. In the worst case that I ran into someone who couldn’t speak English, I simply asked someone else or popped into a café or restaurant that looked suspiciously like a tourist trap. Insider tip: if the menu is offered in English, then most likely someone inside can speak English too.
6 – But don’t forget to learn the language
With the above being said it is also incredibly helpful to learn at least a little bit of the language of where you are visiting. Locals appreciate when you try to talk to them in their own language, even if you fail miserably at it it’s still nice that someone has taken enough of an interest in their country to try and meet the locals. Some useful phrases/words to know include:
- Where is the bathroom?
- How do I get _ ?
- How much is it?
- Hello and Goodbye
- Thank you and Please
- Do you speak English?
- Where is the train/bus station or taxi stand?
- Do I look like a total beginner because I feel like a total beginner? (Okay, so this one is a joke!)
7 – Write down a physical copy and phone number of your hotel’s address, the emergency number for the country you are in, and the address and phone number of your country’s embassy in the place you are visiting.
You never know when the piece of technology you are entrusting with all your precious research and information is going to fail – and it is most likely to fail when you’re in a foreign country without any aid. That’s just Murphy’s Law. So be sure to back up the most important information onto a physical piece of paper in case of an emergency. Also include the phone number of your travelling companion if you have one, in case you get separated. You never really know what’s going to happen after all.
8 – Grab your hotel’s business card to show to taxi drivers
This one’s pretty self-explanatory – most hotel business cards will contain an address and logo that will most likely be familiar to any taxi drivers or locals from the area that could help you get home if you get lost.
9 – Learn about public transport
A lot of locals in built-up areas like major cities won’t drive, and catching a taxi everywhere can get incredibly expensive, so for many public transport will be the way to go for going about their daily lives. That means that public transport will be fairly convenient, and cheap, which is good for the traveller on a budget. If you’re in London, look into getting a tourist Oyster card for the Tube, and in Paris you can get Underground tickets valid for any number of trips within a certain number of days that is perfect for tourists.
10 – Ask the locals for their personal recommendations
Itching to get off the beaten track? Don’t be afraid to ask the locals for their favourite haunts in their city – this can be workers at your local café, or even hotel staff, if you’re not quite ready to approach strangers in the street. Most people are happy to share their favourite things to do or eat, but even if you do find someone who is a bit rude don’t let that deter you from asking somebody else. Remember you are travelling to learn and explore, and most locals want to help foreigners learn about what their country or city is really like.
11 – Museums are not boring – especially in Europe
So I might be a bit biased in saying this, being an Ancient History major and everything, but museums and art galleries are not boring, especially in Europe. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I love nothing more than spending an afternoon completely engrossed in one of the many museums or art galleries that Europe in particular has on offer. There is a museum for every interest and taste, and these buildings allow a deeper exploration into a particular country or culture’s origin and past that can make your trip feel that much richer. Plus, many art galleries and museums in Europe are free, making them the perfect destination for a budget-savvy traveller. Take my advice; just visit at least one in the destination of your choice, and if you’re London the British Museum is waiting for you.
12 – Make sure to check if your vaccines are up to date
I know this part of getting ready is boring, but it is an important step. Your doctor will usually ask you where you are going if you make an appointment to make sure that you are vaccinated against all potential nasties before jetting off, and make sure that you include any stop-over places in your description. For example: when I was flying to London I had an 8-hour stop-over in Hong Kong which meant that I would be eating the food and using the bathroom there. My doctor informed me there was a vaccination available for an intestinal bug found in Hong Kong, and though the risk of contraction was low I just wanted to make sure that I was completely covered in the medical department. Different countries, different diets, and different germs means that it’s better to be safe than sorry.
13 – Be conscious of your belongings and personal safety at all times
Okay, I know I sound like your Mum now but this is a point that is important to remember. You’re having a great time, exploring new places and meeting lots of new people, when suddenly you forgot to zip your bag up and when you go to buy your next delicious meal you find that your wallet is missing. Oh bugger, right? It can be easy to forget about security when you’re out having fun, but quick tips to avoid any mishaps are to keep your expensive electronics in your bag when not in use, to keep your bag zipped and to wear it at the front so nobody can pickpocket you. Also don’t stay out until 3am if you can avoid it, and don’t get hammered. One drink is fine, but getting too drunk can be dangerous and cause you to become an easy target. In other words, don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in your hometown or other big city.
14 – Email a copy of your itinerary (including contact numbers and addresses) to your close friends and family back home in case of an emergency.
This is just a basic safety measure, so that your family and friends back home know roughly where you are, and where you are staying at all times in case of an emergency. I know it’s unlikely that a major disaster will befall your epic adventure, but stranger things have happened and it’s better to be safe than sorry, right?
15 – Check if there are any tourist discounts or student discounts where you are travelling
In the European Union, many cultural events and museums are cheaper or even free for anyone aged under 25 or students. I understand that this is the case for train travel as well, so it’s worthwhile looking into special deals that are available for tourists or students in your chosen destination. You can use that extra cash to book one more day of accommodation, or to hit-up one more must-see. It’s a win-win really, who doesn’t love discounts!
16 – Solo travellers – always make sure somebody knows where you are every day
Travelling solo can be liberating and teach you a lot about yourself, but it’s important to remember to be safe – especially when your network of support is on the other side of the world. Text your Mum back when she asks how you are every morning (and you know she will) or otherwise send other signs throughout your travels that your still alive, and still safe. If you move accommodation or country, let your family or friends know if you haven’t given them a copy of your itinerary. Plus, you can totally brag about how awesome your life is at the moment if you check in with your family. I won’t judge you.
17 – Have fun!
Finally, we’ve reached the end! You deserve a high-five for making it this far. Though all the points above are important, the one thing you should remember most of all is to have fun! Travelling is a unique experience that can broaden your world, and make you feel connected with the rest of humanity, as well as allow you to try anything and everything you’ve ever wanted to try. Don’t sweat the small stuff, be conscious of your safety, and most of all relax – you might only get to be where you are once, so don’t waste a minute!
What are your top travel tips for newbies? Do you have any first time travel horror stories? Let me know in the comments down below, or shoot me an email!