Today I’m going to attempt to answer a question that was posed by Tracey Ormerod on the wall on my Masey.com.au Facebook page. She asked:
Hi Masey. I’ll be going on my first ever overseas trip in August & was wondering if you have any crucial advice for a first timer? I’ll be travelling to Hong Kong, Berlin, London, Paris, Montreal then Rio. Cheers!
Well Tracey, I could almost write an entire book filled with my own hints and tips, based on personal experiences over the past decade, for travellers leaping outside of their own country’s borders for the first time. I don’t have that much time on my hands these days, however, so I thought it might be a good idea to just cover what I think are 5 practical pieces of advice that you should take on board while you blaze your first ever trail around the globe.
1. Plan just the right amount
My darling Mother, who has to be rightfully credited with being a HUGE influence on helping me become the hopefully decent adult that I am today, will probably cringe at reading this, but don’t plan too much of your travels – especially if they are long term.
Of course you should be meticulous in your planning pre-departure with things like travel insurance, intelligent and light packing, notifying loved ones of your itinerary where possible etc, but when it comes to actually arriving in, and exploring your destinations, if you plan it all too much in advance, you’ll wind up stressed and potentially pretty disappointed.
Sure, plan enough to make sure you are safe and have a roof over your head at night, but if you’re in Paris for only 3-4 days, for instance, set a goal to see a couple of big-ticket tourist items like the Eiffel Tower (cheese and wine on the lawn underneath the tower at sunset is a MUST) and the Louvre, but other than that, explore, explore, explore!
Within the boundaries of what your gut tells you is safe and a good idea, head down back streets and alleys keeping your eyes peeled for little cafes, markets, kids playing in the street and more. More often than not, it’s these side explorations that lead you to the things and experiences that end up being the most memorable moments of your time in any city, town or village.
2. Don’t be shy.
I know this is hard for some people, but travelling is probably one of the best ways to overcome social disorders as the reward from chatting to the right people at the right time on the road can be ridiculously large.
If you’ve just rocked up to a hostel, check in and take a look around in the lounge for people who look like they’d be up for a chat. Say G’day. Introduce yourself and ask your fellow traveller if they have been in town long and if there’s anything they can highly recommend checking out. At the very least you may get a great tip for a good cup of coffee nearby, and at the other end of the scale it may become the start of a great friendship and/or travel relationship.
I remember chatting to a few random people in a hostel in Berlin back in 2001. The friendship struck that memorable night led to a couple of weeks traveling through the Greek Islands with 15 or so other fantastic people, I gained a life-long mate out of it, and that, in turn, became the catalyst that led to me living in Canada for six and a half years.
3. Challenge yourself.
Never will there be a better time to try new things than when you are on the road in a foreign land. Whether it’s snorkelling for the first time, trying new and exotic foods, or scaling mountains that challenge your aversion to heights.
Broaden your horizons and let yourself off the leash a little. You’re 100% guaranteed to have a richer, more memorable travel experience if you do.
This is a bit of a no-brainer, but it’s sometimes hard to tear yourself away from the ol’ “Lonely Planet” and the tried and true options contained within. As touched on above, if you open your mouth and chat to your fellow travellers, be prepared to jump off the main streets and explore, you’re bound to find some gems that you’ll be able to be put in your “we found it once, but probably would never be able to again” basket.
My best example from my own experiences in this instance is from a trip I made to Turkey, also back in 2001. Although I was on an organised tour destined for the shores of Gallipoli for ANZAC day ceremonies, a few lads and myself opted not to join one of the planned dinners while in Istanbul, and instead headed off into the back streets of this beautiful city.
Not only did we find the very best kebabs I think I’ve ever had the good fortune to consume in my life, but we also found this tiny, underground bar where we were able to meet, drink and dance with some locals in a priceless experience that we’ll never forget.
5. Keep a journal.
These days everyone seems to have a compact digital camera at the ready whenever they embark on travels to other lands. The images captured with such devices are sometimes, and I should know considering how many I take, pretty well priceless. These pictures, however, don’t always capture the emotions, thoughts or supplementary observations, you feel or see in any given situation.
The best way to record these additional thoughts and feelings is by writing them down in a travel journal. I’m not necessarily talking about the ol’ “Dear Diary…” style of journal, but more a list of notes and observations that correspond with events and sites that you see and experience along the way. If your journal notes can later be added to photos that support your written records then even better! You may even end up writing a travel Blog which is essentially how this very blog of mine came about.
I have a number of journals written which cover travel events prior to when I started this blog that I may revisit and share with everyone one day. Who knows?! But the fact that I have them means I have the option, and at the very least, some very entertaining stories I can share with friends and loved ones one day.
So there it is. 5 practical pieces of advice for the first time traveller. Are there any more you can think of? If there is, please don’t hesitate in sharing your thoughts in the comments section below.