I have had a few emails and Facebook and Instagram messages recently from volunteers who will be arriving in the next few weeks who have been asking for some quick advice about traveling for the first time. I can’t quite remember what it felt like the first time I was preparing to travel, only what it was like when I finally got to my destination, so this post has meant I have really had to sit down and think about what advice I would give to first time travelers.
So here goes;
Planning and Packing
If you’re not sure if you need it, you don’t.
If you’re pretty sure you need it, you don’t.
If you’re absolutely certain you need it, you probably still don’t.
Take more money.
Take more pairs of underwear.
Take fewer pairs of shoes; trainers and flip flops are fine.
If it can’t be worn for three days then washed and dried in a hostel laundry room, don’t bring it.
Your airline’s baggage allowance is a limit, not a challenge.
Shampoo, conditioner, shower gel. Pick one.
If you can’t carry your luggage up a flight of stairs easily by yourself, it’s too heavy. See hints 1,2 & 3
Make sure your passport has enough pages and validity (> 6 months) to last your entire trip.
The best experiences are often spontaneous – detailed itineraries don’t allow that.
Aspirin, Band-Aids and Imodium. The traveler trifecta.
Contraceptives are not the stupidest idea in the world either.
Take another memory card for your camera. You’ll need it.
Arrive early. Airports suck, but missing your flight sucks a lot more.
Jokes about security are hilarious. Spending time in jail is less so.
The only thing worse than the taste of airport food is the price. Eat beforehand.
Having a few drinks on the plane is fun. Being hungover on the plane is horrific. Your call.
Earplugs are your friend.
So is an eye mask, even if it makes you look like a dork.
Mild sleeping pills complete the arsenal, for when the people beside you really just won’t shut up.
Learning to eat using plastic utensils, with your elbows tucked in and your knees bumping the table is an essential flying skill. Start practicing now by sitting in a cardboard box during your next meal.
Take something that can entertain you for several hours. A novel. Playing cards. An iPod. A ball of twine. Whatever. Just take something.
Set your watch to your destination timezone as soon as you get on the plane, and use that time when deciding when to sleep. It’ll help with the jetlag.
After 20 hours in planes and airports, toothpaste will change your life.
Distinctive luggage is a good thing. Surprising as it might seem, yours will not be the only black suitcase on the conveyor belt.
Having a change of underwear in your carry-on will be the smartest move you’ve ever made when the airline loses your bags.
At Your Destination
Being polite goes a very long way.
A smile goes even further.
If somebody doesn’t speak your language, that’s your problem, not theirs.
Manners are universal. Use them.
Just because it isn’t your culture doesn’t mean you don’t respect it.
Leave a positive view of your own culture.
Lack of a common language does not equate to deafness. Speaking more loudly will not help.
Be alert for scams and danger but don’t let that dictate your trip. Most people are not out to harm you.
Opening your heart and mind does not have to mean opening your wallet.
You can say no.
Get out of your comfort zone. Eat, drink and do things that you wouldn’t go near in your normal life.
Bum bags / fanny packs are the stupidest travel accessory ever, for more reasons than I can even list.
Money belts aren’t much better, but if you must use one, don’t keep diving into it every five minutes. Hiding your valuables isn’t much use if they don’t stay … y’know … hidden.
Things will be different to how they are at home. That’s kinda the point.
Public transport can be awesome. It can also be the bane of your life. You will experience both.
Meet the locals. If you’d wanted to hang out with people just like yourself, it would have been much cheaper just to stay home and go to the pub.
Have an emergency source of funds hidden away somewhere, and treat your passport as if it were made of gold. It’s not quite the end of the world if you lose it, but it’ll feel like it at the time.
Don’t be afraid to screw up. It’s OK. We learn a lot more from our failures than we do our successes.
Don’t be the one who comes back to the volunteer house smashed after a big night out, turns on the light and wakes up the rest of the dorm. No really, don’t. Payback isn’t your friend in the morning.
When looking for somewhere to eat, find the one where there’s nobody that looks like you inside it. Bonus points if it’s not in the guidebook, and extra bonus points if the menu isn’t in your language (or there’s no menu at all). The food will be better and cheaper, and the experience more memorable. Trust me.
There will be times when it’s all too hard. Tough it out. You won’t remember the bad times in a couple of months, but the good times will stay with you forever.
You aren’t the only person to travel; don’t be that person who thinks they are super cool.
Do one thing that scares you everyday.
Learn how to toilet squat. You’ll need it.
I know this isn’t a huge list but being a first time traveler really isn’t as big of a deal as people think it is. You just need to have fun and experience everything you can. Make sure to take a couple of these tips to heart, I promise you that it will make your experience so much more rewarding!!
If you haven’t ever booked before and are unsure of where to start that take a look at the Starfish Website and the Starfish – Volunteer Thailand Facebook page, where you will find the perfect thing for you.
Build. Protect.Teach. Care. – The Starfish Motto