A First Time Wandering Wendy

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.

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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.

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Contraceptives are not the stupidest idea in the world either.

Take another memory card for your camera. You’ll need it.

In transit

Arrive early. Airports suck, but missing your flight sucks a lot more.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

If you can’t decide which project you want to do then take a look at my own TwitterTumblr and Instagram pages where you will see snippets of every project we do 😀

Build. Protect.Teach. Care. – The Starfish Motto

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What Would You Buy A Wendy

After looking at the essentials and getting lots of people asking about what else would make your journey more comfortable I thought I would look into what I always tell myself I will get and always forget to, these ideas are great for when family and friends ask you what you want as a gift to take travelling with you.

I know that before every trip I take, both my mum and my dad ask me about what I think I might need for my trip, in all honesty I never really give it a thought because I have traveled so much with all the things that I usually take that I never give thought to new things in the market that might be really useful for travel.

Having had a look around the Internet and on some of my favourite travel blogs I have noticed that there is a definite trend for what people now use as their staple travel items. So when your parents or friends are fussing and asking what they can give you to make your trip easier then just hand them this list of useful items and let them pick out whichever thing they think will be best, just make sure to remove anything from the list that someone buys you or you might be stuck with several of one item 🙂

Now the things on this list vary from relatively inexpensive to the more pricey side of life, this is mostly down to ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’. Some people are very lucky to have more money in life than others so this list is made to accommodate everyone, no matter what their monetary income.

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Portable Harddrive

As I have mentioned before, a portable harddrive is one of the number one things that everyone should have when they travel. Harddrives vary in size from as small as 1GB up to a 1TB, chances are you won’t be needing a one terabyte harddrive, but 16GB to 32GB is a perfect size. It will allow you to free up so much space on camera memory cards by transferring pictures over to a hard drive, not only that but you can fill a harddrive with movies as well which can be great to watch when you are stuck in an airport or on a bus or car for a long journey. You can get harddrives from anywhere on the Internet and they vary wildly in prices but you can expect to pay around 40GBP for a 16GB portable hard drive

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Swiss Army Knife

My Dad gave me a Swiss Army Knife when I first traveled to Thailand, I must admit that when he first gave it to me I did give a look that I often do with my Dad. My Dad is a cross between Liam Neeson, Bruce Willis and Grant Mitchell, he is very protective of me and is constantly concerned that, much like Liam Neeson, he will need to come and rescue me at some point in life. Over the years my Dad has been the person who has wanted to put a tracker in my phone, have direct numbers to ‘friends’ at the Embassy and to break the legs of every boy that’s ever made me cry, so needless to say when I told him that I was going to Thailand he insisted that I have a Swiss Army Knife, to use not only for the useful tools it possesses but also as a weapon if I ever get into a situation. Now I haven’t had to use it as a weapon but I can’t count the amount of times that my Swiss Army Knife has come in useful as a screwdriver, bottle opener and pair of scissors.

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Back up ATM or Bank Account

Credit cards and debit cards are totally fine to bring out to Thailand with you when you volunteer, the one thing I would suggest that people organise is a secondary back up account that has emergency money in. The details and card for this account should always be kept separate from your normal account, if anything happens to your regular card and account then you have a back up there to help you. This isn’t really something somebody can buy for you but many people are concerned about volunteers when they leave for Thailand, having an account which they have put money into for an emergency can ease people’s concerns about your safety and also provides you with some help if you need it.

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Travel Towel

This might sound really silly to some people but everyone should bring with them a Travel Towel, a normal towel is perfectly ample, but if you get a specific travel towel they are normally very compact, light weight, made of quick dry material and nearly always have their own pack away bag. I have one of these and it is great to just clip onto whichever bag I am taking with me for the weekend, the week or however long you are travelling for; especially as not every hotel or hostel will have their own towels. These kinds of towels are also great to use as blankets on flights or buses and as pillows as well, the amount of times that I have been sat on a bus absolutely freezing is just too high, but thankfully I have had a travel towel on hand to keep me snug, warm and comfortable.

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Adapter Plug

You HAVE to have an adapter plug for when you travel to a new country, it is just something that comes with travelling, not everywhere has the same plug and voltage so having the right plug is important. The best one you can buy is one of the universal plugs that you can make every other plug from, but if you can’t get one of these or just don’t think you need one that makes every plug then you should pick up a US adapter. Thailand uses the two prong plugs so US plugs work just fine here, they cope well will the voltage difference as well, I have two that I use every day and they haven’t failed me yet.

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Power Box

There are never enough sockets in any room that I have ever stayed in, in any country in the world, so having a power box that allows you to increase the amount of outlets you have is a god send and will save you time with charging everything up at once as opposed to one at a time. I personally always carry with me an iPhone, iPad, 3DS and my Thai phone so I need at least 4 plugs in my room, something which never happens. I normally have to unplug a fridge or TV in rooms I stay in to individually charge items which is not only a pain but is time consuming; having a power box eliminates the need to wait for one thing to charge at a time.

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Amazon Kindle

I personally don’t own one of these, yet. I keep looking at them when I have a snoop about on Amazon for things I need, and I keep wanting to buy one. They are so small, lightweight, robust and have access to thousands of books through Amazon. They work in the daylight as well with some strange magic technology that, in all honesty, sort of freaks me out, I always think the screen looks like it is just one of those paper ones that phone shops put on phones back in the day when you didn’t have real phones to test. At the minute I use my iPad as my e-book reader, it is great and has all the books I want but my iPad gets heavy and chunky when I read from it for a long time, so I think if you are just wanting an e-reader for your trip and you don’t already own a tablet then a Kindle will be your best friend. Here is the link to the current Amazon Kindle section.

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Books

Some people just prefer to have a physical book in their hands as opposed to an e-book reader or tablet, I can completely sympathize with everyone who thinks like that. I really miss having an actual book in my hands, the smell of the pages and the glue and the actual feel of turning the pages and being able to see how far you have read through a huge tome of a book.

Books are hugely space consuming however and also weigh your bag down more than you will realise, but if you insist on having books then just be prepared to deal with the weight of them. I always have to have a physical copy of Lonely Planet guides, I find they are perfect to travel with and read through when you have a spare hour or so and I can also highlight and mark the places and things I want to see.

Don’t think you have to have just travel guides with you though, bring any book you fancy and when you have finished it you can swap it with the books that we have in the volunteer houses. I personally have recently finished reading all of the Game of Thrones books, which I can tell you are much better than the show gives credit too. They are however very large books in part so I read mine on my iPad.

Here is a link to the Lonely Planet Travel Guide section of their website so that you can have a look and pick out the guide you think will suit you best.

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Journal

I think that everyone should journal every day when they travel. I know it seems tedious to do it everyday but I promise you that when you get back to your home country you will wish that you had done it. If you make note of every hilarious quote and situation you won’t ever forget them and when you look back to your journal years later if will bring back all of the memories as if they were yesterday. For me, I love to have leather bound journals with recycled paper pages, I think they feel and look beautiful and filling them up feels amazing. Knowing that in a few years I can look back at my journals and remember everything makes me very happy.

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Cards

Playing Cards are an invaluable item to take whilst volunteering or traveling, no matter what language you speak or the people around you speak, everyone understands the universal language playing cards. They provide hours of entertainment without the need to have electricity or batteries, something which can be incredibly useful when you are in the Elephant Village on our Elephant project or you are on the journey to and from any other project. Cards can be as cheap or as expensive as you like, just as long as it is a standard 52 card deck of cards, Bobs your uncle.

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Waterproof Money Belt

Now I always have a little giggle to myself whenever I see volunteers with these money belt things, they always come across as really uncool and completely unnecessary to me. Thailand is not a place that has crime enough for you to need an underclothes money belt; I have lived here for 9 months, I can assure you that having a wallet is just fine.
I will say however that the money belts, especially the waterproof ones are perfect for keeping all your valuables in like your passport, money and booking confirmation papers in. You don’t need to wear them with you everywhere you go as the volunteers houses are secure and safe and you won’t get your passport, money or other possessions stolen.

I wish that I had had one of these at Songkran in April as I must admit that my phone and money did get absolutely soaked and having a waterproof money belt would have been a god send.

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Travel Pillow

Much like with a travel towel, a travel pillow might seem like a silly idea to some people but I can assure you that these amazing, squishy, comfy pieces of cloud can make a stressful, long and normally uncomfortable journey into one where you can sleep your way through it. They might look silly, but I assure you that they will make you so comfortable that you won’t care if you look silly or not. They are inexpensive and easy to find so there is no excuse to not have one 🙂

Now that you know all the smaller things that you can bring with you to enjoy your time with us here at Starfish Volunteers, you can go to the Starfish Website and the Starfish – Volunteer Thailand Facebook page to find which volunteer program will be your once in a life time memory.

Then as always check out my own TwitterTumblr and Instagram pages to see what else I am up to on a day to day basis 😀

Build. Protect.Teach. Care. – The Starfish Motto

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