Everyone is a mixture of emotions for their first trip. I distinctly remember feeling this overwhelming sense of going on an adventure when I was planning my first trip to Europe. It may have only been a short trip to Amsterdam, but it was exciting and new. I had a backpack full of clothes and no sense of what lay ahead of me. I remember wandering the canals for hours on my first day after not grabbing a map or phone when I walked out of my hostel. With a head full of dreams I was determined to conquer the world.
Since our first trips abroad we’ve now been to over 60 countries and spent over four years of our lives traveling. Our travel style since those first days have changed, but the same travel tips that we learned have not. We still hate itineraries, too little time, and saying no to spontaneous ideas.
These travel tips are to help any new or perhaps seasoned traveler on their next trip.
Our Best Travel Tips For New Travelers
This is the biggest mistake we see new travelers make. When you’re headed to a destination for the first time it’s easy to cram too much into a trip. You may physically be able to “see” all those cities and sights in two weeks. However, all you may end up with is stress from the constant moving and lack of depth in your travels.
As every year passes we continue to slow down. Instead, we get a more intimate feel for a destination that we are exploring and immerse ourselves in the culture. In our experience, it’s better to travel deeper rather than more. Spend more time just relaxing and allow yourself to sit in a coffee shop, nap in a park, or take a walk on the beach.
Go for it!
We’ve done some adventurous stuff. However, that doesn’t mean we did so without fear. Almost every defining moment in travel comes with a sense of fear and us questioning a decision. That can range from quitting that job, booking that flight, starting that conversation, accepting that ride, or taking that jump.
Travel is about new experiences. With new experiences also comes being afraid. There have been many times when I was scared on our journey (like that time we bought a car in Africa and no idea what we were doing). However, I often find myself taking the leap metaphorically (literally in the case of bungee jumping) and I’m happy I do. Fear is meant to guide us, not govern us.
We love to add travelers we meet on Facebook. Social media has brought many problems into our society, but it has also transformed it many positive ways. It also works the other way around and sometimes we actually meet people in person that we have met online.
We’re now connected to friends across the world. Many that we would not be if it were the old days and we had to email or *gasp* write letters. It’s such a common sense travel tip, but it’s easy to forget to ask for that person’s contact details. Make it a habit to ask for contact details when you meet a new friend, I promise it won’t come across as “You guys on Myspace?“.
Save memories, don’t fake memories
You can thank Instagram for this one. We’re big fans of taking quality photos, but still cherish the crappy pics we took when we first started traveling. Those first photos might not be “Instagram worthy,” but they are our memories. Given the prevalence of Influencer’s photo worthy destinations, it’s easy to get caught up in capturing that perfect moment and not actually experiencing that perfect moment. We’ve learned when we should put the phone away and just savor everything around us – we may never get it back!
Photos are meant for saving your memories not for showing off to others. I’d wager a bet we’ve taken over a million photographs with our camera during our travels, but each time we craft an image we spend less time worrying about that *perfect* photo. We do our best to keep our Instagram authentic and capture our travels through our eyes.
Budget for more
It is possible to travel to so many parts of the world for less than $1000 a month. That doesn’t mean you should only budget $1000 for the entirety of your trip! Accidents happen, souvenirs call your name, and travel plans change. We definitely did not plan to buy a truck in Africa when we landed in Johannesburg last year!
Always over budget when you plan your travels. Coming in under budget feels great, going over budget hurts. Read our travel banking post for more great travel tips regarding finances.
Don’t judge a book by its cover
This age-old saying also applies to travel destinations. Bus stations are almost always located outside the main city centers and may be the first thing you see when you travel. Sometimes train stations can be located in some downright dodgy locations and there are always bad apples wherever you are, but people, in general, are kind. It’s easy to meet someone or end up in certain destinations and allow your first impression to guide your travel decisions.
Get to know a destination before labeling it undesirable. Some our favorite destinations include Mozambique and Naples. Mozambique turned out to be one of our favorite places in Africa and Naples may be the most interesting city in Italy – both have bad reputations.
When you travel people are going to be interested in your story – accept it. Whether it be new friends at a hostel or a bunch of Tanzanians who haven’t seen a “Mzungu” in their guesthouse for a while. Embrace the fact you have a unique identity!
Where are you from? How long are you traveling? Where is your favorite destination? Or my personal favorite – How can you afford to travel? You’re going to get a lot of the same questions, a lot of different questions, and many, many personal questions. Accept them, and be curious back.
Trash the guidebook
We have a love/hate relationship with guidebooks. They are often filled with tons of destination-specific travel tips and can provide an excellent overview without being reliant on the internet. However, they can also provide outdated information and send every tourist to same “off-the-beaten-path” destination.
That bar for locals may not be so authentic now that it’s on Lonely Planet or Rick Steves. Your best bet is to ask locals where to head or what to do when you arrive at a new destination. We’re always pestering our hosts about what they recommend to do and eat in the area.
Less = More
Travel doesn’t require much – only a passport, a little cash, and a bag. When we first started traveling it was so easy to pack too many clothes and toiletries. We had a big problem with the belief that we wouldn’t find toothpaste or shampoo abroad so we just had to pack it in bulk. Wow, was that a heavy mistake!
You probably need about half of what you’re thinking about bringing, just focus on concentrating on what you will actually need. Buy a smaller bag, find clothing items that are multifunctional like a packable down jacket, and research and pack for the right seasons.
Plan less and say yes!
In our experience, planning every day out hour by hour will only cause stress. You’ll never be able to predict how each day and location will unfold. The result of over-planning may mean you have to start saying no to spontaneous opportunities. Wouldn’t you rather tell your new found friends “Yes let’s go to that secret beach” instead of “No, sorry I have a train to catch.”
Our travel tip to planning is to make a list of things that are of interest and go from there. It’s a nice combination of planning, without having to adhere to a poor schedule and get frustrated if/when the schedule doesn’t work out. That way when something exciting arises you can say, “YES!” Like having a wee dram of Scotch at midday.
We promise the world is nowhere near as scary or dangerous as it may seem. Relax, be smart, pack well, and travel differently.