When I started out traveling more on my own – as part of an escorted tour or now going by myself – I read a lot of guidebooks and sought a ton of personal advice from people I trusted.
Now, thanks to travel blogs, community forums and pretty much the World Wide Web, you can find information on just about any travel-related question you have. Yet there are still a few lessons you learn from traveling itself. Here are eight tips that are helpful for new travelers.
Don’t bring more than you really need.
I’m still a bit guilty of over packing but lugging around my bags has taught me to lighten my load. Depending on where you’re going, chances are that you will at least once have to carry your bags up a flight of stairs. So make it easier on you. With clothes, I bring clothing that are mainly conservative (in the case of going into a sacred place) and can be worn at least twice (think jeans/pants) and can be layered or removed easily. And that one or two pieces that could pass for semi-formal attire. For shoes, I mostly wear flats. With luggage, I prefer using nylon bags since they seem to handle getting tossed around and can also be easier to stack or maneuver into spots.
Get familiar with first aid.
Accidents can happen, and it can be tricky to get to a pharmacy. It’s good to pack a small all-purpose safety kit with you for any small scrapes or cuts you might encounter. Having over the counter medicine like pain relievers or stomach aids is good too. Plus, it saves you money. When I was in Switzerland last summer, I had to buy ibuprofen for a throbbing toothache. The price of the smallest bottle I could find: Nine Francs. That’s roughly $9.30 US Dollars. And teach yourself a thing or two about first aid. I badly banged up my ankle during a trip to New Orleans in 2011 and thankfully I had someone with me who could tie a bandage on it the right way.
Grab a brochure or business card from where you’re staying.
In the excitement of being in your new destination, it can be easily to blank out on where you’re staying. Though you should still print out all of your info like with your accommodations, grab their business card or brochure when you get there. Put it in your pocket or purse. Personally, I’m terrible with names so it helps me to do this. Plus, after I get settled in my room, I often head out the door right away and can forget to take a mental note of where I started from. And as more people are using non-hotel accommodations through sites like AirBnb, keep a Google Maps printout of your digs with you.
There’s a term floating around now called “slow travel” and it means staying in one place longer to enjoy it. If your trip is limited, focus on spending time (perhaps a half or full day) in one particular area of your destination. Maybe it’s a museum or a national park or street market or a people watching public space. Typically, Americans only get a limited amount of vacation time, so it’s understandable to feel the need to “jam-pack” your itinerary or schedule. I’m just as guilty. But then, if you’re rushed to get through a place like a museum, focus on one wing. Or if you have only one day, let’s say in New York City, focus on one district. And adopt a “go with the flow” attitude.
Be mindful of your money.
As a saver or a spender, you should be financially flexible with your money when you travel. If there’s one thing, you should allow some wiggle room in your budget to not miss out on sudden discoveries like a walking tour or impromptu plan changes. Also, don’t carry all your cash and cards in one place in the case that you might be robbed like I was. I don’t mind using a money belt, but I also try to be creative in using hidden compartments like an empty trial-size bottle for keeping extra bills from getting lost.
Another way to delve more into the local culture is to go to the nearest grocery store. If in need of anything like a drink or a snack, it’s also a good source to get an item at a reasonable price. On the last day I was in Jamaica, our guide took us to a nearby supermarket where I was able to get a few items I could bring home (there are some foods you can’t due to US Customs laws) for much less than buying the same items at the airport gift shop. Even just browsing at the different shelves is neat. Food markets are a neat way to see what products are part of the local diet.
Learn Your Way Around.
It’s easy nowadays to pull up your iPhone ask Suri for help or use an app to get directions. But having a good sense of direction is important. Get your bearings by picking a local map from your hotel or even tourist office (which are also great resources). Another way to get better at getting around is to use public transportation. Often you will find ticket options such as daily/weekly/monthly passes, which can also help in getting a layout of your destination – even if it’s underneath or on a set of wheels. Or brush up before you go by looking up information on sections or neighborhoods.
What tips would you offer a new traveler?