There are articles and articles about what to do, where to go, how to get there and have fun doing it. However, what if you've never really traveled? What if you have no experience? I'm very fortunate and I've had the travel bug my whole life. The first time I flew on a plane by myself and went on a trip was when I was about 10 years old and traveled to Huntsville, AL for a weeklong experience at Space Camp. After speaking with a friend at work, it reminded me how we can know things, but still be very naive when it comes to travel. So here is my list of tips and tricks for those starting out on their journey.
- Start with small trips: These can be local or to other cities. If you start with small day trips, then you'll progress to driving further and doing a weekend long trip. Eventually, you'll get going to places further and further away. It can be tough if you think your first step has to be a leap. So take small steps. Small moves. You'll travel further than you realize in no time.
- Start with friendly places: If you don't speak any other language than English, then you're going to want to start with other places that speak the same language. Being from America, this would include Canada, the Caribbean, Australia, the UK, Hong Kong and so on. For an American, Canada and the Caribbean will be the easiest to get to and provide a lot of places to explore. Canada, in particular, has some of the most beautiful places to hike and ski as well as great international cities like Toronto.
- Travel with friends: One way I was able to get around early on was visiting friends overseas. They may have been from that country or been in a study abroad program. I tried to take advantage of that reason so that I wouldn't be absolutely alone when I started out traveling. Also, try and travel with a group. Traveling solo has great benefits of mobility, but if you don't know what you're doing, you could fall into trouble quickly. Plus, there's always safety in numbers.
- Travel early: Look for exchange programs in high school or travel with a language club. If you bypassed that and you're in university now, there are going to be possible study abroad programs, work abroad, volunteer programs, language clubs, and possibly more. Also, look to join a club or organization that interests you. You'll hopefully meet people that have some different backgrounds than yourself and you never know where that may lead, including summer trips. I have friends that took advantage of these programs and were able to have amazing experiences early on that I'm still a bit jealous of.
- Learn a second language: Just by knowing a second language, people are going to be impressed with you. So there's that. But you'll also experience the opportunity to meet others that aren't from the same country. Your ears will be opened up and not just your eyes. This is going to be more difficult in today's society when an Intelligent Assistant app will translate everything for you. But learning a second language is more than just learning words. You learn about the people, the culture that developed that language and will have a deeper understanding and respect for it. You'll challenge yourself to think different.
- Work for an international organization: If you've just graduated and speak a second language (or don't) then an international organization could be great. Just having a skill that is needed overseas may be enough too. Engineering and IT are two great fields for this. They may need to send you overseas at times and when you're traveling for business, you may get some personal time as a part of that. Since you haven't really had to worry about all the logistics of planning it more likely than not, you'll be able to explore freely and without worry. You're just looking for that opportunity to experience a new place. Also, don't think just businesses, but government opportunities as well. Embassies and consulates need people just like anyone.
- Volunteer: This is a great opportunity to actually travel and give back. You're probably not going to make much (or may even have to pay), but sometimes life experiences are so much more valuable than money. Now, I know volun-tourism is gaining popularity, much like ecotourism. What I'm talking about goes beyond a couple weeks though. I'm talking about months or possibly a year or more. (If you can only do a week or two, do it though. It's better than nothing.) Now, you may be thinking Peace Corps, and that can be a great place to start, but it's not the only game in town either. I'll explore this further in another post.
- Teach English overseas: Again, if you're going to work at an organization, you're probably not going to be making much. But if you can find a way to teach privately, you can actually make a fairly good living. Almost anywhere you go will have a need to have English teachers. Use this to your advantage. If you actually have your certifications to teach English as a Second Language, you'll find much better opportunities and some organizations may require it. Most don't.
- Go to school overseas: Traveling is fun, but living somewhere different can be life changing. It pushes you beyond your boundaries in ways that you won't expect, even in English speaking countries. If it's not your country, it will be a challenge. Getting to work in another country can be a little bit more challenging. But being a student is a sure way in. It will give you time to live and possibly work there, study there and dive into the culture and way of life there. I've always believed we should leave a place better than how we find it, and traveling is no exception. This is a way to travel and contribute.
- Research: Knowing where you're going and what you may want to do is key. It's also important to understand the culture you'll be entering. Be aware of recent news, local laws, possible dangers and such. It's very important to remember, that just because you're not from there, doesn't mean you can't get arrested. A great place to check is with the U.S. State Department online and on their Twitter feeds. Knowing where the nearest local embassy or consulate is can always benefit you.
- Take part in international festivals: I know in my city there are Greek and German festivals that are very popular. They also have Latin American festivals and more I'm sure. Each state and city is unique. The point is, it gives you a chance to experience a culture's food, people, dance and other qualities without traveling to that country. It also may inspire you to actually go there!
- Pack light: A better way to approach this may be to pack efficiently. Especially if you're traveling solo, I find it very important to be mobile. I've gone on 5 day trips with nothing but a backpack I can take with me as a carry on. This is able to be done because I travel with clothes that have cross purpose. With travel restrictions popping up all over the place now, it's best to know what you need and what you can get later. Also, leave room. If you're packed to the gills before you leave, you won't have any wiggle room later on.
- Be flexible: I've found the absolute best way to travel is to keep expectations to a minimum and prepare for anything. I usually find it best to have an idea of a few things I'd like to do for sure and be flexible with the plans. When I traveled to Switzerland in 2010, I had one of the best experiences possible using this method. Everyday we looked at how we were feeling and had ideas of things that could be done. One part of the trip was fully planned when we headed into the interior of Switzerland for a canyoning experience, but otherwise, it was making the most of each day. Listen to your body, your mind, your spirit. If you need to relax that day, do it.
- Be patient: This goes hand in hand with being flexible. I also mention this in my other article about ways to minimize the unexpected. There are two things you should be patient with. First, yourself. Don't get down on yourself if something goes wrong or you feel like you made a mistake. It's going to happen and it's part of learning. Second, be patient with others. If you're finding yourself in a challenging moment, remember others will try to help you. Mistakes will happen because we're human. There's a fine line between being a jerk and making sure you are heard and understood. It is okay to have a voice and not be railroaded into doing something. But try and breathe. Remember this is just a moment and it will pass.
- Challenge yourself: This is something you can start doing today. We get so used to our routines that we can freak out when the unexpected occurs. Back in 2014 I decided to implement this approach into my life. I felt that by adding little things into my life, little challenges, they would lead to much bigger changes in my life overall. After I had taken time a few months prior to weed things out of my life, I was able to start these small tests. Maybe it was a new way to work. A new food. A new language. I challenged myself to try and experience one new thing a day. In a matter of months I was traveling to Rio by myself and would be back to Brasil inside the year to the northeast for Carnaval with friends. The more you seek out the unexpected, the less it becomes so. Now I've made it a part of my routine.
- Consider travel insurance: Ok, I'll be the first to admit, I've never done this. I've been young and impenetrable and of course nothing would happen to me. I've gotten lucky I'd say. A lot of people do get into trouble, and not just having an accident. I'll also be the first to admit when I got my new credit card and it came with a kind of insurance, I was stoked! Travel insurance usually isn't expensive, and if you need it, will help out immensely. Just make sure, like everything else, to read the policy! Then read it again. If you don't know what you're getting into, you could find yourself coming up short.
So there you go, my list to get you started and take the next steps on your journey around this world. As always, I'm eager to share and expand this list. If you have any ideas of your own, I'd love to hear what they are. Until then!