The 10 Commandments of First Time International Travellers

When taking on the adventure of travelling abroad, here are a few tid-bits of wisdom to help you to be more aware about what you can expect and how you can prepare. Every travel experience will be unique in it’s own way, so get ready to feel alive!

 

Thy shall mentally prepare oneself for the experience

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Travelling is no easy task. There’s the language barrier, the exotically dangerous landscapes, the rickety modes of transportation that you’ll be crammed into and the unique cultural immersion that you will find yourself surrounded by. It’s all part of the experience, but it can still be quite overwhelming. Before you even start packing, research and learn about your destination. What are traditional customs, or ways to say please and thank you? These small efforts to assimilate into another culture can help you feel less alienated, and as a result you will be able to relax into the full presence of the moment. It also gives you an idea of what clothing is appropriate so you can pack accordingly, and even helps you to choose what kind of suitcase you want to use. 

 

Thou shall prize their itinerary

You may have saved all your money for months just for this trip and to miscalculate a departure time on the first leg of your tour could be disastrous, as missing a plane can jeopardize your whole flight plan that you've worked so hard for. Timing is crucial- you should know the time you leave your origin location and the time you arrive at your destination. You should especially know what time zone you are in every time you land in a new airport. You could be obsessing over your watch awaiting your departure, but if you failed to realize that the time zone had changed despite the close proximity of the two locations, you may very well miss your flight. Always give yourself more time to arrive at the airport than less, especially if you are coming from an outlying region or traffic heavy areas that could cause several minutes, maybe even hours on to your trip. 

 

Thou shall pack appropriately 

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When it comes to packing for a place you've never been to, think of the basics. What do you essentially know about your destination’s climate, the sort of activities you will be doing, or any events you’ll be attending? Having pieces in your luggage wardrobe that are versatile, wrinkle free and take up as little space as possible are your best bets. Most people over pack on things they think they need, and not enough of what they actually needed. If you are heading to a tropical destination, plan to live in bathing suits and loose linen cover-ups, so leave the heavy sequin cocktail dress behind. When traveling to a colder climate, it can be difficult to pack light with all those layers, but just think about investing in some cold weather wear that is designed to keep you warm like thermal shirts and down jackets that can collapse into pocket sized pouches, but will still keep you quite warm. If you are backpacking, remember that everything you bring will be on your back, so before you head out the door, double check that you and your shoulders are committed to hauling around everything you've stuffed into your pack. The bottom line is that it is always better to pack light, its less weight to carry around, less things to worry about losing and potentially more room for special mementos from abroad!

 

Thy shall possess the proper currency 

Budget out your stay and then estimate even slightly above this amount. Don’t forget to pre-order foreign currency or at least change it in the airport before you make your way to less populated parts of the country. There are numerous types of currency all over the world and the exchange rate is susceptible to change while you are traveling so if you change more money midway through your trip and find the rate has shifted, don’t be too surprised.  

 

Thou shall be prepared with visas, vaccines and legal documents

Every country has its own official immigration rules, so make sure that before you buy your ticket abroad, that you are eligible for a visa and able to acquire it within the time frame that you are planning to travel. Some countries expect you to have a visa before even getting on the plane, while other countries allow you to buy the visa on arrival. If you are planning to work while abroad, there are specific work permits and visas that you will be required to have. Ask your foreign employer questions, as they will be able to guide you through the process as they experience from past employees. If you do not possess the proper documentation you will not be able to legally enter the country and that could throw a pretty big wrench in your travel plans. 

Another prerequisite for travel are vaccines and medical related preparations. Just like visas, different countries have different required shots, it all depends on what bacteria and diseases they are trying to prevent from coming in and from you catching. For example, South Africa has a requirement that people coming into the country must have Yellow Fever vaccination and if you do not show the proper paper work at the airport, you will not be allowed to fly. Just as well, you could be required to get specific medical treatment prior to travel if you have previously been in certain conditions that are considered dangerous. 

 

Thou shall be open-minded when meeting new friends

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Whether you’re traveling solo or have a travel buddy along for the trip, you will inevitably encounter other human beings who you will have to interact with. They might a helpful waitress at a restaurant that put up with your poor foreign language skills, a wise hippie you found in an underground tea room or possibly even your soul mate. Whether they are locals or visitors, the people you will meet abroad will usually be diverse in ethnicity, nationality, physicality, and so much more. Rather than being intimidated or insecure about interacting with these people who behave so differently than what you are used to, take advantage of the opportunity to learn about different cultures from an actual human. The beauty of exchanging stories with foreign individuals lies in the spectacular details that no generic travel book would be able to recreate. The ability to be able to embrace people of all cultures is one of the most important skills you will exercise while travelling, so make sure to start with a healthy, open minded perspective when meeting people! 

 

Thou shall be aware to scams and dangerous people and situations

As much as we wish it were possible to trust everyone, the harsh reality is that some people take advantage of trust and scam or harm those that were so eager to trust. From the moment you leave your house, to the moment you safely return, security is always a concern while travelling. First time travellers might not realize when they are getting into a bad situation because they see everything as new and exciting, but if you don’t keep your wits about you, you could be in for some serious consequences. When in transit always keep your bags next to you, with your valuables on your person- a popular scam that occurs on the night bus in Thailand is that backpackers’ packs that are kept under the bus are raided for any valuables, and sometimes even bags left on the bus during bathroom breaks are liable to theft. Often you will be able to research popular scams that may exist in the area you are traveling to, and this helps you to be a more informed and conscious traveller. In case of emergencies it is also extremely helpful to have your name, phone number, address, blood type and other important emergency contact information in your wallet in case you were abroad when an incident occurred and authorities needed to know specific medical info or to call your emergency contact. Trust your gut instincts, when something doesn’t feel right, make the sensible decision and get to a safe place. 

 

Thou shall have a carry on at all times

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As previously mentioned, it would be an awful inconvenience to lose all your cash or passport when abroad, so be sure to have one bag that can safely store your valuables. Keep this bag close to you, always in your sight or in a locked place where you feel confident about leaving your belongings. No one likes to have their things stolen, but a missing t-shirt is a lot less traumatic than missing credit cards and identity information. Your camera, phone, wallet and passport are all important items that you should be constantly aware of their location and safety. If you head to a chaotic street market, make sure to keep an eye out for pick pockets looking for foreign targets.  

 

Thou shall be flexible and ready for the unexpected

The people who chose to stay home and continue with their same routine are the ones who like to play it safe- first time travellers are the ones who have realized that they will no longer tolerate this repetitive lifestyle and instead yearn for more adventurous situations. Whether you are an extremely organized traveller, or a simply buy the ticket and take the ride type of person, be ready for anything. Adventures will have at least one unexpected turn, which usually leads to a few more, but these are valuable experiences that help you to work on your improvisation, resourcefulness and adaptability. You may have missed the bus to your next planned destination, but at the bus stop you met a person who was going to a festival that actually seemed much more interesting than what you may have had planned! Obstacles and hardships will inevitably arrive, but its about the grace with which you can handle each situation that helps you to be a more savvy traveller. 

 

Thou shall chronicle the experience

This is a momentous occasion! Your first time travelling internationally is a huge accomplishment that you should be proud of and embrace as much as you can! While abroad you will have several experiences, some potentially life changing, you might think that you will remember every little detail that made the trip so unique, but when it comes time to write it all down, all the days blend together and you forget certain details about memorable adventures. Taking the time to write just a few words or sentences about special parts of your day is an almost effortless way of sending yourself a postcard from the past, a postcard of tastes, smells, and sights that impacted you. If you can’t bear to write it down, take advantage of the modern camera and snap a quick shot to immortalize significant moments. 

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21 October 2017
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