I’m not going to lie, I have a little addiction. It’s a bug that has plagued many, and has become very hard to cure, a costly affliction that can cause rushes of adrenaline, lifelong memories and experiences worth their weight in gold.
Seeing the world, experiencing something new… it’s what a lot of people live for, but don’t quite know how to find. There’s a certain special something about being out in the world, roaming among other cultures, taking in completely new surroundings, and learning about history, food, music, art, sport, literature … The list is endless. Whatever you want, the world will have it for you. You just have to find it.
I’ve travelled extensively ever since I was very young, and over the years, I’ve picked up a lot of valuable knowledge about the art of travelling. The dos and don’ts, the lingo, the way to get from Point A to Point B without falling into a heap. I see a lot of people embarking on their first overseas trip, and the nerves that come from plunging into the unknown. Passport, insurance, terminal transfers? What are all these things? They seem simple, but when you’ve just got off a thirteen hour flight from New York, these things might as well be a foreign language.
My aim for this blog is to help with some of those woes. I do not claim to know everything about travelling (as you will read below!)… I’m still learning too. But I do know enough to get you to your destination safely, and make sure you have a fabulous time. So here are my top ten tips for new travellers.
1. Airports can be a nightmare. Or a dream, depending on how you look at it. Terminal transfers, gate changes, luggage limits. A bit of research beforehand is key… and will save you a lot of stress later on. I learned this the hard way at Incheon Airport in South Korea, when transferring to another flight, that you should check the gate numbers on the board, rather than your boarding pass, as they change as often as the wind. Imagine me, discovering that my gate had changed, five minutes until boarding closed on my flight to Vancouver, and my new gate at the other end of the airport. Running through Incheon Airport with my bootlaces undone, my heavy Country Road Bag slung across my shoulder. I threw people out of the way, and almost had an asthma attack to get there, but I made the flight. It’s almost comical now, but it goes without saying, research is gold.
1b) While on the subject: luggage limits. Please adhere to them. Or you’ll be like me, in London, repacking your suitcase in the airport, and having to throw away things like ski pants, and animal onesies to make the luggage limit. Note: Nobody in the airport wants to see your dirty underwear, or anything else in your suitcase for that matter. Pack responsibly.
RIP Animal Onesie.
2. The size of your hotel room does not matter. I have stayed in some really terrible places, and some really amazing places. What does matter is whether it is clean, and that is something you can control. Don’t be scared to make a polite complaint if the room is not up to your hygiene standards – i.e if the sheets are not clean, if you think there are bed bugs, if the bathroom is filthy etc. Don’t complain about the size of the room, the hotel staff will probably laugh in your face. Do your research before you travel, and if the room is a bit tiny, just think that you won’t be spending too much time in there anyway (because you’ll be out seeing the sights!).
3. Make sure you have a healthy supply of cash on hand. If you’re travelling to places where you’re expected to tip the wait staff, or even travelling in a group, it’s a pain not to have cash on hand, as a lot of places won’t let you split the bill. I always travel with a prepaid cash card, which also allows me to take out cash at ATMs without huge fees. And while on the subject of tipping, if you choose not to leave one, it’s probably not a good idea to go back to that restaurant.
4. Don’t be scared to veer off from your plans. If you’re in a city for a few days, it’s great to have an idea of what you want to do and see… however, vacations are also about relaxing, so don’t become so intent on seeing and doing everything at once, that you come home exhausted and in need of another getaway. And veering away from your daily plans also allows you to discover hidden spots and charming places in cities that aren’t usually on the map. I was in Prague, and walking across the Charles Bridge, we stumbled across this tiny special effects museum, that was practically deserted. It was all about how special effects were created in old movies… and it was great, interactive fun, and made for some fantastic photos!
Me in the Karel Zeman special effects museum, Prague.
5. Please don’t talk to me about uncomfortable plane seats, because I won’t listen. I’ve flown in economy my entire life, so I know the utter agony of being cramped in a tiny seat for thirteen hours straight (I am Australian, so this is norm for most destinations). While this problem is unavoidable, it can be tackled with a positive frame of mind, i.e meditation. The best remedy for sleeping on planes, I’ve found, is to recline your seat, close your eyes, and practice some meditative breathing. As in regular meditation, this will help to relax your body, and your mind, both essential to getting sleep on a plane, or anywhere. Most people squirm around, trying endlessly to find a comfortable position. The simplest way is to just relax!
6. Do get travel insurance, and don’t underestimate its importance. I once knew a person who travelled to Europe with a friend, and while overseas, her friend’s father passed away unexpectedly. Naturally, they had to return home straight away, and their travel insurance helped them to recover most of the money from their trip. Similarly, I also read about a women who travelled while pregnant, without travel insurance. She ended up delivering the baby early, and was stuck with thousands and thousands of dollars worth of hospital bills. While it might seem unnecessary, the sting from not having travel insurance is a whole lot worse.
7. Be aware of your bags. My first big trip was to Taiwan when I was thirteen, and I always remember being told that we shouldn’t take backpacks, as they were too easy to steal from. Ever since then, I’ve always taken a shoulder bag, one that I can sling across my body. When I’m on subways or train cars, I always hold my bag in front of me to prevent pickpockets from swiping my stuff. Having the bag slung across my body also makes it less likely that someone will try to steal it off my shoulder in the street.
8. Do drink enough water. When you’re travelling, you’ll most likely be walking and on your feet for much of the day. It’s easy to get dehydrated, particularly with all the amazing sights you’ll be seeing. I’m still trying to remember this one, and this is coming from a person who usually guzzles water in every day life!
9. New York Passes, London Passes, Paris Passes… they are worth their weight in gold. My sister loves to work out tiny financial details, and on our recent trip to New York, we bought a New York Pass to gain free entry to most of the touristy places i.e Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Rockefeller Centre… She worked out that we’d actually got more out of the pass than it was worth, i.e we saved ourselves a ton of money on entry fees. And for the amount of stuff we actually did, it was astonishing that it all came from one little New York Pass.
Visiting the Statue of Liberty… on a New York Pass.
10. Don’t be scared to make mistakes. Losing clothes and luggage, running out of money, missing flights, and broken down trains… All of these things will most likely happen to you at some point. The best thing is to either be extra prepared, or take it as it comes. Recently, we were meant to take a train from Vancouver to Seattle, and see the sun as it rose along the coast. I’ve heard it’s a glorious sight – however, we made it 50 metres out of the train station before the train broke down. We ended up on a bus to Seattle instead, and while some people in the station were obviously infuriated with the situation, all I could do was laugh. We didn’t end up seeing the sunrise, but I guess I have travelled enough to know that these things make a good story at the dinner table later on! And that is what travelling is all about.