Getting ready for your first time travelling can be overwhelming. There’s so much to do and sort out. You don’t want to make mistakes but also have no idea where to start with arranging it all.
On our travels we’ve met people from all over the world, but far too often find people making the same mistakes over and over again. Some rush from country to country, more concerned with getting another passport stamp than seeing what a country has to offer. Others book everything in advance meaning they have no flexibility to change without the risk of losing huge amounts of money. We still meet people using their normal credit/debit card, and paying huge abroad fees for doing so.
These mistakes are easily avoidable – you just need to find the right balance between planning and flexibility. After years of travelling around the world, our advice to first time travellers is:
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Don’t attempt to do too much
If you really want to enjoy travelling, make sure you give yourself time to see everything a country/place has to offer. It may seem like a great idea to try and see loads of countries in one trip, but doing that means you may not get a chance to see some of the main attractions in each place. Once you know how long you want your trip to be, you can decide everywhere you’re hoping to see but just make sure you give yourself some time to explore each place properly – you don’t want to spend half your time travelling from place to place but never really see or do anything while you’re actually there! If you only have a short amount of time you’re better off focusing on one or two countries to allow yourself to enjoy the experience.
Don’t plan too much
Knowing exactly where you’re going to be for your whole trip is important for some people, but you never know what’s going to happen. You’re bound to meet a lot of people from all over the world when you’re travelling, and in doing so can make plenty of friends as well. By not booking everything in advance, you can decide to travel with these new friends a while, or if you’re really enjoying a place you can stay a bit longer/leave earlier if you’re not enjoying somewhere. Don’t run the risk of losing money to cancellation fees by over planning!
Don’t avoid a country just because it’s the rainy season
This really is country dependent so you need to do some location specific research for this one. Going in the rainy/off season doesn’t mean it’s going to be raining for your whole trip. Some countries just get 1-2 hours of rain a day, but still have a lot of sun too! Travelling in the off season can mean lower prices – for flights, accommodation and tours – and so in certain countries represents better value as you get the added bonus of fewer crowds. That being said, our trip to Peru during the rainy season meant that we didn’t get the picture perfect view of Machu Picchu we hoped for – so doing your research is important!
Don’t overpay for flights
Before booking anything, make sure to check multiple sites to check you’re getting the best deal. Your starting point for booking flights should be price comparison sites like Momondo and Skyscanner. Both allow you to find the cheapest possible flights and you can play around with the dates to find a perfect balance between cost and timing.
Don’t overpay for accommodation
Just like with flights you need to shop around a bit to get the best deal. If you want to make the most of your money, don’t book the first place that looks good. Use comparison websites like booking.com to explore your options – they include everything from hostels to luxury accommodation. They also regularly offer accommodation at discounted rates so even if you’re booking for the same day, you may end up paying less if you book online than booking directly.
Don’t pack too much
It sounds obvious, but only pack what you need. If you’re going on a year long, round the world trip your packing list is going to be different to a 2 week holiday. Check the weather in advance and pack appropriately. If you take too much you’re the one who will suffer carrying the extra weight, potentially incurring excess baggage fees with your airline, and not having space to bring souvenirs back.
Not researching costs
Knowing what you should be paying in advance helps you decide if a destination fits your budget. Some countries will be cheaper than where you’re from, and some more expensive and it’s best to know how much you’ll need for food and tours while you’re there. You wouldn’t want to miss out on one of the main attractions because you underestimated the costs so don’t leave anything to chance. Also, for things like transport from airports to the city, compare your options. If there’s a group of you it may end up being cheaper to split a taxi fare than take the public bus, but sometimes the bus ends up being way cheaper.
Not planning your source of spending
Using your normal debit/credit card abroad is a big no as they’re likely to have overseas fees, which can be easily avoided. If it’s a short trip you may want to get your currency before you go – but for longer trips it’s worth considering a special credit card with no abroad transaction fees, or prepaid cards for use overseas with no withdrawal fees within certain limits. We use Revolut which gives us a great exchange rate for our money, be it for cash withdrawals or payment as if it is a debit card. If you decide to use Revolut, make sure to check their latest list of supported currencies as you don’t want to be left unable to use the card once you get to your destination.
Just because places look close on a map doesn’t mean it’s easy to travel over land between them. In both Costa Rica and Ecuador we had journeys that took way longer than we thought despite them not covering big distances. The roads in some countries are in poor condition which adds travel time to your trip, and if you factor in stopping to pick others up, as well as break stops then bus transport will most likely always be longer than you expect.
Being overly reliant on travel guides
Travel guides are a great place to start when planning what you want to do on your trip. Unfortunately though, they can never tell you everything you want to know. One of our favourite days in over half a year of travelling through South America was visiting Rainbow Mountain in Peru, but it wasn’t even mentioned in the guidebook we had. By doing a bit of extra research you can check if there’s anything the guides are missing, and you might just find a hidden gem! Wikitravel can be really helpful for this sort of thing as well as utilising travel blogs which are a great source of information.
With travel, some things need to be planned. To get the best deals on flights, you’re most likely going to book months in advance. Just make sure to give yourself a few extra days here and there. Plans can change all the time and you don’t want to regret missing out.