For many prospective travelers, the thought of leaving home to explore the world is a dream that, far too often, goes unrealized. Concerns over safety, theft, or personal harm, can deter even the most ambitious person from embarking on a journey of a lifetime. Although these are questions that deserve your full attention (and you shouldn’t take them lightly), don’t be fooled into believing that travel is an endeavor of the foolhardy, fraught only with unnecessary hardships.
With proper research and planning, you can avoid some of the common mistakes that many first time travelers often commit. Here are some useful tips I learned throughout my travels.
Bring locks, in fact bring many. I recommend buying TSA (Transportation Security Administration) approved locks. Custom officers can access them with a special master key, thereby preventing damage or breakage of the lock. The flex-loop feature of these locks are excellent to lock the zippers of your suitcase or backpack, very useful if you must leave your bag unattended on a train, bus or hotel room. And if you happen to be napping in a train station, outdoors or even left without a place to sleep for the night (which has happened to me), then you can loop the lock through your belt line to the handle of your bag. That way you can feel if someone is trying to open your bag.
Locks are especially important for hostellers. Some hostels may not offer locks for their lockers. My very first night in Europe, I returned to my room from a late night out in Barcelona to find my locker door partially broken. My lock (see photo below) was stretched and strained but, luckily, still held the door together, preventing what would have been a devastating start to a three month trip.
Via Jerry Leon
I would try to pay with cash whenever possible. I recommend withdrawing a good size amount—somewhere in the $300-$500 range—per each withdrawal. ATM withdraw fees can add up in other countries, if you’re not careful. Credit cards are useful but I would try to limit them to online transactions only, such as booking a hotel room.
Also, contact your bank to place a travel flag on any card you plan to bring. This way your bank will know to expect international transactions on your account, thus avoiding unnecessary blocks or cancellations.
3. Documents & Photocopies
It’s important to not only have your documents in order (passport, ID, etc.) but also photocopies of them. Copies of such documents include your passport, travel itinerary, Eurail pass (Europe only), hotel reservations, etc. It’s also a good idea to have a packet of this information handy at home or with someone you trust—important for emergency situations such as expediting the process for a lost or stolen passport or simply for safety concerns, so family and friends can contact you for whatever reason.
4. Cell Phones
I’m on the fence about this one. On the one hand, traveling without a cell phone is an opportunity to disconnect from the distractions of the internet and social media and become fully immersed in the history and culture of your particular destination. In fact, three months without a cell phone left me questioning the need of having one. Fortunately, coming back home quickly brought me to my senses.
On the other hand, however, it can be incredibly difficult and frustrating to meet up with friends you’ve met on your travels, when your only means of communication is dependent upon finding a Wi-Fi hotspot. I grew tiresome of having to run from one Wi-Fi hotspot to another, to receive and send messages, or make last minute hostel reservations at a McDonald’s minutes before my train would leave. However, in lieu of my ambivalence, I would recommend bringing a phone but try to use it only when necessary.
5. Don’t over pack!
I’m sure you’ve heard this mantra repeated from one travel guru to another, to the point of becoming cliché. Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s true! I remember meeting an American couple on a train ride departing from Venice and, between the two of them, they had six full-size suitcases for a ten day trip! I’m sure you can do the math on that one.
Too many of us (myself included) pack way too much in our bag, not fully understanding that most other countries will have the amenities and items you routinely buy at home. Not to mention the burden of having to lug around a heavy bag with you for an extended period of time. Once I realized this, I made it a habit to give away items I no longer needed—such as clothes, books, or maps—to other fellow travelers. This, by the way, is a very common practice among backpackers. And, besides, it’s a good feeling when you look out for others and they do the same for you.