First things first – it’s never too late to travel overseas, whether you’re just out of high school or enjoying your retirement years. As a first time traveler, experiencing the world outside of your own country can be thrilling and exciting, confronting and confounding, all of which are healthy emotional reactions to stimulate your mind, body and soul. You’ll witness landscapes you never dreamed existed and meet people who live wildly different lifestyles to your own, and chances are, you’ll come home a more confident individual with a renewed outlook on life.
But once you have it in your mind that you want to travel abroad, there are so many other logistical concerns that probably pop to mind. Where am I going to go? Should I go alone or with a friend? Do I have enough funds? What should I take with me? Am I going to be able to handle the culture shock?
Like many things in life, being a first time traveler can seem overwhelming when you put everything on the table like that. But in reality, you will deal with each and every step as it happens and overcome most challenges with ease.
Where Should I Go?
The world is your oyster and there are almost 200 different countries out there waiting to be explored. Once you subtract the few that are in political or social turmoil and those for which there are current travel warnings against, you’re still left with heaps of destinations to spike your curiosity. So how do you whittle it down to find the best port of call on your first adventure abroad?
Money may be a limiting factor when it comes to how far you can travel from your home country, with flight costs varying greatly from one destination to the next. Do you want to travel somewhere that English is widely spoken or are you happy to figure things out with whatever means of communication you have?
Your individual interests should also play a major part in your decision about where to go. Do you want to be out in the great outdoors hiking, swimming, scuba diving and surfing? Or are you more interested in indigenous cultures and archaeological sites? You might want to travel to a fabled city you have read about or delve into the gastronomic scene of your favorite cuisine.
A first time traveler should also consider their ability to handle culture shock and whether your first trip abroad should be to a destination that has a similar culture to your own. One of the great aspects of traveling is experiencing the way others live, but if you’re concerned about taking the plunge, then you can always test the waters with somewhere more familiar first.
Should I Go Alone or With Friends?
Many first time travelers prefer the security of traveling with someone they’ve known for years and who they know they can turn to in challenging times. Others want to go it alone, without the restrictions of having to consult someone else each time you make a decision.
Both have their advantages (and disadvantages) and it really depends on your own comfort levels and confidence. If you’re independent and know you can handle anything that’s thrown your way, then enjoy the freedom of traveling solo and waking up each day to follow your own plans. Chances are you’ll meet plenty of other like-minded individuals from around the globe and have the option to travel with them for short periods if you’re heading in the same direction.
If you’re not sure whether you will thrive by yourself, then consider a close friend or family member who you know you can spend long periods of time with under sometimes stressful conditions. Traveling abroad can make or break friendships, so you want to know that you have a solid relationship before you go that can weather whatever challenges you encounter. Be conscious of allowing each other to have time alone each day and don’t let having someone you’re familiar with stop you from connecting with other travelers while on the road.
Perhaps you’re not feeling confident enough to travel alone, but none of your friends have the money or inclination to go with you. Then consider a volunteer abroad placement where you will be grouped with other participants and have plenty of support, while having a culturally immersive experience at the same time. Many programs offer weekend activities to see the sights and they’ll handle lots of the logistics for you, such as accommodation, food and visas.
Remember, you can always do a little of all three – plan to travel for some of the time with a friend, sign up to a two-week or month-long volunteer abroad placement, then head off on your own adventures.
Before you go anywhere, you’re going to need a passport and one that’s valid for at least six months (or more if you’re traveling for an extended period). You should also make sure well in advance of your intended departure date whether you need a visa to visit your destination and if entry requirements stipulate that you have to have proof of return travel or particular vaccinations.
Make sure you have copies of all of your documents (both hard copies and digital files) just in case you lose the originals. You should also sign up to the U.S. State Department’s “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program” (STEP) or your home country’s equivalent so they’ll know to contact you in case of a natural disaster or political/social unrest.
When it comes to money, roughly estimate how much you are going to need for the duration of your trip, then budget a little more to cover yourself. A credit/debit card that isn’t going to charge you too much for overseas ATM transactions or purchases is a “must” and it’s a good idea to notify your bank that you are heading abroad. That way, they won’t block your account if they notice what might otherwise be regarded as “suspicious” transactions from another country.
When it comes to insurance, check whether your current medical insurance is valid in your destination and, if not, consider taking out travel insurance. This is particularly important if you plan on venturing into remote areas where a helicopter evacuation in case of emergency will cost you a small fortune out-of-pocket.
The Start of Something Incredible
While the logistics of venturing abroad can seem mind-boggling, particularly for the first time traveler, it’s all worth it once you step onto that plane. For many travelers, it’s just the start of a life-long passion to explore as far and wide as possible.