1.) DO stay at a hostel or homestay, but DON’T stay at hotels (unless they’re really cool hotels).
Besides flights, hotels are the main money guzzler. You could save 40-100+ dollars per night by staying at a hostel, homestay, couch surfing, or workaway. Another great thing about hostels is that it is very easy to meet new people, just like you, from around the world. There are exceptions where I will fork over the higher rate to stay at cool hotels like the ICEHOTEL in Sweden, the floating hotel in Zanzibar, Giraffe Manor in Kenya, Wanderlust Hotel in Singapore, etc.
2.) DO check safety conditions and check in with your local embassy, but DON’T go overboard with paranoia and fall into media traps.
The media often only show the awful parts of the world. This stops a lot of people traveling to certain places in the world, or even anywhere. As for the places that are “unpredictable” and “terrorist zones” blablabla, who’s to say we don’t have to face these issues where we live? I am sorry to say, but unfortunately random shootings (and other traumas) happen, and they could happen anywhere. Does that stop us from living our everyday life as normal? For some people it does, but I refuse to let the fear of something I have no control over get in the way. Just do your research, be smart and be careful.
3.) DO prepare, but DON’T plan every detail.
Going off of numero dos, do plenty of research in advance, especially to the places that have had recent or current conflicts. I research everything from safety issues and how to combat them to current ways of life (food, transportation, attire, language, things to see and do, etc.). Nowhere in any of that is there any “On Tuesday I will go here from 9-12, then take this bus to this restaurant, eat there for 30 minutes, then spend one hour at this museum. Time constraints don’t allow for the most wholesome and least stressful experience possible.
4.) DO enjoy the company of friends and loved ones, but DON’T hide behind that comfort.
Traveling with friends is great and I am all for it, but I also don’t limit my interactions to just them, because there are so many other people out there to meet! When you’re with friends meeting more friends, you have an instant new friend group! Staying at a hostel is a great way to make this happen as you are surrounded by other people with many similar perspectives and interests.
5.) DO take time to reflect, but DON’T be alone all of the time.
Another great thing about traveling alone and/or without a schedule of any kind is that you can take however long you need to relax and reflect on your experiences as needed. If you take a whole day of just relaxation and reflection, that is okay, because you always have the next day, or the day after that, to get back in the game.
6.) DO learn, immerse, respect, and embrace cultures, and DON’T go straight to McDonalds
It boggles my mind why some people go straight to Starbucks or McDonalds as soon as they hit foreign ground. Unless you’re in Australia, where “Maccas” has soooo many differences (frozen Sprite slushy with flavored syrups including cotton candy and green apple, and larger wrap sizes with more real-ish food options), I see no reason to only eat American food. There is so much more food out there, often much tastier and healthier, and altogether more fun!
7.) DO your research and don’t go straight into a warzone, but DON’T not go to other areas in the “dangerous” country.
Unfortunately, yes, there are some places in the world that are in turmoil and it would not be safe to go anywhere and everywhere. However, even in some of those places, particularly the Middle East, there is so much to see and experience (the architecture, the food, the culture, the landscapes, the history). If there is a safer way to visit, I say do it. But do your research.
8.) DO wear sunscreen, but DON’T spend all of your time at the beach.
There are a ton of beach views that are not to be missed. Buuuuut here is so much more to see and do than to laze around on the beach all the time. If all day everyday is a beach day, there is a lot more that will be missed. Finding a balance is easy to do.
9.) DO check visa and passport page requirements and DON’T ignore or forget that.
People who don’t travel very often don’t have to worry about page requirements as much. Those who do, or who are planning to, should make sure they have at least two blank pages in their passport before going to another country. Make sure you have a visa when required before entering a new country, and don’t overstay unless you want to pay a fine and/or be banned from entering that place again. Also take note of regions under the same visa restrictions, particularly the Schengen Zone.
10.) DO get involved, but DON’T overstay your visa limitations and time restrictions.
My idea/plan of getting involved is two-fold: immerse yourself in the native culture through open-minded experience, and volunteer or work. Workaway is a good way to get involved because you are usually provided with room and board while you help the family you’re staying with by working on their farm or other various duties for a certain amount of time. The rest of the time you are free to do whatever you want to do with your free time. Some families will even transport you or at least give you insight on what to see, do and eat. Double check visa requirements, particularly work visas if you plan to do any of the above.
11.) DO exchange your money for the right currency, but DON’T keep that money visible/accessible for long.
Get a money belt, but a properly fitting one. See my post on that. In some places it may cheaper to order money through your bank, or exchange it at the airport upon arrival, or even in some unexpected places like restaurants! Random Fun Fact: Ari Burger in Iquitos, Peru exchanges money from most foreign currencies.
12.) DO update friends and family, but DON’T spend more time than necessary doing that.
It is okay, and often liberating, to unplug from technology for a while. You might even be surprised about how independent from technology and social media you can be, and how beneficial detaching from it can be. I know I was. The two weeks I was in Peru, I barely even touched my phone so I could be fully involved in the people I was with and what we were doing. Prior to that trip there were some issues in my personal life that I didn’t think about once while i was there! I didn’t even realize they weren’t on my mind until after I returned to where I live. When I was reminded of those things I instantly thought, “You know what? Those issues aren’t even worth my time and stress because I don’t have the power to change them, and/or there are other things I can/need to spend my time and energy on.” I also felt a huge weight off of my shoulders, which would never have occurred had I not detached from the world back home.
13.) Do try new things, but DON’T ignore your health restrictions.
You’re already in a new place, so you might as well keep going with trying new things. To me traveling is trying new foods and drinks and activities, but everyone has their physical limitations. Know them! If you have a strong enough immune system and stamina, you could probably get away with breaking this rule here and there. I know I am guilty of this, within reason. But even after eating Peruvian street food and using the non-bottled water in to brush my teeth and wash my produce, I didn’t have any problems. Others did though, and boy did they suffer for it!! Oh well, everyone is different. Just be smart and careful, but also have some experiences that make for entertaining stories. That’s what truly living is. 🙂
14.) DO barter/negotiate when culturally appropriate, but DON’T take advantage of sellers income.
The whole idea of bartering is to pay less than the initial price. In some places around the world, prices are way overpriced at first for that exact reason. Those places also might expect that not everyone knows about that system and end up paying way more than they could have. It is important to recognize that sometimes they depend on the money you give them as their source of living costs. While the cost of living may not seem high to you if you have more money/better situations, it is better to give them more than your initial asking price so they can enjoy life more than just survival.
15.) DO take part in markets for souvenirs and other keepsakes, but DON’T go forget about the space needed for packing.
I don’t take much with me when I travel because I like avoiding checking my luggage whenever possible. That does not leave very much room for extra goodies. The main exception is my USA roadtrip where I plan to get a magnet from each state in the shape of that state for a refrigerator magnet puzzle-ish thing, but I will have a car that I can transport those easier without having to carry them around on my person the entire time. That trip is perhaps the exception. In general, the experiences, pictures, memories, friends, and stories are a much more valuable takeaway than physical materials.
16.) DO prepare for all weather conditions, and DON’T forget to research/check transportation methods.
Be prepared for alternative ways of getting where you want to go and bring clothing for all occasions so you don’t have to walk five kilometers at 4:30AM in the rain by yourself while already having a cold. There is of course a story here. In short, I was trying to get back from Sydney to Newcastle after midnight which is almost impossible unless you walk. Where I was in Australia, trains run every hour or two after a certain time (much earlier than midnight), and buses don’t run at all until 6AM at the earliest. Had I remembered this, I would have sought out other methods for getting back home. Oh right, and make sure your phone is charged so you can call a cab! haha oops. The train finally came, but then I had to walk about 5 kilometers to get home since the buses were still not running at that time (4 AM). I did see the bus coming down the road as I was crossing the street to my house. Pay attention to transportation and be prepared to be flexible.
17.) DO be safe, especially at night, but DON’T let experiences pass you by if they are outside of your comfort zone.
Many places are indeed much safer than the media leads on, but don’t take that for granted. Do your research and be smart about where you go alone and when. It helps to also don’t make yourself appear as a victim, or else you will be treated as such. Confidence is key, so fake it if you have to. Looking lost could potentially be read as an invitation for being taken advantage of, so be mindful of who you ask for help. Even if you end up in a situation presented in number 16, there are ways to still be safe: be vigilant and scan your surroundings, keep eyes and hands on your belongings, don’t keep your valuables or more money than necessary on your person, and hold your bag towards the sidewalk not the street. As long as you are smart and careful, you could still end up having some of the greatest nights of your life, as there are some things that are indeed better experienced after the sun goes down.
18.) DO be considerate and polite, and DON’T be annoying and rude.
You’d be surprised at how easy it is to be annoying or rude without intending to come across that way. Perception is everything, and it is important to be mindful of cultural differences, social norms, and etiquette. Behaviors, mannerisms and phrases used in your hometown may not be perceived the same way in other places. It would be unfair to expect people in other cultures to abandon their normal way of life and interactions specifically to you. You probably wouldn’t want to do that for visitors either. Respect and embrace cultural differences. You are in someone else’s home. Yes, it can be frustrating, especially with a language barrier at play, but it is unnecessary and unproductive (especially if you want help of some kind) to add barriers such as arrogance and ignorance into your interactions with others.
19.) DO memorize your passport number in case you lose it, but DON’T lose your passport.
If you do find yourself in this unfortunate scenario, contact and make a trip to your country’s embassy wherever you are ASAP. Keep identification and photocopies of your passport on you. Get a new passport photo done before arriving to expedite the process. If you do, you may get the opportunity to experience having your identity stolen and taken advantage of and/or being detained when trying to leave or enter a country. Soooo don’t lose your passport.
20.) DO be flexible with your schedule and timelines, and DON’T rush.
For example, my timeline for finishing this post. I said “Oh sure, I can finish this in two days.” HAHAH! Two days easily turned into two and a half weeks or so, since I do have an outside life occasionally. Feeling rushed is unproductive and unnecessary stress. Scheduling and timelines for work is good (don’t get fired, stay on track with duties, and know what time you have to be where), but things should be different when you’re traveling. But don’t miss your flights. If I knew I only had a couple hours here and there to spend at museums or really any activity, I wouldn’t get anywhere near the most out of my experience.
21.) DO stay calm, and DON’T sweat the small stuff.
When I read my China journal that I was worried about almost forgetting my toothbrush, I laughed. Seriously, if it’s material and it isn’t life or death, don’t sweat it. When you experience bigger issues then your perspective on the smaller things changes drastically. Hopefully that doesn’t happen, but this is life and it certainly ain’t perfect for anyone. Any “first world problems” just end up being dealt with quickly because they can be, or better yet we move on because they’re pointless “stressors.”
**In light of recent terrorism around the world, NOT JUST PARIS, I do still stand by doing your research and be smart but don’t just not go somewhere out of fear. If you believe that nowhere is safe, then what makes you think you are safe enough to just stay put? That being said, my heart goes out to everyone suffering, and to those doing everything they can to stay positive and doing whatever they can to help those in need!**