What I Wish Someone Would've Told Me Before I Traveled Solo
My passport is not that impressive and I won't for a second pretend it is, I have spent my fair share of nights in airport waiting areas, though. I've also put uncountable miles on several different pairs of shoes due to poor planning or a lack of knowledge, so I think in some respects, I have earned my stripes (or a few of my stripes anyway). To a seasoned traveler this list probably seems quite the common knowledge checklist, but I wish, wish, wish someone would've bestowed this knowledge upon my naive little self before I set off to discover the world all by my lonesome. Being on the cusp of adulthood I felt like I had the entire world at my fingertips and it was mine for the taking. I suppose a lot of things have to be picked up via trial and error, but maybe this list can spare you to some extent.
1. Hostels Are Your Friends, You Will Make Friends in Hostels
I am not a betting individual in any capacity, but I am willing to bet that upward of 99% of the people who stay in hostels while traveling are friendly and also looking for someone to sight see/drink/dine out/generally hang out with. I also won't lie and say I've never been put in an uncomfortable situation with some rather unsavory characters of the opposite gender, but hey, it happens and it wasn't anything that a simple "No thank you" didn't handle. Generally speaking though, unfriendly people don't stay in places where they are forced to be around people day and night, so keep that in mind. I've met some very pleasant people in hostels whom I've managed to stay in contact with despite the distance between us now.
When choosing a hostel that you may be interested in PLEASE, for the love of God, read every single review you can get your greedy little hands on. As we all know, pictures can be deceiving and some hostels buy reviews to make themselves look better than they are, so beware! Sometimes it is worth it to stay in a one or two-star rated facility if it's only for a night, if the location is near something you need, but pick and choose what is worth sacrificing for the money you saved. Saving $10 might seem enticing at the time, infesting yourself and all of your belongings with bedbugs, though? Not so much.
Personally, I always book through booking.com - a popular site, I have gathered. The reviews are brutally honest sometimes, and there is almost always a plethora of pictures of your prospective lodging.
- Booking.com: 1,011,545 hotels worldwide. 100+ million hotel reviews.
Big savings on hotels in 94,000 destinations worldwide. Browse hotel reviews and find the guaranteed best price on hotels for all budgets.
2. Don't Be Afraid of the Locals
...And I am not saying try and make conversation with every single person you come across either, but don't be afraid to ask for their suggestions on restaurants or bars that are locally renowned, questions about the local attractions, to be pointed in the right direction, etc., willing that person doesn't look like a complete creep and seems interested in helping you to some degree upon your approaching them.
Once upon a time I read a post on Tumblr dot com about what not to do when you travel. It has since been deleted, I'm positive, because my multiple searches have turned up fruitless. Sadly, it evades me still. Anyway, on one of the many PowerPoint slide, there was a topic labeled "How to Approach the Locals." Under that it said, "Don't. Do not. They don't care about you. They don't want your compliments about their accents. They don't want to help you. They want you gone." My uneducated, untraveled self was pretty shocked to say the least, and it never occurred to me that Tumblr might not be the most reliable source of information.
That PowerPoint could not be further from the truth, thankfully! I have asked so many people for directions, some even walked me to my destination and guess what?! We talked and carried on and not once did they tell me off for not being native. Phew! *wipes brow*
3. Travel Off the Beaten Path
This sounds like a given, but c'mon! Big cities are great, magical, and populous and you can easily remain anonymous, but to a degree, you get the same experiences in London, as you get in Paris, as you get in NYC. I love them all still. All cities offer a unique vibe with unique perks, attractions, and beautiful architecture, but the authentic experience is outside of the city in the small towns with the 100+ year old family run breweries, restaurants, and un-commercialized, authentic businesses. Small town festivals are all the rage. More often than not, businesses in the big cities are there solely to capitalize on tourists, maxing out their cards and emptying their wallets. Not to say that spending boat loads of money isn't a blast, but you can get the authentic experience for less elsewhere.
Any person who lives in the city will tell you this same thing. "Dublin is great, but you need to go out West." I was told this on multiple occasions, and so I did just that.
4. McDonald's? McWhaaat?!
This one is a particular challenge to me because I am moderately picky when it comes to where I eat. It isn't so much that I am picky, I am more of a creature of habit than anything. I still kick myself for not trying more of the local, authentic restaurants while I was away.
Don't be left kicking yourself if you can help it. I am clearly no foodie, but I'm definitely researching some local cuisine next time I am out and about.
Eating cheap can be the easiest and most obvious way to save money while traveling, but I think it's acceptable to splurge every now and again, especially if you're vising a country that is worshiped abroad for their food (i.e. Italy). Again, always ask the locals where the "go-to" restaurants are located.
5. Study Public Transportation and the City's Layout
This is another one of those "duh" ones to a seasoned traveler, and thankfully I had the forethought to think about these two things, even being from the sticks where I reside. I have had friends talk to me about this very topic and the issues it raises, so it must happen to some people.
Whether it be the Tube in London, the tram system in Amsterdam, Venice, or Dublin, or the complex bus system anywhere for that matter, every city's transport is unique to itself and it can be a major pain to try and figure out on the spur of the moment while toting around a suitcase. Most of the locals grew up using that system and know it like the back of their hand, so you're at a disadvantage here. Giving it a few glances prior to your departure may make a huge difference once you arrive.
Thinking back, I could've saved so much money on taxis had I bitten the bullet and rode the bus, even after all this time, buses are such a hit and miss ordeal with me. I choose to avoid them altogether.
Another point to keep in mind, plan out your journey for what you want to do and see. Plan accordingly, figuring out what hostels are near what you want, whether that be a landmark, or a lively night scene, city center, a shopping center, a particular train station, etc. Take London for example. When booking a place to stay, a simple search of "London" can give you a range of results from places in Barnet to Westminster, to Peckham or Tower Hamlets, so know where you want to go and what you want to do. Searching a landmark or certain attraction may lead to a more precise result.
Again, this seems obvious, but after mile upon mile of public transport, plus a fair bit of walking these are the subtle habits you pick up to spare yourself the distance.
If you're into maps and planning and all that good stuff, you can download all sorts of free maps to your phone or computer here:
Getcha Some Maps
- Free London Travel Maps - Download London Travel Maps - Traveller Information - visitlondon.com
Use these free London maps to get around the city on the Tube, London Overground, bus, river services, Docklands Light Railway and by bike.
6. Be Aware of Potential Scams
Keep your mind on your money, at least most of the time. Women who tend to leave their purses unzipped, with their money, phones, ID's, credit cards, etc. exposed will "get got" when least expecting it. Crowded city streets or tightly packed public transportation are a thief's wonderland, and getting stranded in a foreign country without your passport would be a nightmare.
Credit card skimmers are becoming more and more commonplace at ATMs worldwide as well, so anyone could end up with your details and access to your bank account in seconds. In case you live under a rock and haven't heard what those are, a card skimmer can be attached to the mouth of the ATM, fixed to look nearly normal; they can be very difficult to spot. These 'skim' your card, transferring all your bank details to the thieves running the operation. Keep an eye on your funds and don't hesitate to act upon any fraudulent activity that may be present on your bank statement. People are out there getting screwed on the regular by activities like this, so I feel the need to add this to the list!
Of course, every region has its own personalized and unique scams, some of which are actually pretty intricate and even impressive, so just educate yourself to the best of your ability on this subject. Vacations are already expensive enough, no one needs actions like this adding to the tab.
Though short, I feel this list encompasses the basics of what I would tell any first time traveler had they asked my advice. Given I don't get asked that too often, these are the few things I've compiled over the years and I've come to realize this really is a report of things I wish someone would've told me before I embarked on my first minor exodus, minus the nuance items like "Don't forget to smell the roses." It is still important to smell the roses, though.
What one tip would you suggest to a first time traveler?