If we could travel back in time to our very first trip and do it all over again, we would definitely have done things a lot differently. I probably wouldn't have tried to eat a towel roll (thinking it was bread) or been scammed for thousands of dollars. From the first day we started traveling full time, our journey has been thrilling yet challenging. To help you avoid the same blunders we made, here are our top 20 travel tips for first time travelers!
Since my wife Kashlee and I sold our house five years ago, we've been traveling ever since. It's been the best time of our lives but I would be lying if I said it's been easy. We've made countless travel mistakes and learned the hard way from all of them.
TOP 20 TRAVEL TIPS FOR FIRST TIME TRAVELERS
1. Take It Slow
Rather than trying to cram in multiple cities in a short amount of time, take a few days in each destination. This will give you a chance to see all the top attractions and go beyond the tourist spots. You'll be well rested and more relaxed which will help you take in the sights and culture. When we first started traveling, we thought it was about seeing the most places but we quickly learned it just ended up giving us travel burnout. Read our guide on Slow travel, as it can be just as fulfilling and gives you a chance to get to know some locals.
Top travel tips for first time travelers: Instead of counting countries, count experiences instead.
2. Let Go and Stop Worrying
Travel is NOT about being in your comfort zone. All the luxuries from home and normal routines that make us feel comfortable are thrown out the window. If you're a control freak like me, you're going to have to find a way to let go. I used to suffer from travel anxiety but the quicker I learned to go with the flow and expect delays, problems or challenges, the more I was able to stop worrying. It almost always turns out ok in the end, it just might not be on your terms. Read our guide on travel anxiety for more useful tips!
Top Travel Tips for first time travelers: Always expect delays! From flights to checking into a hotel, being patient is key survival tip to not getting stressed out.
3. Drink More Water
I can't even begin to tell you how many times we've felt sick, dizzy and exhausted while traveling. Nine times out of ten, it's because we haven't drank enough water. Between flying, extreme heat, walking, hiking, exploring and touring, you're going to get dehydrated. Always bring a filled water bottle with you. Make sure to research where you're traveling as many countries do not have safe drinking water. Stay hydrated to avoid getting sick or even passing out. We use a collapsable water bottle which is also better for the environment. Read our guide on how you can built your own sustainable travel kit.
Top Travel Tips for First Time Travelers: Bring a small package of tissue with you at all times. Toilet paper can be scarce in many third world countries.
4. Pack Light
We first started traveling with four large suitcases and it was an absolute nightmare. Picture getting onto a train during rush hour in Tokyo or checking into a hotel where you room is on the 6th floor with no elevator. Once you step out of North America, you may be shocked to learn that elevators aren't always standard practice and porters to help you get your luggage onto passenger trains don't exist. Whatever your carrying to travel, make sure you can lift it on your own with confidence. Packing for travel is an artform that that takes time to perfect. Our no-nonsense travel packing guide will help get you started!
Top Travel Tip for First Time Travelers: Remove the “what if's” from your bag. Chances are you won’t need it and if you do, buy it or borrow it. These packing travel tips will keep your trip running smooth!
5. Watch the Booze
Insert eye roll here. I know what you're already thinking, but seriously just be careful on how much you're drinking. Getting drunk everyday will increase your chances of having your trip completely ruined. You could end up not remembering a thing. Your safety could be compromised, you'll feel like a bag of crap, lose your phone, get lost or even worse get locked up abroad. I could go on and on but ultimately just keep a few tips in mind. Only drink with people you trust, take a sober day once in awhile and don't let your drink out of your sight. For more tips on safety read our guide on top travel safety tips guide
Top Travel Tips for First Time Travelers: Only drink pre-bottled beverages, watch the bartender open the bottle and avoid mixed drinks. Your drink could easily be spiked and ice can be contaminated in third world countries.
6. Wear Sunscreen and a Hat
The sun makes us glow with a deep dark tan so we look as good as the celebs right? While it may look good, it can also be deadly and skin cancer has become the most common type of cancer in the world. Fear not, you can still get a tan, it's just going to take a little longer. Trust me on this one, Kashlee and I haven't experienced a winter in over five years now and are paying the price.
We are constantly traveling to follow the sunny warm temperatures and it finally caught up with us. My wife Kashlee has already had a spot removed from her face that could be pre-cancerous, plus needed microneedling to remove sun spots. My skin has white spots that will no longer tan along with numerous moles that have developed. This was all in just a couple years of traveling.
One of our top travel tips is to wear a good SPF 50 sunscreen that has proper protection from UVA and UVB rays. Those gross chemical sunscreens can be thrown in the garbage as well. Kashlee did a lot of research and put together a list of natural mineral sunscreens that don't alter your DNA and hormones.
Top Travel Tips for First Time Travelers: Wear a hat, sunscreen and don't be in the sun between the hours of 11:00am-2:00pm.
7. Travel Off The Beaten Path
We're super passionate about traveling off the beaten path. Don't always choose the famous Instagramable spots that everyone else is going to. Influencers have been known to ruin travel with unrealistic expectations of what a destination actually looks like. The more tourists a location has, the more expensive, crowded and less authentic it becomes. If you visit a city such as Paris make sure to go beyond the touristy areas such as the Eiffel Tower and get into the community. You'll have experiences nobody else has, while meeting locals and memories that will last forever.
Some of the most fond memories my wife Kashlee and I have had, have come when we wondered away from the beaten path or traveled to less known places such as our trip to Malang, Indonesia. We put together a list of our favorite travel off the beaten path destinations to give you some ideas.
Top Travel Tips for First Time Travelers: Don't be afraid to get off the beaten path. Do some research before you travel and impress your family and friends with places they've never even heard of.
8. Get a Sim Card, Mobile Hotspot or Travel Plan
We've come to the point where being without our mobile phones is not an option. Going without data is even worse. There are a couple reason's you'll NEED access to data as you travel. Google Maps will make sure you don't get lost, check if your cabby is ripping you off, looking up the phone number or address to your hotel, getting an Uber or Grab, contacting someone on Facebook messenger for emergencies. You'll also need data to post your favorite pics to to the ‘Gram'.
Sure you could use your hostel or hotel Wi-Fi but once you start traveling, you'll quickly learn that depending on that alone won't get you far. Speeds can be non existant to so bad, you can barely load your Facebook in some third world countries.
Call your mobile provider to see what travel plans they offer for the country your traveling to. The cheaper way is to pick up a sim card upon arrival at the airport of your final destination. There are always booths selling sim cards and that way you can get an Uber soon as you walk out the door. The third is to use a worldwide hot spot device. There are different providers but we chose Tep Wireless. They have been pretty good and you can read our full review of how it works on our cheap internet while traveling guide.
Top Travel Tips for First Time Travelers: Having internet while you travel is imperative for safety and to stay connected with your family and friends back home. It's always worth the investment as Wi-Fi in some countries is not dependable.
9. Protect Your Money
You've worked hard, saved up for your trip and you're ready to go! Before you go blindly out into the world, we have some key travel tips to help you protect your money. We unfortunately have learned the hard way more than once. Kashlee was robbed at gunpoint in Nicaragua and I had my credit card number stolen twice along with my bank account emptied by fraudsters. Yes, banks and credit cards will reimburse you but when your traveling, there is nothing worse than having your accounts and credit cards frozen.
Ensure you have a back up credit card. Chances are very high that you could be the victim of fraud just by swiping your credit card at a store or entering your details online. It happens in fully developed countries so occurrences are even higher in tourist zones of third world countries. Having a back up credit card, just in case one is compromised will give you peace of mind while you work out the details with the one that was stolen. Getting mail around the world can be extremely difficult or not even possible.
Your bank card could easily be copied by any ATM skimmer so ensure you only use ATM's that are inside banks. Get yourself an RFID purse or wallet and never flaunt that you have money or wealth on you such as expensive jewelry or leaving your new iphone 10 on the table. Thieves are looking for easy victims. Don't make yourself a target. You can read our full guide on how to protect your money while traveling.
Top Travel Tips for First Time Travelers: Do not use outdoor ATM's and always carry a back up credit card.
10. Blend In
Forget the whole cultural appropriation thing. Honestly, it's about respecting others cultures and staying safe. This one is especially for the women but it can go for men too. My wife Kashlee is almost 6 feet tall and blone. It's kind of hard to hide her BUT she always keeps respect for others culture top of mind. When we visited Qatar she covered up with a head scarf, full blouse and pants. Even I put on pants as local men do not show their legs. We wanted to repect the their Islamic culture to the best we could.
If Kashlee was walking around in shorts a tank top and her hair flowing in the wind, I have no idea how locals would have reacted, but for sure it would have been disrepsectful to their culture.
Always keep a low profile, and try to blend in as much as possible. Be modest, leave expensive jewelry at home, don't display signs of wealth and dress appropriately. Research where your traveling to and learn about how locals dress. Kashlee actually purged her closet to buy some simple new outifts for the different locations we have travelled. Here is her guide how to down-size your closet for extra spending money on your trip!
Top Travel Tips for First Time Travelers: The less you stand out while traveling, the less of a target you'll be.
11. Avoid Airport Exchanges
One of the most important airport travel tips is to avoid the money exchanges. They are beyond highway robbery and prey on travelers that have waited until the last minute to get local currency. They have the highest exchange rates, hidden fees and the advantage of knowing you have no other choice.
Average fees can be up to 15% worse than your bank and charge up to a $15.00 fee on top of that.
For example I want to change my $100 CDN to USD. (Canadian to American)
Today's exchange rate is $0.77 CDN for every $1.00 USD
Bank: $77 plus 3% Fee= $73 USD in my wallet
Airport Exchange: $77 plus up to 15% fee, plus up to $15.00 exchange fee = $47 USD in my wallet
Thats a difference of $26 or a 26% higher cost at the airport exchange.
Top Travel Tips for First Time Travelers: Exchange currency at your local bank before leaving on your trip and ask your bank if they offer free international withdrawal options on your debit card.
12. Be a Respectful Traveler
We're about to save you from nasty looks, fights, scams, robberies and even arrest. One of our top international travel tips is to show respect as you travel. Cultures and laws vary, especially in Southeast Asia and there is no easier way to become a target than being ‘that guy'. Often referred to as a ‘douche bag', ‘choch' or ‘bogan' it's always the guy that is drunk, smoking, noisy, rude, arrogant and shirtless. The only thing this ‘guy' usually ends up bringing home is a foreign criminal record, scars and perhaps an STD.
This isn't just for the men ladies. A crop top and skirt may just bring unwanted attention. Many cultures don't approve of showing skin, especially in ceremonies or temples. Always show respect and be sure that you have researched the local culture.
Top Travel Tips for First Time Travelers: There are many actions, words and styles that are considered taboo in other countries but may be the norm back home. Study up on the country your visiting so that you can show respect to the locals. They will treat you like their own and enhance the authenticity of your trip.
13. Not Next Time, This Time
I can't tell you how many times in the beginning my wife Kashlee and I said ‘next time' or ‘we'll be back' and skipped a tour or attraction. We learned really quickly that the world is a big place and more than likely, you won't be back. There is barely enough time to see all the places you have probably have on your bucket list, so when you make it to one, see everything! There will be times when your exhausted and not feeling great but the next day when you wake up, you'll be thankful and won't have any regrets. This is your time and you earned it.
If the people you are traveling with aren't keen and it's something you really want to do… STILL GO! Solo travel can be fulfilling in a whole new way and teach you so many things about yourself.
Read about our favorite tour guide in Bali who made sure we never missed a thing!
Top Travel Tips for First Time Travelers: Always live by the philosophy, ‘There is no next time, there's only today.'
14. Spend Extra Cash on Accommodations
We have stayed in every imagineable accommodation possible. From cramped dorm rooms to luxury 5 star resorts, we've seen it all and it hasn't always been pretty. We wish we could afford to spring for a nice hotel room everytime, but it's just not realistic for us. Always keep in mind a extra few dollars can go a very long way. If it's within your budget, go for it! For example private rooms in Bali are just as cheap as hostels. In Vietnam, forget the hostel, you can get a full house for $15 a night! $5 or $10 extra can mean the difference between bed bugs and a crime ridden area to a comfortable room in city center. A good night sleep in a clean private room can make a huge difference in the way you feel and staying healthy on your journey.
You never know what deals you're going to find so be sure to take the time to search. How about a luxury hotel for under $40 a night? Kashlee put together our secret guide on the Cheapest 5 Star Hotels in the World!
Want to live like royalty on a small budget? Check out our guide for the Cheapest places to travel!
Top Travel Tips for First Time Travelers: Spend the extra money for better accommodations. Your mind and body will thank you for it.
15. Pack a Small First Aid
Not to scare you but I promise you're going to need it. From simple things like constipation to travelers diarrhea, rashes, cuts and bites, traveling can be TOUGH on the the body. We should have had a first aid kit from the very beginning. It took us a few months to realize that we are extremely spoiled in Canada. Every pharmacy has exactly what you need, when you need it.
Traveling to foreign countries, you could end up learning the hard way, stuck on the toilet for hours with no pharmacy within 100 kilometers. Here's a short list on what you should keep in your kit: laxatives, Imodium, bandages, antibiotic cream, steroid cream, alcohol wipes, guaze, surgical tape, scissors, tweezers and pain relief medication. This isn't a complete list of everything you might require but covers the things we've needed and used most.
Always carry enough medication for your travels in the original packaging. Some types of medications are impossible to get and even illegal in some countries.
The information provided above is for general travel health advice and does not replace a certified doctor's opinion.
Top Travel Tips for First Time Travelers: Always bring a small first aid kit as finding medical supplies can be difficult
16. Walk With Purpose
Looking like you know where you are going (even if you don't) gives you two advantages. The first one is it makes you look less like a tourist so you don't stand out as much. Secondly it will keep you from getting unwanted attention. People who are visibly confused are easier to target.
For females, you generally will look more intimidating and confident so that you don't attract the attention of predators. You'll also be less susceptible to harassment, cat calls and creepy guys.
We have been lost on more than one occasion but we just keep waling confidently until we can quickly take a break at a safe place such as a cafe to catch our bearings.
Top Travel Tips for First Time Travelers: Walk confidently with purpose. Looking around like you're lost can make you an easy target for predators and vendors.
17. Don't Wait
My Dad taught me to never wait and go after my passions. He worked his whole life and was a super driven man. He had saved up for his retirement to travel with my mom in their dream R.V. Within a year of retirement he was diagnosed with cancer and passed away. This reminded me to never take a single day for granted and go after everything I want to do now, not later.
I hear it all the time, “next year” or “when we have more money” or “maybe one day.” Today is the day. Today is the day you book your first flight and figure out the rest later. There will never be the “perfect” time to travel. The perfect time is now. We even have prepared a guide on how to find the cheapest flight deals to help you get started.
Top Travel Tips for First Time Travelers: Don't wait to start traveling. Pick your first destination and book your flight. We never know what tomorrow will bring.
18. Put Your Phone Down Occasionally
I'm surprised you didn't skip this one! I do realize it's 2019 and if its not on the ‘Gram', it didn't happen. The biggest mistake I've made in the last five years of traveling is being a slave to my phone. Between the pressure to keep posting to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, taking photos, stories and catching up by scrolling my news feed I can't even begin to imagine the things I have missed.
The other awful part is Instagram is it only made me feel worse about my travels. It made me feel as if I wasn't traveling to enough places, constantly comparing my travels to others and it was making me miserable. I went off social media for six months as I was emotionally exhausted by the whole thing. The experience and thrill of travel felt new again. It was an experience that was more personal and I was actually “seeing” things again rather than looking through my phone at them. Do yourself a favor and just put the phone down sometimes. Take it all in, breathe the air and realize just how amazing this world really is without looking through the screen of a phone.
Top Travel Tips for First Time Travelers: Put your phone down once in awhile and realize how truly amazing your surroundings are. Travel memories will last forever even if it didn't end up on Instagram.
19. Get Travel Insurance
Travel Insurance has always been a non-negotiable for us since the moment we started traveling. We have full coverage in place before every trip and I am thankful we've never needed it. However, we have run into people who have used their insurance and many people who didn't have it that ended up with huge bills. Accidents will happen and treatment abroad can be extremely expensive.
For example the cost of a broken leg that needs surgery and a cast in the U.S will cost upwards of $35,000. We can't imagine having to shell out that kind of money and it would be an end to our travel for a long time. One of our guest writers Fiona Morris, went through a terrible accident abroad when her husband was hit by a car. Read her story about how their travel insurance saved them from over $300,000 in bills.
Top Travel Tips for First Time Travelers: Always buy travel insurance. It's more important than anything else you'll need for your trip.
20. Get Social, Meet strangers & Hang With Locals
One of the best parts of traveling is getting to meet new people. The relationships that are forged will be what you remember most about many of your destinations. For us going for lunch with another traveling couple or being invited to join a traditional local family for dinner stand out in my mind as some of the best times we had.
Everyone has a story to tell whether it be other travelers or locals, you will learn more about the world and just how different it is from home. Most people you meet along your journey will be genuinely interested in learning about you but be sure to go with your gut feeling if somethings feels off. If something seems wrong, it usually is. Avoid meeting or traveling with people you don't know to secluded places. Always stay in public areas where you can ask for help if needed.
Top Travel Tips for First Time Travelers: Meet new people, be social and learn about how different cultures are compared to home.
21. Try New & Eat New
Don't be afraid to try new things. You'll constantly be pushed out of your comfort zone while traveling so make the most of it! Try new foods and experierence tours that will teach and show you new things. You will get the most authentic experience by being open to different cultures and the way they do things. Everyone we've met along our journey is proud to share their local customs and traditions. Take part in them, learn and let go of everything you know. You'll become a different person and when you return home, you'll look at things differently
Top Travel Tips for First Time Travelers: Be willing to try exotic street foods and experience culture the way locals do. It will give you a for more authentic experience beyond the confines of touristy spots.
Top 21 Travel Tips For First Time Travelers
- Take it slow
- Let go and stop worrying
- Drink more water
- Pack Light
- Watch the booze
- Wear sunscreen and a hat
- Travel off the beaten path
- Get a simcard, Hotspot or travel plan
- Protect your money
- Blend in
- Avoid airport exchanges
- Be a respectful traveler
- Not next time, this time
- Spend extra cash on accommodations
- Pack a small first aid kit
- Walk with purpose
- Don't wait
- Put your phone down occasionally
- Get travel insurance
- Get social, meet stragners and hang with locals
- Try new & eat new
Good luck on your jouney, happy travels and we hope to see you on the road!
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