We’ve all been there. We heard the tales of far off locations and regardless of our age we decided to do it: to plan our first trip. We may have researched, bought the guide books, picked up one of those handy “English to ______” dictionaries, back in the good old days we may have bought maps and now we may Google the perfect app for said destination. Either way, at some point or another we have all had our first trip. We have also all had our first trip mistakes. Here are the Top 10 Mistakes First Time Travelers Make (and how you can avoid them):
1. Over Planning
I’ve been known to do this. Heck, I think everyone has at one time or another and I think this mistake is more prevalent in first time travelers. You want to “see it all!”, “do it all!” and to hell with only being there for 3 days, damnit. You are going to cram it all in! Hold on there spazzy pants. I understand wanting to see as much as possible. But if you take the time and stick to a few things, odds are that you’ll have a much more enjoyable vacation and the experiences you do have will be that much more memorable. Remember you can always return to a favorite destination and can plan other things. In other words: Don’t over plan!
2. Taking pictures of EVERYTHING
You’ve seen them. The tourists who are totally obsessed with snapping a picture every 13.2 seconds and yet are paying attention to nothing. It’s great to take pictures. I’m an aspiring photographer and it’s really important to me too. But please, please, don’t simply take non-stop pictures. Put the camera down on occasion. Look around. Pay attention to the sights and sounds around you and actually experience your surroundings.
3. Being obnoxious
I’m sorry but I’ve so gotta throw this one in there. I remember visiting France and Thailand and seeing Americans who were being complete and utter assholes. Yes. I said it. For the love of all that is holy, if you are traveling to another country, be respectful. Don’t be loud and obnoxious and what other’s see as the “typical American””. I seriously die a little inside when I see folks acting like this. And grant it, it’s not just Americans but I think I pay attention more when my own countrymen are acting like arses. Remember: someone else’s culture may be extremely different than yours. Mannerisms, clothing, expressions, food, living conditions, etc can all vary greatly from what you are used to. You may not like something or understand it but don’t be rude. You wouldn’t think this would need to be said in 2014 but sadly, it does.
4. Relying on the guidebook too much
Guidebooks are handy little things (and not so little), but use it as it should be used: as a guide. Not the holy grail of your destination. There is so much more to any location than can be found in a guidebook. The author is just one person (or group of people) and there is usually a lot more to see than what they have recommended. Use it as a general baseline but do additional research for other places that may interest you. I like to check out forums, conduct Google searches, see what other bloggers have said, and other times I just wing it to see where I end up. Don’t limit yourself to just one resource. Not to mention they are usually out of date 🙂
5. Not knowing how to communicate with folks back home (and/or paying too much for it)
There is no need to have a crazy phone bill when you return from vacation. There are so many options for staying in touch with relatives, over-protective moms, and good friends. All it takes is a bit of research to find the options that best fit your needs. Skype is awesome. If you’ll be at a hotel that offers wifi this is a fabulous option. Download the app on your mobile, create an account and start checking out the options to see which works for you. Skype has been insanely valuable to us from Thailand, to Spain, to Scotland and more. If you are a texter, WhatsApp is another fabulous application to look up. I’ve been rather late to the game with this one but so far I like it! I’m a bit paranoid so as soon as I get on a plane I tend to remove my sim card and place it in the pouch with my passport. This is where it stays for the remainder of the trip so that I don’t mistakenly rack up roaming charges.
6. Over packing
I can guarantee: you don’t need everything you have just packed in that suitcase. You really don’t. I’ve heard that most people can cut their suitcase items down to half and be perfectly fine. Pack only the stuff you need and realize that odds are you can buy any missing items when you get there. Most airlines charge you for heavy bags and even the number of checked bags you bring. And don’t forget you have to lug those things around with you. Pack essentials and pack clothes smartly. Bring items that can be mixed and matched easily so that a handful of pieces can make multiple outfits. Life will be so much easier.
7. Being overly paranoid
It’s essential that you be safe when you travel. Don’t wear really fancy expensive jewelry. Don’t walk down dark alleys by yourself at night. Pay attention to your surroundings. But also don’t let your fear of the unknown discourage you from exploring. There is a ton to see in this world and if you don’t get out of your comfort zone you’ll miss out on a lot.
8. Drinking the tap water
Just don’t do it. I know bottled water is more expensive. But there are many places that don’t have the water quality standards that the US has. Just don’t drink the tap. ‘Nuff said.
9. Not letting your bank know that you’ll be traveling
It sucks to be in a foreign country and not have access to money. And it can happen if you don’t let your bank know that you’ll be traveling. Identity theft and fraud are huge right now and the second banks see a charge made from a location that you don’t frequent, they go on alert. They’ll think that someone stole your card and you’re transaction could be denied. Call your bank before your trip and let them know that you will be going to X country and for Y amount of time. This will ensure that any transactions you make will actually go through. Additional tip #1: Check to see if your bank charges foreign transaction fees. These fees can really add up so if you are going to an international destination it would be a good idea to see which of your cards don’t charge a foreign transaction fee. Additional tip #2: Bring some cash with you (in the currency of the country you’ll be traveling to.) You may not get the best conversion rate but it’ll come in handy for tipping, cabs, etc when you first arrive.
10. Not Leaving Enough Connection Time for Flights
So your flight lands at 10:15 and your connecting one leaves at 10:30, you have plenty of time! Um. No. You really don’t. And got forbid it’s an international flight. Odds are you won’t even be off the plane before your connecting flight takes off. At the minimum schedule your flights so that you have an hour and a half (1 hr and 30 min!) in between flights. Even if your flight is on time it will take you at least a good 15 mins to get off, then an additional few minutes to figure out what gate your connecting flight leaves out of, and depending on what airport it can take an obscene amount of time to get to your departing gate. Take London Heathrow for example. If you haven’t been it is a MASSIVE airport. On our recent trip to Scotland we had to go through 3 separate security lines to get from one terminal to another. It took us over an hour. There were some other poor saps on our flight who didn’t make their connection. Always play it safe especially when it comes to international connections. At worst you’ll have to sit in a terminal reading a book for a bit longer.