Ditch that Fanny Pack: Tips for beginning travelers

So your friends got back from their annual jaunt abroad and you can contain your jealousy no more.  Or maybe you’re about to graduate, or have been let go from work.  You know it’s time to hit the road, but how and where do you even start?  The questions are seemingly endless and it’s difficult to know where to start.  No worries; you can quickly turn from travel noob to travel snob by starting with these ten tips.

1.  Consider Your Clothing. 

You don’t have to dress nicely by any means, but you should probably follow a couple of basic rules.  Most importantly, don’t ever consider fanny packs/bum bags.  Not under any circumstances.  They are easy to rob, mark you as a tourist, and most damning of al they are goddamn ugly.  For North Americans, leave behind the white socks, white sneakers, and baseball cap as well.  It’s certainly okay to keep your own sense of style, but if you want people to treat you more fairly, then avoiding the stereotypes is a good idea.

2. Money Matters

How much should you take and in what form?  The simplest approach is to forget traveler’s checks and large wads of cash.  Instead, bring your ATM card and pull out your money as you need it.  Try to withdraw the equivalent of a couple hundred at a time–this way you don’t pay a fortune in transaction fees, but if you lose your cash or are robbed it’s not the end of the world.  Most cities and almost all airports are connected these days–if you are going to be in one or passing through one you should be just fine. 

3.  Your Budget Will Be Wrong. 

You can plan down to the last tuppence, but in the end your trip–be it 2 weeks or 12 months–will cost more than your highest estimate.  Whether it’s replacing stolen/lost items, mailing things home, signing up for expensive tours, loads of souvenirs, or simply finding that the least expensive places are that way for a reason, that’s the nature of dealing with the unexpected.  Most importantly, don’t stress when things cost more than you expected.  (It’s the nature of the beast.  If you are simply flat broke, there are places all over the Internet about working abroad.)

4.  Research For Informational Purposes Only. 

One of the best things about a vacation is the anticipatory excitement. Therefore, read every blog you can get your hands on  (There will be a lot, wherever you are going.)  Buy or borrow travel guides.  Browse forums.  Go to YouTube and search for videos of some of your destinations.  Before long, you’ll start to feel like an expert on a place you’ve never been.  But don’t start to schedule, create an itinerary, or expect to actually know what’s going on.  It will all go out the window the moment you arrive.  There’s no preparation good enough to withstand reality, and equally important, none of the online or printed information is as good or current as the info you’ll get on the traveler’s circuit.  For that reason, it’s worth staying at a hostel at least a couple of times in order to hear stories and advice from others doing similar things as you.

5.  Meet The Locals. 

Whether you’re staying in the poshest hotels or the hostel with your roommates humping on the bunk above your head, you can meet other like-minded people more easily while traveling.  This is one of the joys of traveling.  But it’s always a good idea to get off the beaten path, especially if your trip is going to be longer than a month.  There can be a language barrier, but you’ll be surprised how much information grunts and pantomimes can convey.  Meeting locals will only enhance your travel experience.  A good way to do this is either through a site such as couchsurfing.org, or wandering into non-touristy areas and just exploring.

6.  Consider Alternate Forms Of Travel. 

We live in an era where planes, buses, trains, and taxis can get you just about anywhere in the world.  But if you are concerned about carbon emissions, afraid of flying, or just want a more immersing experience, consider your alternatives.  Slow boats can sometimes save you a bit of money.  Once you’ve reached your destination, exploring it by bicycle, horse, or on foot will dramatically change your journey, almost always for the better.  A hike or bike journey of just a day or three will give you great taste of an epic journey. Plus, you know, it’s better for the environment.

7.  Be Realistic. 

Don’t expect to have fun every moment.  You won’t.  Also know that you’ll need to build in some days to rest.  The first week you are running on adrenaline and loving every moment of it, but your body will have its revenge.   Most importantly, don’t plan to go to too many places.  Many first-time travelers are (quite understandably) eager to see the world.  But don’t cram in too much.  You don’t want to spend the majority of your holiday in transit, and you don’t want your memories to be a blur of castles, temples, and train rides.  There’s virtually nowhere you can go that you won’t want to spend at least a week.   You need to have enough time to do more than snap a couple of obligatory photos before heading to your next destination.

8.  Pack Smart. 

There is a lot of advice on packing, and most of it concerns the importance of packing light.  Bring no more than 3-4 outfits and without exception you do not need more than two pairs of shoes.  And, yes, sandals count as one pair.  Packing light is very important, but it’s not that simple.  You also want to be somewhat self-sufficient as well.  Some things extra travelers find indispensable include: extra batteries, maps, decks of cards, flashlights, plastic cutlery, duct tape, and clotheslines.  A travel clock can be very handy as well. Another thing–luggage locks aren’t necessary.  They are easily picked (different makes of locks use interchangeable keys) and the airlines won’t let you lock them while you check the bag.

9. Take Everything Under Advisement

Before and especially during your travels, you will be barraged by well-meaning advice (this article included).  Listen to what people say, but always make up your own mind.  People will warn you about dangers or tell you that something is impossible when in fact it is quite achievable.  Guidebooks are even more conservative.  Your best guide is own sense of what you are comfortable with. If you want to visit a place that’s considered dangerous, don’t let vague information dissuade you.  What it comes down to is people telling you what worked for them.  You shouldn’t ignore blatant warnings, but neither are you obligated to change your plans based on every rumor that comes down the pipe.

10.  Be Careful. 

Are you sure you want to do this?  The biggest risk of travel isn’t dodgy water, upset stomachs, aggressive touts, bedbugs, or pickpockets.  It’s addiction.  Don’t put your foot in this water unless you really want to swim.  Catching the travel bug means at the least staying up too late reading travel blogs from people you haven’t met, searching airfares out of habit rather than any expectations of a trip, and bothering your friends by continually commenting on how much better the Pad Thai in Chang Mai was.  In its more advanced stages, this affliction can lead to quitting a good job, leaving behind an otherwise great partner, selling your house, or spending your life savings in a matter of months.  You have been warned.

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4 responses to “Ditch that Fanny Pack: Tips for beginning travelers

  1. Hey,

    great post, we’re travelling for the first time in June and I recognise the importance of more than one if those 10 points!

    Cheers

  2. Thanks Sean. Glad to be of help and we’re looking foward to following your travels.

  3. Great post! I just began my travels 2 weeks ago so these words of wisdom are helpful and I’ve already found a few myself to be very true. I’ll enjoy reading your other posts.

  4. Thanks Catia! We’ll have more posts up soon. Enjoy your travels, and we will also enjoy hearing about your trip.

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