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Beginner's Travel Guide

10 International Travel Tips to Get You Started

Monastery of the Holy Trinity - Meteora, Greece 2018

One of the questions I get asked the most these days is "How do you travel so much?" Social media, in particular, paints a sometimes distorted picture of the reality of travel. It highlights all of the breathtaking views, bright smiles with foreigners and crystal clear ocean lagoons but rarely succeeds in opening up about the "how" to the "what."

If you're a millennial and are becoming obsessed with traveling the world or at least are beginning to think about going, welcome. There's room for you in the club. Know that there's no one way to get out into the world, rather, thousands. Here's a few pieces of travel advice to my wild hearts and dreamers out there who may just need some insight on how to get this thing started.

1. Always Work

I've been following world travelers @mariefeandjakesnow for a few months now. They published an Instagram story on traveling that shed helpful light on this point. When asked by followers how they managed to afford traveling so often, the couple highlighted that in Australia, they did seasonal work in the wine industry for 3 months out of the year: night shifts, 12 hour shifts, doing whatever they could to save money. For them and many globetrotters I've met, grinding for a few months out of the year, putting in the hard work and disappearing for a while to be able to spend the rest of their time doing what they love is their secret ingredient. 

I started working when I was in junior high and learned quickly how to save. I started babysitting at age 13 and later in high school, worked as a lifeguard in the summers and a cashier throughout the school years. In college, I continued working odd jobs each year to continue to save during undergrad. Now, post-college, I work a full-time job but continue to work odd-jobs through different avenues so I can continue to generate income while I'm traveling and off the map.

The key for me has been to maintain a steady stream of income at all times. In heavy travel seasons, you'll be thankful you have funds and in seasons of planning and resting, you can begin to replenish your stash. 

2. Be smart about PTO days.

One of the most common questions I get asked is this, "How do you travel when you have a job?" Here's what I do:

PTO and Working Remotely: If traveling is important to you, consider your company's PTO structure and if they offer any work remote privileges. It's 2018 and more companies are moving toward work remote and "flex" days, which makes traveling a bit easier to do.

My first job out of college allowed me to work remotely whenever I wanted. Within those two years, I found myself working from a laptop on the rooftop pool deck of the Westin downtown Nashville, from the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan and from the window seat flying over New York headed back to Dallas. I was on the go ALL. THE. TIME. And it was made possible by the company I was working for as I had the ability to work remotely anywhere I went.

My job now, however, is much more structured with way less freedom. This has been a difficult adjustment and is the reality, so I've realized, that many people live in! Speaking from (now unfortunate), if traveling is important to you, considering the flexibility of a job truly is important for both your own personal happiness and the happiness of the company you're working for. (Don't plan to just take unpaid days all the time... They will not be your biggest fans for long.)

Plan your trip dates wisely. So maybe you don't get to work remote, but say you have 10-15 PTO days to take each year on top of general holidays.

Tip #1: Utilize your extended weekends. On the weekends when the general population gets a Monday or Friday off, round up your friends and go on a trip. There are plenty of weekends that can be worked around where you can utilize the days you already have off and don't have to take extra days.

Tip #2: Spread your PTO days across weekends. Take a Thursday and Friday off to make for a (4) day trip while only using (2) PTO days vs. taking Monday through Friday off for a (7) day trip but burning through (5) PTO days. Think about your days before you take them. There's a whole lot you can do with 10-15 days a year if you're smart about it.

3. Save. Make It A Lifestyle

Living frugally may not be glamorous, but if the trade off is spending the summer in China or taking two weeks to backpack the Mediterranean, trust me, it's worth it.

First: Pick up odd jobs. If you have a full-time job, maybe commit to babysitting one night out of the month and starting a travel fund on top of your salary. If you don't have a full-time job, keep asking for extra hours and pick up shifts. If you're an artist, maybe display your artwork or play your music for donation somewhere and save that money you earn. You can set up a Poshmark account, sell your clothes, donate plasma, mow your neighbor's yard, walk dogs, become a barista, drive for Uber, etc... Do what you have to do to save the extra money you need to go.

Second: Don't buy stupid stuff you don't need. Ladies, you don't need to get your nails done every three weeks. Don't make me repeat myself. That is easy money you can save. You can also commit to cutting out that $6 Starbucks drink you buy every morning or choose to pull back on those "feel good," unnecessary online purchases. Give up drinking for a month and put into a piggy bank the money you would have spent going out. These are all ideas that really work if you're serious about saving money to travel.

Pick up odd jobs on top of your full-time job. Work extra shifts if you don't have a full-time job. Refrain from buying things you don't need. Make it a lifestyle. 

4. Paying for Your Trip vs. Fundraising

While there are hundreds of different kinds of trips one can take, I want to speak to three: Mission trips, Tours and Personal Travel.

Mission Trips: The first time I left the United States, I was 18-years-old and headed off to the Amazon jungle of Brazil for a month. I went with a missions organization through the school I was a student of at the time. I fundraised for this trip and only paid a small portion of the trip cost with my own money. I was comfortable fundraising as the purpose of me going wasn't to be self-seeking or self-serving, but to give back to the community we were going to serve and reach. If you find yourself wanting to go on a trip like this, remember that people want to give to a cause you're willing to embark on. If you're one who frequently serves in your community at home, people will trust you to serve the communities around the globe and will donate to your cause. Never be afraid to ask.

Tours and Personal Travel: I have not nor will ever fundraise for tours or personal exploration trips. Friend trips, fun trips, tours and the like are, in my opinion, the kinds of trips that need to be funded 100% by the traveler as they're primarily organized for personal fun and aren't organized with the intention of giving back or aiding a community in need.

Ultimately, this is a personal decision you have to make. Generally speaking, fundraising is available to those who want to go with a bigger purpose in mind than simply themselves. If it's a combination, use your moral discretion as to what you're okay with using others' money for. 

5. Budget Before You Go: Plane Tickets and Hostels

Despite what it looks like on your favorite Instagram travel blogger's feed, traveling the world will always be more expensive than you think. ALWAYS. When you're planning your trip, have a budget in mind. Basic elements include: Cost of plane tickets, baggage fees and additional fees, lodging, transportation, international phone plan, food, shopping and entertainment.

TRAVEL HACK #1: PLANE TICKETS. OneTravel.com and StudentUniverse.com always have awesome deals on international plane tickets. If you are a student, utilize StudentUniverse for as long as you can. It's a serious penny-saver. Sign up with your student email and away you go. These are my and my friends' go-to's when it comes to buying plane tickets.

TRAVEL HACK #2: HOSTELS. Don't be afraid of hostels. Yes, we all know that they sound terrifying and present themselves simply by namesake as if you'll get abducted if you stay there but trust me again, you'll be fine. When traveling around Scandinavia and Spain, I stayed in hostels and have had amazing experiences every time. Whether you book a private room or mixed-gender room, you will meet amazing people who are like-minded and a total blast if you choose to get to know them. If you want a generic, clean and easy hostel experience, check out the Generator. They have one in almost every major city I've visited in Europe and are an almost guarantee for a comfortable, safe stay. If you want a more boutique-like experience, head to HostelWorld.com and check out the options and ratings for the city you're visiting. People are honest with their stars and feedback on there so read carefully before you book to catch all the details. 

6. Stay with Friends

Staying with friends not only eliminates your cost of lodging but it also gives you an opportunity to maintain relationships and build new ones. In 2017, my best friend and I traveled to Sweden, Denmark and Norway and stayed in Gothenburg with one of my dearest friends, Sofia. While in Gothenburg, we built relationships with her, her family and her friends. We learned the language, the public transportation system and the culture. We had help navigating the bus and train systems to and from Stockholm to Copenhagen to Oslo back to Gothenburg, ate authentic food, made Swedish friends, saw the most amazing sights: All of which was possible because we had a friend, a connection in the city where we were staying.

Because of the friendship I built in the States with Sofia and her incredible hospitality in her home country, Erica and I were able to see not just one but three countries and explored over five cities on our Scandinavian tour without paying a dime for lodging.

If you're new to world travel you may be wondering: What if I don't know anyone across the globe? Start asking. Decide what country you want to visit and begin asking your friends, family, community and coworkers if they have any connections at all in the place(s) you want to explore. Chances are, you'll find a connection somewhere: Maybe not strong enough to go and bunk up with that person or organization, but enough to shake their hand and give them a hug when you visit their country and ask for recommendations while you're there. Building relationships are huge and you never know what that relationship could provide for you the next time you get the itch to travel! 

7. Visas, Currency, Phone Plans and Converters

This may be a big "duh" to some but if you've never travelled internationally, listen up!

VISAS: Many countries require you to have a visa to visit and stay in their country. Do your research before you go. They will refuse you if you do not have a valid Visa to enter and stay in their country. CIBT Visas is a great site to determine if you need a visa and to order yours.

CURRENCY: You need to know the currency of the country you're going to and please, do not ever assume they will take American money. While most places speak English, not all do and while most people recognize the American dollar bill, unless you're in North America or the touristy parts of Mexico, few will ever accept it as payment.

CASH: You will need to find a currency exchange to get cash out. This can be done at your home bank or at your destination airport. Both will have an updated currency exchange list so you can understand how far your money will go in the country you are visiting. I always try to take at least $100-$200 cash out (depending on the trip length and destination) and keep cash with me during my time abroad. Emergencies may happen and you never want to be somewhere foreign without cash.

CREDIT CARD: Bring a credit card. Call your bank before you go and ensure they don't put a hold on your card. This happens all the time and is easy to get turned off but take care of it before hand and you won't have problems.

FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES: Be aware that if you are using your card, you will rack up foreign transaction fees. Talk to your bank before you go to understand the amounts you will be charged each time you swipe your card. (Another incentive to have cash on you if you're able).

PHONE PLAN: I have never traveled alone without an international phone plan. When I've gone with groups to the middle of the Amazon jungle and there's no service anywhere, I did not. But, if you're traveling in a new place without a group and you need to be able to communicate with friends abroad or family back home, I advise getting a phone plan. Many carriers provide a $10/day plan as well as a $60/month plan, depending on your service provider. Check with your service provider and set up your international plan before you go.

ELECTRIC CONVERTERS: This is important. Almost every country has a different outlet than you're used to. Go online and research the country's outlet shape and buy a converter on Amazon before you go. Please keep in mind that not all outlets/converters are able to process the amount of voltage/power you are used to. Many times than not, hair dryers, curling irons and hair straighteners essentially "burn out" if the voltage is not converted right. Do your research before you go or better yet, plan your hair care without heat involved!

8. Have a Reason to Go: Culture and People

This is so important to me and I cannot reiterate it enough, have a reason to travel.

Whether you're going with a tour group, with a group of friends, for a yoga retreat, on a mission trip or with your best friend just for the fun of it, have a reason for going where you're going.

Travel will never be fulfilling if your whole focus is to just travel for the sake of saying you have traveled. Sure, the earth's landscape is beautiful but what makes travel so valuable is the people you meet, relationships you build and cultures you're exposed to while you're there.

I wouldn't love travel if I didn't first love people. If you go just to explore and keep to yourself, you will have a good time. But, if you go to build relationships with people different than you and whole-heartedly submerge yourself into their culture, watching and learning from them, you will have the experiences of your life. Open your heart and learn. You'll come back richer for it. 

9. Travel With Like-Minded People

This spring I headed off to Spain with my favorite travel buddy. We spent three days adventuring around Barcelona before hopping on a plane to Greece to meet up with a group of 40+ friends to tour around Greece, Turkey and the Islands. Traveling with friends is fun but only if you can stand them through the pressure and discomfort that comes with traveling to a foreign place. Traveling brings out the best and the worst in people. Think long and hard about who you're welcoming on board your next adventure as travel buddies truly can make or break a travel experience! If you and your travel buddies are ready to face tough sleeping conditions, showering less, learning bits of other languages and having their comfort zones completely disregarded, you're in for a seriously good time.

No, traveling is not always that uncomfortable and trying! The bulk of seeing the world is rewarding, thrilling, relaxing and invigorating. But between flight delays, layovers, signs you can't read, red-eye take off times, sketchy cab rides and jet lag, you will experience traveling in its most well-rounded state. And you will be better for it. You will!

10. Document Your Journeys and HAVE FUN

I know my generation is known for living on our phones but we are who we are! Take your phones, cameras, GoPros and whatever else you have and document your trip. Journal, too. Do all you can to enjoy your journey and be present in the important moments, but some of my most cherished memories that have been documented are the ones that live on. I'm able to tell the stories behind the pictures and videos I share with my friends and family when I get home. Pictures and videos inspire others to travel, too and encourage them to take a leap of faith and to get out of their comfort zone, as well.

Have fun. Enjoy this world we've been given to explore. Let go of comfort zones and expose your heart and soul to a world that so wants to learn from you and teach you all the same. There is SO much to learn and so many experiences to be had. So get out there and GO!

You got this.

All my love,


Sav.

Where I have been:

1. United States

2. Brazil

3. Mexico

4. China

5. Germany

6. Israel

7. Belgium

8. Iceland

9. Sweden

10. Denmark

11. Norway

12. Canada

13. Spain

14. Italy

15. Greece

16. Turkey

17. Belize

Savannah McKinley
Savannah McKinley

Adventure, Freedom, and Creative Expression. Nashville native living in Dallas and traveling the world. Social Media + Marketing Specialist by day, Yoga Teacher in training by night. Believer in the Lord, lover of people and purpose. 

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