You've seen pictures of your friends and family traveling out of the country. Social media depicts an amazing experience that went exactly as planned. They swam with dolphins, made new friends, tried new food, and to top it all off, it only cost them "$5." OK, that last part is an exaggeration, but it always seems that everyone I know is able to travel and do more, and through it all, they found some incredible deals on flights.
Well, I've now had a few experiences traveling in and out of the country of my own volition. Here are a few things that I wish I'd known that would make me better prepared for my trip in terms of doing more, seeing more, and paying less.
1. Choose your travel companions wisely.
I have traveled with close friends and with people I barely knew. If you do not have the same expectations for the trip, you will find yourself in constant disagreement with the happenings of the trip. Establishing the expectations for the trip before it is even booked is a key to a positive experience. Some things to consider:
- Do you have a similar budget?
- Do you want to "travel" or "vacation?"
- Do you enjoy being with this person(s) for long stretches of time?
- Do your interests match up and are you willing to compromise?
2. Make a plan, and stick to it (loosely).
As great as it sounds to just head to a new place going wherever the wind may take you, the reality is that if you have a limited amount of time, then if you really want to see and experience that new place, you need to make some plans. I would recommend making a list of one to two primary activities per day or per location. This gives you a sense of direction, but does not overbook you so that you are constantly rushing from one thing to the next, missing out on those spur of the moment experiences that you so desperately crave. I recommend no more that two major plans per day because of rule 2.5*, things will always take longer than you expect. ALWAYS. If you are in a foreign country or a foreign language is spoken, I emphasize this point even further. Expect things to take longer than you thought, and give yourself time to fully embrace the experience, rather than worrying about how you will make it to the next item on your itinerary.
3. Learn what to book ahead of time, and what to do spur of the moment.
When traveling in another country, it is tempting to simply book your flights to and from the country and leave everything else for when you get there. However, if you plan to visit more than one city, I strongly recommend purchasing your intra-country travel ahead of time. Number one, it will be cheaper, and who doesn't like that? You can purchase bus or train tickets weeks in advance for a fraction of the price that it will cost you the day or week of your trip. Second, it gives direction to your trip. While there is the aforementioned allure of spontaneity, a departure time is a nice tool to use to help you prioritize what you want to see and do each place you go. Third, you will avoid stress. I have been on the fortunate end of booking last minute trains, buses, and car rides. This can be particularly stressful in an unfamiliar city, in an unfamiliar language. By booking ahead of time, you can do your homework and figure out the obscure location for that bus you are taking at 11:30 PM.
While there is something to be said for having had the experiences that helped me come up with this list, I wish I had been able to learn these things(or at least consider them) instead of having to do so firsthand. My trips have not been picture perfect, but they have been incredible learning experiences. May your own journeys be enjoyable and adventurous!