Congratulations! You want to start your travel journey, however, are not sure where to start? Today, I’d love to share with you some key tips for starting out & staying safe whether you’re traveling with friends or solo. Having traveled quite a lot, I still find myself sticking to these principles and (touch wood) I haven’t had any incidents.
First and foremost – safety is key. Not just your physical safety, but also knowing your possessions are safe at all times, regardless whether they are in your backpack or in your luggage. Feeling of safety means something different to everyone; for example: for one person it might mean keeping cash close to heart, for others having small locks on their carry-on. Everyone’s comfort level is different.
Last year I had a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with a sustainable company that creates safety backpacks from recyclable materials such as plastic and fishing nets found in the ocean, designed purposely for safe travel. These backpacks offer a number of safety features such as lock clasps, hidden handles and even a RFIDsafe blocking system, so your credit cards won’t get cloned. This product, for me, as a female traveler makes solo trips much more comfortable knowing I don’t have to worry about my belongings at each turn I take. If this has piqued your interest, I encourage you to take a look at the backpack I have here.
Next, bring proper luggage. Travel can be stressful at times and being able to control certain situations makes things a little bit smoother. I strongly encourage you to read the travel policy of the carrier you are using – airline, bus or train, and adhere to them. Bring only the right size/weight luggage with you. If the luggage doesn’t have a built-in locking system, buy a padlock. Add your own signature symbol on the case, to ensure easy identification upon arrival, should someone be traveling with the exact same case as you. [This is more common than we think].
In the recent months, new travel tags have been introduced to the market – Apple Air Tag or a Tile Tracker to keep an eye on your bag’s location. While I understand (from a second hand opinion) that Apple Air Tag provides much more detailed location, I was happy enough with my Tile Tracker during my last trip. I will admit – I couldn’t tell exactly [as in where in the building] the luggage was. However, once I landed I was able to see that the luggage actually made it to Vancouver with me via London and I was monitoring this throughout my trip. This gave me peace of mind, as I was carrying multiple Christmas Gifts home.
Getting through security, this refers strictly to airline travel, can determine whether or not you will make your flight on time. Be sure to come prepared – have all your liquids under 100ml (not exceeding an overall of 1 Liter – please ensure to review airline policy prior to traveling) and they are stored in a clear, see-through plastic bag. If you are carrying a laptop, an ipad or a kindle – make sure they are out of the carry-on and visible to the officer. Avoid wearing multiple jewelery items and bulk shoes such as boots, as you will need to take all of these items off to get through the metal detector.
Side note: If you are traveling somewhere cold, I do suggest wearing your bulk items while traveling, i.e. coats, sweaters or scarves. This will save valuable space and kilograms in your main luggage.
Documents & Money
Wherever you decide to go, make sure you are familiar with the immigration laws and have prepared in advance (where possible) required documentation. For some countries this may be a tourist visa, travel tax payment, declaration of goods, etc. depending on your passport. Information regarding all of the requirements, can be found on your destination country’s government website. Another great tool I discovered during my travels is the KLM Travel Doc Website. In snapshot, you enter your origin country, destination country and your passport country and it will generate a list of required documents for you. As with everything, please ensure you do your research and not rely on this solely as a source of information. Lastly, it is always useful to make a copy of all of your documents and have them stored separately somewhere safe. In the instance where you lose your passport, having copies to provide at the local embassy or consulate can often speed things up in proving your identity and getting you safely back home. You can also store digital copies in your emails or your files.
When it comes to funds, you should always diversify, i.e., carry cash (if the country you’re traveling to deals with different currency – carry both currencies), bring credit cards, pre-paid credit cards are also a wonderful item to have from security perspective and always store them in various places, never together in bulk. You don’t want to waste your time on vacation looking for currency exchange or having to settle for paying unfavorable exchange rates, due to lack of services available.
Choosing your destination
This aspect of travel will be different for everyone. This will depend on your budget, distance you are willing to travel to/for, length of time you will be spending away. If I can make a suggestion, make a list of all the places you would like to visit, starting with the ones you’d like to see first. Next, comes the research. Based on your research, you will be able to determine how far you can travel and where your budget will allow you to go. If you are interested in some suggestions, please take a look at my Top 5 Destinations.
There will be a number of factors that will affect the decision you make. Once again, you guessed it – these will be different for each one of us. For example, as a beginner, whether it’s solo or with family, perhaps it’s best to travel to a country that speaks your own language? Traveling for the first time can be stressful as is, so why not eliminate some of the unnecessary anxieties. Some key factors I would look at before making a booking are:
- Safety: Are there any government travel advisories against travel to my destination? For example: Mexico.
- Language: What is the local language at my destination? If it’s different from my mother tongue – will I be staying in a big city where people might speak English or am I traveling to a small village and communication may be difficult?
- How much do things cost (roughly)? This will include your transport, dining, attractions, etc. Aways make sure to bring extra in case of emergency. Don’t travel without a safety net.
- What are the top sights and how much do they cost? – Often if you start digging deeper, a number of tourist attractions will offer discounted rates during off peak times, for example: Tuesday afternoons vs Saturdays.
- How to get around? Is there public transport and if so, can I buy a local pass? Are taxis easily accessible if needed?
- Where do locals hang out? Surprisingly, many places “downtown” or in the main square offer items suited to tourists at a higher price, and they might not always be a true reflection of the culture and local cuisine. Take a peek at social channels and see where the locals hang out? Where do they serve the best craft beer or serve the best tiramisu? It often pays to discover “off the beaten track”.
Lastly, if you are similar to me and need to plan almost every minute of your trip, Google Trip Planner is your best friend. You simply input your origin, all the local sights you’d like to see, and Google will tell you to a minute, how long it will take you to get from A to B, by bus, train, walk, etc. and how much the admission will cost you on any given day. This is a great tool for those who want to be super informed and make the most of every second away, especially if you have limited time.
As a beginner, I suggest you always let someone know where you are and what your plan for the day is. This will keep your loved ones calm. A number of applications offer live location share, which is also a great option if traveling solo, for example: Snapchat or Whats App.
The other side of sharing is – never post or share real time updates on your social media. If for any reason you are being watched, someone comes across your social media channel and would “like to meet you” – sharing accurate, real time location gives them the map to your whereabouts. I personally love sharing my experiences online; however I make sure I do so after the fact, while I am safely elsewhere.
Going abroad and not having regular data can be stressful, especially in this day & age where we like to be connected at all times. Be conscious of the Free WiFis in cafes and restaurants. They often require you to accept the Terms & Conditions, installing trackers and potentially harmful files on your phone, breaching your phones security. If you insist on continued connection, I encourage you to visit a local store where you can purchase a pre-paid SIM for the duration of your stay. Alternatively, only connect to trusted networks, such as hotel WiFi, which is usually protected by a password.
Side note: Be aware of the airport USB charging stations. Often hackers insert (minature) USBs into the USB slots, allowing them to access your data and hack your phone, once a USB cable gets plugged into the port.
Booking Your Travel
I strongly recommend booking your travel through trusted sites. For hotels, I suggest using hotel direct website, booking.com or expedia. Word of caution, though regarding expedia – as it is a third party site, often in the event of an emergency or change of plans, it might be difficult to get a refund or move your dates. Not many people know that hotels (depending on their contract) pay booking.com anywhere from 10 – 18% commission on their bookings. If you are on a budget, I recommend reaching out to the hotel directly and asking them if they’d be willing to offer you a discounted rate (i.e., 10% discount, rather than the hotel having to pay booking.com a 15% commission). This way you are saving and the hotel is saving on commission.
If you are not comfortable making the booking yourself for the first time, you can use your local travel agent. In this case, you will be paying an agency commission, however, you will have a peace of mind that if anything happens they will be responsible for making alternative travel arrangements. In addition, agencies often have a representative in the hotel to assist you with booking excursions or answer any questions you might have.
Some other key things to consider while organizing your travel for the first time:
- Don’t make yourself a target: Avoid wearing expensive jewelry, purses or flashy clothing
- Have travel/medical insurance: We never think something will happen to us, but when it does, having insurance takes a huge stress off our shoulders. Especially when you are in a foreign country.
- Booking travel on Tuesdays is the cheapest. Don’t know why, it just is.
- Be flexible with your dates for the best deals.
- Consider last minute deals for amazing getaways.
In summary, all you need to do is Get Started! You are the captain of your own ship and the decisions you make will influence how the time off will be spent. If you are not comfortable taking an international trip as your first trip, go on a staycation. Explore your own country.
Most importantly, Have Fun while doing it!
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