50 Travel Tips for First Time Travelers

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When you are planning your first trip abroad, it’s an exciting but also nerve-wracking experience. For those who have never traveled before, you’ll soon learn that the world out there is a vastly different and fascinating place that’s different from where you grew up.

woman wearing beduoin scarf in desert smiling at camera
Happy in Jordan

To make sure you make the most out of your first travel adventure, we have some tips for first time travelers to help you make the most of your experience – and to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes we did!

Not knowing how to travel and not knowing what you’re getting into can be dangerous. It can lead you to commit many cultural faux pas, or make a mistake that can cost you money, or your safey.

But don’t let that put you off. Traveling gives back so much more than you can ever imagine.

Below is my advice for first time travelers. If you follow these tips, you’re in for an incredible experience!

Travel Tips for First Time Travelers

caz and craig drinking on beach
Enjoying Phuket, Thailand

Below are some of my top tips and words of advice for anyone planning their first time travel adventures…

1. Don’t expect things to be like they are at home.

The big appeal to travel is to visit places that are completely different to back home.

Take time to navigate your way around your new environment, learn the ways of the metro, research local customs, and after a few days you’ll find yourself fitting in.

2. Travel with your eyes wide open

You won’t see much if you walk around looking at the floor. Keep your head up, your eyes open, and take in as much as you can.

You never know what you will discover when you take time to notice things.

3. Be open to learn new things

You’ll find when you visit another country, the locals love to share their country and culture with you.

If you are open to trying new things and learning new ways of life, then you will find opportunities for doing this.

4. Don’t judge, instead say, “Isn’t that interesting? Tell me more.”

Just because people do things differently to you, doesn’t make it wrong. Be understanding that other countries operate in a different way to you.

Every country has a different economic status, different levels of wealth, different traditions, customs, beliefs and ideals.

This means they have different methods for doing things.

It’s easy to get frustrated, and sometimes the new way isn’t as efficient as your way, but usually there is a reason for this. Be open minded and consider why things are different.

5. Learn the basics of the local language

Learning simple phrases, such as how to say hello and thank you, can go a long way.

Use them often. It is the best way to show respect, break down barriers and start conversations.

6. Manners are universal, use them

Kindness can get you far in another country. You may come into situations where you need to ask for help from someone (who may not speak the same language as you).

If you approach with a smile, then chances are more people will be willing to help you.

7. Do not shout at others, they are not deaf, they just can’t understand you

Bedouin men laughing
Our host with Osama, our guide

I see this so often with travelers. It’s so easy to get frustrated when someone can’t understand you, and we are all guilty of getting frustrated.

But take a step back and think about the situation. Are you using the most basic language? Do you really need to get upset?

Try to have some empathy when communicating with people.

Google translate is going to be your new best friend and will help with this.

8. NEVER complain that the people of the country you are visiting do not speak English

There is a worldwide expectation, usually from English speakers, that everyone in the world should speak English.

This is one misconception about travel that I wish people would get down from their high horses from.

There are some parts of the world where English is not widely spoken, and it’s usually because the people have not been given the opportunity to receive English language lessons.

This may be because English speakers don’t visit this part of the country or because of social or economic reasons.

There are many reasons why people don’t speak English. Do not assume that they are not refusing to speak in English because they are stubborn, they simply just don’t know, and this needs to be accepted.

Again, use Google translate to help you out.

9. Bargain, it is an expected part of a transaction

Bargaining, or haggling, is part of the fun of travel. Though be mindful that this is really only accepted in market setting.

You cannot walk into a H&M in France and expect them to lower the price.

10. Do not over bargain

That being said, don’t bargain for the sake of it. If 50 cents is nothing to you, then why argue over it?

50 cents may mean a days worth of meals to the person you are haggling with.

You should bargain to get a good deal, not for the sake of it.

11. Respect local customs

It is not about your way, you are the visitor. When you visit someone else’s country, you should abide by their laws and customs.

Don’t go to a predominantly Muslim country and walk around in hot pants because that’s what you do back home.

It’s not just about not causing offence to the locals, but you can also break laws by not following the local customs and land yourself in a lot of trouble

12. Know your limits when out drinking

Party yes. Have fun yes, but do not go so far to extremes that it means you trash the local area, or worse, get into an accident that could be fatal.

Many travelers, particularly young backpackers on their gap year, fall into this all the time.

They get too drunk, or go on a boozy tour, and think they are superman. Remember you’re not invincible.

13. Leave a good impression of your culture on the countries you are visiting

Remember when you’re traveling that you are a representative for your own country.

Sadly, stereotypes can have a huge affect on traveling. You may be judged based on the actions of other travelers from your country – whether they are good or bad.

If you find you’re being judged harshly, don’t get frustrated with it, instead try to change the narrative. Kindness goes a long way when you’re traveling.

14. Have off the beaten path adventures

A car parked on the side of a rocky mountain
Off the beaten path on the Schaffer canyon Trail

Sticking to the tourist trails and usual itineraries are great for those who are nervous, but once you have found your feet, I encourage you to get off the beaten path a bit.

This will allow you to see a place from a new angle and get more authenticity. Of course, enjoy traveling to the touristy stuff too – just add a different angle to it.

15. Leave your ego at home

Don’t think you are so awesomely cool just because you’ve visited 58 countries on a budget of $25 a day and all you do is go off the beaten path like a real hard-core traveler does.

Traveling has been glorified because of social media, but no one likes an arrogant traveler.

Be humble, understand that traveling is a blessing and not accessible to everyone. You are lucky to travel, so make the most of the experience and don’t try to get competitive about it.

16. Ignore everyone else’s opinion

Travel in a style that is in alignment with your values and suits your likes and interests. If you want to book a group tour or guided tour, go ahead.

You don’t have to travel solo because it’s popular. You do you.

17. Start travelling when you are young

There are many reasons why you should start traveling when you’re young, but one of the biggest reasons is because you have the energy to.

I’m not talking about physical fitness (though that does come into play a bit) but I’m talking about your mind.

When you get older, things become less impressive. There I said it. When you are young, everything is so exciting and so refreshing.

When you travel later in life, you expect more and so things become less powerful.

18. Don’t let people put you off

Don’t listen to the naysayers and dream-stealers telling you why you can’t live your dreams and how you should conform.

19. Eat street food

It won’t kill you. In fact, there are many reasons why you should eat street food. In Southeast Asia countries such as Thailand, street food is part of the norm.

Don’t think eating on the street is dirty. In fact, it could be cleaner than some restaurants.

Just know what to look for – make sure they are cooking on an open fire, there are a lot of locals eating there, there are plastic stools to sit on to eat, and as a bonus, if the chef is an old grandma you know it’s going to be food.

20. Try different local dishes

meat on sticks
Thai street food

Ditch the Western diet, you can eat this anytime. When you travel, try the local food.

Of course, if you’re traveling to Western Europe, you can eat pizza in Italy and baguettes in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but what I mean is trying to eat food that’s local to that country.

21. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable, it is how you grow

Everyone gets into situations that they are not comfortable in. This is a learning experience and while it’s not fun at the time, you will learn from it.

22. Be flexible, it is the best way to adapt

This goes back to what I said earlier about accepting how things operate differently.

If you are someone who likes routine, or has a strict itinerary marked down to specific times, you are going to struggle.

Even those who travel for years on end will find that their itineraries never go to plan because of unforeseen circumstances – maybe a bus breaks down, or the route to a place is longer than you thought.

It’s ok to have an itinerary but be flexible. Understand that because things operate differently, it will make it hard for you to stick to it 100%.

23. Ask for help when you need it

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most people, especially locals, are accommodating to tourists and know that things are different for them.

Even if you struggle to communicate, use hand gestures, bottle language, and sign language and charades to help you.

Or get Google translate.

24. Carry palm cards with important phrases written on it in the local language

Not may people recommend this, but those people probably haven’t travelled as much as us!

Palm cards are a life saver, especially when visiting a country where you know English isn’t widely spoken. It’s also an excellent idea if you have allergies or medical conditions.

This essential for vegetarians in China.

25. Don’t be afraid to respectfully say no

craig bartering with chinese in traditional costume
Lijiang, China

No more words are needed. You don’t have to do everything, agree to everything. You have the freedom to say no.

26. Take part in local customs

If the chef of a village offers you rice wine shots at 10am after a morning hike so you can chase away any evil spirits you are carrying, do not be afraid to say YES.

27. Talk to the local people

Be friendly. It’s amazing what you will learn.

28. Pack lightly

You don’t need to take as much stuff as you think you do. Too many travelers carry multiple jackets, or think “I’ll just take a sweater incase it’s cold” when they are visiting Kenya in Africa.

You should pack underwear, two pairs of shoes (one pair of trainers for walking, and one pair of flip flops or sandles for when it rains or wlaking around a hostel), socks, and a few pairs of clothes.

That’s all you really need. Leave JEANS at home. They are heavy and bulky and in most places are uncomfortable.

In fact, we usually travel with a carry-on bag to save on checked baggage fees.

29. Smile smile smile

And laugh often – you’ll meet so many new friends this way.

30. Do one thing each day that scares you

craig standing arms outstretched on tower ledge
Craig on Auckland’s skywalk

Push those comfort barriers a little further out each time. It’s great to get out of your comfort zone.

31. Try to make friends

Share and mingle with other travellers. It will give you a feeling of always being among friends.

32. Celebrate local events and festivals

There is no better way to experience a country than attending a festival. Some of the most bucket list experiences are engaging in festivals, such as Songkran in Thailand or Holi in India.

Get involved with the local culture in their traditional manners.

Check out this list of fun festivals around the world

33. Learn about other religions

You may not necessarily to believe something new, but to understand and perhaps to bring light unto your own beliefs.

34. Don’t rely on technology to help get you around

You may be surprised to learn that Google doesn’t know everything. Don’t rely on Google Maps to show you the way, and don’t expect all information you read online to be accurate.

Your biggest resource for information is the locals, your hotel reception, and local visitor centers and tourist information centers.

35. Travel for longer in fewer places

jayco camper trailer with people sitting out front
We traveled slowly around Australia in this for 18 months

You will have a more enriching experience if you stay in one place for longer, rather than rushing to fit it all in.

If you can, travel slow. This will allow you to really get to know a place and discover the best places to suit your vibe.

36. Don’t be afraid to take each day as it comes with limited plans

You don’t need an itinerary to travel for most places. You can simply rock up and see what the day has in store for you.

37. Guard your passport with your life

Don’t ever give it to US immigration for visa extension because they somehow think you don’t need it to leave the country and won’t return it to you.

You should also never use it as a deposit for renting a scooter or car. Carry copies of your passport as well.

38. Have travel insurance

It ain’t sexy, but neither is the thousands you could end up paying if you don’t have travel insurance.

39. If you get robbed or bad things happen, don’t get hung up on it.

As long as you are safe and well, let it go and continue to enjoy yourself.

40. Learn how to toilet squat. You’ll need it.

I won’t say more here. Just, follow this advice.

41. Don’t be afraid to blow the budget on those once in a lifetime experiences

Gorilla Bwindi Impenetrable forest uganda
Gorilla trekking in Uganda was worth it

Remember travel is a blessing and not everyone has the means to do it. Don’t feel guilty about it, just do it while you can.

Whether it’s going on safaris or taking a hot air balloon ride, this is the only chance you’ll get.

42. If you are really hating it, then change direction

If you go somewhere and it’s not what you thought it would be like, then just move on. Don’t feel like you have to stay.

43. Be prepared for reverse culture shock

Most people don’t realize this, but when you travel, your mind changes when you get back.

You’ll realize things about your home that you didn’t realize before. Be warned that when you return home as it could really mess you up.

Don’t miss these tips for dealing with reverse culture shock.

44. Always check visa requirements

Don’t assume because you have an American or UK passport you don’t need a visa. You might, and you will land yourself in trouble if you don’t come prepared.

45. Get a microfiber towel

They dry faster and pack smaller. You’ll save space and time.

46. Use packing cubes

Another travel hack to help you pack light and make sure you don’t travel with endless pieces of luggage is to use packing cubes. They help organize your stuff and make everything more accessible.

See more packing tips here.

47. Get a reusable water bottle

Most hotels and hostels have a water filter or drinking water tap you can use. Save yourself money, and save the environment, by refilling a water bottle.

48. Buy toiletries when you get there

If you want to travel light, you will want to travel hand luggage only. Don’t waste money on those small 100ml bottles for your liquids, just buy it when you get there.

The world is not so remote that you can’t find toothpaste abroad.

49. Pack earplugs

Whether you’re on an international flight or staying in a hostel, you will find that there will always be a time when you need earplugs.

You may also want to get a travel pillow and eye mask for flights too.

50. Get a travel credit card

There are so many cards out there you can choose from, but I highly recommend you get a travel credit card that allows you to save on foreign transaction fees. It’s best to choose a travel credit card that allows you to earn bonuses, collect lots of points on everyday purchases, and gives you lots of travel rewards and credits. The Points Guy is the best resource to help you with that.

Solo Travel Tips

Need more advice about solo travel? Check out these posts…

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