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Basic Advice for Beginner Travelers
So, you're new to the "business", ready to jump on a plane and jet-off for your beloved destination and have the experience of a lifetime.
Enthusiasm is great, but preparedness is vital!
So let's see some key issues of travel planning for starters...
Source: © iStock.com/OSTILL
Beginner travelers are the category most vulnerable to a wide variety of travel risks due to their naivety and ill-preparedness.
Plan well, be more prudent and you can avoid drama.
Good travel preparation must follow several key aspects - which we'll go into the details of each one in this article.
I generally take a good deep look at the issues that I have to face while away and, try to determine the measures that I need to undertake.
#1 Security risks
You must learn about the specific security risks of the country/region you're traveling to.
And: keep in mind that even cities have their high-risk neighbourhoods and that some zones will have elevated risks.
Dig even deeper and research about the risks within and around your target city - you will see that even at hotel location level there are specific risks.
It's important to be up-to-date with the recent events, developments in your target countries: has a conflict erupted recently? Are there street riots? Is the economy doing bad? Any recent outbreaks of epidemics in the region?
Your hotel's location is vital. Avoid risky areas, cut out hotels with many negative reviews.
#2 Necessary travel documents
Find out which documents are required to enter your destination country and do this well in advance.
Information is generally available on the respective country's embassy and/or consulate site. If not, then your home country's foreign affairs ministry site (they usually list foreign countries and give information, present the risks).
In addition, you should spend time on online travel communities and the large travel portals, which can provide you with the necessary information to travel to specific regions.
Make sure you obtain all visas in time. Some countries might require you to have proof of travel booking when applying for the visa. But, if possible - I'd obtain the visa first and book afterwards (some visas are hard to obtain and if they reject your application, then it might be impossible to obtain refunds for all your pre-paid travel services).
Please note that transit visas may not grant you the permission to leave the airport or spend time in the respective countries.
Some countries may require special documents besides visas - e.g. proof of vaccination and others.
#3 Learn about local customs and laws!
When traveling abroad you must be conscious of the fact that you are not going to be in the same legal, nor cultural environment.
The rules, laws, customs abroad may not even be close to your home country's! Therefore, spend time learning about them before departing.
Pay extra attention to respecting local customs and laws in order to avoid bad surprises.
Some laws you will find rather unusual when comparing to your own country's laws...
Just a few examples of laws that might surprise you...
In Thailand: ridiculing and making jokes about the king is punished by long years of prison! Restrain yourself from any opinion regarding the local personalities, especially if they're royal, religious, political personalities.
Kissing someone on the cheeks is a "no-do" in India. Perhaps you know what happened to American actor Richard Gere (if not, look it up!).
Chewing gum is illegal in Singapore. Bringing in substantial amounts can get you 1 year in prison!
Walking hand-in-hand with your wife or girlfriend in Saudi Arabia is illegal!
And these were just a few examples... and I didn't even mention the death penalty yet!
#4 Get well-prepared financially
This is one of the most important issues.
It's not enough to have "plenty of money", financial planning goes a lot deeper than that.
Buy enough local currency, but also have your bank cards (debit or credit) with you.
You can't rely on 2 bank cards.
What if one just doesn't work and the second one gets lost, stolen or an ATM swallows it? (It does happen, ATMs eat credit cards and I was a witness to such a "munch" in Slovenia).
Make sure you have plenty of cash with you, but enough bank cards as well. Neither can completely substitute the other.
As for cash: possess enough local currency from the beginning and easy-to-exchange currencies like euros, US dollars.
Bank cards are "must haves". Much of what we buy today is obtainable online. Exclusively online, even. In most cases, you will have a terrible time abroad if you must buy a plane ticket and cannot use a card!
Some banks will limit the use of your cards abroad and new policies may appear at any time. So you may end up surprised if your card doesn't work in a foreign country.
For example, when my bank introduced a new online security feature, which included an additional password to be given - bad luck: I was in Singapore and I didn't know about the issue in advance... So, I was unable to make payments and getting in contact with my bank required more time, effort and phone calls from abroad...
It wasn't easy buying a plane ticket from a local office with hard cash... It took a while to find a place to pay with physical money and it cost more than if I would have bought online...
Another good advice: always have at least 2 wallets on you and keep them apart!
In addition, you may also use a cash belt around your wrist or your foot.
Split risks. Have enough money in either wallets to be able to get home - this prepares you for the worst.
#5 Heath preparation
You must be fully fit to travel in order to cope with the conditions that you are going to face.
If you do exercise regularly and live a healthy lifestyle, then this should be fairly easy to achieve.
Always research the mew conditions into which you're going to pop in: climate and weather, altitude conditions, regional threat of contagious diseases and epidemics, dangerous animals etc.
Some countries require proof of vaccination before traveling there. Don't omit taking proper medication, vaccines, if recommended.
Stay strong both mentally, emotionally and physically.
#6 Mark your target attractions
Pick the attractions that you want to visit.
After reading guides and watching photos about your destination, you should have built up a list of "must see" places and a route that takes you around to see them all.
Unfortunately, it often happens that we cannot visit everything during a single trip. So, it's important having priorities. Set your main targets that you wish to see.
I generally have my targets split into: primary, secondary and tertiary attractions.
Primaries are "must see", while secondaries are almost as important, but could afford missing out on a few of them, while the tertiary (third category) comes in last with less important, but still great places to see...
I personally use Google Earth's map, in which I place pins on the interesting places that I want to visit.
#7 Pick the right hotel
Price and reviews are what most people go for. But the hotel's location is also important.
If the hotel is located in a slum, but even if in a shady backstreet where stray cats roam around garbage hills, there will be an elevated security risk as well.
Personally, I don't recommend hostels. It's a theft nest, although they're cheap and there are so many sites promoting the "benefits".
Before picking any hotel, check the reviews written about them. You will find a plethora of accommodation-related sites, hotel review sites out there.
#8 Local transportation system issues
You must know well about the local transportation means.
Like... how you'll get to- and from your airport, how you can travel between cities or use the local transportation to get around within the city...
Even if you prepare well, thinks can slip out of control. Bus routes change, so do their numbers, subways may be on strike, new lines on the subway map may still be "in construction"... and so on.
#9 Always travel insured
Although I've read an endless amount of posts on blogs maintained by fellow adventure-junkie "risk it all" travelers who enjoy "livin' on the edge" who frown upon travel insurance...
...I advise you: never to leave without travel insurance!
Additionally: make sure you read the reviews of the insurers and study their policies and "fine prints" carefully to see what they insure for and what not.
At the beginning I traveled very few times without insurance and although I felt secure, I sometimes wandered: what if a car hit me, someone stabbed me or got seriously ill?
As dramatic as it may sound: they will let you die!
In most countries they will simply let you die...
Even if you're their own citizen, but have no medical insurance. Travelers should pay even more attention to the issue.
In addition: even if you could treat yourself, an injury or sickness or loss of belongings could slow you down and you'd have a plane, train, bus, boat to catch to get back home...
Never leave without travel insurance!
#10 You must have support back home!
Someone back home must know where you're going and all the vital details of your itinerary must be at their disposal. You should periodically communicate with your support person(s).
Lonely travelers are especially at risk. You must always have someone back home who can help you.
You must tell someone where you're going EXACTLY. They need to know your full itinerary with stop-over locations (cities, towns) with the exact dates, the hotel names and the nights you're staying there, flight schedule with flight numbers, airline names and airport names.
I never leave without having support back home.
You might need someone to help you in case you're in financial trouble, if you're in danger or else.
#11 Adequate clothing and weather aspects
It's almost impossible to guess how we'll feel exactly in a foreign country where we've never been.
It's easy to over- or underestimate the temperatures.
General climate information for the respective period and up-to-date weather reports are what I recommend checking.
Have various types of clothes with you that'll have you prepared for the worst weather. If it'll rain, it it'll be a bit colder, if it'll be warmer - be prepared for all!
Even if you bring less clothes, layered dressing will help.
#12 Your luggage
Think about it - how large, how heavy and how comfy should it be for you to carry?
I personally prefer wheel bags. Although in the past, I was a "backpack guy", I came to appreciate the comfort of light modern wheel bags
Another very important thing: make sure you put a luggage tag on your bags!
About the Author:
Escape Hunter, the young solo traveler in his early 30's explores the World driven by curiosity, thirst for adventure, deep passion for beauty, love for freedom and diversity.
With a nuanced, even humorous approach to travel, an obsession for art and design, Escape Hunter prefers to travel slowly, in order to learn and "soak up" the local atmosphere...
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