The very first thing you need to thoroughly understand, embrace, and give a peck on each cheek to is the fact that you’re definitely going to make mistakes on your first overseas trip.
But don’t panic – making mistakes is not necessarily a bad thing. We all learn way more from our failures than we ever do from our successes. Travel is, by definition, all about learning.
The good news is that you don’t need to make the same mistakes I and millions of others all made on our first trip. This List will help in every part of your travel preparation. Read and take notes. Seriously.
12 Mistakes of First Time Travellers – And How to Avoid Them
1. Not planning enough
Some people just want to go and not worry too much about the details. This is one of the most common mistakes. You risk missing things you really want to see, or not having enough time in a place. You also risk having your trip coincide with some local festival which, while interesting, could prevent you from getting to where you need to be. The worst thing is getting back home to discover the most amazing sites were just down the road and you never knew.
2. Planning too much
You risk locking yourself into an unrealistic timetable and you lose the ability to see/do stuff you don’t find out about until you’re on the ground. Creating a flexible plan that leaves time for changes is the best way to go.
3. Leaving everything up to a travel agent to arrange
Travelling successfully is something of an art. When you don’t learn the technical ropes yourself, it’s harder to develop confidence, separates you from your trip and when something needs to change or goes wrong, you have no idea how to fix it.
By all means, use travel agents at least in the beginning, but it’s a mistake to then walk away and assume you’ll get your dream trip, because you won’t. Traveling successfully requires your personal attention – and travel agents have also been known to make mistakes too.
4. Not learning about your destination
You should at least know about important customs, clothing and whether the food contains something to kick off your deadly prune juice allergy.
For example, in some countries, it’s normal to pay for public bathrooms so you need to ensure you have change. In other countries, you never put the paper into the toilet, and doing so can cause big problems.
If you don’t understand the basics of the place you’re travelling to, why are you going?
5. Not having travel insurance – or enough
You think this is an unnecessary cost, especially if you’re a budget traveller like me. But I’ll make this as clear as I can – DO NOT LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT. Shop around – there are some great deals online from reputable companies.
6. Underestimating how much the trip will cost you
Running out of money is not only a pain, but can actually affect your safety. Budget well and you can travel without worries.
7. Choosing the wrong travel buddy
This can be the difference between having the trip of a lifetime, and spending three months in a living hell filled with snoring, bitchiness and spending way more on accommodation than your tiny budget was built for.
Travel buddies may start out as your best friend but they can become your worst nightmare overnight (this has happened to me). They can take advantage of you, lie to you, steal from you or simply desert you.
However, they can also hold your hand, loan you money, watch your pack while you go to the bathroom, hold your place in the queue and have your back no matter what. Choose your travel buddy with great care.
8. Not telling your bank you’re going overseas
Finding your credit card has been stopped while you’re mid-trip is terrifying. But it’s easily prevented. You can do this online before you go. It takes only a moment.
9. Packing too much
You seriously need about half of what you think you need. I travelled for 4 months through the Middle East and Africa with two t-shirts, a skirt and a pair of long pants and I was fine. Just remember that everything you take will either have to go on your back or get dragged along behind you.
And no matter how little you take, you’ll still end up resenting the hell out of it every time you have to walk across town to the bus station.
10. Not taking a medical/first aid kit
This falls into the same category as travel insurance. The size and contents of your kit depends on where you’re going. If USA/Europe, your kit can be the bare minimum. If anywhere in the Third World, your kit should be the largest single thing in your pack. This basic rule has literally saved my life on three separate occasions.
And don’t forget to take all your normal medications plus an extra week as you can’t be sure of getting the right drug where you’re going. Not doing this can be one of the most dangerous mistakes you can make when travelling.
11. Buying too much new gear to take away
It’s so exciting going to those fabulous backpacking shops and finding all sorts of nifty things to take on your trip. The list of what you can buy is endless. Trouble is, you don’t need most of them. They’re expensive and you’ll be horrified when you get back from your trip just how few of them you used.
12. Buying too much stuff to bring home
The fact is, most of the things we buy when we travel is cheap crap that’s good for a laugh when we first get home, but then it goes in a drawer and we never look at it again.
By all means buy stuff – just keep in mind two things: 1) that you have to carry it on your back and 2) what are you going to do with it when you get home? Every cent you spend on rubbishy souvenirs is money that doesn’t go towards your next trip.