Preparing for your first trip can be overwhelming, right? While each first time traveler's preferences and each trip are unique, I’ve made a list of 24 handy tricks that I think will be useful for every beginner in the travel world.
There are many important thing to consider before leaving home, so to make it easier I’ve broken them into three categories:
First time travelers tips for planning
First time travelers tips for packing time
First time travelers tips for the actual trip
Hopefully you’ll find something useful here, no matter where you are in your travel journey.
First time travelers tips for planning
1. Invest in good equipment
If you are going to multiple places, a good backpack that fits you well and a good, comfortable pair of shoes will be your two most important investments before you leave home. If you’re going to splurge somewhere, splurge on these two essentials.
2. Purchase travel insurance
Look, no one wants to spend money on travel insurance for international travel. But do it anyway. Trust me on this one.
3. Plan your budget carefully
I highly recommend checking out my article on planning your travel budget, where I go into much greater detail, but a good rule of thumb is to plan your backpacking expenses as carefully as you can, then bring twice as much money as you’ll think you need.
4. Brush up on safety tips
No, you shouldn’t be afraid of exploring the world. But you should be smart about it while you’re traveling. Research safety tips for backpacking and traveling, and then stay aware of your surroundings and keep them front of mind during your trip.
Your bank will flag your account if you start spending money in a foreign country with no warning, and trust me, you don’t want to find yourself in a foreign country with no access to your bank account. You also need to talk to your bank and credit card companies about foreign transaction fees. If they’re really high, consider opening an account at a bank such as Charles Schwab, where they charge no foreign transaction fees and reimburse all ATM fees monthly.
6. Consider camping, if possible, to save money
Depending on where you’re going, tent camping may be an option and a huge money saver. Of course, then you’ll have to pack a tent, but it may be worth the savings for you.
7. Do a work exchange program to stay longer
Doing a work exchange might be the cheaper and cooler way to immerse in a trip and it gives you the chance to stay longer at the place and have a unique cultural experience, working and living with locals. Worldpackers is a great platform to start volunteering as it offers a lot of different types of projects worldwide. Besides, they have a trained team to help you and your host to have a fun and safe experience.
8. Consider traveling during off-season
The best question to ask when considering off-season travel is what makes this time of year the off-season? There’s a reason peak times are popular, I assure you. The savings may be worth dealing with less than favorable weather or missing out on seasonal events, or not. It’s worth considering, though.
9. Familiarize yourself with your destination
I can’t stress this first time travelers tip enough. Read up on your destination before you go. Is haggling acceptable? Is tipping expected? What’s considered appropriate attire in various situations? What will the weather be like while you’re visiting? Are there any popular local scams to be on the watch for? All of these are important questions to have answered before you go.
One of the main tips I'd give to first time travelers, especially if they want to backpack is “pack light”. Familiarize yourself with the amount of weight you plan to carry by giving it a test run. Spend a day or two wearing your fully-packed backpack as you go about your daily life. Chances are, you’ll be more willing to cut unnecessary weight before you leave once you’ve done this.
11. Pack medicine
For a stress-free trip, you should never cut the essentials, and a first-aid kit is essential. Bring various kinds of medicine, especially if you are traveling to a country where you’re unfamiliar with the language, as well as bandages, antibiotic ointment and antibiotics, etc. Make sure you have a sufficient supply of any daily medications you may take as well.
12. Bring a journal
If you are someone who likes to journal regularly, this may already be on your list. If not, it’s something you should consider. Trip journals make wonderful souvenirs, but even if journaling isn’t something you’re interested in, at some point, you will wish you had a piece of paper and pen.
13. Have copies of your important documents
Don’t forget to make copies of all your important documents such as passport and visas in case your originals are lost or stolen. Having both hard copies and digital copies is your surest bet.
14. Remember these random, but useful things
Toilet paper (not a whole roll, but definitely keep some handy)
Water filter (depending on your destination)
Comfort item for a little bit of home to combat homesickness on longer trips (it could be a small stuffed animal, a loved one’s t-shirt, or even your favorite coffee or tea from home)
15. When packing clothes, think synthetic materials and layers
Synthetic clothing is lighter and dries more quickly than cotton, making it perfect for trips. Layers are an excellent way to transition between warmer and cooler climates without having to pack two entirely separate wardrobes.
16. Waterproof your backpack
Your backpack will likely come with a rain cover, but in my experience those things can’t be fully trusted. Instead, try lining your backpack with a large, fully waterproof bag so that everything inside stays protected.
17. Bring a battery pack
Once while in a new city, my phone died, I had no cash for the bus or streetcar, and I obviously couldn’t call an Uber. I wasn’t 100% sure how to get back to my hostel without GPS, either. Eventually, I made it back, but it would’ve been much less stressful if I’d had an extra battery to charge my phone.
18. Write down the address of the place you are staying at
Every time you make it to a new city, write down the address of your hostel, hotel or host and keep it with you. That way, even if you don’t have access to GPS or WiFi, you can still ask someone for directions.
First time travelers tips for the actual trip
19. Wear your bulky clothing while traveling
This will save room in your backpack on days when everything has to fit.
20. Hide your money in multiple spots
Seriously, a money belt is a good idea. Never store all of your money in one place in case your bag, coat, etc. is lost or stolen. Try to keep some money on your person, some in your bag, and some stored safely at your hotel or hostel.
21. Stay in hostels with free breakfast or cook for yourself
You can save so much money over time by taking advantage of free meals and cooking when it’s a possibility. Many hostels offer free breakfast or, at the very least, have a kitchen you can use to prepare meals. If you choose to volunteer you may have this chance in practically any kind of project as well, such as farms, ecovillages, communities and NGOs.
22. Talk to the locals
Locals are your greatest sources of information. They can tell you which parts of the city are safe, share hidden gems for you to explore, and give you a much better sense of the local culture than you’d get by only talking to fellow travelers. Start with the person at the front desk of your hostel or hotel. If you are volunteering, your host will be perfect for it!
23. Take care of yourself
Although it feels like it sometimes, life doesn’t stop when we’re on vacation. There’s nothing worse than getting sick while backpacking. I’m not saying you should never indulge in that one extra drink or sample all the delicious local foods, but don’t forget to take care of yourself.
Try to eat at least one healthy meal per day, remember to drink water, and allow time for your body to rest and recover. Keep snacks available on travel days because traveling with a backpack will burn more calories than you’re used to, and you’ll need them for energy.
Speaking of giving yourself time to rest, be flexible with your planning. Make a list of bucket list things for each stop on your trip, but also leave some days open in case you need extra rest, the weather is unfavorable one day, or you meet some cool new people and want to do something spontaneous together.
25. Be aware of free WiFi spots
Research and remember which places locally have free WiFi (think McDonald’s, Starbucks, etc.) Download city maps onto your phone when you first reach a new city. Then you can use them, even if you aren’t connected to WiFi.
26. Check in with family and friends
Give your itinerary to a few different family members or close friends before you leave. Then make a habit of checking in with them at set intervals. It could be as simple as sending an email before bed each night, but having someone who is aware of your location and expecting you to check in each day can make a huge difference if something goes wrong during your backpacking trip.
I hope these 26 first time travelers tips and tricks have been helpful. Backpacking is definitely a learning experience, but it gets easier as you go, and you're sure to discover your own tips and tricks along the way.