First Time Traveller? 12 tips for you, your child or your friend

My nephew recently set off in his first overseas trip as an adult (just). There was some concern from his parents but he managed the thing with aplomb. His well traveled uncle weighed in with some advice.

1. Apply for a passport early

The process in some countries can take a long time and there may be shut downs and strikes or other problems along the way. Have at least three months before your trip when you apply for a passport.

2. Organise visas

Many people are amazed they cannot just waltz into a country when they have a ticket. This is a great site for checking what sort of Visa you might need and whether you can get it at the airport/border.

3. Get Travel Insurance

Some people travel without travel insurance. All you need is one big accident and you are potentially in debt for years. This is not the sort of holiday that you want. Likewise if your bags are lost, or your taxi has an accident.

4. Research your fares

Walking into the first travel agent you see may work wonders. On the other hand, having a set of options up your sleeve may work better. Consider flexibility of dates. Leaving three days earlier or later may be cheaper! If you want to go to Europe, flying into Amsterdam may be cheaper than Paris or flying out of Madrid will be cheaper than London!

A busy Parisian summer’s day

5. Plan your accommodation and book at least one night in the city you are going to

Many immigration agents want to know you have confirmed accommodation before they let you into their country. Do not be fumbling at the airport looking for something on the spot.

Equally, I am amazed at the number of people who fly into places like Munich in Oktoberfest or Thailand during New Year’s with no accommodation booked. I have met many groups of desperate backpackers who have been wandering the streets looking for a bed at 1am. If the place is going to be popular, consider booking for your whole stay there.

6. Getting Money and paying bills

Get two separate cards (credit or debit) to use overseas preferably with no Forex fees. Keep them apart. For example, store one with your passport for emergencies only.

Have your first day in local cash. If there is a bank strike or an ATM failure or a holiday, you may not be able to draw cash. There are also some airports in the world that have ticket machines for their metro that wont accept foreign cards or only take cash.

7. Have a transportation plan from the airport

The cheapest way is almost always a metro or a bus. Know how you will buy a ticket, which route/line you will take. Where you need to change and where you need to get off the bus or metro. Use Google street view to plot your route from the metro or bus stop to your hotel/hostel /AirBNB

8. Research WiFi and phone options

When I went on my first European trip, I disappeared into a black hole for four months with a couple of postcards sent home. There is no way I could afford the luxury of a long distance call back home! That must seem strange in today’s instant comms world.  Instagram is an easy way to tell your 12 or 12,000 followers where you are but it may not satisfy your closest friends, partner or parents.

Using your sim may be a good option because it is easy but it is rarely cheap. There are companies that sell tourist sims at the airport. These can be fine for a few days but not good value for money for anything longer. In some countries you can order a local sim and have it sent to your hotel or hostel or AirBNB.

If you are using your home sim, make sure data roaming is off. That is an expensive mistake.I worked with a guy whose kids ran up a $12000 bill using his Ipad to games while they were overseas.

You can hop on free public Wi-Fi networks you’ll find in hotels, cafes, trains and Starbucks. The  Instabridge  app will show you where available Wi-Fi is.

My Mastercard includes a free global subscription to Boingo, a global wifi network. This has proved very useful. You can check if your card includes that benefit here.

Work out whether you will call at a fixed time. Facetime, Skype, Viber and Whatsapp make it easy and free to text and call others. Make sure your family  and friends have installed the app you intend to use before going.

A younger me on the Seine

9. Be wise to being scammed

My experience is that most people are ordinary people getting through their days. Some people you meet are saints, going out of their way to help you. A small number of people are untrustworthy and want to fleece you. Finding a balance between trusting naively and walking around shrouded in paranoia, can be hard sometimes. Trust people but be wise and every deal that feels too good to be true, always is!

10. If you would not do it at home, do not do it overseas

The show “Embassy” illustrated for me how many people think the rules do not apply to them in a foreign country. Whether it is driving while drunk,  public nudity or vandalism, I do not care. If you would not do it at home, do not do it as a guest overseas. The best outcome is a blurred Instagram pic you can laugh at. The worst outcome is jail term and  a criminal conviction.

11. Do not do illegal drugs

Its tempting when out of your comfort zone to try something. In some countries this can result in very severe penalties. So not even consider it. Not worth the risk.

12. Have Fun

Meet people, enjoy yourself, fall in love with people and places. The world is an amazing fun place. After 70 + countries, two million plus miles travelled, a couple of broken hearts, 80,000 photographs, many more friends and a lot of growth, I can testify to this. Bon Voyage

NY Eve in Sydney, Australia

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