Top 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Went Travelling

My journey started with me looking out of the window at the plane I was due to board from London, Heathrow all the way to Bangkok, Thailand. I had been crying from the moment my Dad had disappeared from behind the frosted walls that I passed while going through security.

“I can’t do it, I just don’t think I can get on this plane.” I was sobbing down the phone to my very patient boyfriend. He was trying to make me realise that there really is nothing to worry about, if I get out there and just feel like lounging around on a beach until he got there in three weeks time, then that’s exactly what I can do.

Travelling is especially daunting for people like me who love to have everything planned in nice little neat lists, and this, of course, is the exact opposite of travelling. Things go wrong, you get thrown in at the deep end, and are tested about yourself and the way you look at the world, most people come back feeling completely different to how they left.

Below is a list of things that a very organised girl wished someone had told her before jetting off.

1. Money — One of the few things you can plan for are things going wrong currency wise. It happens to the best of us, and it’s always wise to have a back-up plan. I had to learn the hard way, several times, that having one bank card is a huge mistake. Standing outside an ATM machine in Krabi Town, Thailand, feeling like I was a million miles away from anything I knew, and I am being refused money. You then have to spend half an hour on the phone to the bank convincing them that you are, in fact, who you say you are, and you really do need some Baht, please.

Get a second card with an overdraft, just in case, and keep it separate from your primary card. This way it’s less likely that you’ll lose both at once, and you also have a better chance of getting cash from at least one card.

2. Credit cards are not scary — I have always been under the impression that if I get a credit card that my credit rating will be forever bad, and I’ll be punished for having such a good time when I (eventually) settle down and come to get a mortgage. But this is simply not true, and, while they give you a perfect back-up plan for tip one, they can also give you loads of free stuff.

Because you’re going travelling it’s worthwhile getting a travel credit card as they come already loaded with points that you can put towards flights, and you can build up your points by just paying for your everyday bills and shopping. Different cards will have different deals, some will have teamed up with hotels that give you significant discounts, others will let you use the airport lounge, whatever they’re offering it’s definitely worth getting one.

3. You’ll learn to appreciate different things — While travelling around a lot it’s pretty much impossible to bring your hairdryer and handbag, so you have to get into a different mind frame from the moment you start packing. Not having your Nike Airs really doesn’t make a difference, and no one else is wearing make-up anyway. All your stuff at home turns into dollar signs when you’re away, and the playstation you never use turns into two extra weeks in Asia, so if you’re going for the long haul, sell it all.

One of the main things that I really value now is that commercialism loses it’s meaning, going to places and meeting people that really don’t care about your car really rubs off on you. After you’ve got the travel bug you’d much rather spend your hard earned money saving up for your next adventure anyway, so you’ll spend your money more wisely.

4. Planning sucks — I love being organised and making a good list at home, but one of my favourite parts of travelling is waking up each morning and thinking about whether i’ve had enough of the place yet, does it feel like it’s time to go? If everyone in your hostel room has planned to spend two days together trekking through the jungle, and you booked a flight three weeks ago to another city, you’ll feel really left out.

Plan a little to make sure that you see everything you want to, but remember that it doesn’t matter if you feel like staying in one place for two nights, or two months.

5. Get a phone — When I started traveling I would just take my own smartphone and rely on using wifi in cafe’s and hostel’s, which is usually fine for when you’re staying in cities and bigger towns, but internet connection can be almost non existent in other places.

You’d be surprised at the amount of backpackers you’ll meet that have a similar plan to you, and you’ll want to meet up when you both get to Cuba in six months time, so instead of relying on email’s and Facebook, buy a prepaid sim card when you get to Cuba, and you can send a text and know they’ll get it in time.

Of course, it will also be really useful if there’s an emergency, and much cheaper to use than your own phone.

6. Go slowly — This is one of the most important tips I can give. Whenever anyone starts traveling the excitement runs away with you, you want to do everything, and see as much as possible. But going slowly and spending a lot of time in one place is much nicer, you’ll appreciate the place more and get to know the locals. Many people say they know a town really well, but they’ve only spent a week there visiting all of the tourist attractions. Don’t rush your way around India or Europe, it’s better to see just a few places than go to ten cities but only be there for two nights.

7. There’s no such thing as a must see — You can do whatever it is that you want to do! You can climb a mountain, go canyon swinging, spend all day in bed or eat your way around the town. If you don’t know what the big deal is with the Taj Mahal, or you think the Eiffel Tower is just a lot of metal, then don’t waste your time or money going to see them. You’ll end up feeling unsatisfied and you’ll wish you spent the day exploring instead.

8. Street food is the best food — A lot of people will tell you to avoid the street food stands at all costs because they heard one story about someone getting sick. Wherever I’ve been, whether it’s Berlin or Phnom Penh, the street food has been incredible. The people who make it are passionate about food and put in time and effort to make it as delicious as possible.

Another point to remember is that because they cook everything on their little trolleys, they have to clean everything before they move off and set up somewhere else, compared to most restaurants, they’re usually much cleaner. Over 5 years of travelling, I’ve only had food poisoning once, and it was from a seemingly nice and clean restaurant.

9. There are different rules — While traveling you can talk to whoever you like, the more people you talk to the better. They’ll teach you about different cultures and countries, the people you share your evenings with playing Jenga in the hostel common room will become your friends for life, or you’ll never see them again — it doesn’t matter, the people you meet along the way are the best part of traveling and will help shape both you and your trip.

If you see someone sitting alone, it’s most probably because they’re a little shy, do them a favour and introduce yourself, what’s the worst that can happen?

10. A little scrubbing can get you a lot — If you’re running low on cash and trying to extend the amount of time that you have to book that inevitable flight home, there are cheats available. Many of the youth hostels, especially if they’re short staffed in high season, will give you a room for free if you help out with the cleaning of the rooms or a little washing up, giving you the most expensive part of your day for nothing, plus you get to spend time getting to know the workers.

A little recommendation goes a long way, and also makes my day ☺


Originally published at flipflopapotomous.wordpress.com on March 15, 2015.