Excited about your first trip across the border? You should be, because it’s going to be the kind of experience you remember for the rest of your life. However, you should bear in mind that there’s a right and a wrong way to travel abroad and it’s all about your mindset. Lucky for you, we’re here with tips on how to achieve the right attitude while traveling.
1. Things are nothing like at home
This bears repeating into infinity: your first time traveling overseas is going to cause culture shock. It’s going to have you discover realities and cultures you’ve never seen before. It will amaze, scare, and tire you but, at the end of the day, you will love it for this. Don’t take this lightly: there are customs around the world that will come as a major surprise – did you know, for instance, that in parts of Asia, passing gas after a meal is considered the supreme compliment? There are plenty more ‘weird’ habits such as this one out there, so the key is to be prepared to meet them all without judgment.
2. Bargain, but do it cleverly
In some parts of the world, not bargaining for souvenirs or other purchases is considered an offense. Yes, that’s right: if you’re heading to Turkey or parts of the Middle East, you need to understand that the local vendors do expect you to bargain. It’s a social practice very deeply ingrained in their culture – only if you consider the over 3,000 shops in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, you’ll get a feel of what we mean. There is, of course, an art to bargaining, from the time of the day you choose (11:00 to 13:00 works best at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar), to how you play into the seller’s power plays. But, at the end of the day, it’s also an exercise in flexibility, and a skill that’s likely to help you get better deals back home, too.
Trying out local cuisines is probably one of the best parts about traveling overseas. From the amazing array of wines and cheeses in France, to some seriously weird street food in Singapore, Thailand, or China, it’s worth trying everything once (unless, of course, you have an allergy). The point is not to act reckless in order to look cool, but to stay open-minded and try to create as authentic an experience as possible. If you’re visiting Tuscany or Sicily, steer clear of the high-end fancy tourist trap restaurants. Invest in a visit to a restaurant with Michelin stars, if you can (but be warned that you probably need to book well in advance). Or, better yet, follow some locals and check out their favorite eateries: they will have you eating pasta and pizza like you never even knew existed!
4. Make friends
Go out to the public square with a bottle of the preferred local beverage: you’re guaranteed to meet interesting new people within minutes, and end up discovering new attractions, sharing tips and tales, and just soaking in the atmosphere. Alternatively, if you’re technologically inclined and bring along a mobile device while you travel, you can use an app like Trippal. This app will allow you to create and tag your own route and search for international travelers with the same route, or for local users of the app. You can share details of your trip with them, ask for advice, or even arrange to meet up, for socializing and making new friends during your first international trip.
5. Have insurance, will travel
No, we’re not trying to sell you anything here, except, perhaps a bit of common sense. No, no one wants to think about accidents, health hazards, and death risks when traveling abroad – especially if it’s their first time. However, you wouldn’t want to be faced with an exorbitant healthcare bill, if push comes to shove, would you? And the worst part is that you can’t even foretell and budget for those costs, according to industry analyses. In the United States, for instance, health care costs vary widely across areas. A routine dentist visit may cost you around $100, but it can go all the way up to $300. Get travel health insurance, because, let’s face it, you’d much rather spend the kind of money healthcare requires on more fun things.
6. Don’t try to see the whole world in one go
Since this is your first time overseas, you might be tempted to take a month, or even a gap year off, and spend six months in eighty different places on the world map. However, the best and most memorable travel experiences are never these, but the ones which allow you to spend a lot of time in fewer places. Think about it: the more destinations you try to cram into a single journey, the more bus terminals, airports, customs checks and visas you will require. And it’s not that you can’t pull off all these things, but, at the end of the journey, they will leave you feeling depleted of energy and zombie-like.
Why not try an approach like ethical traveling, which is partly based on eco-tourism? This can give you the jolt of excitement that multiple destinations can provide, but you would actually be spending a lot of time in one or a handful of places, working toward restoring the economical welfare of an area. Research says integrated ecotourism can generate up to 95 per cent in revenue for local economies.
7. Forget the comfort zone
The comfort zone is all well and good, for, well, comfort – but staying resolutely inside it at all times will do nothing for enriching your experiences. Ever though rice wine (which is 50 per cent alcohol, by the way) could be a good idea in the morning? In some parts of Asia, for instance, you’ll be hard-pressed to turn down an offer of the beverage, no matter how early in the day it may be for you, as this tale from Lintao, County Gansu, China, will tell you. No matter how convinced you are that you know what will happen, give everything a shot once. You never know what’s going to happen.