After travelling and living overseas for the past 6 years, these are all the things I've learned. I wish I had this advice before I set off on my first trip, however, I guess part of the beauty of travel is what it teaches you.
1. Take in as many sunrises as possible.
Forget about the fact you’ve probably been drinking cheap, local beer until the early hours of the morning. Set an alarm and get up. Walk down to the beach, or jump on a moped and drive to that high point. Regardless of where you view it from, there is something magical about watching the sun rise over a foreign land whilst everyone else sleeps.
2. Take photos but remember to live in the moment.
The first thing so many people do when they arrive at the particular location or monument or place they’ve been dying to see is take a photo. And don’t get me wrong, I love taking photographs. But just remember to look beyond the lens; put the camera down and take in whatever is in front of you. Remember the smell of the place and the atmosphere around you – all the things a picture won’t capture. Be there. Be present. Then, take a photograph. When I visited Angkor Wat – the 8th wonder of the world, everyone was adjusting camera settings, clicking away with furious ambition – so busy trying to get the best angle and the best lighting, that they forgot to look. Here we all were watching the sunrise over a breathtaking temple steeped in wonder and history, but some people were too busy photographing it, to see it. I promise you, if you take a moment to absorb your surroundings then next time you look at that photograph, regardless of how long ago it was taken, it will take you right back to the moment you stood there clicking the shutter button.
3.Don’t be afraid to say hello.
For fellow introverts, I know how difficult it can be to start up a conversation with someone you don’t know, and at the start of my travels I could never have imagined myself walking into a 16 bed dorm surrounded by people I don’t know and starting a conversation. It’s so easy to just keep yourself to yourself, but I assure you, it’s nowhere near as much fun. Take a deep breath and just say “hello” – It’s that easy (and that hard) but the more you do it, the more it will become second nature. Everyone travels to be surrounded by wonderful places and wonderful people, so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. And if you are afraid, it’s an even better reason to give it a go. Challenge and push yourself to go outside your comfort zone, and at the end of the night when you sitting in a random bar, in a random country, drinking whatever is the cheapest while exchanging crazy stories from the road with two French guys, a girl from Brazil, you will smile to yourself and be so glad you said that little word.
4. Don’t plan too much.
I know it’s tempting; you want to read every travel blog and guidebook, absorb as much information as you can and make a daily itinerary. You want to plan your route, where and when you will stop and what you will see. It’s easy and it’s fun to get carried away with the planning but my advice would be, don’t book anything. Until you arrive at your destination you have no idea how long you will want to stay there for, you might fall in love with it and want to stay for weeks on end, or perhaps after a day or two you will be ready to move on. Plus, you have no idea who you will meet while you’re there and what doors that will open. So many of my journeys happened because I met a group of people who happened to be going somewhere I hadn’t even considered, but i tagged along for the ride and diverting from my plan was so worth it. Leave yourself open to possibilities and change, don’t let your schedule restrict you.
5. Know when to splash the cash.
It’s very easy to get stuck in the “budget mindset” – understandably you want to travel for as long as possible on limited funds, therefore you need to make every penny count. Just remember that sometimes, it’s worth spending a bit more to do something special. Koh Tao, Thailand is one of the best places in the world to get your PADI and at $180 its also one of the cheapest. However, at that time $180 seemed like so much money to me, it was literally my budget for about 5 days so i didn’t do it and I totally regretted it afterwards. Experiences are more important than money, which i guess is the fundamental reason travellers pack in their jobs and board that one way flight, so just remember this when you touch down.
6. Totally immerse yourself.
My first big trip was to South East Asia and it took me a while to stop “being a westerner”. For breakfast I would look for “normal” food instead of eating noodles and rice like the locals, who wants rice for breakfast? I thought. Trying to stick to old eating habits cost me a lot more money and hassle. Eventually you just have to take the plunge and be 100% committed. Forget about usual routines and foods, let go of your own perception of “normal” and just immerse yourself in the here and now. Eat what the locals eat and you will love it. Now that I have left Asia, I miss the food so much. I would give anything to be able to roll out of bed and eat a Mee Goreng.
These 6 things were important lessons I learned on the road. If you can remind yourself of these you will already be one step ahead. Do you have any travel tips you'd like to pass onto beginners?