Once part-time job hopping, and post-grad what-the-fc*k-am-I-doing-now meltdowns start to eat away at you, traveling might be an option worth exploring while trying to figure it all out. Hands down, travel is one of the most growth-provoking, perspective-shifting, hangover-inducing things you can do for yourself during your lifetime. It’s the one thing that won’t send you away because you don’t have enough experience or degrees.
Stepping outside the confinement of your comfort zone is going to deepen your understanding of the complexities of the world around you, as well as the intricacies of your own individuality. And if nothing else, at least it can be a nice reprieve from weekend Netflix binges and Facebook stalking in your parent’s basement. Don’t be intimidated, it’s a reasonably easy endeavor to establish and here are some things to know and ways to keep your cool whether you’re cliff diving in Kimberley or wine-tasting in Bordeaux.
1. It is absolutely affordable.
I hear a lot of people say that they would love to be traveling, “but it’s so expensive.” Being broke never prevented anybody who really wanted something from making it happen. (Get real, when you really wanted that new jacket, you justified pulling out your Mastercard in July).
There are so many different opportunities out there for travelers, especially if you’re under 35. STA and IEP travel to name a couple, offer cheaper rates for hostels and transportation, as well as working holiday in several countries. Sparse tourist seasons mean lower flight costs and discounted packages. If you’re willing to do a little bit of research, you’ll be amazed with the deals you can wrangle up.
2. Read up on Healthcare.
Different countries will offer different services, as well as varying access to certain medications. If you’re traveling to a country where you’re going to need vaccinations, talk to your doctor about the costs (they may be pretty expensive, but they’re going to save you from potentially contracting malaria). Some people choose to risk it, and that’s completely up to you, just remember that it may be hard to get immediate medical attention if something goes wrong in the middle of rural China.
3. Use condoms.
Seriously. This should be a given, but I know that in the heat of the moment, it might be hard to believe that you’re probably not the only lay that your sexy, Swedish, man-bunned Eric Northman dopple-ganger has had. Casual sex and experimentation go hand in hand with travel and partying your face off, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be unnecessarily risky. There are a lot of people sharing more than shots and stories over the course of their trip, and hostel bunk beds are squeaky enough to prove it.
Be smart and responsible about your own sexual health, because the last thing you want to do is spend the night you were supposed to be in Croatia at a glow-paint, yacht party in the waiting room because you got a healthy case of the clap.
4. Pack lightly.
I mean it. You not only look like an as*hole when you’re trying to stuff two extra carry ons into everyone else’s baggage space, but their bulky and are going to get in your way. Let’s be honest, you’re only going to wear the same 4 or 5 outfits anyway and you are NOT going to wear that festy animal hoody you convinced yourself to bring. Op shops are easy enough to come by and depending on where you’re traveling an extra tee or pair of shorts will probably be pretty cheap. You’re most likely going to ruin whatever nice things you brought at some point (because, Murphy’s law) so just save yourself the regret of having to say goodbye to your alma mater sweatshirt or favorite boots in the airport because your bags are too heavy and leave them at home.
5. Learn about the countries that you’re visiting.
You’re obviously going to learn a lot while you’re traveling (that’s probably part of the reason you’re doing it, after all) just make sure that you’ve learned enough about the local culture and customs to navigate you’re way around and avoid being thrown into a Russian prison.
Alternately, recognize that you are representing your country when you’re abroad and although you aren’t an official spokesperson, you should keep that in mind. This means expanding enough to respect other cultures and their viewpoints as well as refraining from stereotyping. You may encounter people who criticize your country and most of the time, anyone willing to openly or rudely generalize you as a representation of your country’s entire populace probably isn’t worth engaging with anyway.
6. Avoid over-planning.
It’s great to have an itinerary for your trip, in fact I recommend at least having a loose one, especially if it’s a short visit and you’ve convinced yourself that it’s realistic to squeeze in every activity suggested in Lonely Planet. Be careful that you don’t become so rigid in your planning that you close yourself off from the spontaneous opportunities travel often offers.
At the same time, I understand that some people’s definition of traveling is flying by the seat of their pants and seeing where the wind blows them. I get it, free-spirits it’s an adventure, just be prepared enough to have a B plan if sh*t hits the fan in Egypt.
7. Be present and disconnect.
As millenials in the midst of the technological age, we have become accustomed to the convenience and connectivity of our social media and our ability to post Ludwigged Machu Pichu on Instagram. I’m not telling you that you can’t share your experience, it’s exciting and your sporadic Facebook posting probably helps your parents to sleep at night confirming that you’re still alive…but try to remember that a huge part of traveling is being present and immersed in whatever is happening around you at the time, even if it’s terrible diarrhea from those prawns you ate in Laos.
8. Be flexible.
And I mean like, Hermione Granger-improvisation flexible. I cannot stress this point enough. There are going to be so many unexpected things that happen to or around you over the course of your time abroad. If you miss the last train because in your hungover fog you couldn’t understand the Portuguese coming through the loud speakers, you need to be able to keep your cool and find a different solution. You also need to be okay with changing the original plan to fit the new circumstances. Being so far from home means that it’s sink or swim so get your sh*t together or you’re going to be sleeping on the platform – but if that’s the case – then you have to be okay with sleeping in the platform. If nothing else, it’s going to make for a great story.
9. Keep your mind on your money.
Before you go, figure out conversion rates, ATM availability, and card’s foreign transaction fees. If you don’t have one, there are some really amazing travel cards out there that will give you outrageous deals and points for joining, as well as for spending a certain minimum in the first few months. Most won’t hit you with annual fees for the first year or foreign transaction fees. They’re a great way to rack up points for free flights or discounts and travel accommodation. Although be careful because they are not free money, so when you’re getting drunk and generous, try to flex some self-control and refrain from buying that bachelorette party you just became bff’s with their next round of shots.
Make sure you’re keeping track of your spending. This isn’t like when you’re out shopping and you buy that 250$ set of speakers then pretend it never happened by ignoring the ledger balance at the bottom of your ATM receipt. If you’re budgeting, you need to know what your spending looks like so that you can gauge where you need to be frugal, or when you can allow yourself to splurge more. Chances are, you’re going to choose awesome local foods and booze over one night in a private room.
10. Be vulnerable.
You were brave enough to take the risk of exploring somewhere possibly foreign to you, which means you were open to the potential of growing, learning, or failing. (ALL wonderful things). Hang onto your courage and remain as open as you can over the course of your trip to anything and everything that may occur. Never be afraid to ask questions or to try something new. Just like your life, your trip is exactly what you make of it.
So, what are you waiting for?