Traveling abroad can be one of the most rewarding experiences a young person will ever have. I took a post-college graduation trip to Europe in the late 90s, and I still vividly remember many details over ten years later. You’ll make stories and memories, and get first-hand experience with parts of the world that you’ve only read about in books or seen on TV. Here’s some tips as you venture out to see the world.
USE A TRAVEL GUIDE AND THE INTERNET. We all like to joke about the old timer who starts every story with “Back in my day…” Well, I hate to do it, but – back in my day the internet was still just a glimmer in Bill Gate’s eye. The amount of useful information that the internet now holds is simply astounding. You can find all kinds of tips, suggestions, reviews of hotels, restaurants, attractions, and more. And don’t forget to bring a portable travel guide. It will be invaluable as you search for places to stay along your trip. “Lonely Planet” and “Frommer’s” tend to be the two most popular travel guides.
HAVE A PLAN. Before you leave, outline a plan of where you’d like to go, what you’d like to see, and what cities (if more than one) that you’ll be visiting. While you can certainly change your plans later, it’s always a good idea to have something to start off with. Give the outline to your parents so they have a rough idea of where you’ll be. If you change your plans along the way, let them know. A simple email or text message will do. It’s the safe thing to do and will make your parents feel better as well.
CALL AHEAD. When possible, try to call ahead and check on room availability. Many hostels and hotels fill up fast, so if you don’t get there at the right time you might be in a jam. Some will let you reserve a room or bed if you call ahead. If they won’t let you do that, at least they can tell you the best time to show up to assure you have somewhere to sleep that night. The same applies to tickets to popular attractions. If possible, check availability in advance. You don’t want to go out of your way to an attraction just to find out it’s fully booked our sold out.
WATCH FOR THEFT. Safety is a pretty big concern when traveling abroad. Since you’re a foreigner, and the locals can probably tell, you’re more likely to be the target of someone’s nefarious plans. Be on yours toes at all times. Don’t leave your stuff unattended, and if you drop it off somewhere, be sure to lock it up. Keep absolute essentials like your passport and money on you at all times. It’s usually a good idea to keep various important items in different pockets. This way if you get pick-pocketed, you won’t lose everything at once.
HAVE CONTINGENCY PLANS. You can never plan for every inconvenience, but having a back-up plan is always a good idea. What if you arrive at an attraction and it’s closed (as was the case when my friend and I went to see the Sistine Chapel)? What if the hotel you want is booked? What if the train schedule is incorrect? In case Plan A doesn’t work out, give some advance thought to a Plan B so you don’t waste too much time.
TRAVEL IN GROUPS. Groups are often the best way to travel. There is strength in numbers. If you travel to another part of the world by yourself or with a very small group, try to make some new friends along the way. Maybe you can experience the new place together. It’s safer, and will usually be a lot more fun to be with a random group of strangers.
HAVE A BLAST. There’s no experience comparable to seeing a whole other part of the world. It’s a clich, but it’s definitely true: the memories will last a lifetime.