Traveling abroad can be the most exciting, nerve-racking, rewarding and unforgettable experience of your life. If you are considering making your first international trip, take advice from someone who has experience!
One of our AOA staff members has been to 38 countries (and counting). Traveling from place to place has been a passion of hers since she was 15 when she made her first solo international excursion. Each stamp in her passport brought a few unexpected twists, challenges, and adventures but also made some unforgettable memories. There were also some commonalities to consider.
Here are her key bits of advice for traveling abroad.
Do your homework before you book your trip.
The most important thing about traveling abroad is doing you homework before you go. The best resource to prepare yourself, is your government travel website. This is where you will find information for your destination, from travel warnings for countries with political issues and health outbreaks to visa requirements and high tourist times. This can be the first essential information to plotting your trip into your schedule.
Once all the nity-gritty is sorted out you can do the fun research. Find out cultural traditions, festivals or other things to do in the area. This information is not only helpful in making sure the destination you are considering is right for you, it also can help you narrow down your timeline. If you want to go on a safari for example, you don’t want to go when animals are hibernating!
The last bit of research is more personal. Check out the website and social media pages of the organization you will be traveling with (when possible). Are people commenting on posts? Can you find any pictures of other people’s trips? Does this all seem to fit what you are looking for? If your still not sure, ask questions! On my first trip aboard I must have sent over 100 emails. At the end of the day, this trip is all about you; so don’t feel bad about asking questions!
Money is just a luxury.
It is rare thing in life to have 100% of the funds available when you are in need of an adventure the most. In my experience funding your trip is just one more thing you prepare for. For each of my trips I have had to raise some extra money in one way or another. Working extra shifts, holding an auction or bake sale- I have even sold everything I owned… a few times. If you want to go bad enough, you will always find a way to get there.
One of the greatest parts about traveling with a volunteer organization is that once you cover your flights and project fee, your budget is covered! For the length of your program you will have guaranteed food, accommodation and activities for each day. Any extra funds you can scrap up will allow you to go out on the weekends or buy a few treasures along the way.
If you are comfortable going the shoe-string budget route, make sure you can prepare for anything that may come up. For example if you want to go on extra trips, see if you can book and pay in advance. Make sure you also plan for emergencies, by springing for that optional travel insurance (it will always pay off!)
Get out and explore!
My theory is, if you are going to travel to the opposite side of the world, explore as much as possible when you get there! The last thing you want is to arrive, spend 4 amazing weeks in a new place and barely make it out of the backpackers. Ask around! Make friends! Find some hidden local hangouts, or get a guide-book and highlight the excursions that look interesting to you.
With this in mind, don’t forget to leave some room for the unexpected. You have just arrived in a new country, with a whole new group of strangers who will be your new friends in just a few hours. You don’t want to have a time schedule with you and end up excluding all of the impromptu adventures that may spring up over the next few weeks! Make sure to leave a little flexibility so you don’t miss out!
Do as the locals do.
It is so exciting to arrive in a strange new place. One of the best pieces of advice I can offer, is to notice your surroundings. Don’t travel to a new place only to set up a mini version of where you came from. Take note of cultural differences, behaviors, and pace, then adjust yourself to follow suit. This will not only make the transition to your new destination far easier, it will also make it more rewarding. By doing as the locals do, you will be able to fit in and make local friends. You will have the opportunity to learn so much and open yourself up to a whole new experience in the process!
Learn a few words of the language.
Whether your travels take you to a westernized location , or some obscure destination, making an effort to speak the language will make a huge difference in your experience. Personally, I was not blessed with a multi-lingual tongue, however I have found that even if you completely butcher the pronunciation, the attempt is highly valued. Don’t be afraid to make a fool out of yourself or even get a few laughs thrown your way– give it a try!
If you follow these little bits of advice, you can have a life full of adventures and a collection of passport stamps! If you have any questions about traveling, how to prepare, or more advice, feel free to ask (see point #1)!
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