An Idiot Proof Guide to Going Travelling for the First Time
Before I went travelling, all I knew for certain was that I wanted to go travelling. “I want to have those amazing traveller experiences you hear about, take those super cool pictures of perfect beaches and crystal clear seas, make friends from around the world and ultimately have the most fun ever. Okay? Good. Someone tell me how to go about doing that please”. I didn’t even know where to go, how long for, how much money I would need, etc. No one I knew had been and no one seemed to be giving me a step by step guide. How annoying.
So I started by saving. It seemed like a good place to start. How much I needed to save could be worked out later, just like everything else! I ended up saving £10,000 over the space of a year which sounds like a lot and is not essential to start travelling, don’t panic. I didn’t have any great job, I just got my head down, moved back in with mum and dad, rinsed them for packed lunches and stopped shopping and going out. Sounds easy, no? It was actually. I had only just graduated so I still had the student mentality which is, in a nutshell: be a stinge. Six whole British pounds sterling for beer and a burger?! No thank you sir, I can eat instant noodles for 30p and get a whole bottle of wine from the supermarket for £1.25 (quality not guaranteed). I think you get the picture. So saving was going well, I just needed to start planning.
So where to go? Asia, South America, Africa, Europe? Where did I fancy? Something told me South East Asia. I’d never been to the continent and thought where better to try something completely new? Brilliant. Well done me. A decision made. Huzzah. Now South East Asia seems a little bit big. Where do I begin?
I started by buying travel guides about travelling South East Asia on a budget. Now I’d never advocate following your travel guide to the letter, but use it for what it is: a guide. I started to get a really good idea of the places I wanted to go to and the amount of money I would need. So I set about booking myself a one way flight to Thailand. Some people prefer to book a round the world ticket but I wasn’t ready to make that sort of decision yet. Like I said, me = idiot. I wanted to get to Asia and work the rest out from there. That was enough decision making for one day! And honestly, that was the best thing I could have done. Now as I mentioned before, I saved £10,000 but that wasn’t all spending money. Obviously that covered flights (well flight singular actually, what with my one-way ticket), travel insurance (I went for the full, iron clad, bullet-proof insurance, just because I’m extremely accident prone), pre-travel shopping (backpack, bikinis, basics!) and other bits and pieces. In South East Asia you can live on a budget of about £700 a month, but allow some wriggle room for expensive things like becoming a certified scuba diver or going on big trips. Also bear in mind, you can spend very little if you stay in the same spot for a while. If the budget's getting a bit out of hand, spend two weeks lying on a beach and save the pennies … it’s such a tough life for a backpacker. Ultimately your budget varies. I never attempted to stick to a daily budget because I didn’t like the thought of restriction. I saved so much because I didn’t know how long I was going for and I wanted to have options. I’d recommend it if you can but like I said, it’s not essential! Just plan a trip to suit your means.
So I was now armed with funds, a few ideas of where I wanted to go and a one-way flight. I made a rough itinerary of the countries I’d like to see and researched what injections I’d need and tablets and things. On a spur of the moment decision I ended up with a working holiday visa for Australia. Another one of those places I’d heard is good for that there travelling. I figured if I’m all the way on that side of the world, I may as well have the option. Also, I liked the thought of work and travel. Stopping in one place and really getting to know it, and topping up the funds to afford, yes you’ve guessed it, more travel.
Now another thing people think about before they go travelling is whether they can do it alone, and if they decide they can’t, who can they convince to go with them? People end up missing out on travelling altogether because they say they didn’t have anyone to go with. These people are morons. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a terrifying prospect to go travelling off into the unknown, heading to countries so completely different to your own, and forgoing any sense of normality. But that’s the point isn’t it? Travelling is about exploration, seeing something different, meeting new people. And to think you’ll be alone is madness. People go travelling everyday. You will walk into a hostel and potentially meet your new travel buddy. You’ll actually struggle to get time to yourself. And if you really are worried about setting off alone, start on an organised tour where you’ll be eased into the adventure and no doubt make friends for life man.
Don’t overthink it. You’ll never actually be prepared. You’re going into the unknown and there’s no amount of reading or looking at pictures that can really live up to the first hand experience. I looked for as many tips and hints as possible and most of them were actually useless. For example, “carry a selection of foreign currency” … what a load of bollocks. I withdrew money the second I landed in each country and then was set. I didn’t need a money belt full of euros, pounds, dong, baht. I would recommend taking some in advance of your first country, just in case but there are ATMs nearly everywhere. And just withdraw more before you go somewhere remote. The only currency that does come is handy is US Dollars, used in Vietnam and Cambodia. I also read somewhere that passport pictures were essential for travelling; I got 30 printed and only used 4. Carrying around 26 reminders of how pale I was before I left home was not essential. I also read that duct tape would be extremely useful. Didn’t use it once. Basically, just pack everything you think you’ll need. Anything you forget, you can … wait for it, buy out there. They do have supermarkets you know. Also, the aforementioned money belt, looks a little something like this. What a load of shit. The idea is you wear it under your clothes so that you always have your passport, money, cards, room key, etc. safe at all times. Well yes, a great idea in practice, however, you try wearing that under a dress. How, prey tell, is one supposed to access their money belt without lifting their dress up around their waist? Or how is something containing all of those items, supposed to sit discreetly on your stomach without looking like you’ve got some weird, lumpy food baby going on. Also, let’s call a spade a spade. It’s a bum bag. They weren't cool in the 90s, they’re still not cool now. We survive daily life carrying our valuables in handbags or pockets; why when we’re abroad do we suddenly need a bum bag? Oh yes, because travel shops wants to make money selling us unnecessary crap.
So, to sum up, going travelling seems like a great idea, then it seems like a daunting idea, then it seems like a great idea all over again. The first thing you do is make the decision to go and stick to it! The rest can be worked out later! And as this idiot proves, anyone can do it.