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You can ensure your first big overseas adventure is memorable for all the right reasons by avoiding these mistakes made by first-time travellers.
Be a responsible traveller. Always read up on the local culture, customs and rules before your trip. Dress appropriately – by which we mean, dress like the locals, not like a tourist who sticks out like a sore thumb, which in itself can attract thieves and pickpocketers. Learn the exchange rate and memorise a few key words and phrases. No-one expects you to be fluent but at least make an effort to converse in the local language rather than expecting everyone to speak your language.
We get it: travelling to a far-flung destination is exciting and you want to see and do as much as is humanly possible in the short amount of time you have. The only thing is that by cramming in too much or having too tight a schedule, you’re either going to fall in a heap from exhaustion or miss out on enjoying a spontaneous, unplanned travel moment, which could turn out to be the highlight! Be flexible and don’t be afraid to change your plans due to weather, money or discovering a better travel opportunity.
The difference between a seasoned traveller and a first-timer is how much they pack. Ever seen that guy or girl on the plane heading off on a big overseas trip with just carry-on luggage? You want to aim to be like them. Packing light allows you to move freely at airports, on public transport, in crowds and on rough and hilly terrain. It saves you time packing each morning and helps you quickly find whatever item you need. Packing light is the secret to happy travelling.
You’ve (lightly) packed your bags, you’ve booked your tickets, you’ve researched your travel destination and you’re ready to go! It’s easy to overlook small but essential travel preparation tasks, such as notifying your bank that you’ll be using your card overseas. If you don't do this, the bank may block your card due to 'unusual' (read: overseas) activity.
When booking your flights, make sure you thoroughly understand the terms and conditions, especially in relation to how much luggage you can take. Also be clear on whether the dates are movable or fixed and find out if the ticket is refundable. If you’re booking connecting flights, make sure there’s a reasonable gap between flights so you have enough time to get from one to the other – even if there are minor flight delays.
As the old travel mantra goes: if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel. All travel involves some element of risk, and you just never know when you might get sick, lose your luggage, or have your passport or wallet stolen or your trip cancelled. The repercussions of any of these things happening while you’re overseas, rather than at home, are a lot higher – and costlier. Always take out travel insurance and always make sure you understand what it does and doesn’t cover.
In a worst-case scenario, not turning off your phone’s data roaming when you travel overseas can cost you more than the total sum of your holiday! Always turn off data roaming or contact your service provider before you leave to see if they offer good deals on international roaming. If you'll be staying put in one country for a while, consider buying a local SIM card – just check before you leave home that your phone isn't 'locked' by your provider.
It’s easy to get carried away when you’re travelling – you'll likely want to go out every night and experience everything, no matter the cost. But you should only do this if you can actually afford it. Blowing the budget can turn a happy adventure into a stressful situation where you either have to max out the credit cards – or worse, borrow money from mum and dad. Part of being a responsible traveller is being able to manage your money.
If you aren’t willing to try the local food, you’re missing out on one of the highlights of travel! Avoid eating at or near tourist hotspots (where the food can be expensive and inauthentic) and instead go where the locals go. A food joint or restaurant packed to the rafters with locals is a good litmus test for quality local cuisine. After all, food is an incredible way to access culture and, really, who wants to travel to an exotic location only to eat the same stuff you have back home?
Put down your camera or smart phone, right now, and just stop, look, listen and experience the moment. Travelling to a new place is one of the most exciting things you’ll ever do and, while it’s tempting to want to capture every single moment on camera, it’s better that you actually enjoy the moment. Come back with great stories to tell rather than thousands of happy snaps you’ll probably only look at once or twice.