Photo: Natalia Deriabina/Shutterstock

10 Travel Lessons From A Wanderer

by Shona Riddell Jun 27, 2007

A lot of people ask me about my frequent travels and how I do it.

Before I was 21 I hadn’t even left New Zealand; now I’ve been lucky enough to see (and live in) a lot of countries.

Travel has changed so much in the past few decades and even since I started at the end of the last millennium.

If I could pass on my top 10 travel lessons to newbies or people considering taking time out from the 9-5 slog to travel, this is what I’d say:

1. Travel doesn’t have to be expensive.

Especially if you go to cheaper countries in Asia or South America. Particularly if you are traveling on a strong(er) currency. Check out free things to do in the area and avoid the long museum queues. Wandering is usually free.

2. Travel doesn’t have to suck up all your savings.

There have been times when I’ve traveled and watched my money drain slowly away. This doesn’t have to be the case.

Instead, here a few ideas to generate income:

  • research work permits in the country of your choice
  • arrange contract work in your home country to complete while you’re on the road
  • set up some kind of automated business or passive income (see Timothy Ferriss’ 4-Hour Work Week for ideas)
  • think up an angle for your trip and get sponsorship. I know people who’ve done that.

3. There are so many helpful people just a few clicks away.

There are some amazing travel sites and blogs now with user reviews and tips. I personally love TripAdvisor and VirtualTourist. People love answering travelers’ questions: check out the Lonely Planet Thorntree forum. Seatguru can even help you pick the best seats on the plane.

4. Write up a to-do checklist well before you go.

There’s a lot to do before you embark on a big Overseas Experience (O.E.). Don’t leave everything until the last minute and get caught out/panic. Work through your list of visas, vaccinations, insurance, tickets, items to pack, list of phone numbers, mail, etc. Print one out online.

5. Do not over-pack.

For my first O.E. I could barely lift my backpack. I had packed for four seasons! Don’t do that. Most items will be available cheaply overseas. Be realistic. If trekking through jungles, leave the heels at home.

6. Learn the language.

If you are going to a non-English speaking country, learn some of the language in advance via a free online language course. It always amazes me how few people even bother. It’s polite, you don’t have to be fluent, and the response can be fantastic.

7. Put the guide book down.

Guide books can be saviors but also severely limit a trip if followed to the letter. No one knows exactly what you will like, not even the ‘experts’. Use the book for tips, if you must have one, but don’t work your entire schedule around it. The best things are discovered by accident.

8. Be careful, not paranoid.

Yes, there are scam artists and potential dangers when traveling. But there are also potential dangers where you’re sitting right now. Do your research on potential dangers and travel insurance deals and don’t wander down alleyways in the middle of the night. Make sure someone at home has copies of all your travel documents.

9. Take a good camera.

Especially if you are going to be photographing exotic wildlife. You’ll want a good zoom. Check out camera reviews and consider buying a second-hand one on eBay. And upload/develop your photos quickly as you take them. Photos can be the most precious part of a journey, after memories.

10. Try not to compare too much.

When traveling it is very tempting to compare everything with how it is at home. Of course you’ll compare, but try not to do it all the time, especially if you are getting frustrated with differences.

Remember why you came in the first place. Ordering Western-style food in Asia is often way more expensive than a corner noodle house. Adapt to local tastes.

A version of this article was originally printed here. Republished with permission.

Shona Riddell is freelance writer, website editor and online advertising specialist. Shes blogs over at Rich Minx about money and travel to inspire herself and others to grow her finances and stop spending cash on junk.

What new century travel advice would you pass on?

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