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How to Survive Your First Days Travelling

3 November 2011 No Comment

It can sometimes take a lot for someone to actually pluck up the courage and book that once-in-a-lifetime trip, or to experience travelling for the first time, so the last thing you want is for anything to go wrong, especially on your first days. Hopefully I can offer a little bit of personal advice on how to survive your first days travelling.

So, you are all packed. Your backpack weighs much more now than when you tested it earlier, and you’ve checked your passport that many times, now you can’t find it. Your stress levels are high and your thinking isn’t rational. You are worried and anxious, and quite frankly, you are terrified of your coming experience. I know, we have all been there, and it affects some people much worse than others. How can I re-assure you that everything Will be OK?

The fact is, I can’t, but I’ll give it my best shot to run you through a few of the things you are likely to encounter, and how to successfully navigate your way to your first destination. To begin with, don’t panic. It’s what everyone around you is saying, and all it does is make you more stressed and eager to lash out at someone, either verbally or physically. Maybe I am being over-dramatic, but as I said, it affects people in different ways. The truth is you probably will forget something, or forget to do something, but it really doesn’t matter. Whatever happens – or doesn’t happen – it can be sorted later. Just remember your tickets and passport, and you are away.

The initial trauma is enough to put people off, and too many people adopt a negative attitude during the first parts of travelling. I know because I was one of them, and other family members have also been there. Your stress levels make you forget things, but this is normal, and as I said before, it’s nothing that can’t be sorted later in some way. Items can be posted to you, or posted back home from you. Things can be bought, borrowed or sold. Information can be obtained. You may not realise it at the beginning, but you will end up regretting having all the things you started out with. You don’t actually need a lot to travel. You want a lot, but you don’t need a lot. Check out Onebag.com for an excellent resource on what you really need to take with you. You will be surprised.

The chances are you are flying out from somewhere to get to your destination, so the airport offers the first real hurdle. I have never liked airports, even now. I don’t know why. The smaller they are, the better for stress levels, but the larger they are, the more efficient and security conscious they are. Don’t be alarmed by the processes you have to go through. It’s just ordinary people doing their job. If they search you, think of it as an experience. Smile and write it down in a journal, so you can tell someone about it at a later date.

People always rush about in airports, but the reality is, you spend most of your time either sitting or standing around waiting. Yes, you do have to check in by a certain time, but once that’s done, take your time, look around. Go through to departures when you’re ready, be cooperative if you are searched, and take a minute to find out exactly where you need to be and at what time. Go to the gate and familiarise yourself with it, so later on if you are running late for whatever reason, you will know exactly where you are going. There is nothing worse than rushing to get somewhere, especially when you don’t know where that somewhere is.

Take a look round the shops, have a coffee, buy a bottle of water for the plane, but be aware that sometimes these can get taken off you before you go through to departures, or before boarding the plane. Once you are on the plane it’s just a matter of waiting.

Upon arriving at your destination, the fun begins again, this time at an unfamiliar airport in an unfamiliar place, sometimes with unfriendly people, but help is never far away if you need it. Information places can usually be found everywhere, especially in airports. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. They may look at you like a dumb tourist, but this is what you are, and in all honesty, does it matter what they think of you? All you need is information. Ask for help, but don’t get lead away by anybody. Use the help desks around the airport. It’s a good idea to know what you should be looking out for, or where you need to meet someone before you travel, and to have all relevant paperwork with you. If you can, get names of the person/people you are meeting. Safety is paramount, but this is information for a later post.

You will generally find that things just fall into place. It always does with me. I find I am often a little stressed or in a state of panic during the initial travelling process, but it always turns out fine, and I later wonder what all the fuss was about. If unexpected things do happen, consider it a chapter in your diary. I would also take this opportunity to say that writing a travel journal is a great habit to fall into. Countless times I read through old journal entries, and it never fails to bring a smile, or to recall a fading memory.

I would suggest spending at least a few days in your first place. This gives you enough time to get comfortable, and to sort things out before moving on. If you aim to be mobile straight away, you won’t give yourself enough time to adjust, and you may feel rushed, often leading to a lesser enjoyment. A few days – or even a week – will give you enough time to acquire useful information and to get use to the weather, the people, and the lifestyle. Take maps wherever you get the chance, and spend time marking places out. Use tourist information places before booking anything major. Travel agents will sell you the deal that makes them the most commission, whereas information offices that don’t sell tours will offer more personal advice. I have always found this to be true.

Use your first week wisely, and obtain as much information as you can from locals, information places, hostel/hotel receptionists, other travellers/guests, leaflets and the internet. Trip Advisor is a useful resource of reviews written by travellers for travellers. Don’t be afraid to be proven wrong about something, but also don’t be put off by something based on a comment or two from others you meet. I have to say that on many occasions I have loved something that nobody else has enjoyed, or I have hated something that everyone else raves about. Information is key, but be prepared to have your own opinion.

You will probably find yourself a bit lost in your first week or two, and will undoubtedly be missing home, but this is only amplified if you sit about doing nothing. Time makes you think, and thinking breeds negative feelings. Keep yourself busy and talk to people. Ask to join someone on a day trip, or just to walk to the shops. Eat well and make yourself at home. Don’t keep yourself to yourself at first. You may be a shy person who enjoys their own company, but I would recommend putting yourself out there for the first week at least. This sets you up so well for the trip ahead of you.

Don’t feel the need to phone home or to Skype every day. Too much contact will not let you detach yourself from the comfort and security of loved ones. And I feel that detaching yourself – especially at first – is key to helping you toughen up and to be able to deal with the first days/weeks. I offer my advice on how to survive the first days of travelling because I know how tough it can be. I stayed in a quiet, sterile hostel in a single room for my first week travelling, and felt as though I wanted to come home, but I took myself around town, I got as much information as I could find, and I changed to a new hostel. After this I came out of myself and found a new side to me. I became confident.

Travelling doesn’t have to be hard or stressful, and actually it is extremely fun and always rewarding as most travellers would tell you. The first part of your first trip is undoubtedly the hardest part. Everything else gets easier from here on. Just don’t forget that there is a wealth of information for you out there, from many different sources, so you should never feel completely stuck or isolated. The modern age has made communication so easy, that help is never far away. Just take your time to settle before the fun really begins, and believe me, you will love it!

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Written by Daniel Stevens,
Founder of Roundtheworldtrip.org.
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