It's inevitable that you'll make mistakes the first time you travel, just the same as you'd make mistakes in any other facet of life. These are the common ones that rookie adventurers commit.
It's tempting, on that first daunting trip away, to get everything locked in – every hostel, every transfer, every breakfast, lunch and dinner. That way you don't have to worry about anything, right? But you'll soon come to realise that it pays to have some flexibility. Book in the big things, sure. But also leave yourself space to change your itinerary and take opportunities as they present themselves.
Using a travel agent… for everything
While it's now easy for you to book an entire trip yourself over the internet, I can understand the wish to have the safety net of a travel agent. But that doesn't mean you have to use them for everything. Book your flights, and maybe an accommodation package. But you'll generally save money if you look after everything else yourself.
Being scared of locals
You can always spot the first-timers, hands subconsciously guarding their money belts, faces set to "suspicion", always trying to figure out what the scam is, who's trying to rip them off. It's hard when you first start out to spot the crooks from the friendly locals, so plenty of people just mistrust everyone. That's a mistake though. The vast majority of locals aren't out to get you. It can pay to trust them every now and then – you'll make a lot more friends.
That said, however, there are scammers out there, and it's the naive rookie travellers that provide their easiest targets. I was scammed the first time I travelled. And the second time. And the third time. There's no easy way around this – you're often dealing with pros who've been doing this their entire lives. Just roll with the punches and try not to part with too much cash. (Read: Ten classic travel scams)
Trying to see everything
This is why the group tours are popular, why people see things like "seven countries in 12 days" and think that that's a good thing. This is your big overseas trip and you want to see as much as possible – you want to tick as many boxes as you physically can. But that's a mistake. You have to trust that you'll travel again. Instead of trying to see everywhere at once, slow down, get to know one country, or maybe two, and your appetite will be whetted for a lifetime of similar adventures.
Here's the deal: everything is going to cost more than you think it will. From the flights you saw advertised for "$600 return" to the beers you'll buy in a bar somewhere on a boozy night out, everything will be more expensive. You'll spend twice as much as you'd planned. And that's a conservative estimate. Before you travel, save up more money.
Packing too much
Don't take a sleeping bag unless you're actually going camping. They're useless. Most hostels won't even let you use them. Don't pack too many clothes – remember, you'll buy things while you travel. Don't take a huge first aid kit. You really just need a few necessities. Don't take more than three pairs of shoes. Don't take more than two pairs of jeans. But do take soap – most hostels don't supply it.
Buying too much
It's tempting to walk into one of the travel shops and just go bananas. You could spend thousands in there, picking up things like special travel shirts with breathable material, compression sacks, wire mesh thingys to wrap around your backpack, money belts, karabiners, hiking shoes… But you don't need any of it. Wear clothes you're comfortable wearing. And using a money belt is like carrying around a sign saying "rob me".
Things are going to go wrong. And that's not because you're a rookie – things are always going to go wrong. That's part of travelling. The mistake first-time travellers make is letting it get to them. So your train didn't turn up, or your hotel has lost your booking, or $50 has gone missing from your wallet. You'll sort it out. Getting upset or freaking out is only going to make it worse.
Not taking out insurance
You need insurance. Even if you're just planning to lie around in a resort for a week. If you're in an accident, or you get sick, or your bags go missing, or any one of a million other mishaps occur while you're travelling, you'll be extremely pleased you spent that small amount on an insurance policy.
Treating the guidebook as gospel
It's great to have a guidebook, something to point you in the right direction and give you background information on the places you're visiting. The mistake first-time travellers make, however, is only doing things listed in the guidebook – only visiting the restaurants, staying in the hostels and visiting the attractions that get the guidebook's stamp of approval.
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