Woman Near Macy's, New York City

9 Great Lessons Every Traveler Must Learn

There’s no shortage of road-tested and traveler-approved advice out there. For any situation, there’s a dizzying array of do’s and don’ts, try-this-but-not-that, go-here-but-not-there. Rather than overwhelm the newly-embarked vagabond, perhaps it’s best to pass along general advice that still allows for constructive trial and error and the glorious joys of ”˜finding out for yourself’.

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The following advice is by no means comprehensive, but if you’re just starting the lifestyle of drifting, floating, and otherwise exploring the world, these tidbits might serve you.

#1: The Metros Are Not Free (and don’t forget to validate)

One of my first thoughts upon alighting the Greek Metro system was, “Ah, how nice of them! The Metro is free!” In retrospect, this was not only false but also totally illegal. Metro systems throughout the world differ more than how to make a proper chili dish in America. The most important rule is to investigate before you board, so you don’t get caught with a missing ticket – or worse yet, an unvalidated ticket — and face serious penalties.

However, if overlooking this aspect of foreign travel is appealing to you, go for it — sometimes it’s almost easier to inadvertently break the rules than figure out what you need to do to get a ticket.

Woman Near Macy's, New York City
© vonSchnauzer

#2: People Who Approach You Are Not Always Doing So Out Of Kindness

First-time travelers tend to think that everyone coming at them with a smile and open arms is doing so to share the joy of travel. Not so. While there are plenty of good-hearted natives out there, some approach foreigners — and foreigners only — because their livelihood depends on it. Whether it involves steering us toward their hotel of choice (from which they receive kickbacks), convincing us to purchase tickets to some event, or offering “insider looks” at tourist sites, always use a discriminating eye and don’t be afraid to haggle and confirm prices upfront.

#3: Transportation Costs Hurt

It’s far too easy in the planning stage to assume you’ll always find free or cheap transportation like car-shares when you need them, or find the lowest-priced train or plane deal for the dates you want. In fact, if you’re operating on a tight time budget, chances are the wildly cheap train and plane deals won’t always correspond with your schedule.

While it may sometimes be feasible to plan your trip around the deals and bargains, there will come a time when you have to be somewhere by a certain time, prices be damned. And depending on what country you’re in, those prices can be staggering, especially if it means utilizing any type of high-speed rail or last-minute changes to existing plane tickets.

Traveler on Moving Walkway, Dublin Airport
© Victor Bayon

#4: Everything Is More (or Less) Expensive Than You Thought

Truth is, almost nobody can budget correctly for their first trip. If you’re going to Europe, things tend to be pricier than expected; while trips to Asia or Central America will be staggeringly low. It’s always best to shoot for a budget beyond what you’d expect in your worst case scenario — you know, the trip that includes unforeseen flight changes, last-minute hotel reservations, lost luggage and inconvenient thefts.

And don’t forget about the vices — whether this includes shopping, souvenirs, drinking wine every night and so on. This inevitable aspect of travel can really dent your budget if you’re unprepared.

#5: You Will Probably be Robbed

I don’t mean to say that robbery-at-gunpoint is a guarantee for world travelers, but chances are you’ll experience your fair share of petty theft along the way. It’s the way of the world and this act is not limited to specific “underdeveloped” or “heathen” countries. It happens everywhere. And if you travel enough, it will happen to you.

Always take extra precautions to ensure that if and when it does happen, you’re prepared. Stashing money in strange places and making copies of all your important documents go a long way — and having someone back home who can run important errands or forward along bank cards doesn’t hurt either.

#6: There Are Other Tourists

This means you won’t behold the glory of Rome by yourself, nor the mystical nature of the Egyptian tombs in a veil of silence or awe. There are babies crying, people sweating, pushy surges in crowds, and street vendors begging for your attention. There will always be someone in the periphery, someone waiting behind you to snap a photo, someone already in the margins of the photo you want to shoot, and so on. Television shows convey an idealized notion of solitary exploration, of quiet reverence — this is far from the truth of real tourist sites.

Mercury II [Explored]
Lost Tourists © ZL-Photography

#7: Plan Your First Bed

It’s easy to assume that with all the low-cost ho(s)tels out there, you’ll have multiple options for rest at night. This isn’t always the case. Depending on the season, what high-profile events are taking place or the random arrival of conventions, there’s a chance that during your visit the nearest available bed will be in a city an hour away or more.

To avoid sleeping in cemeteries or roughing it in 24-hour McDonald’s (unless, of course, that’s your goal), get your first night squared away as soon as you can. That way you can let the rest of your trip flow unencumbered by plans and commitments, which allows for the healthy, last-minute drifting between opportunities that vagabonding is famous for.

#8: Home is Where the Heart Is

When you’ve found the perfect combination of group life and location, a place for your heart and mind to settle, comfortably nourished and stimulated by your surroundings, you’ve found home.

”¦ a tired cliché to be sure, but a piece of wisdom that always rings true. Your hometown might very well be in some small (or large) city in a state that feels and looks too familiar to you, but your heart might settle on somewhere totally different than you expected.

What has become shockingly obvious throughout my years of travel is that it often doesn’t matter what language is the norm in the country, the availability of “good jobs” or whether or not a Starbucks is available ten times over in the city — what makes a place a home is the community, the connections, and the heart. When you’ve found the perfect combination of group life and location, a place for your heart and mind to settle comfortably nourished and stimulated by your surroundings, you’ve found your home. And that might be exactly the place you originally left, or it might be halfway across the world. We travelers never know until we find it.

#9: People Are Pretty Much the Same Everywhere

Overlooking religious traditions, language, styles of dress and preferred modes of transportation, it will be quickly apparent that most everyone in the world does the same thing. We all wake up, interact with family and community members, spend a portion of our days engaged in some money-making activities, eat meals amongst family members, catch up on the local happenings, and eventually go to bed. What makes travel so rewarding and interesting is the variation on the common human theme — the never-ending innovation on life.

While we’re the same, we’re also different. Some of the greatest joys on the road stem from witnessing simple interactions that we all recognize as familiar but are dripping with new colors and foreign sounds, whether it’s a tender moment between mother and child or a group ceremony in the town plaza. Travel reminds us that we’re all essentially the same, and this is one of the most thrilling lessons to learn.

  1. ….. most everyone in the world does the same thing. We all wake up, interact with family and community members, spend a portion of our days engaged in some money-making activities, eat meals amongst family members, catch up on the local happenings, and eventually go to bed. …

    So very very true.. I had the same discussion with a cabbie in Tel Aviv.

  2. This is the most depressing travel story I ever read. You make it sound like excrutiating pain!
    In various occasions I was staring at my map blankly and had help from strangers, without asking or getting robbed. Of course thats Europe and Cuba is a whole different story but also their mentality and ‘helpfullness’ learns you so much about the way they are forced to live. And that’s another thing: people are the same but different in so many ways.
    We can’t judge the way people travel, Rome is for sure the worst touristic example but go to Napels and you’ll fall in love. I saw the prettiest thing there without the breath of other tourists in my neck.. Uptill now, travelling 2 or 3 times a year to near and far countries, I’ve never been robbed. My mom once when we crossed the street in Barcelona but she had the dumbest handbag. Put some cash and 1 creditcard in your pocket and beware but not affraid.
    Travel is choises and informing yourself before leaving your couch. O, and it’s fun as well!

  3. Very misleading article. Almost all headlines are indirectly wrong, and the content is very vague, yet still strongly one aided. Have you travelled before?

  4. Great post! These tips are definitely great for the first time traveller, and for veteran travellers as well. The fact that there are other tourists is a hard one for us, still! We always want a place to ourselves and to get the great photo without any tourists in the shot, it’s just not possible sometimes.


  5. With myself, my wife and our two married friends 3 months away from the greatest round the world trip ever, it does make me nervous to think so many people will be out to get me. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing that I’m so trusting and nice! Hopefully it all goes without a hitch, feel free to follow along and see if we get through safely at http://www.operation421.com :)

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