10 Tips for Beginner Travelers

Over the past two years, I have lived and worked in more than a dozen different countries. I was a digital nomad most of the year, living out of my backpack. It’s awesome. It’s amazing. I have spoken to many people back home who have never been on an international trip and have many questions. These are 10 tips that I have compiled to help you make your first international trip as smooth as possible.

Check out these 5 Easy Places for Novice International Travelers.

1. Start somewhere simple

Some places are more difficult to reach than others. It might be worth looking at one of the more accessible destinations if you are new to the country. For example, a 6-week stay on Bouvet Islands or a quick trip up K2. If that’s what your heart desires, you can do it.

2. Get your phone fixed

Unlocked smartphones are more liberating than any other thing. Unlocked phones can be used to get local SIM cards for high-speed, cheap data no matter where you are. Avoid expensive travel data plans from Verizon and Sprint. Local SIM cards are the best way to go.

The Simple Choice plan gives you unlimited international data in almost every country unless you have one. However, it’s slow. It’s slow, however.

You might also want to check out Are SIM Cards for Travel Worth It?.

3. The right luggage

Consider buying a smaller backpack than you think you will need. (More on this in #5) A good backpack is my preference. Although hybrid backpacks/rolly bags are popular, I find them cumbersome. Regular rolly bags are more trouble than they’re worth. Avoid large suitcases unless you are going on a trip to ski or other outdoor activities that require a lot of bulky gear.

Geoffrey Morrison, photo credit

4. The right gear

I love a good, cheap travel laptop. A USB battery charger is a valuable tool. Although I love noise-canceling headphones, they are probably too expensive for most people.

5. Pack lightweight

This is the most difficult part of traveling. Overpacking is one of the most difficult urges to conquer. “But, I might need that!” “But I might need this!” is so common that there are entire industries dedicated to junk and charging for heavy bags. For everything, aim for 30 pounds. You don’t need to bring too much electronics. Try to keep it under 25. A week’s worth of clothes is enough. Laundry can be done anywhere.

Traveling light can make a huge difference in how you travel. See why you should always pack light and What to bring on an around-the-world adventure for more information.

6. Cloud data backup

One friend dropped her camera in a taxi, and she lost 3 weeks’ worth of photos. This was almost her entire trip through Asia. Cloud backups can be cheap and simple to use. I love Google photos, but there are many other options. CNET gives a detailed rundown. 

7. Apps for You and Your Family

Google Translate, the best app for travelers, is FAR. It allows you to download languages from your WiFi network and work without any data connection. Google Maps comes in second place. You can download an area from WiFi, and it will also work without a data plan.

I recommend that you also connect your family with apps, such as WhatsApp, Instagram, Messenger, Skype, Messenger, and so on. It is important to keep in touch with your family while on the road. Instagram is a great tool for people who don’t have any tech skills. It allows cross-posting to Twitter, Instagram, and other social media sites. Another way to share photos or info is Tumblr. I have met many travelers who use it to post their travel experiences to share with others back home.

8. Don’t be afraid to use hostels

Americans don’t think of hostels as something they should be. They are often mistakenly viewed as dangerous, noisy, and dirty places. While some may be true, most of the hotels I have stayed in over the two years that I have been traveling full-time are much nicer than most hotels.

Photo credit: Generator Hostels (L-R: Barcelona, London and Dublin).

Hostels and Hostelworld review websites give you a good idea of a location before you even visit it. They’re also a great way for you to meet new people.

9. Lock your phone

Your phone and all that’s on it are probably the most important thing you own. Smartphones can be easily replaced. It is much worse to steal personal data. How many websites and banking apps do you have that log you in automatically?

Lock your phone. Although the swipey geometry designs look great, your screen will start to look exactly like your passcode after a while. Biometrics and numbers are safer.

10. Don’t make it easy for thieves

I met a small town in the midwest who was a first-timer. Her iPhone 6 was half in her back pocket as she walked through London. It’s not common to get your phone stolen, but don’t let it go. Do not leave your bag on a table at sidewalk cafes. On crowded trains, don’t forget your back. It’s amazing how many people don’t do these things. It’s okay to be cautious.

It doesn’t mean you have to tie your bags with steel cables each time you leave the hostel. Be aware of what’s around you. It’s possible that someone could pick something up or grab it from you without much effort.

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The majority of people are very good. They will help you. You can always buy something if you’re out of the country. You can see the world as different and identical in ways that you cannot imagine. Could you go out and see it?

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