Words of Wisdom to a First Time Traveler

I can remember my first international trip like it was yesterday. Senior year of college, fall 2006, I headed to Madrid, Spain to study abroad for the semester. I remember feeling a myriad of emotions from excitement, nervousness, to fear. During that semester, I learned about myself and I also learned how people perceived me due to my skin color.  My naiveté quickly disappeared as I realized racism exists not only in the U.S but also overseas. I was shocked when I was followed around in certain stores. In life we all face many challenges but what separates us is how we react in the face of adversity. Through the years, my travels have taught me countless lessons and so I have listed 10 tips which may help you on your first international trip.
1. Have an open mind– It goes without saying the importance of having an open mind but unfortunately there are many individuals who travel extensively but hold on to their narrow minded beliefs. I recall a Geography class I took when I was in college; the professor had been to over 100 countries. However, the terms he used to refer to some of the countries and citizens of those countries were extremely discriminatory and offensive. It was obvious to me that he held very stereotypical and judgmental points of view. Having an open mind simply means having the ability to learn about another culture or country without allowing your own biases to interfere.
2. Live in the moment– Unplug from social media. Not everything needs to be photographed or put on Snapchat. When you’re completely present, you open yourself up to having authentic interactions with other people. When I travel, I normally don’t buy a local sim card. As result, I can only use my phone when I have Wi-Fi. The conversations I’ve had because of that have been meaningful because I’m able to give my undivided attention to whomever I’m speaking with and vice versa.
3. Embrace your surroundings– There are certain times when it is better to try and blend in with the locals. For example, if you’re in a Muslim country you might be tempted to dress how you would back home. If it’s extremely hot outside, you might want to wear a tank top and shorts. Respecting the local culture is crucial because it can determine how you are perceived and how people will treat you. When in Rome…
4. Try to learn key phrases in the language– Obviously you’re not going to be fluent in a language in a few days. However, prior to your trip, it is helpful to learn some basic phrases and terms such as hello, goodbye, and thank you. When a foreigner attempts to speak a few words in the local language, it tends to make a positive impression on the people. It provides the locals with a sense of pride because you took the time to learn a few words in their language. So often Americans go abroad and are dismayed when they can’t find someone who speaks English. English is a universal language but that does not mean everyone will be fluent in English.
5. Use common sense– Common sense isn’t very common unfortunately. The reality is things can happen to you abroad and at home. However, it’s important to not put yourself in situations you wouldn’t back home. There are exceptions to this but it’s something to keep in mind.  For example, when I lived in Georgia (the country) I accepted a ride from a stranger to the nearest big city. This particular day, all of the buses were full and I really needed to get to the nearest city quickly. As I was standing on the side of the road, I was approached by two men in a bus who were going where I needed to go. I hesitated at first but I was so tired of waiting I accepted. They dropped me off without incidence but the entire time, I was so nervous something bad was going to happen to me. Obviously I would never hitchhike in the states so I shouldn’t have hitchhiked in Georgia either. Yes, nothing happened  but I took a huge chance. Sidebar- I’m not referring to countries where hitchhiking is a common practice.
6. Trust your instincts– If someone or someplace is giving you a bad vibe then go with your gut. This is also important when trying to determine if something is legitimate or not. In Thailand, my friend and I were taken to what was supposed to be the floating market. We didn’t know any better so we went along with it. After I got back I saw other pictures of the floating market and I realized we had been duped. If I would have trusted my instincts, we wouldn’t have wasted our time or money.
7. Leave your judgments, generalizations, and stereotypes at home– Everyone is biased in one way or another. What matters is how you allow those biases to affect your experiences with the world. For example, before I moved to Mexico I didn’t think I would stand out more than anyone else. My thought was since the U.S is so close to Mexico, most Mexicans are used to seeing Black people. Well when I arrived in Mexico, I learned quite the contrary was true. I found myself being stared at a lot, not maliciously but out of curiosity.
8. Listen to the locals– the locals know the lay of the land better than any guidebook ever will. If the locals tell you to avoid certain areas, then you would be remiss to ignore their advice. Locals are also the best people to ask for restaurant recommendations. It might not be a 5 star restaurant but it will most likely be more authentic than what is listed on Trip Advisor or other travel websites.
9. Budget accordingly– The difference between living the lavish life and the life of a pauper will be determined by your budget. What $1000 gets you in Thailand is not the same in Paris. It’s important to look at the exchange rate before you go to determine how far your money will go. In Bali Indonesia, I exchanged about $300 and I was a millionaire, lol. In Europe, $300 is worth less than it is in the United States.
10. Plan ahead– If you’re planning on traveling in the summer. When there is an influx of tourists, you have to plan ahead certain tourist attractions to ensure you’ll be able to get tickets. For example, you might want to work with a tour company that will plan your entire itinerary. You will need to find out when is the best time/day to visit certain sites.


One thought on “Words of Wisdom to a First Time Traveler

  1. Prime Sam

    This is really true. Everything will help make the experience better and number 7 is what most people are scared of travelling. Love it.


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