April 11th, 2013 - Isle of Skye, Scotland
While I don’t consider myself a seasoned traveller, I do feel that I can offer a few tips:
1) Eat everything! You didn’t fly all the way to Europe to eat the same old burgers and french fries! Be bold!
2) You don’t have to go to all the tourist hot spots. You also don’t have to pay admission to see everything. Consider all the tourist attractions you haven’t seen in your home town. Sometimes looking at it from afar is enough. I still haven’t been to Alcatraz.
3) A money belt is actually not that essential. While I agree that it is safer to have one, the determining factor should be where you’re going, not simply because you’re traveling. Do you really think the locals in London are carrying around money belts? No, leave your valuables in a safe or just have it in your day bag.
4) When in doubt, ASK! Not just because it’s the fastest way to get an answer, but because it’s a great way to start a conversation and meet new people. I’ve met so many amazing people just from asking, “Hey, have you been to Scotland?”
5) Sometimes the fastest way is not the best way. Train rides can be awesome. For example, the West Highland Railway in Scotland is amazing. (Harry Potter fans take note)
6) Send postcards to your friends and loved ones. It’s fun to search for postcards each time you arrive at a new destination and it’s just a nice thing to do. What better way to end the day than to write about all your great adventures to your best friends and lovers? Your friends will appreciate you for keeping them up to date, and it will make you feel closer to them even from thousands of miles away.
7) Don’t plan out every little detail. In travel, as in life, we have plans, but along the way, things change and when the moment actually arrives we often feel different from how we thought we would feel. Our decisions are a result of our past experiences, future wishes, and current situations. Maybe you don’t feel like staying in Ireland any longer and you’d rather celebrate Midsummer in Sweden or make a side trip to Iceland to catch the Northern Lights. Who knows! Don’t be afraid to change your mind. Don’t limit yourself. The choice is yours.
8) You don’t have to book hostels beforehand. Okay, maybe you have to if you’re traveling during peak times (July/August), but otherwise, you can be pretty free. As a safety measure, I often check the vacancies for the estimated dates just to make sure they have space for me if I decide to go. This allows you to be flexible. Last thing you want to do is to arrive at a town where there’s nothing to do but you’ve already booked a hostel for 3 nights that is non-refundable.
9) Don’t bring your SLR. Yeah I said it, and I’m a photographer. Just bring a point and shoot. Traveling is about the experiences, not about your five thousand dollar camera.
10) Keep a journal. This is a must. Even if you never read it again, it is nice to have an outlet to let your thoughts flow. It’s good for your mental health, and who knows, you might find that you have some rather grand ideas that you’ve never thought of back home.
11) Stay at hostels. This might be a no-brainer, but I recommend this especially if you’re traveling alone. Why? Because even though you can afford the penthouse suite at the W Hotel, you’re not going to meet anybody there. Go where the people go.
12) Splurge every once in a while. Maybe you want to spend a night at the hotel after roughing it in the hostels for the past few weeks. Maybe you want to eat at the fancy restaurant across the street after eating only nuts and crackers for several days. DO IT. Money can always be made. Time to experience the pleasures of life? Nope. It keeps on ticking. So go for it… once in a while.
13) Talk to everybody. This is especially if you’re staying at a hostel. People go to hostels not just because of the low cost, but because they know there are cool people like YOU that they could be meeting. Stop waiting and go. You’ll learn so much and hear so many cool stories.
14) Carry a day bag with all your essentials. Leave your larger backpack at the hostel, other valuables in your locker if they have one, and the rest with you. (ie: laptop, money, cell phone, credit card, passport, etc). These are the essentials that you need to travel. You can lose your luggage with all your clothes and toiletries but that can all be replaced easily. A lost passport/card/laptop? Not so much!
15) Bring snacks. Don’t make the same mistake as me thinking that stores are all open 24/7 like in New York City. Some places close early!
16) Take a break. After all that running around, don’t be afraid to just spend a week in one location to simply relax. Traveling can be tiring. Allow yourself the opportunity to rest.
17) Take advantage of fast internet when you can. Most hostels offer free Wi-Fi, but more often than not, it’s unreliably slow.
18) Introduce yourself to fellow travelers staying in your hostel room. Not only will you be spending the night with them, you’ll also be leaving your personal belongings with them. Mind as well make sure you can trust them, and also to let them know that they can trust you.
19) Avoid any hostels with the word “PARTY” in it. Most hostels cater to the younger crowd, but unless you want to spend the night listening to shitty Top 40s and getting woken up in the middle of the night by hoards drunk people, avoid it like the plague.
20) If you’re ever feeling down about traveling solo, just remind yourself that at least you’re still young, full of energy, and don’t have to deal with traveling with kids. (How do people do that?!)
21) You will lose things. That’s okay. You gain so much more from traveling.
22) Don’t buy guide books. I know everybody loves browsing through the travel section at the local bookstore with extreme envy, wishing for the day you can finally buy one and put it to use, but the reality is that all the information you’ll ever need can be found online. Plus, who wants to be lugging around a heavy guidebook anyways?
23) Practice patience. While time can fly when you’re traveling, some days can also feel like years. It is not uncommon to have planned an outdoor activity, only to find out that it will be raining… all week. Sometimes you just feel bored, lonely, or just fed up with the place you’re in and itching to move on. Take these moments as lessons in patience. Use foiled plans and unchangeable realities as an opportunity to slow down and reflect. Read. Write. Consider it a gift for greater clarity. After all, you’re not going to spend the entire day groaning, right?
24) Embrace the rare opportunities of privacy. You’re staying at hostels. You’re constantly surrounded by people. Enjoy those precious moments when you finally get to be alone! AKA, the shower, taking a dump, or those once in a blue moon moments when you’re the only person in your hostel bedroom. Woop!
25) Don’t be that guy talking way too loud on the phone/skype in the common rooms please.
26) Buy it there. Try not to pack a bunch of things that may end up costing you more money and inconvenience due to travel restrictions. I’m mainly referring to toiletries like soap, shampoo, or other liquid products that are often oversized, heavy, and difficult to pack. If you can afford it, allocate money for a ‘settling fund’. Who knows, you might even get lucky and be able to borrow the many things you need.
While these are all lessons for traveling, they can also be life lessons. Isn’t life just an enormous trip itself?
by Jason Lam