Offer My ‘First-Time Travel’ Tips
Although it feels like a million years ago that I went travelling, what I do remember is how invaluable this sheet of paper was that was given to me by a lovely friend with a few tips of hers written down. It was a great starting point and something that made me feel a little braver before heading out to Bangkok and beyond, places I’d never been to before and destinations I was going to without any adult supervision. If you are planning on travelling to South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand or Fiji then these tips may well apply to you because they are the countries I visited while on my three-month round-the-world adventure.
Before you leave
- You’ve read all about what to bring – the rucksack, the toiletries, your malaria tablets and so on – but please, don’t feel like you need to buy the entire Boots store before you fly out. Not only will all these pricy items weigh your bag down, but if you are going somewhere other than the middle of the jungle then they will have somewhere you can buy all of these things. If your first destination is Bangkok then there is a Boots right by the Kho San Road (the famous road nearly all first-time-travellers stay on/near when they first arrive in the city)
- Do not book everything through a travel company such as STA travel (we actually had a lot of problems with STA-we dealt with a very stupid woman!) because you just don’t need to and you will be charged silly prices. Book your flights and a hostel for the first night you arrive abroad but then just book as you go. You can book trips and transport around countries for far less when you are actually in said country
- Try and seek out some second-hand guide books or ask your friends if they have any. I still have all my books from travelling and they cost a pretty penny to buy new!
- If you are going by yourself, you can use websites such as travbuddy.com to see if there is anybody else travelling the same route as you. Whilst we were travelling we met a couple of people who had found travel buddies using this site and they got along really well!
- Go to your bank and arrange for another card/account to be made before you fly out. Keep your new bank card in your suitcase – or somewhere else other than your usual purse. This way, if worse comes to worse and your purse gets lost/stolen then you can organise moving your money into the other account and having access to it a lot quicker than if you had to ring home and organise another card to be set out. Nightmare avoided
- Don’t take any item of clothing away that you really love and wouldn’t want to get ruined. There are lots of hareem and fisherman pants that are great for cover ups and you’ll need them if you visit temples and they are comfy for long journeys
- Don’t be too anxious. If you are going somewhere like South East Asia which is a little different to anywhere you’ve been before (it was for me) then don’t worry, it is road well-travelled and so many travellers are there every year so sadly, in some places it’s pretty Westernised
Once you are there
South East Asia (Thailand/Vietnam) tips:
- If you are heading to Bangkok first just be aware that you may hate it. We hated it and thankfully our route took us back there a second time about seven weeks later and we came to love it. Initially, however, it is dirty, loud and the tuk-tuk drivers and touts can smell your pasty, first-time-traveller-skin a mile off. This leads me to my main point: be careful about being ripped off in Bangkok. We didn’t realise/weren’t savvy enough to book our trains out of Bangkok and around Thailand by ourselves from the train station. Don’t let a ‘travel agent’ hassle you into booking excursions and transport with them. We fell into this trap because we were none the wiser really and felt more secure if we just booked a few days up in advance however we ended up paying a lot for something that really should have been dirt cheap. Of course, relatively speaking ‘a lot’ isn’t a lot in Thailand. Just avoid all travel agents, find a map and go straight to the main railway station and book train tickets from there
- If you book you first night’s accommodation as we did, and you are staying in Bangkok, chances are you will be booked into a hostel on or near the Kho San Road. This is basically Blackpool in SE Asia! It is crazy drunk English people being idiots. However, it is quite fun albeit overwhelming. We went to Bangkok twice on our travels, and the second time we went was a million times better. We stayed away from the Kho San Road and used the subway – it is the most amazing subway I have ever used and laughs in the face of the London tube – and went to the brilliant market: Chatuchak market. You can get there via subway for dirt cheap and it’s brilliant!
- Head North in Thailand. The Southern Thai islands are very touristy and expensive (for Thailand) and you just don’t quite get the Thai ‘experience’ like you do when you head up North. I would head to Chiang Mai in the North. It’s absolutely beautiful, a great city to explore and definitely do a cookery class. They are dirt cheap and fantastic and you have such a laugh. We were in a great class of people and made the yummiest three meals I’ve probably ever eaten
- Preferably travel by train across Thailand – across Vietnam, night buses are the norm. I don’t think there is much worse than a night bus but it does the job
- Eat the street food, I promise it’s not going to make you ill (just avoid salad) – in fact it’s absolutely delicious
- Generally, make sure you walk with your bag over the opposite arm that is facing the road. It is rare, but occasionally people on motorbikes will take a chance and grab your bag while they are still driving, dragging you along the road if they have to
- Go on a trek – we did one for three days which was pretty hardcore, you can do them for 1 or 2 days – however this is where we met a fantastic group of people and travelled with them for a week or so
- If you visit Vietnam, I can’t recommend the Easy Riders enough. Seriously. You choose where you want to be picked up in Vietnam and a lovely Vietnamese man (men in our case) arrive with their huge motorbike with space for you and your big rucksack to be strapped to the back. You specify how many days you have and where you want to end up and they tailor the trip accordingly. The riders talk to you about their Vietnam and the history of it that you just don’t really get in books. They will take you to what looks like a tiny shack on the side of an empty road and you stop off and have famous Vietnamese coffee which is made with condensed milk and is delicious. You will park up and they will point out the agent orange traces that still stain the landscape a glowing red today. I had goat for the first time while with the Easy Riders and man, oh man, it was better than steak. Honestly, I can’t tell you what you will see/learn/experience but it is just breathtaking and this is probably the best experience we had. Also, don’t be worried about travelling on the back of a motorbike; not once did I feel unsafe, the journey was smooth and comfortable and I loved it!
- Go to Hoi An, Vietnam- it’s the most beautiful place lit up with paper lanterns. Eat at the Cargo Club. Enough said
- Remember that sometimes internal flights are as cheap or not too much more expensive than train/coach travel and obviously far quicker
New Zealand tips:
- I highly recommend travelling around NZ in a campervan. We used Explore More and they were great, although I think they are now called Mighty Campers – have a look here. You get to control how you travel, when you stop, where you want to stop and its easy to drive across. The views aren’t half bad either
- If you’ve never been in a campervan before, my only advice would be to stick to two weeks tops. By the end of week 2 we had had enough of Sheila, as we called her, and were ready to sleep in normal beds once again. Also, when you are planning your travels, just make sure you factor in what time of year you will be arriving in Oz/NZ. We arrived to New Zealand during their Autumn and my god it was FREEZING!! You need to make sure you have some warm clothes packed if this will be the case!
- A little tip regarding sleeping in the campervan: as we went during low season, April time, we managed to get away with pulling up in car parks or on the side of the road now and then when we wanted to avoid paying money for the camp sites. You’re not really supposed to do this, but as long as you aren’t too obvious you can get away with it if it’s not peak season!
Those are some of my travel tips if you are a first time lonesome traveller! My main point as well as everything else, would be to try and visit places that aren’t so talked about in the Lonely Planet guide books. Challenge yourself. Whilst in Fiji, my friend Lily and I travelled bloody miles to the most amazing island that only had a few lines dedicated to it in the guide book but was the most breathtaking place I’ve ever been to that was untouched by tourism.
If you want anymore info about that, let me know. W hat are your top travel tips?