We know two things that will happen this travel season: You will travel (of course!), and you will make mistakes. Here's a list of questions you should ask yourselves – and others – before your big adventure to make your next vacay the best ever!
1) When should I plan to travel?
Travel only when you are ready. Don't just leap into vacation-mode. Plan. Check your finances. Make a solid itinerary. Give yourself time to adjust. Nothing beats the buzz like being dangerously low on cash or if your mind is preoccupied with that important business meeting you were supposed to attend.
2) Where should I go, and what should I do?
Anywhere you've always longed to go, really. Apart from soaking in the sights and sounds, if you have the time, gain local experience. Learn Spanish in Guatemala, volunteer to teach English in Africa, try a martial art in China, or take a cookery course in Paris – the list of things you can do is endless. A skill really is the best souvenir you can pick up from your travels.
3) How can I beat the tourist season?
The tourist season means essentially good climate but also expensive flight tickets, longer queues at museums, and if you're really unlucky, someone photo bombing that to-be-epic picture under the Eiffel Tower. Try to visit at the beginning or end of the tourist cycles (the so-called shoulder seasons), when you'll get pleasant weather, minus the teeming crowd.
4) Should I look for a travel partner?
The upside of having a travel partner is that you don't have to worry about getting lonely. The downside: being obliged to stick together 24x7. Before the trip, ensure that you and your partner agree on your shared budget so you don't get accused of cramping the other person's style en route. Compare individual itineraries well in advance and settle the basics such as accommodation and transport. Once you actually reach the destination, it's okay to go in separate directions.
5) Can I manage with just speaking English?
Yes, and no. In some countries this might work just fine but not so in others. Learning the language will not only help you understand the environment and culture better but the local people will credit you for your interest and attempt, even if your language skills remain rudimentary at best. “Please”, “thank you”, “hello”, or “could you point me to where the washroom is?” – you don't have to be a gifted linguist to learn commonplace phrases such as in these in the local language.
6) Do I really need travel insurance?
Hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. It only takes a clumsy driver or bad street food to throw all your plans into disarray. But don't go to just any travel agent or website to get insured. Research is essential. If the policy doesn't cover trekking mishaps, it's of no use to you on that trek to Annapurna. Check through the fine print to know what the policy will (or won't) cover.
7) What should I pack?
While it may be difficult to figure out how to get a month's worth of stuff into one or two pieces of baggage, it's not impossible. Here are two basic approaches: stay in the same town and change clothes every day, or wear the same clothes every day and just change towns. The world won't collapse if you get clicked in the same outfit twice. Ditch that pro-camera setup (unless you're a professional, of course) and save that pair of boots for some other time. Don't forget to carry the essentials: toiletries, first-aid kit, earphones, and earplugs.
8) What should I read?
A comprehensive guidebook is a good way to start. The more you read, the lesser the possibility of cultural shock. The guidebook will help you plan your itinerary and ease your mind into the journey to follow. But don't focus only on travel guides; pick up some fiction with your travel destination as the setting. Read Things Fall Apart before you hit Africa or One Hundred Years of Solitude before heading off to Latin America.
There you have it. Your next travel destination beckons, and these essential tips and tricks should help you experience the time of your life!
Inspired by The Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World