10 mistakes first-time travelers make
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So you’ve made the decision to travel? That’s great—welcome to a world full of discovery, wonder, and mysteries. However, before you finally peel off the “traveler” ID from its sticker paper and place it on your breast pocket, heed the following ten bits of advice.

NOT KNOWING WHETHER YOU CAN ENTER YOUR DESTINATION

As a traveler, your passport is your most powerful document. You need it to be able to go past the immigration desk and be allowed to leave the airport.

Before booking your trip, head to the U.S. Department of State’s travel website and verify two things: (1) Whether you need a visa, and (2) how long the passport validity requirement is.

If you carry a U.S. passport, you can travel to 160 countries without having to secure a visa prior to your departure.

Also, be aware that you may be denied entry if your passport is set to expire within the next three to six months. If you can’t move the trip to give you enough time to renew your passport, consider paying for expedited renewal services.

OVERPACKING

For the sake of your sanity and of your physical well-being, travel light. Unless you can leave your luggage in one place for the entirety of your trip, you’re going to have to lug it around at some point—several across cobblestone paths, grasslands, stairs, and other unpaved roads.

When packing for a trip, think in outfits as opposed to individual pieces. With the exception of undergarments, pack enough clothes to last only half  (or at most three-quarters) of the trip.

OVERPLANNING

Look, we all get it; you want to maximize the days you’ll be in your destination—maximum pictures, Facebook and Instagram check-ins, and to make however much money you paid for the trip worth it. However, you’re only human. Don’t forget that your travels, wonderful as it may be, will eventually become exhausting. If not the jetlag from a change in timezones, the fact that you’ve been out and about for 10 to 12 hours each day.

Give yourself adequate time to sleep and take periodic rests. You may think this is a huge waste of time, but you’ll waste even more time if you fall ill from exhaustion and have to cancel much of your trip.

OVERSPENDING

First, the honest truth: You will incur expenses whenever you decide to travel. Don’t go bankrupt just because it’s your first time. Set a realistic budget of $100-$150 per day that you’re traveling. This includes everything: lodging, food, and entertainment. (Adjust as necessary if you’re visiting a country well-known for being expensive, like Japan, Switzerland, and Luxembourg.) If you can spend less than your budget, great; towards the end of your trip, treat yourself to a fabulous dinner with all the money you’ve been able to save.

EATING ONLY THE FOOD YOU’RE USED TO

Food is a big part of traveling—after all, just because you’re in a foreign country doesn’t mean you’ll stop eating. Another thing that is expected when you travel is to open your eyes to new perspectives—and this includes your destination’s culinary scene.

I always feel a tinge of guilt whenever someone who had just visited a new destination elected only to eat what they’re used to back home. Imagine going to Italy and ordering—horror—spaghetti and meatballs, instead of Cacio e Pepe, Carbonara (my personal recipe here), or Pasta al Forno. Or eating the American menu instead of the Japanese menu at the ryokan you’re staying at.

As long as you’re not deathly allergic or face religious backlash, know that the food you’ll eventually be asked to try will not kill you. Keep an open mind—the citizens have been eating the same thing for all their lives and they’re awesome. Since going to Belgium, I’ve learned to like wild boar; in Japan, it’s octopus; France is all about the snails.

FALLING FOR SCAMS

Not everyone you meet during your travels will be friendly, not everyone you see standing in line for the train is a passenger, not everyone who tries to hand you something is giving it to you for free, not everyone who gives you advice is trying to send you to a good place. Scam artists are present regardless of country to prey on unsuspecting tourists and clueless travelers.

As part of your pre-vacation research, look into what the usual scams are at your destination. See if petty crime such as pickpocketing is common, and if there are neighborhoods that may not be welcoming to tourists in the evening.

Above all else, have fun, but do not throw caution out of the wind.

OVERDOING THE CARPE DIEM

Despite constant encouragement to experience as much as you can while traveling, please be aware of your limits. You’re not invincible, even if you’re in another country. Tell your friends that you can’t swim and would need a floater of some kind should they invite you to go to the lake for a couple of days. It’s going to be a big problem if you drown.

SCHEDULING TOO-TIGHT CONNECTIONS

Anyone who has gotten familiar with the rhythms of the airport will tell you one thing: You can’t rely on a fellow traveler’s experience to plan your transit time. Public transportation will always be an unpredictable endeavor, with delays, re-routings, de-planings, tighter security checks, and the like adding unexpected time in your trip.

Give yourself more time than what is necessary as you put together your itinerary. You do have some fallbacks, say, in the event that you miss your connection because of your flight’s late arrival, the airline will make reasonable opportunities to re-book you on the same day. But you won’t be as lucky if you don’t get to board your train because you only gave yourself five minutes to transfer at a terminal that’s the size of a football field.

NOT BUYING A SOUVENIR

Treat each day you’re on vacation as if it’s your last, because you never know if you’ll be able to come back. If you come across a shop selling an item that you’ve always wanted to bring home, purchase it. Regret over not buying something is many times worse than buyer’s remorse. By all means, comparison-shop for a few hours, but don’t sleep through a valuable souvenir. Fate seems to always play cruel jokes on people, by having the shop be closed on the day you come back to it.

(Hopefully, you’re buying more meaningful souvenirs than fridge magnets and other bric-a-brac)

TAKING TOO MANY PHOTOGRAPHS

Studies show that people remember details from their trips if there are photographs that will help jog their memory. However, don’t use up all your time snapping away at the sites that you end up not putting the camera down to enjoy where you are. Believe me, no one on Facebook wants to look through a 1000-item photo dump.

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