From first-time trekking through the dunes of Death Valley to taking that first step inside Lady Liberty’s crown, life’s a journey that provides the freedom that’s unsurpassable in achieving your wildest of dreams. But just like with any first doing, you’re going to fall and bump your head a few times before finally nailing it all down. Yet of course, all of those worries and concerns from the uncertainties of that trip will slowly fade away, as you discover the ins and outs of taking a worry-free vacation.
After seeing such helpful advice from my last round-up post on travel savings tips, I could hardly wait to see the words of wisdom that we would see from a new batch of travelers. So, in an effort to learn from some of the world’s most experienced travelers about how they wished they would’ve traveled more effectively, I reached out to them to hear their response to this one simple question:
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before you started traveling?
We’ve got loads of great advice, as these travelers reflected back on their many years or experiences and really gave us some tips from the heart. So without further ado, here are their responses, which are separated into categories and are shared in the order that they were received:
1. “That no matter how lost you get, your hotel is only a cab or subway ride away. It sounds like obvious advice, but it honestly didn’t occur to me right away. I’d travel a city and would barely enjoy it, because I was so petrified of getting lost (I have a terrible sense of direction). I’d be afraid to wander too far from my hotel, I’d walk slowly, constantly staring at street signs to try and keep my bearings.
Then one day, my husband said, “So what if you get lost? Anywhere you go, you’re still only a cab ride away.”
That changed my entire perspective on things. I started exploring cities, with no real idea of where I was headed (though I do still make note of dangerous or unpopulated areas, so I can avoid them). I’ve gotten lost more times than I can count. And I’ve had some wonderful adventures as a result.”
2. “Before I left, I wish I had known how friendly and welcoming the world would be on the other side. I feared traveling solo when I first started, and now I have memories of the kindnesses and new friends I have met at every step along the way.”
3. “That no matter what obstacles or challenges you discover while on the road, as long as you keep things in perspective, are flexible, take a deep breath, and continue to push forward everything always works out. Not only does it work out, but it usually works out for the best and leaves you with incredible life lessons and stories. These days I joke with friends that I, “Travel for the disaster”. It’s the source of most of my greatest adventures and fondest memories.”
4. “I wish I had known how easy it really is to travel around the world before I started traveling. I say that because had I known I know I would have done it a lot sooner. I always looked at the world as beautiful place yet big and scary at the same time and I know I let those fears hold me back a few times. Now that I have traveled all over and actually done it I make sure I tell others how easy it really is. When I say easy I mean how easy it is to plan and actually do something. I know sometimes the travel can be tough and sometimes it will break you, but it’s for moments like that that it’s all worth it.”
5. “I wish I had known that people are people everywhere and they would much rather help you than ever harm you.”
6. “I wish I had known nothing before I travelled. I wish I could have been naive to the world, have no preconceptions in the back of my mind, no stereotypes in my head. I wish that everyone could see the world completely clear of history, culture, religion or tradition. Because maybe then we’d all realize what I have learned by travelling. We are all the same, when you strip it all away, we want love and safety, and nothing more. From Canada to the Congo, we are all the same.”
7. “I wish I knew that pedestrian crossings where optional in many countries and are only there for decoration!”
8. “The one thing I wish I had explored more before taking off on our open ended travels is our relationship to “fear”.
9. “I wish I’d known that I didn’t need to worry about most of the things I worried about before I started traveling. Then again, that’s kind of like life: 80% of the things we worry about never come to pass. Just get out there, divest yourself of pre-conceptions, and see what happens.”
10. “I think everyone makes mistakes when they travel, but travel, as in life in general, is an opportunity to learn and grow, so I don’t regret anything I’ve done (or haven’t done) while traveling. That said, then, I suppose the one thing I’d known before traveling is that there is no wrong way to do it. Staying at all-inclusive resorts, taking overland tours, hitchhiking, independent backpacking, cruising … these are all legitimate forms of travel.”
11. “I wish I had known that it would be fun, that everything would turn out all right and that in the end, I would always be able to rely on myself and the inherent kindness of almost all people everywhere. The world is not a scary place. People are good. We have much more in common than we have differences — but, oh, those differences are fascinating and worthy of preservation and celebration.”
Easy Does It
1. “The biggest thing travel has taught me is to slow down. It’s easy to get swept away by the dream of visiting famous landmarks and tourist attractions, snapping photos and crossing off lists. But travel is so much more than that. It’s experiential and transformational. We’ve looked back on trips and realized that we really didn’t connect with the people or the land because we were so consumed by the attraction or the thought of fulfilling a dream. Some of our most powerful experiences and stories have been the result of a mistake or unexpected event. The lesson learned is to slow down and let the experience happen naturally. Don’t force things or set unrealistic expectations, you’ll only feel disappointment when you put attractions and destinations on a pedestal.”
2. “I wish I’d known how futile it was to make long term plans. Things change: you hate someplace, you love someplace, and it’s great to be able to readjust and change your itinerary. I’m so glad that I kept my plans flexible and didn’t lock myself down with lots of reservations and plane tickets.”
3. “You don’t need to plan out every single detail of your trip! When I first started travelling I used to book all my accommodations, domestic flights, and tours ahead of time. While this gave me some peace of mind about what I was doing next, it soon began to restrict my travels – even if I really liked a city, I had to keep moving because I had already made arrangements for the following destination. As I gained confidence as a traveller, I learned that sometimes it’s best to have rough itinerary of what you’d like to do, but to wing it the rest of the way. You simple never know who you’re going to meet or what cities you’re going to enjoy, so it’s best to keep your travels as flexible as possible.”
4. I wish I had known that I wouldn’t stick to any of the plans I had made. I spent months and months planning out every single detail of my travels. I’d booked flights, accommodation, tours, everything! A few weeks after leaving I found myself miserable and exhausted, desperate to stop moving. While I love researching new destinations and planning out routes and itineraries, I now never book anything in advance — you never know how you’re going to feel about a place until you arrive.
5. “That it’s not about the travel. It’s about living in the moment and taking advantage of every single moment you have – and that can happen at home as well. How come it took me 28 years of perpetual travel to figure that out?”
6. George: “How easy it was to travel independently.” Lisa: “Before I started traveling, I was always worried about bringing the right things and my bags were very heavy and filled with many unnecessary items. Now I know you can buy nearly anything you need along the way and as George taught me “It always works out!“
7. “We wish we would have made travel a bigger focus in our life earlier on. We didn’t know what we were missing until we started!”
8. “The one thing I wish I’d known before I started travelling is that it’s better to say goodbye and leave with good memories than stick around for too long. The constant goodbyes of long term travel are definitely one of the biggest challenges that any traveller will have to face.”
9. “When Alan and I first began traveling, we thought it was necessary to see everything a destination had to offer. Our days were overly full with tours and experiences; but there’s more to experiencing a place than going, going going. These days, we like to take it a bit slower. It’s just as important to stop at a sidewalk cafe to enjoy a cup of coffee as we watch the locals pass by. We allow flexibility in our schedules that includes time for doing nothing except sitting, observing and hopefully conversations with locals. It’s given a whole new flavor to our travels and a deeper understanding of the cultures that we meet.”
10. “I wish I knew the many meanings behind packing light before I hit the road. If you travel with too much weight, the travel experience can sour with every steep staircase and lack of elevator that you encounter. At the same time, traveling with skepticism, barriers, hesitation, in essence “extra baggage”, won’t allow you to truly see your destination for what it is, a great story.”
11. “I wish I’d known that I could have started traveling sooner and slower! Mostly, I have no regrets though as my travels taught me so much about me and the people of the world!”
12. “I wish I had known how much more relaxing and enjoyable slow travel is versus always being on the move. Slow down and you will not only save money by doing so, but you’ll also be able to settle into your destination and get more out of your surroundings.”
13. “I wish I knew it was going to be so addictive and that I was never going to be able to stop. I know it doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but sometimes it’s confusing when you feel like you don’t have a home, and I can’t even answer the question “where are you from” anymore!
I would have definitely started traveling anyway even if I knew about such consequences, but I might have been more prepared.”
1. “The one thing I wish I knew before I started traveling was how to leverage foreign currencies and manage financial accounts economically while abroad, as described here”
2. “I wish I had known that it was possible to make money blogging. Working out how to make some cash as you travel, even just a few hundred bucks here and there, can make long-term travel a viable option.”
3. “First, I wish I had known how cheap, easy and freeing it is to be digital nomad family travelers as I would have done this a long time ago (we have been on a non-stop world trip for the last 8 years on $23/day per person to 45 countries on 5 continents so far). AND how little one needs as we travel the world with one small carry-on bag each for years now (but started with a LOT more). I use to be a heavy packer in my youth, but travel is so much easier when you travel light.”
4. “The one thing I wish I had known before travel is that it doesn’t have to be expensive. I had always felt limited in my travel because it felt like I would have to save up for months and months to be able to afford it. Once I started doing more travel, I quickly found there are tons of ways to travel with less money. We travel the world for about $40 per day for 2 people, and have done it for less. We’ve been traveling continuously for 2-1/2 years so far.”
5. “I wish I’d known just how unimportant material things are so I could have hit the road to pursue my dream of being a travel writer and photographer thirty years earlier.”
6. “How easy it actually could be. When we first get started traveling we don’t know how to save money or the best way to do things. By being a travel blogger and speaking with other travel bloggers picking up and going to another destination now is as easy as going to the grocery store for me. You really don’t need a lot of money to travel, it isn’t that complicated, and there is a certain science to it.”
6. “I wish I knew how great hostels were. When I first started traveling I thought they were dirty and scary and I use to waste so much money staying at hotels, especially being a solo traveler. If I had just started staying at hostels to begin with I would be a whole lot richer now and probably have a bunch more awesome friends from around the world.”
7. “I wish I’d known about the National Park Pass sooner. Costing less than $100, this gets the pass holder and up to 3 other adults in a car into every US National Park for one year, a great way to see the country and the only way I know of to save money with the federal government. We used ours to tour some of the National Parks in Utah.”
Vegabond Bob, Vegabond 3
1. “Spanish. But in all seriousness, before I started traveling, I really wish I’d known one other language really well, or knew a little bit of a few different languages. It’s amazing how much easier things can be when you can converse in basic phrases in a local language.”
2. “If there was one thing that we wish we had known, it would be not to be scared. Don’t be scared if you don’t know the language perfectly. Its ok. If you use a few hand gestures, a few words you learned out of the guide book, and a big smile, you can just about get around anywhere. Don’t be afraid to try new foods. Don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone. Leave fear at home. The world is waiting for you.”
3. “I wish I’d known that I can get by in any country in the world knowing only three essential words in that country’s language: hello, thank you, and please. I try my best to learn more but, if I don’t have the time or ability to learn a new language, those few essential words help ensure that the locals don’t view me as a completely boorish American tourist.”
4. “I wish I’d known the art of communicating through pointing and miming. It’s a skill that is learned painfully and slowly through many awkward encounters with people who don’t speak the same language as you do. I would have saved many hours of frustration and anguish if I’d had this skill before I ever got on an airplane.”
5. “Well, in a purely practical sense, the one thing I wish I had known was how to speak another language – especially something global like Spanish. But in a more philosophical sense, I wish I had known that the best way to experience other countries is to give yourself up to the local people. Whether it’s in a bar in Paris, a park in China, or a village in Paraguay, you get so much more out of the experience by sharing it with someone who knows the area well. Seeing the sights is nice – truly feeling the pulse of a destination is incredible.”
“Meeting people is much more important than seeing the sights. As soon as I realized this, my travels became infinitely more rewarding as every day offered a new opportunity to meet, interact with and learn from so many people that I would never have come across had I not been traveling.”
1. “I wish I had known that I would want more photos of myself, instead of just pretty photos of the destination I’m visiting. Being a photographer — always behind the camera — I still struggle with remembering this today. But when I look back at photos, it’s nice to remember how I felt in that moment. And it’s something you can show your children — or nieces and nephews (in my case).”
1. “I wish I’d known more about the importance of sustainability in the tourism industry– traveling with companies that respect the environment and give back to local communities by hiring indigenous people. When I first started covering travel as a professional journalist back in the mid ’90s, I didn’t know anything about ecotourism or conservation. There are places I went in my twenties and early thirties, such as Sea World and various dolphinariums, that I would never travel to today because of films like “The Cove” and “Blackfish.” The more we learn about the connection between nature/wildlife conservation and the strength of local economies in terms of tourism revenue, the more it changes the way we love to travel.”
As always, we’d like to take the opportunity to thank these bloggers for sharing their knowledge with us. We would also like for you to chime in and share what you wish you’d have known before you started traveling. Please share in the comments!