One of my missions in 2015 is becoming a mentor to a 14-year-old Teen Ambassador and help her become a global citizen. As part of the Passport Party Project
I was paired with a deserving student who has been handpicked to be part of Phase 2. Together we will go through 6 weeks of global awareness training which will prepare her to obtain her first passport and travel to a destination along with 9 other young ambassadors.
Let me tell you something. I am beyond thrilled to finally start working with my mentee. I have learned that this young lady is also Latin American and from Illinois!
What truly moved me and made me feel very proud of her already is the fact that she has worked very hard all her life to be the best in every area of her life. Teachers, professionals have nothing but great things to say about her.
I have received some information regarding her academic background and it is amazing to see what a dedicated and outstanding student she is and the discipline she has at such a young age! She is very focused and has a clear vision of what she wants and where she is headed. Quite admirable if you ask me.
Not only it reminds me of my own childhood, but it shows me how much potential she has and how far she will go in life!
I am very humbled and quite honored to have been selected to teach her what I know and also share with her my own experiences as a world traveler.
Now as we are ready to start the training, I stopped for a moment and thought about writing down some important tips or advice I would give her or anyone before going on their first international trip.
Here are 5 important travel tips for first-time travelers
- Please remember how valuable YOUR passport is. Never take it for granted and guard it very closely.
I have already shared with you how incredibly fortunate and blessed I am for having 2 passports (Canadian and Salvadoran) and how much my father had to work and the difficulties he faced and overcame obstacles in order to get it for me, my siblings and my mother. There is not a time I don’t stop and say in silence, father thank you, I appreciate all the sacrifices you made so that I am able today to travel to the four corners of the world. I sure have been to a few places thanks to it. If it wasn’t for his high goal and dream for a better future for us, I would not be here writing this to you. So I am very grateful!
Not everyone can have it, so whatever you do, always keep it in a safe place while travelling and ALWAYS make photocopies in case (God forbid) something happens.
I always have it in a passport cover and carry photocopies inside my luggage and wallet.
- Always buy travel and health insurance.
As you know by now I LOVE adventures and they have taken me to places I didn’t think I EVER would.
River Kayaking where crocs live? Check
Zip lining through 18 platforms deep in the Costa Rican rain forest? Check
Finding myself in one of the most beautiful Scandinavian cities for the first time? Check
Traveling through my home country and taking my family on many road trips? Check
Living and working in one of the most crowded yet fantastic Asian cities for two years? Check
I could go on and on giving you examples but they all have one thing in common. I bought individual and comprehensive travel and health insurance.
As they say, it’s better be prepared and not need it than needing it and not having it.
Starting any trip with peace of mind and knowing that you are covered in case something happens to you while abroad is simply priceless!
I know It can add up to the cost of your trip ($40-$50 extra?) but think of how much it would cost if (heaven forbid) something would happen to you, like an injury or medical emergency (which would come from your own pockets and who knows how).
So I am an enthusiast advocate of insurance and greatly recommend you get a policy EVERY single time you go somewhere. It is worth it, trust me on that one.
- Make a list of things you absolutely need
This is something I learned the hard way and I am sure some of you have as well.
Nowadays your luggage weight is very important if you don’t want to end up paying unnecessary fees.
I see people at the airport trying to squeeze things into one suitcase or their carry-on (I’ll get back to this). And it is obvious that it does NOT fit so why sweat over it?
Before you leave home, take the time to sort all the things that you want to bring and narrow down your selections. Do you really need 5 jeans and 10 pairs of shoes, seriously?
The great thing about point No is that after buying travel and health insurance, the company or website I buy it from sends me a very handy check list which helps me plan and pack for any trip.
You can tick the boxes as you go along and in the end you have your basics (hygiene products, clothing, skin protection, documents, important info etc.)
It has worked pretty well for me thus far and I highly recommend anyone to at least look at it.
Now I have mastered the art of packing light, roll things up neatly so that there is more space left for things you will bring back and being organized will help you locate things quicker.
- Do some research on the destination you are visiting
Photo credit: wilofcom
Thanks to all the information available to us within easy reach allows us to virtually visit any town, city or country with just a click of a mouse.
You can buy a real city guide or download many maps or guides available online to your computer, mobile or tablet.
Learning some basic words (like good morning, hello, good-bye, thank you) or expressions will greatly be appreciated by the locals! They see that you are making the effort and even though language may be a barrier, a smile, kindness and gratitude go a long way!
I must admit that I am the first to avoid touristy and overcrowded tourist sightseeing spots and often go off the beaten path but I am careful and not wander where I shouldn’t.
I always have a map with me or ask locals how I can find my way back to a subway station or starting point. I have been a very fortunate and happy recipient of Random Acts of Kindness but that has taught me great and important lessons :)
Ah bring enough funds to cover all your expenses but do NOT bring a credit card unless it is for a real emergency or use it as a last resort.
One of my biggest and costliest mistakes EVER was to get plastic cards. It can ruin your finances and transform you into a debt slave but that is a whole other topic for another blog post. I wished someone would have told me to use them wisely or cut them in half or cancel them altogether. I learned it the hard way but know better now.
Again bring your ATM card, liquid funds and keep them in a safe place. Never carry more than $50 in your wallet an do not flash it as a lot of people still do! Unless you are going to a 5 star hotel or Michelin restaurant, then yes you need some more bling bling to cover the final bill :)
I suggest to have small bills and change. Once I was in a store in New York City and they didn’t accept $100 or $50 bills, so I learned to carry change.
- Immerse yourself in the culture and do as locals do
The whole point of traveling to a new destination is to become fully immersed in the local culture, history and do as locals eat, live, work and play!
Do not go to familiar restaurants like you do back home (golden arch, I am talking about you), try a local eatery instead.
Be open to try local specialties, be adventurous with food! After all you may or may not go back to that same place again, so be bold! If you don’t try you’ll never know right?
SLOW DOWN! Sit down at a café instead of running away with a cup in your hands. Enjoy people watching, have a REAL conversation and just enjoy the moment! Life is a one-time show, there is no pause button :)
Go to festivals, concerts, exhibitions, outdoor activities where the locals gather.
Interact with people, they can tell you stories of the place you are visiting. ASK them questions! They’ll be more than happy to answer and they are natural story tellers :)
Overall, be nice and respect them. After all you are the guests! So be a good one they’ll remember..
If there is an important piece of advice I could give, it would be the following.
Set a good example for yourself, your family, your group, AND your country!
When I worked at a store and restaurant, I witnessed and served loud, rowdy and rude visitors and had to stay calm and not let it get to me. Their superiority attitude was a real shame. It made the rest look bad! That’s how stereotypes are formed and it’s just not fair for the rest who are nice, kind and want to just enjoy the city.
Have good manners, please do not trash! I have seen people throw bottles, cups, paper bags, wrapping paper or just different things in broad day light while others look and think it’s not a big deal. Well, newsflash, it IS a big deal. There are bins for that purpose, so keep it clean.
Ah, something very important I am forgetting is to be considerate and orderly where you are staying (hotel, hostel, B&B, vacation home). DO NOT waste unnecessary resources (let the water run, leave the lights on, leaving the room as if a tornado hit it etc.) Again, be a responsible traveler, a good guest and leave with positive and unforgettable memories!
Now over to you!
Do you agree with what I said?
Would you add something else?
What do you wish you had known before you first traveled solo?
Tell me all about it! Can’t wait to read from you.
Until next time.
Many happy travels!
Tashi Delek, All the best.