Traveling is an excellent way to observe other cultures and learn just how small and connected the world really is. Below are all of my resources for traveling, though I am not an expert and you should definitely do your own research as well. In the context of this article, traveling independently refers to travelling apart from a formally organized group, school, or program. You could be traveling alone, with family, or with friends.
(This post will be directed toward people living in the United States.)
1. Where do you want to go?
Your first decision when beginning your travels is to determine where you want to go, and you have so many options. If you have no set destination (or even if you do), stay open to new possibilities. You can think small (traveling to another town a few hours away, or maybe a road trip to another large national city), or big (going abroad to another country). The possibilities are endless if you plan everything correctly.
If you’re having trouble finding where you want to go, consider taking some of these [cheesy] quizzes; they may provide you with some ideas on where you want to visit! Try this one, and this one for ideas.
Also consider looking at suggestions from travel websites. Check out these lists here, here, here, and here.
2. How will you get there?
Once you’ve finally chosen your destination, it’s important to figure out how you’re going to get there. If your destination is relatively close (as in, on the same continent and within 1-8 hours away), I would recommend looking into taking a bus. If you will be traveling within the U.S., I recommend looking at Peter Pan first, as I have found that they are a very good bus line. Also consider Trailways for national travel, and Greyhound for international travel (to Canada or Mexico).
If you aren’t a fan of buses, there are always trains. I would suggest looking into Amtrak, as Metro North serves only a small segment.
(A quick tip: buying your bus or train tickets in advance can save you money, depending on how far ahead you plan your trip and which company you choose. Remember to start looking earlier, and compare prices!)
If your destination is on another continent and/or too far away to take a bus or train, I suggest looking into airplanes. Google flights is a great place to start, as they help with comparing prices and flight lengths between different airline companies.
If you’re planning on traveling internationally (apart from Canada or Mexico), remember that most international flights are ~$1,000+ per person depending on where and when you’re going. This is likely going to be one of the most expensive aspects to your trip.
3. Where will you stay?
Next, you need to find a place to stay during your travels. I suggest looking at hostels as opposed to hotels. They’re a lot cheaper, you can find some centrally-located to where you want to look around (especially in large cities), and you can meet people from different countries and backgrounds that you wouldn’t otherwise meet if you stayed in a hotel. Many don't know that there are hostels in the US, mostly on the west coast, and they're definitely worth looking into, especially if you're on a budget.
Hostels are different from hotels, though. Most have dorm-style living (communal showers, and multiple beds per room), and some are directed only towards youths (or young people in their 20s). While it may not be as luxurious as a private hotel room, a hostel is an excellent way to meet new people and save some money. If you have never experienced or seen hostels, consider reading this informative article by David Tenenbaum.
I am a huge fan of Hostel World, which is like Google but for hostels. It allows you to search for hostels from the city you are visiting, and you can even pay your deposit to ensure you have a room. It also has a lot of user reviews, pictures of the hostel and rooms, ratings (usually on the hostel’s staff, facilities, security, value for money, atmosphere, location, and cleanliness), and its pricing and room availability.
Other resources you can use are websites like Trip Advisor or Kayak. Remember to look around and compare, and as always, try to plan ahead in advance!
4. How will you get around?
If you’re traveling to a new place, it’s important to understand how you will get around. Walking or biking is usually a good way in most cities, as it is virtually free (or at least cheaper than renting a car), and allows you to get the most out of your trip.
If you want to look into renting a car, I suggest starting with Enterprise, as they have locations in a lot of countries. If you cannot find an Enterprise near where you will be, I suggest googling car rentals in your city.
You can always use public transit too (i.e. buses and trains) to get around. It can be intimidating to have to navigate through a foreign country, but it’s not impossible. Just relax and take it slow, and ask questions when you can.
Check out this website for safety tips when using public transit.
And with that, you’re about ready to start your trip! Remember that this post may not cover everything you need to do, but it’s a start, right? I’ve listed some additional tips below for you to look over, but remember to do whatever works best for you.
-Travel with a friend if you're uncomfortable: If you have no experience traveling around (either with a group or on your own), I suggest bringing some friends or family with you. Always be careful when traveling alone!
- Cell phones: If you are only going to be traveling for a few days or weeks internationally, I suggest just bringing along your smartphone (if you have one), and using wifi when possible (especially if you’re going to Western Europe or Eastern Asia, like China, Japan, or South Korea). If you want to be able to use your phone more frequently, I suggest looking into an international plan with your phone company.
You can also look into purchasing a cheap/prepaid SIM card once you reach your destination and using that. You can read more about this option here and here if you’re interested.
- Maps: I’ve found that the app City Maps 2 Go by Ulmon GmbH is the best map app out there. I bought it for $4 or $5, but it allows you to download and use city maps offline, which is great if you are traveling internationally and don’t have an international phone plan. The app is available through Apple and Google Play.
I would also suggest downloading subway apps if think you will at all come into contact with this transit systems. You can usually find city-specific maps, and they usually have offline options (which means you can use them without data and wifi (because most of us lose service underground)).
-Money: I suggest either bringing a credit card (with the microchip feature) or Visa gift card, and some cash you exchange for the currency of your country (if you are out of the country).
Visa gift cards are helpful because they can be used like cards (you can purchase things with them, or take money out of ATM machines), but they are not connected to your account. If the gift card is stolen, the thief would only get the money on the card, and would not have access to your entire bank account. Visa cards can be purchased from most drugstore (i.e. Target and Walmart), and can hold up to $500 per card (with a $4-$6 purchasing fee). I would suggest bringing a few of these cards in place of a credit or debit card without the microchip.
- Packing: Remember to pack appropriately. Check out what the weather will be like during your stay, and pack for that weather!
Also pack as light as you’re able to. You will want to bring mostly socks/underwear/bras, as those get dirty quicker. I suggest bringing Pods for your laundry detergent (since you can use them to wash your clothes in a sink if you have to), and Febreze to help make your clothes (shirts and pants) feel cleaner between washes. Remember that it is okay to “rough it,” especially if you are only traveling for a few days or weeks.
- Lanuage: Make an effort to learn the language of your country/city. As a visitor, do not assume that others will speak your language. Learn key phrases (like “hello,” “do you speak [language]?,” “thank you,” etc.). Making an effort to show that you are trying to understand the local language will make people more apt to help you out!
To help learn this other language, I suggest looking at the Duolingo, available from Apple and Google Play. It’s a cheap and fast way to learn languages!
If you are interested in learning more of the language (and have more time and money), Rosetta Stone is a great resource. Check out your local bookstore for a travel/language section too for cheaper options.
- Safety: Research your country or city before travelling there. Remember to look at what current events are going on (i.e. any civil unrest, political activities, etc.). I suggest using the US Travel Advisory, which shows any US government-issued travel warning for countries (if any). The warnings are updated fairly regularly too.
I also suggest looking at the US Embassy in your destination (or closest one if there is not one present). You should note where the embassy is in relation to where you will be, and if you have any issues while you are travelling, you will need to reach out to them (write down e-mails and phone numbers you can use if any problems arise). Embassies also post travel warnings (if there are any) for US citizens in the area. This is another resource to use to ensure your safety while traveling.
Thanks for reading!
I hope you found some of the aspects in this post helpful in planning your next trip. As I said before, I am not an expert, and I would not solely rely on this post for planning your trip. Hopefully you were able to find new resources to help guide on becoming a world traveler!
For further planning, check out these posts here, here, here, and here.
Places we've gone, things we've seen, stories worth telling