Vacations are amazing, but there’s nothing quite like heading off on an extended jaunt around the world. The thrill of getting off a plane in a foreign city never gets old. We know — we’ve travelled the world for 10 years.
We’re Jaryd and Alesha, and through our own first-hand experiences, we’ve helped thousands of people over the years take off on their own long-term travel journeys.
Here are our top 10 tips for travelers who are considering their first long-term journey.
1) Choose low-cost destinations
The world is a big place, and every destination has its own appeal. Trying to decide where to go on your first big trip overseas can be a daunting prospect.
We recommend watching travel documentaries, reading books and looking up travel blogs to see what locations jump out at you. If you have a particular passion (history, music, art, nature, etc), find the regions famous for these.
If you will be travelling long-term, or on a budget, we recommend starting in places that have a lower cost of living, such as Central America or Eastern Europe. In particular Southeast Asia is an amazing place to start your travelling adventures, as it is very affordable, safe, loaded with reliable tourist infrastructure, and has enough sights and attractions to keep you fascinated for years.
2) Plan your trip…to a point
Once you’ve picked your first destination, it’s time to plan. The most important thing to keep in mind is that no matter what anyone tells you, you do not need to pre-book everything, and planning shouldn’t be stressful.
Step one should be to go out and buy yourself a guidebook for the country/region you plan to visit and start reading. Come up with a rough plan, add in the highlights, and map out a general route (for example maybe start in southern Thailand, and head into Laos, Cambodia and finally Vietnam). Then start consulting travel blogs for more up-to-date information on specific activities and unique ideas.
If you’re new to travelling, it can be a good idea to write down notes for things like transport, accommodation, activities and budgets so you have an idea in your head what to expect.
The reason we say not to pre-book everything is because you are very likely to land in a new country, meet someone who has just done something amazing that you hadn’t thought of, and you’ll want to add it to your itinerary. Being spontaneous with little plans allows you to have all kinds of new opportunities.
Personally we always book three nights when we first land in a new region, then wing it from there.
3) Prioritise what to see and do
Using your guidebooks and internet searches, come up with a list of the best attractions in each destination. These could be museums, galleries, famous neighbourhoods, national parks or any other amazing places to visit. TripAdvisor and travel blogs can help narrow down the top sights.
If you only have one or two days in a place, then it’s normal to try and cram in as much sightseeing as possible. But if you can spare some extra time, we recommend seeing or doing two things maximum in a single day. Use the rest of the time to simply walk around, relax in a café or chill out in a park. Travelling in this manner will help you appreciate everything that little bit more.
There are some certain things you can’t miss — like the Great Wall of China when in Beijing or the Eiffel Tower in Paris — but often some of the best attractions are the ones that you discover in-country. Ask your hostel or hotel staff what they would recommend to see and do in their city, or talk to other travellers who have been there for a few days already.
4) Look after yourself
Landing in a foreign city can be exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. If you’re a first-time traveller, or visiting a place that might be a bit on the sketchy side, then the nerves will be at an all-time high. Luckily there are a few simple things you can do to stay safe abroad.
The first is to always keep your wits about you. Try not to walk around cities late at night on your own, and definitely don’t walk around alone while intoxicated. Be confident, but cautious. Take registered taxis at night, especially if you are a woman.
Research common scams in the cities you are visiting, as a little research can save you from most situations. Never carry around all your personal belongings when out exploring and stash your money in different pockets (or use a money belt).
In countries where taxis don’t use meters, always negotiate a price before getting in the car. Also listen to your instincts at all times. If you feel like a situation isn’t right, quickly remove yourself from it.
The more you travel, the more you find that 99.9% of people are genuinely nice, and you will have far more pleasant experiences than negative ones. There’s no need to be scared when you travel, and after 10 years on the road we can count on one hand the number of actual bad experiences we’ve had.
5) Keep your accommodation costs low
Besides your flight tickets and travel insurance, accommodation will most likely be your highest expense. This can range from a few dollars a night in places like Southeast Asia, right up to hundreds (or thousands) if you stay in 5-star resorts.
If you’re travelling for a long time you’ll want to keep your costs down, so start looking at backpacker hostels or local guesthouses. These are often very comfortable with excellent amenities, and are better places to meet people than fancy hotels.
To find your accommodation you can either pre-book it by using online websites and AirBnB, or simply walk around town when you arrive. Both have their benefits. In big cities during busy times, the best (and cheapest) hostels tend to book out early, so reserving your spot will save you dollars most of the time.
For smaller towns or in low season, you often get the best deals by arriving with nothing booked. Walk around the neighbourhood and drop into hostels and guesthouses to ask for availability. Because you’re not using a third-party agent, the managers are more likely to give you a special price, and you get the huge advantage of being able to look around the place before you commit. We travelled from Thailand to Turkey over two years, and pre-booked our accommodation less than 10 times.
For those who love hanging out with locals, check out Couchsurfing!
6) Embrace public transport
You’ll have a number of different options to get around a new city or country. These could be trains, buses, private cars, taxis, boats, planes, tuk tuks, rickshaws, horses, motorbikes or any other of a hundred different modes of transport.
The best advice is to ask your local hostel or hotel worker how to get between destinations, or around cities. Trains are the most enjoyable, but buses may be quicker. In some countries flying might actually be cheaper as well.
If you’re getting around a large town or city, don’t just always jump in a taxi. Embrace the public transport, it’s how billions of people commute every day! Not only do you get a local experience, but catching a bus or metro will save you money.
Our absolute favourite way to get around any new town is to walk. You get a much better feel for a place when you’re walking, and you open yourself up to interactions with locals or stumbling across a funky place that you would have missed by staring out a bus window.
7) Keep your luggage as light as possible
In travel, ‘less is more’ is the most important mindset to have. Here’s a good method to try: Lay out everything you’ll think need, then halve it. Trust us, there’s nothing less enjoyable than heaving around ultra-heavy suitcases or backpacks through a city and up staircases.
Whether you’re going for a week or a year, you really don’t need to take many things. Instead, take a select number of higher quality gear that will last the journey.
Kathmandu sells just about every piece of clothing and equipment that you could need to travel in any climate. Buy a couple of t-shirts, one pair of pants, a lightweight fleece, a rain jacket, some shoes and some sandals, and you’ll be sorted for just about anywhere.
Remember, you can always do laundry on the road, and nobody is going to notice if you’re wearing the same clothes again and again. Look into quick-dry items so you can do your laundry in the evenings, and have it dry by morning.
Our favourite pieces of gear that makes it into our packs are convertible hiking pants, a lightweight down jacket, a rain jacket and merino wool shirts.
8) Hostels = friends
The beauty of travel is that you will make countless friends for life. It all comes down to your attitude, and your style of travelling.
If you are going to be backpacking and living on a budget (which is something we recommend everybody to try at least once in their lives), you’ll probably find yourself in hostels a lot of the time. These are the single best places to meet people on the road!
When you’re in a hostel most people are excited to make new friends, so it can be as simple as asking someone where they’re from to initiate a conversation, which usually leads to hanging out together. If you’re a shy person you can even just hang out in the common room and let people start talking first. Signing up for group activities like walking tours, boat trips or hiking adventures works as well.
9) Make money as you go
Once you’ve started your travelling lifestyle, it can be hard to go back to the ‘real world’. If you are feeling like your gap year could turn into more than one, have no fear – there are lots of ways that you can earn money to keep travelling.
If you’re under the age of 30 many countries offer working holiday visas, so you can move to a new place and start working legally in bars, ski resorts, construction sites or just about anything you can think of. Many hostels are willing to take on foreign workers in exchange for accommodation and food, prolonging your savings for months.
Depending on your background, you can also work online. Freelance work is plentiful for a range of skills, like graphic and web design, writing, PR, social media management and more. Or you can do what we now do to earn money while travelling – start a travel blog.
10) Our final tip – travel slow
Our last, and favourite, tip for any traveller is to travel slow. This is true no matter how long you are going for, where you are going or what your budget is. Slow travel is the best thing you can do for a number of reasons.
It’s much better to see one country in one month than six countries in the same amount of time. You will understand the culture better, have a chance to discover more than just the ‘top 5’ attractions and be less exhausted.
Travelling slow also really allows you to save money. You can negotiate for better deals on accommodation, track down the best cheap-eats in the city and space out your sightseeing to give your wallet a break.
Travel should be about experiences, not just ticking off a list. Go slow, savour every moment, and most of all enjoy yourself. We’ll see you on the road!
Thanks to people always on the move like Alesha and Jaryd, our travel gear has evolved to be more adaptable — like the Hybrid trolley, the trolley that converts into a backpack.