Travelling is an incredible experience, however you choose to do it. You’ll learn a lot; about the world and about yourself, and also about how to travel better. However, if you are heading off for the first time, there are some things you can do to make sure you have the best trip possible.

In this podcast we also talk about our travels in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia plus share sounds from the fortress of Berat and Macedonia Square in Skopje. To listen, hit play below or find episode 289 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

Pack light

The single most important thing that you can do when preparing for your first big trip is to pack light. Seriously. You don’t need as much stuff as you think you do, and the less you have with you, the less you have to carry, and the less you have to worry about.

Pack LIGHT, I said!
Pack LIGHT, I said!
Aim for a 35-litre backpack or wheelie suitcase, with suitable dimensions to make it carry-on size. This means that you don’t need to check in your bag for flights, which means that the airline can’t lose it and that you have access to your stuff when you need it. Invest in a good bag that’s comfortable to carry, and make sure that you can padlock it shut.

Don’t plan too much

If your trip is only a week or two long, it’s worth planning a fair bit to get the most out of your time — you can think about where you want to go and what you want to do there, and book hotels in advance to get the best deals. But if you’re travelling long-term, it’s not a good idea to have every minute planned out in advance.

You’ll need to have an idea of where you want to go during your trip, and you might need to commit to flights several months before it’s time to take them. But it’s important to leave some space in your itinerary to allow yourself to be spontaneous, or to take opportunities that come up unexpectedly. You might find it helpful to plan the first couple of weeks carefully and then ease up a little, or to plan way stages — you commit to being in a certain place on a certain date, but you have plenty of time to get from one to the other.

Do plan to sleep!

Remember that you don’t have to do everything, even if your trip is shorter than you’d like it to be. I once met a father and daughter who were travelling around Europe on a rail pass, and to get the most out of it, they were going to zigzag across the continent, sleeping on the trains every night. When I met them, they were only a few days into their itinerary, and they already looked exhausted, because they hadn’t planned enough rest periods into their journey — sleeping in a train seat doesn’t guarantee the best night’s rest.

Plan to sleep somewhere comfortable!
Plan to sleep somewhere comfortable!

By all means, travel fast and see a lot, but stop as well. Plan a rest period every few days, where you stay in one place for a couple of nights. If you’re travelling longer-term, your rest periods should be a couple of weeks or months in one place — you’ll have time to recuperate and perhaps actually organise the photos you’ve taken.

Be safe but don’t worry

Travel is safe. Many places you’ll travel to will be safer than your own home town, and if you take the same precautions you take there, you’ll probably have no problems at all. Of course, some destinations are less safe, and since you’ll be in unfamiliar territory you’ll need to be on your guard a little more, but it’s really not worth stressing about. Do some research into what you need to be aware of before you go — but don’t study up too much, because the safety sites always make things sound worse than they actually are. At least get the emergency numbers for the place you’re going to and if something does go wrong, you can sort it out on the road.

If you want a good travel safety toolkit, Travel Safety is a great resource for both the preparation stage and also for while you’re travelling.

Try everything

Apart from packing light, having an open mind is the best way you can prepare to travel. You’ll have the opportunity to try all sorts of things while you’re on the road, and the more you say yes, the more interesting your trip will be. Of course, there will be some things you just can’t bring yourself to do (I’ll never eat monkey, for example), and some things are unwise (e.g. don’t agree to play cards for money), but if the locals are chowing down on tasty-looking street food, give it a go yourself! You might find your new favourite meal.

There’s a lot of stories and little tidbits of tips hidden in the podcast. Hit play above or find episode 289 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud.

Your thoughts on "Five tips for new travellers podcast"

  • Thanks for another great podcast. Sorry you were not able to make it to Ohrid. I highly recommend it for next time. Sounds like transportation is still the interesting adventure there that it was in '92. If you are using public transport to get to Ohrid, it is probably easier to go there from Skopje or other large cities within Macedonia than from Albania. I believe the bean dish you described that was cooked in a clay pot is called Tavče gravče (pronounced tavche gravche). It is also one of my favorite dishes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tavche_Gravche .

    on October 31, 2013 at 12:08 pm Reply
    • Hi Bruce! Transport is still a definite adventure, and one that's a lot of fun. While there were several options for getting to Ohrid (and we were advised to go by everyone) it just didn't work out... Definitely next time! The wikipedia link looks like just the thing: delicious!

      on October 31, 2013 at 12:15 pm Reply
  • don't to go to Ohrid , you too might end up this bland ...

    on October 31, 2013 at 2:35 pm Reply
  • Well, I'm one month and one day into my round-the-world-wandering, and here are two tips I've come up with for myself: Pack as few white clothes (including underwear, t-shirts, etc.) as possible, because unless you’re willing to take the time & effort to always wash them separately, they WILL quickly turn dingy. [This sort of expands on one of your suggestions here.] Expect everything to take longer than you're used to, and so plan to do fewer things per day rather than more, especially if you're on a tight budget. For example, there will be some activities that are simply quite complicated to do if you haven't got a car and instead have to figure out using public transportation, when it's available.

    on November 2, 2013 at 3:20 pm Reply
    • Hi Chuck, Completely agree! We don't have anything white at all, partly because they get dirty so quickly (and we often re-wear tshirts) but mostly so we can throw everything we own into one load of laundry. What you say about needing more time is true too, fitting heaps into one day can be difficult, not to mention stressful!

      on November 4, 2013 at 12:59 am Reply
    • Couldn't agree more! I've learned this the hard way - and having too packed a schedule stresses me out anyway, as well as being a recipe for failure Heck, even here in LA WITH a car it's impossible to do much in one day as it takes forever to get anywhere. Tomorrow is our last day in LA/in the States and we're just planning to hang out by the beaches and minimise driving.

      on November 5, 2013 at 12:48 am Reply
  • Pretty much everything in LA seemed stressful to me!

    on November 5, 2013 at 6:29 am Reply

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