Earlier this year I wrote a piece about a trip I took to China. What I did there was interesting but the point of the post was to show not only how cool it is to get out and explore another country and culture firsthand, but also that anyone can do it. As a follow up to that post, I want to share six tips I have come across in my journeys that I think can be helpful for all of you out there considering world travel but for one reason or another haven’t made it happen…yet.
Tip #1 – Be ready; have an updated passport at all times
The easiest excuse for not travelling abroad is that the government will not let you out of the country. That’s why it’s important to have a current, valid passport at all times. Even if you haven’t figured out where you want to go yet, you are going to need the passport so why wait? You will need two passport photos that you can get at any major drug store (like Walgreen’s) and this has the rest of the info you will need: http://travel.state.gov/passport/get/first/first_830.html
Tip #2 – Obtaining consent from the significant other; quid pro quo and advanced planning
I am a married man with a 2-year old daughter and a second kid on the way and I travel 5-10 weeks a year for work. So naturally, when my buddies and I start talking about international adventures without our spouses, or “man-ventures” as we like to call them, it is understandable that my wife’s eyebrow starts to rise. To resolve this I’ve found that advanced planning and a quid pro quo system of negotiation has been the key for maintaining a happy marriage while allowing me the chance to periodically alleviate my sense of wanderlust. In the most recent case I went on my trip with my buddy to Turkey, then met my wife in Greece for a week. To her this was perfectly acceptable since she didn’t want to hike around 8 hours a day in 95 degree Turkish heat and share a hostel room with 12 other people anyway but she likes to travel too and had been talking about a trip to the nearby Greek islands for years. Depending on your wife and her level of reasonability, the price of freedom may differ but surely there is something that she wants from you that would be an acceptable barter for a week in a foreign country with a buddy. Starting to scheme significantly ahead of time is another recommendation. If I waltz into the house one day and tell my wife that I’m bolting for Europe in a couple of weeks with an old college buddy, odds are she won’t be there when I get back (my incredibly poor judgment guided me to almost try this last year). This is why I now try to at least plant the seed in her head about possible adventures a year in advance. A year affords all involved stakeholders ample time to mull over, come to terms with and name their price for permitting the upcoming adventure.
Tip #3 – Free flight; frequent flier credit cards
Another potential barrier to the trip, especially in your spouse’s mind, is the cost of the travel. One easy tip to reduce the cost of travel is to earn a free flight. Almost all airlines have a frequent flier program tied to a credit card and they usually give a decent share of free miles when you first open and use the account. United has a program where if you sign up for the United Mileage Plus credit card you get 20,000 frequent flier miles. A round trip Saver ticket to Europe costs 60,000. To make up the difference you use United when you fly anywhere and especially use it if you fly for work. Using the card on hotels and other expenses can also rack up miles. My friend has all of his personal bills linked for electronic pay to his United card including groceries and rent, then pays it off each week. By doing this he is able to rack up enough miles for one free trip a year anywhere in the world.
Tip #4 – Save money and meet the most interesting people; hostels
Hostels are a great way to travel cheap and meet great people from around the world. They are generally centrally located near tourist sites and can range from drunken, drug infested riot houses to quiet bed and breakfasty establishments run by a local family with every option in between. If you are traveling alone or with one other buddy, hostels are also a great way to meet people. They are usually filled with fellow adventurers, and the proximity, communal breakfasts and lounges provide the perfect setting to talk about what sites are worth skipping, some hidden gems worth visiting or make plans to meet up for beers later that night and swap travel stories while rooting on Greece to beat Germany in the Eurocup (I was shocked to learn that in foreign countries men play soccer). When staying at a hostel you can get single or double bed rooms, similar to a hotel (but you probably will have to share a bathroom) or a dorm where you sleep bunk-bed-style with somewhere between 10 and 30 other people. At $15 – $30 a night, the dorm is an excellent option. If you seek more privacy or are a lite sleeper, you can get a single private room for as low as $25 a night. Hostels.com is a great resource for planning and booking your next trip as it has ratings and great information from numerous hostels in all major cities.
Tip #5 – Avoid committing murder; suitable travel companion
Traveling on the cheap in a new country – a true adventure – comes with all kinds of surprises and what some people might consider “problems”. Trains get missed, hot water runs out, wallets get stolen, dingos eat babies. These are all potential problems that anyone can encounter during a good adventure and when they do, you are going to want a travel companion who has a tolerance for chaos and pain that is fairly equivalent to yours. Case in point, say all of the sites you want to see are up steep hills, it is 400 degrees outside and you forgot to pack shorts. Some people will bitch and whine up a storm about how stupid it was to build the castle at the top of the hill and spend the day looking for the closest H&M (if you know a guy who did this feel free to punch him in the nads). Others will take a Lebowski approach to the situation and say “Fuck it”, perhaps seeing one site then retiring to an air-conditioned bar for the rest of the day. Others may not even be slowed by this and be happy that they are getting good exercise while seeing the sites they wanted to see and experience the city in a way that most pussies couldn’t handle. Regardless of where you stand on this spectrum if you and your companion don’t match up well, one of you is going to be a lot more pissed off when things go wrong which will cause tension and eventually result in someone will getting hit in the face, usually with an ice cream sandwich. So make sure that the friend you go with is approximately as relaxed or uptight as you are to ensure a consistent level of stress and understanding during the trip. My recommendation is to practice being chilled out as much as possible when traveling since shit always happens and letting it get to you will only ruin your adventure/fun. Drinking has also been helpful for me in these situations. In addition, you need to go with someone who has fun in a similar way that you do. If you enjoy drinking and dancing to techno-pop until the break of dawn (known as “cock-a-doodle-doing”), don’t travel with Mormon Mike. If you like museums, churches and ruins, then don’t go with your moronic beach bum friend (save him for the trip to Vegas next spring). If you are friends with a complete wuss, don’t take him to Pamplona to run with the bulls because he’s only going to watch from the sidelines and tell you how lame it was (I hate that guy to this very day). All of this may sound silly to you, but of all the tips I give, I think this one is the most important and it will help make sure the friends you had when you left are still your friends when you get back.
Tip #6 – Making it happen; just do it!
The last tip is JUST DO IT! World travel can seem intimidating or difficult but it really isn’t. All of the info you need is online and most places are setup for you to visit – they almost always speak English and they want you (and your dollars) there! This summer I met a 19-year old who had spent the last six months traveling the world by himself. He paid for it by bussing tables for 6 months and saving his money. This kid wasn’t special or worldly. He just had a few thousand bucks, a desire to see cool shit and had enough sack to buy an airline ticket to a place he had never been. So what are you waiting for? Pamplona 2013 is just a year away! World Cup 2014 in Brazil is just about two years out! And only six months until Mardi Gras or the high season in Costa Rica! Let the scheming begin!!!