I have recently passed my 14th blogging anniversary. I know, I can’t believe it either! In that time, I’ve seen a lot of beautiful places, flown who knows how many miles, and made some discoveries about just what I’m made of. But I’ve also done what all travelers do… made mistakes!
I was thinking recently about the college girl who went to Japan at 20 years old to get away from some boy I couldn’t get over (oh, and to teach English). She was sweet, innocent, opinionated, and self-conscious. I sometimes miss her, but I’m proud of who she became. However, there are a few pieces of advice I wish I’d given her when she was first starting out. So here it is, in all its potentially embarrassing glory: advice to my younger self!
No, really, take out half of what’s in your suitcase.
My parents graciously bought me new luggage before my three-month solo trip to Japan. It was a set of two bright red Samsonite roll-aboard with 360-degree wheels. The latest and greatest. The expensive kind. But it was way too much! I actually struggled to fill them, but I did because I thought I was supposed it. Then when I got to the airport the day of my flight, of course the big one was overweight! Thankfully my dad came in to save the day and paid the $50 overweight fee.
As you may know by now, I exclusively travel carry-on only. Give me a couple of backpacks any day over a roll-aboard (which, by the way, I didn’t know I needed to re-check for my connecting flight to Japan on that first trip!). There are so many benefits to packing light: less to tote, less to pay for, less to lose… less is best!
Here’s your step-by-step guide: How to Pack the Perfect Carry-on
It’s not bad that people think you’re brave.
It used to really hurt my feelings when people would tell me I was so brave to go traveling on my own. Did that mean they thought I couldn’t do it? Why was it so surprising that I could be brave? Did it really seem like I couldn’t do it? And then I thought… well, maybe I should be afraid. Maybe I can’t do it.
Now I know two things:
- Trying to figure out what people think is not helpful, or really even possible.
- People say things because that’s how they feel. They may not have been brave enough to travel alone in their 20s. It’s not bad that they think you’re brave. You are an encouragement to them!
Keep reading: 20 Trips to Take in Your 20s
Absolutely everything. Google places to go, how to get there, what to do there, opening times, terms, words you’ve never heard before, how to travel, how to fly home from another country. Everything! You’ll seem smarter, but even better, you’ll actually be smarter because you’ll know where to start when you need something.
Must read: 10 Things All Travelers Should Know
Guidebooks are great for the facts and opening times, but bloggers are living their travels, and it’s their passion. They’re making mistakes and writing about it so others can do better. They’re letting you in on the secrets to make the most of your trip. They’re trying everything so they can tell you about the best of the best and the off-the-beaten-path gems. They’re on your side! Pay attention to blogs and bloggers. Your travels will be so much better than you know!
Read on: How Blogging Changed the Way I Travel
Take that $50 first-class upgrade!
On my first trip to Switzerland, I got to the airport for my return flight, and when I checked in at the kiosk, an offer to fly home in first class for $50. I’d never flown business or first class and figured I didn’t really want to know what I was missing. I didn’t want to get spoiled or be tempted to buy into a higher fare class in the future, as a solo traveler trying to pay my own bills without going into debt!
Now I can see that it’s okay to treat yourself once in a while, and take the opportunities we have when we get them! I have never seen an offer like that since then, but I have traveled in business class, and it’s really okay to sit in a comfortable seat and maybe even sleep on a long flight!
Keep reading: Hidden Benefits of Business Class
It’s not too late to start learning a language.
And it’s not too hard for you to do.
Personally, I’ve always felt a little behind the curve. Maybe it’s because I have a late birthday, so I started Kindergarten at six instead of five. Who knows, but I always thought it was too late to start learning a language. I mean, some people start learning multiple languages from birth! I’d never be able to catch up or become fluent.
But when I did get up the courage to start learning German, every single one of my German-speaking friends said, “Oh, it’s too hard. It will be frustrating. You don’t want to do that.” And after hearing that several times over, quite condescendingly, I started to believe it. I borrowed some Pimsleur German CDs from the library and listened to them in the car several days a week. And then that doubt started creeping in. I thought they must be right. So I stopped.
But the fact of the matter is, it’s not too hard. If you want to learn a language, do it! Babies do it every day. I actually have an ear for accents, so I’d probably be good at learning languages if I just had the courage to start. Don’t be like me. Learn a language!
Essential info: Words to Learn in the Local Language
Take more photos, and do not make them smaller.
Take lots and lots and lots of pictures! I got my first digital camera when I moved to Japan, and I didn’t know the first thing about how to use it! I wanted to send pictures home, but in order to do that I had to make them smaller. So I just set my camera to take smaller photos. Now when I look back on them, they’re all pixellated! And a little blurry. And I wish there were more!
I’m not saying to walk around taking photos of everything without seeing anything, but I do wish I had pictures of all my memories from that time in my life. And the same goes for all my travels since then. I never wish I’d taken fewer photos!
You will need to fill out a customs form to get back into the United States, no matter what passport you have.
So, apparently everyone knows this except for me at 20 years old. One of the most traumatic travel experiences I’ve had was a border patrol officer yelling at me and making me cry because I didn’t have a customs form when I got to the front of the line. He insisted that the flight attendants give them to everyone on the plane and that I must have been sleeping when they passed them out. I insisted that I was not sleeping if they came around.
Let’s be clear: I do not sleep on planes. But he didn’t care. He said some other things that made me feel stupid, then told me to go fill out a form. Thankfully he was loud enough that the people in line behind me felt sorry for me and let me in front of the line after I filled it out instead of making me go all the way to the back again. I still had a connection to make and I just barely made it.
Moral of the story: You will have to fill out a customs form, whether that’s a paper form, Mobile Passport, or Global Entry.
More helpful info here: Essentials of Air Travel
Bonus: What No One Needed to Tell Me
Who knows why, but I didn’t need anyone to tell me I could do it. Of course I could do it. People live there every day. Tourists travel there every day. People a lot less worldly than I am make it happen and survive. Of course I could do it. This was my moment for a big adventure!
I realize, however, that not everyone feels that way. A lot of people are afraid to take that leap into travel, and especially solo travel. So if you need to hear this, you can do it, too! You’re worth it. You’re capable. You can!
Ready to take the leap into travel?
Start with all my Travel Planning Tools!
If you could, what would you go back and tell your younger self? Comment to let us know, and don’t forget to share this post!
Want more? Check out all my best travel advice on my Travel Tips Page!
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7 thoughts on “What I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Traveling”
Whitney, I love, love, love your blog. You have sure helped me through all this mess lately. I love to see your pictures and your travels and all the good advise. Congrats on 14 years and please keep it up. Our trip to Germany has been canceled so reading your blog is a bright spot for me. If there is one thing I could tell my younger self, it would be to travel more. We thought back then we couldn’t afford it. I wish we would have disciplined ourselves to put back a little each week and use it for travel. Now that we are getting older, I just feel like time is running out, that we might get maybe 10 more years to do our traveling, and there are lots of places we would like to go. Know that you are inspiring people everywhere with your blog.
Thank you for all of that! I want my blog to be positive and inspirational, especially in times like this that are so hard to navigate. I’m sorry your trip was cancelled, but hopefully you can go next year!