I have learned a lot from travelling, and no matter where I go, I am constantly learning and growing from the experience.
Here are 10 of the things I learned on my first adventures at 20.
- Pack less stuff
The first time I went on a decent length holiday – Egypt for a month – I packed way too much stuff. I took a massive suitcase and all but filled it before leaving. I took far too many clothes and shoes that I didn’t wear and ended up throwing out while in Egypt to make room for extra stuff I bought. A large heavy suitcase is not only a pain to deal with at the airport, but it’s such a headache when going anywhere from a bus to a hotel, up and down stairs, and anywhere in public. These days I pack exactly what I think I’ll need, then cut it down by half. You can always buy more clothes at markets.
- Don’t skimp on essential toiletries
While this seems contradictory to me saying to pack less, it can be a pain to find particular items when in a new country, especially if you arrive at night. By ‘essential’ I mean things like a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and tampons/pads. It is really difficult to find toothbrushes in Egypt. I don’t know why. In China, I needed more deodorant and it was very hard to locate any! I eventually found some at CareFour (a supermarket) and they only had one kind. For women’s sanitary items, I always take more than I think I’ll need. There’s nothing worse than getting caught out!
- Do your own washing in a sink
Why pay for laundry at hotels? I know everything comes back nice and folded, but it’s often an extra expense. Even if you are using laundry facilities for free, or at a reduced rate, there’s no guarantee the machines are clean and that you’ll get everything back. Take a zip lock bag with your own washing powder, or use available soap, and hand wash your clothes in your bath or bathroom sink. Sometimes I wash underwear and bras while I’m using the shower and hang them up to dry. Hand washing means your clothes will last longer, it saves money, and it’s pretty quick and easy.
- Take a roll of toilet paper in your daypack
I am always paranoid about finding bathrooms when I’m in a new place. One thing that I found annoying in Egypt was that some public bathrooms wouldn’t have toilet paper – you had to pay the person standing outside for some, and they would only give you the smallest amount of 1 ply! You can be anywhere and get stuck without toilet paper, so I always take a roll with me and keep it separate in its own plastic bag.
- Take a small first-aid kit
I managed to develop a chest infection while on the flight to Egypt. It started as a cough, and within a couple days of arriving in Cairo, I couldn’t eat because I kept vomiting, and I lost my voice. On two occasions, an Egyptian doctor had to visit my hotel and give me an anti-nausea injection in my butt. Now that was embarrassing! Since then, I always take my own first-aid/medicine kit which includes general antibiotics, cold/flu medicine, nasal spray, eye drops, throat lozenges, plasters (band-aids), tweezers, painkillers, anti-fungal cream, Lucas’ Papaw ointment, and anything else I think I might need. Now this seems like a lot of stuff, but most of these come in small packaging and can fit into a toiletry bag.
- Eat local cuisine
What’s the point in going to a new country if you eat at McDonald’s? In Egypt, the student group I was with went to McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut a lot, and looking back I’m really disappointed in myself. I definitely enjoyed eating local dishes – mostly meat and rice with vegetables, and not to mention my absolute favourite – falafel from street vendors! Yum yum! Look for places where locals eat and give them a go. You never know what food you will absolutely love.
- Lock all your bags
I know this is really obvious, but I would absolutely include daypacks and purses in this. Most cheaper hotels don’t have safes in the rooms – so definitely keep your suitcases locked and any valuables stored safely away. If you’re wearing a backpack you can padlock the zips, which may seem extreme, but don’t underestimate practised pickpockets. I was pickpocketed in Egypt – I had my card wallet in one pocket and my almost empty small purse in the other, and I was walking with a hand in each pocket to deter anyone from trying to steal from me while heading to an ATM with some of the other students. A man selling some artwork was walking so close to me he kept bumping into my right side, and the second I removed my hand from my pocket, he was able to snatch my small purse and be off down an alley. It was extremely fortunate that I wasn’t carrying much money. But if he’d been on my other side and grabbed my cards – debit and credit cards included – I wouldn’t have been able to get any more cash out, and I would’ve spent a lot of time cancelling those cards.
- Keep spare cash in a secure place
Now when I travel, I always leave the bulk of my cash hidden in some clothing or inside suitcase pocket and keep the case locked. Another reason I do this is to reduce the number of times I need to visit ATMs and have fork out horrendous bank fees, as well as to limit the amount of money I allow myself to spend each day. If you are staying somewhere with a safe, even better, as long as you don’t forget the code.
- Learn about haggling
In Egypt, you have to spend time haggling for goods and taxi fares. This was strange and a bit scary for me – I had no idea what I was doing. Haggling is something that you get better at with practice and experience. I would start out very low – the merchant might start at $50, and I would go with $5 and we would eventually get to an agreeable price. If you’re not happy with the price you can always walk away, and often they will run out the door after you offering a further reduced rate. It’s the same with taking a taxi – agree on the price before you leave, so you don’t have an angry taxi driver yelling at you when you arrive at your destination. Give it a go and don’t be afraid!
- Learn about tipping
In New Zealand, we don’t tip for anything, so it is a strange concept for us. When you buy something in New Zealand, the listed price includes tax, so you know exactly how much you’re spending before you get to the checkout. When I was in the US, tipping terrified me. I once went to a hairdresser, and found out you have to tip the person who cuts your hair and the person who washes it! It freaked me out so much I only did it the one time. I went to a nail salon and had to pay in full plus tip before I even saw the person who was going to do my nails. I felt that I over-tipped because he did a rush job of the nail art I asked for on one nail, but I couldn’t exactly do anything about it. I honestly thought that you tipped based on the service you receive, but from my small amount of experience it seemed that you were expected to tip 20% no matter what. Tipping is still something that confuses me, although I understand the reasons behind it. In Italy, a service charge of 10% may be added to your bill in a restaurant, if it’s not already included. In many European countries, you don’t tip, but it’s considered polite to round your payment up to the nearest Euro for convenience. You can always add an extra Euro or two for each person as a small gratuity. I would advise researching tipping customs for every place you visit because it can vary a lot.
There are many new things to learn and adapt to when travelling, and my best advice is to learn as much as you can before you go and of course to go with an open mind. You’re not spending all that money to go somewhere different and expecting it to be like home, right?
I would love to hear your thoughts and recommendations as well!
Thanks for reading!