Tips For The First Time Traveler

by Kim on July 24, 2011 · 13 comments

Kim’s note: This is a guest post written by my good friend Tracy who quit her job and took off on an adventure to Thailand.  Tracy is back in the U.S. and gainfully employed again (good news to those of us that will be in that particular situation before too long). I asked her to write about her time traveling to Thailand.  She writes about what she learned below.  Enjoy! 

Finding Myself on the Other Side of the World

Four months ago I was sitting on my couch saying to myself I want to volunteer abroad, but probably not in Asia; I am terrified to travel to AsiaAs soon as I said it I knew I no longer had a choice, I had to go there.  This was going to be the adventure of a lifetime, so why should I play it safe?  I had to do everything I was afraid to do and step out of my comfort zone.  This is how I decided to travel alone to Thailand for 6 weeks.

I can say this with complete honesty now, the decision to go to Thailand was one of the best decisions I have ever made.  But, I didn’t always know this.  I think I learned more in those six weeks than I did throughout all of college.  Everyone has to have their own personal experiences, their own life lessons, but below are a few things that I learned that I can share with you.

Tips for the first time traveler

Keep a journal

This is probably the best advice anyone ever gave me.  I wrote in my journal every day.  I wrote about my experiences, my thoughts, my feelings, the good times, the bad times.  Sometime around my fourth week, I went back and read the beginning of my journal and was surprised to find out and I didn’t remember most of the things I had done just a few weeks prior.  There are so many adventures to be had out there; it can be easy to forget some of them.

 If you are going to an extremely unfamiliar place stay more than just a few weeks

There was a point at the beginning of my trip when I was sitting in an unfamiliar country, sick as a dog, with new people, weird foods, unfamiliar smells, unfamiliar languages; I thought to myself what the hell am I doing hereI’m not comfortable, this is a bad decision and I need to go home.  I thought I had made a horrible decision.  That was week one. 

Then I started venturing out, talking to people, becoming more familiar with the culture and the atmosphere, getting accustomed to the climate.  It was the end of week two when I realized that I was really enjoying myself, and by the end of week four, I never wanted to leave.  Give yourself at least a few weeks to adjust to the culture before you can really feel comfortable and dive in whole- heartedly.

If you are afraid of something, jump in

If I didn’t jump in, I never would have seen Thailand, gone scuba diving, ridden on a scooter through the islands, eaten fried bugs, or tried spicy curry.  I came out of my adventure with no regrets about missed opportunities.s

Volunteer

I volunteered at the Vienping Children’s Home in Chiang Mai.  It was an amazingly rewarding experience that I will never forget.  I got just as much out of the experience as those I was helping.

 

What I learned from volunteering at the orphanage is that they need a lot of help, and anyone can volunteer.  There are orphanages all over the world that need help.  And it’s not just orphanages; you can also volunteer at women’s homes, animal shelters, farms, schools.  I joined a program and paid a fee to volunteer.  While I don’t regret paying the fee, I have found that it is absolutely unnecessary to go through an organization to volunteer. Simply email the person in charge of any organization that needs help and let them know when you will be available, I assure you, they will be happy to have the help.

High season vs. Low season

Unless you enjoy waiting in long lines, pushing your way through crowds, and paying too much for services, I recommend traveling to countries during their low tourist season. 

It’s ok, you can eat pizza

About two weeks into my Thailand trip I started craving pizza.  And burgers with fries.  And nachos.  I felt guilty about wanting these things when I was in Thailand, a country with some of the best food in the world. But there is no reason to feel guilty.  If you’re in Thailand, you don’t have to eat Thai food every day, eat whatever you are craving. You’ll be happier eating what you want instead of cramming local food in your mouth ‘just because’.

You will learn so much about yourself when you are far from home

I discovered a new me when I was in Thailand.  This didn’t happen all at once, it was a gradual discovery, but it still took me by surprise.  I think of myself as a pretty free, open, and accepting person who will try anything.  But, once I got out of the States I realized that I was restricting myself at home without even realizing it.  While in Thailand I found out that I actually enjoy many things that I thought I hated.  I went to Thailand and I danced and ate curry, two things I boldly avoided at home.  It’s the little things that will change the way you look at yourself and the world.  It’s your adventure, enjoy every second of it.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt July 24, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Sounds like an incredible adventure! And the advice is great. I think the point is well taken that travel awakens the mind to not only learn more about another culture and other people but more about yourself as well.

After your adventure in Thailand how did you find it coming home?
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Tracy July 24, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Hi Matt!
Most people warned me about culture shock when arriving in Thailand, but no one warned me about experiencing it when I got back to the States. Honestly, it was one of the toughest transitions I have been through, realizing that I was no longer on vacation and no longer drinking Mojitos on the beach after a long day of scuba diving. When I got home, I pretty much just locked myself in my apartment for a few days and didn’t talk to anyone…but the good news is, I got through it!! And now I’m happy and well adjusted once again. But, it was tough for sure.

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Cheri July 24, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Tracy,

You are giving me courage! I will be leaving my job soon and all I’ve been thinking about is facing my fear of going to Thailand alone! I was so impressed with you words…I’m hoping I keep my courage up to do this! One question….I know when you land you get an automatic 30 day visa. How do you stay longer than 30 days? I want to go for at least two months.

Loved the post!

Cheri

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Tracy July 24, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Hi Cheri!
I actually bought a 60 day visa here in Portland before I left (I went to the Thai Consulate in town), I think it cost about $35. But, you don’t have to do that. Most travel companies in Thailand offer a ‘Border Run’ trip for tourists. They take you to the border (probably Laos) so you can get your new visa on the way back into Thailand. A lot of travelers do this regularly, it’s so easy. Good luck in your travels, have fun!! And don’t worry about traveling alone, you’re going to meet some amazing people.

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hani July 24, 2011 at 7:24 pm

hi Tracy..thanks for the tips. i’ll be leaving my 9-5 job soon and go crazy around the world for about a year. hehe..really cant wait till the date.

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Tracy July 25, 2011 at 7:49 am

Good luck with leaving the job Hani, have fun on your travels!

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Sunee July 25, 2011 at 12:28 am

Some very good tips there. Very interesting that things you avoided while at home you found out you loved doing while abroad – are you still dancing and eating curries now?

One of the things I always try and find out from people who have returned from a RTW trip is if they’re happy being back home? I’m sure you miss being on perma-holiday, but do you miss it enough to want to quit everything and do it again or are you happily settled back into a “normal” life?
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Tracy July 25, 2011 at 7:48 am

Hi Sunee!
Adjusting to home was definitely difficult. Luckily, I really love where I live (Portland, OR), so I am happy to be back here again. I caught the travel bug, so I’ll probably travel again as soon as I can save up some money, but I’m happy with my ‘normal’ life for now. I think it really depends on if you are happy where you are living. And yes, I eat a lot of curry now, there’s even a little dancing now and then :)

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JoAnn July 25, 2011 at 10:03 am

That was a great post Tracy! Thanks for sharing it.

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Veronica July 25, 2011 at 10:45 am

Hi Tracy,
what a great post, you answered so many questsion I have about immersing myself in a country and some questions I hadn’t even thought of. I have this dream of living in Mexico or South America to finally become fluent in Spanish and volunteering with an orphange would be a great way to do it. You are also an engaging writer so keep posting on your experiences. thank you!

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Carmel July 25, 2011 at 11:52 am

Isn’t it amazing to let go? I always have thought of myself as being a planner, but I learned that I can definitely go with the flow and just figure things out when traveling. My travel partner had surprisingly much more anxiety about getting lost, but I just enjoyed wandering and figuring out along the way (literally and figuratively). That was one of many life lessons for me while traveling. I can’t wait for more!

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investor July 26, 2011 at 2:37 am

I ‘m planning to go to Thailand too, I don’t think I’ll volunteer :D but I will keep a journal :)

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