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


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.