Most of us can remember our first trip abroad: the excitement of packing, researching everything you wanted to see and do, and waiting eagerly on the plane as you neared your destination, wondering what you’d learn when you finally arrived.
And the feeling of accomplishment for making it through a long flight and breezing through customs. Leaving the arrivals terminals, taking that first step through doors, placing your feet in a new place, and then—getting mobbed by a hundred taxi drivers, luggage hawkers, and a barrage of noise like nothing you’ve ever heard before.
And suddenly, you realize that no amount of planning could have prepared you for this moment; for being in a completely new place.
With summer underway, many people will be headed out of their home countries for the first time, whether to study abroad, serve as a volunteer, start a fellowship, conduct research, or take a new job placement. And for first-time travelers, this can be a daunting prospect—one with a steep learning curve. But if you follow through with it, it will be an awesome investment in yourself and your career.
If this is your first time going abroad for the summer, you don’t need a 300-page travel guide or even one of those maps disguised as a book. Instead, I’ve put together a comprehensive list of travel tips from my experiences and the insight I wish I’d had when I first started out. A little travel wisdom goes a long way, so keep these in mind and get out thereand explore!
- Don’t overpack. Pack your suitcase, then cut it by half. You’ll be surprised by what you can live without on the road—and you’ll be thankful for half the weight to lug around.
- Getting sick abroad isn’t easy
Getting Settled In
Adjusting to a New Culture
Keep it Professional
- Would you wear fisherman pants and a halter top to a job interview? When you’re abroad, think the same way. To earn respect, dress conservatively, observe how local professionals dress, and follow their example.
- Just because you’re in a hot country doesn’t mean you need to show a lot of skin
- It’s OK to network in unexpected places. In fact, people are often extra hospitable to guests in their country. But remember that you’re in a new place, so trust your gut and use common sense. It’s great to strike up a conversation on a train or in a cafe, but not in the middle of the street.
- Step out of the traveler bubble. Make friends who aren’t from your own country and who aren’t like you. You’ll get out of your comfort zone and have a more enriching experience.
- Build a routine in your schedule (e.g., go to the same place to get coffee each morning, frequent a particular breakfast place, or stay at a favorite hostel) to become familiar to local business owners.
- Have meaningful conversations and listen closely, even if it’s hard to communicate. Body language and simple respect can go a long way.
- Try to make meaningful and realistic connections, and be honest about whether or not you will visit again. (I’ve seen so many lofty promises made to communities
- Danger is relative. Even when you’re abroad, you can be just as safe or unsafe as you would back at home (even when traveling in a dangerous place
Gaining Relevant Experience
- Identify the skills you can gain on your trip. Consider if they’ll be marketable later on, and what you can do to hone them. Can you start something like a blog, social media account, or project that develops new and useful skills?
- If you have the opportunity to volunteer or do charity work abroad, prepare with this ultimate volunteer checklist
- No one traveler is better than another. Although the debate rages on in the travel world, there really is no difference between a tourist and a traveler
To all the first-time travelers out there, keep in mind that even the most seasoned jetsetters have been in your shoes, and every single one of us is still learning. So whether you are headed out for the first time or just needed a refresher, remember: You can make your experience relevant to your life or career(or both!). The key is keeping a positive attitude and learning as much as possible. Consider your first experience abroad as one that isn’t just a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but the beginning of a lifetime of travel.
Photo of traveler courtesy of Steven Lewis
TopicsTools & Skills , Travel , Travel Mirror by Natalie Jesionka , Cultural Differences , Travel Tips , Business Travel
Natalie Jesionka has researched and reported on human rights issues around the world. She lectures on human trafficking, gender and conflict, and human rights at Rutgers University. When she is not teaching, she is traveling and offering tips on how students and professionals can get the most out of their experiences abroad. She also encourages global exploration through her work as Editor of Shatter the Looking Glass, an ethical travel magazine. Natalie is a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow and served as a 2010 Fulbright Scholar in Thailand.More from this Author