Despite my extensive travel over the last few years, I didn’t leave the United States until I was 22 years old when I joined the US Army. My first recreational trip came when I was 24 and went to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. Even though I had literally driven across the United States twice, there were a few things that I wish I had known prior to my first foreign trip. Here are a few of them;
Leave Your Ego on the Plane- This tends to be an issue with American travelers. I’ve seen a lot of people who think because they have an American passport, they can do whatever they want in a foreign country. When I was going through customs in Mexico, I even had to remind one of my fellow plane passengers that he wasn’t in the United States when he started cussing out the customs agents because they wanted him to fill out his declaration card out correctly. When you are in another country, almost no one cares that you are an American citizen, and the ones that do just want your money. In addition, you are subject to the laws of the country you are visiting, and your American passport will not help you should you find yourself in a sticky legal situation. If you don’t believe me, go watch the National Geographic series Locked Up Abroad.
Temper your Expectations- Even in more highly developed countries such as Brazil or South Korea, there are certain things that won’t match up to what you are used to if you are coming from the United States or Western Europe. For example, even in Brazil’s bigger cities, things practically came to a standstill after huge thunderstorms resulted in street flooding and power outages. In addition, unless you are staying in an international hotel chain (i.e. Hilton), then a “3-star hotel” in Thailand maybe equivalent to a 2-star (or worse) in the United States. If you go into a country expecting an experience that it can’t provide, then you will be miserable with disappointment your whole trip.
Bring Only What You Need- Whenever I traveled throughout the United States, I always packed a big suitcase full of clothes even if the trip was a few days. Very rarely did I wear more than three outfits in my entire suitcase. It didn’t take me long to realize that method of packing would not work for trips abroad. If you need an idea of some good items to pack, then check out my earlier blog post here. In general, American’s tend to overpack because they think they can only find certain items in the United States. However, the opposite is true, it is often easier and cheaper to get most items in developing countries than it is in the United States as people sell everything on street corners. You should also account for souvenirs that you may want to take back with you and have a little extra room in your backpack.
Respect the Culture- Sometimes you may find yourself in a country where they have traditions or customs that are drastically different from your home country. For example, when I was in Laos, a tour guide was telling me how men in a certain sect of society “proposed” to their wives in that they basically kidnapped and held her hostage for 3 days until she gave in and married him. In the United States, that would probably get you 10 years in a federal penitentiary. However, in their culture, it was perfectly normal. Another example is when I was in Costa Rica (a stable and peaceful country), I saw the police beat a drunk belligerent until he was nearly unconscious. Although these instances are drastically different from life in a liberal democracy, you must respect the fact that it may be the way of life in the country that you are visiting.
Travel for yourself, not other people- This point seems kind of ironic given that I have started a travel blog that I hope gets as much traffic as possible. However, when you are traveling, you need to take time and enjoy the places you visit. Many people (myself included) get so caught in taking pictures and posting statuses on social media about their trip that they don’t fully enjoy the experience. In my last trip to the Dominican Republic, I deactivated my Facebook Account and it was one of the most enjoyable trips I’ve had. Not only did I build this website, but I wasn’t constantly worried about “one-upping” myself in an attempt to show off my trip on Facebook. Remember who you are traveling for, because 85% of the people you are trying to impress on Instagram won’t even see your posts.