• Madison Miller

Lessons of the Newbie Traveler

Golden hour on the beach in San Sebastian, Spain

Since I'm still relatively new to traveling, especially for big international trips, I wanted to share a quick list of some things I learned over the past year. Some of these things really surprised me over the course of the year and I feel like if I had known them sooner, it would have either helped on trips or possibly made me feel more comfortable going on trips earlier on in my life. Every trip is different, but hopefully this helps fellow newbies out there!

1. You don’t need to pack a lot. I have never been a crazy over-packer. I’ve always thought that I had a pretty good grasp on what I would need and what I wouldn’t. I credit having divorced parents. Not in a sad way, but I did have to pack all the time. On my trip to Spain this year, I didn’t check a bag. I only had a carry on, and it was totally fine. I rewore a few things. We were lucky to have a washer in one of our Airbnbs, but even without that, I think I would have been alright. We were there for 10 days, and I would have done some sink washing and air-drying if I had absolutely had to. Things that I rewear are usually pants, jackets, nicer shirts, and some dresses. Since I usually changed at least twice during the day, I found that most things never got really dirty. In my opinion, it was totally worth saving the $120 checking a bag would have cost me. The tricky thing with this is that you are pretty limited with what you can bring back. I'm a minimalist, so I can almost always talk myself out of souvenirs, but I get that they are a fun part of traveling for a lot of people. I'd recommend bringing a collapsible bag in a carry-on one way. That would at least save you the cost of checking a bag once.

2. Travel doesn’t have to be insanely expensive. I won’t lie and say it’s cheap, but it’s not what I imagined. I cannot recommend Scott’s Cheap Flights enough. Our flights to Spain were around $550 per person. We split Air bnbs with friends throughout the trip. Travel will always be somewhat expensive, but keeping deals in mind and not being super picky about destinations can help. Personally, I want to see a lot of places. So, when something comes up on Scott’s Cheap Flights and I have the money and vacation time, I would go for it. Andrew and I found flights to London for $387 for next year, but we weren't necessarily set on London in particular. We were happy to see where Scott’s took us. That being said, London is very high on my wishlist and I am pumped to go.

3. Find the right balance of activity planning. This is one that I am still trying to force into my own brain. Planning activities on a trip is important, but it’s not fun if entire days are planned out down to each hour. I would aim for maybe one or two planned activities per day with a general idea of other things you could do in said areas. Making final decisions on itinerary is not my forte. I am indecisive and I am the person who can’t ever tell you what I want to eat for dinner. I can’t always figure out what I want to do during trips. I love having a plan and reservations, etc. in place before trips because it ensures that we will get to have fun experiences. However, some of the most fun experiences I’ve had while traveling this year have been during “free time” just wandering around, getting to know the city I’m visiting. For London, I'm trying to some good research on certain areas so we can have a few wildcard experiences.

4. Take time to think about what experiences are important to you. This sort of goes along with number three. It’s the best way to make the most of your trip. Do a little research before heading out for the trip and try to figure out a few things that you would be so excited to see or do. Most of the time, it's just going to be impossible to do everything you see in a tourist handbook, but doing some investigating and picking out things you can't justify not seeing or doing helps a lot with avoiding the feeling that you've missed something. I’ve found great resources on Pinterest. There are so many fellow bloggers who have shared trip experiences. It’s important to prioritize what interests you so you feel like the investment you’ve made is totally worth it. It’s not fun to end a trip feeling like you didn’t gain fun, important experiences.

5. If you’re traveling to a country where they don’t speak your native language, give yourself some brief lessons beforehand. I do not by any means mean this in a xenophobic way of any kind. I want to make that clear, but I also want to say that it would have helped me a lot if I had committed more to learning some Spanish, Catalan, or Basque phrases before going on my trip to Spain. For the most part, everyone there could figure out what we were saying and it worked out, but I did wish I had done more work to help me feel more immersed.

What other tips do you have? I could use all the help I can get!