February 9th, 2012

5 Things We Wish We Knew Before Traveling the World

When my best friends Jen Baggett, Holly Corbett and I—now collectively known as The Lost Girls—started thinking about quitting our jobs in New York City to launch a yearlong backpacking adventure around the globe, we banked on having 18 months to plan our great escape. We figured that would be more than enough time to scour travel websites and blogs, read a shelf full of guidebooks, and seek advice from fellow travelers—all in the effort to become thoroughly prepared for our round-the-world trip. The idea was that by being prepared, we’d avoid any missteps that might limit our options—or our fun.

How’d that turn out for us?

Two words: Wishful thinking! As we’d soon learn, no matter how much you pack or prep, you can’t quite be fully prepared for an extended dream getaway until you get out there and start making mistakes. Not only won’t the uncertainty hinder the adventure, but it will often make your trip more colorful and turn you into a better, more resilient traveler.

Still there are a few things that we’d wished someone had shared with us before takeoff…so we wanted to pass on those bits of Lost Girls’ wisdom to you. Here are five things that the guidebooks won’t always tell you (and please share your own pearls of on-the-go wisdom in the comment section below!):  

1. Skip the convertible zip-off pants: They're not worth it. You'll almost always feel like a stereotypical traveler in them, and will almost never sport the shorts. It’s worth the extra space/weight to carry two items you'll be sure to wear and feel good in—rather than one that you won't like.

2. Taxi drivers can be your best friend—or worst enemy: While most cabbies can be a wealth of local info (they know where you can buy anything) a few bad apples aren't above hustling you for more money. I always try to set a price with the cabbie before I get inside the vehicle. But, if it comes down to dealing with an irate cab driver or parting with a bit more money, always put safety first.  If you end up in a cab with a rigged meter at 4 a.m. (as we did in Vietnam), just cut your losses and pay the additional fare. It’s not worth compromising your safety by getting into a fight with a stranger in the middle of the night.

3. It’s not a race: Slow travel is the way to go. Looking back on the trip, the places that resonated with us the most are those where we stayed the longest. That’s because were able to make stronger connections with the destination and the locals who lived there. For example, we volunteered at a school in Kenya and spent two months living in an apartment in Bondi Beach, Australia. By contrast, we did a whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia— Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Indonesia—in just two months, which left us feeling exhausted and road-weary. Holly has said that she’d have preferred to visit just two of those countries and spent more time diving deeper into the culture.

4. Toiletries are widely available around the world: All three of us overpacked beauty products such as our favorite moisturizers and makeup because we were afraid that we wouldn't be able to find similar products in developing nations. The fact is, you can find skincare and cosmetic items in every region around the world (particularly India, Asia and Australia) and it can be a lot of fun combing the aisles in order to discover and sample local products. If there’s something you truly can’t leave behind, just bring enough to last you a couple weeks—you’re sure to find a suitable replacement on the road.

5. Never, ever leave the country without travel insurance: A couple years after Jen, Holly and I returned from our around-the-world trip, we embarked on a two-week reunion adventure in Panama. Although we’d had a policy for our year around the world, we didn’t think we needed travel insurance for such a short period of time. Unfortunately, our taxi in Panama got into a head-on collision with a truck just outside of a small village that had no cell phone service, Internet or most important…hospitals! We were fortunate to walk away from that very scary episode with only whiplash, bruises and a broken computer. Had things been worse (thank goodness they weren’t!), travel insurance would have covered the cost of airlifting us to Panama City to get treated, and most of our medical bills. We shudder to think what could’ve happened without it!

By Patty Hodapp and Amanda Pressner, The Lost Girls (www.lostgirlsworld.com)

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