How can I start traveling?
May 26, 2008 12:57 PM   Subscribe

I really want to travel - how can I get started?

I am a 20 year old female college student with little-to-no REAL responsibilities. I'm almost done with school and have a job in the service industry that's very flexible.

I want to start traveling.

The problem is that I feel such an overwhelming sense of freedom that it actually paralyzes me. Not physically, of course, but mentally, for sure. I am interested in almost all locales (beach, mountains, desert, etc), cultures (down-home, downtown, down and out, etc), styles of traveling (camping, hotels, hostels, etc). The amount of options is daunting. I know this is a great problem to have. I don't have limitless amounts of money, but since I don't plan on settling down for a while, I feel like I can spend my money somewhat recklessly.

Another issue that I have with traveling (or something that keeps me from getting out there): I don't like the idea of just staying in a place for a couple of days. If I go somewhere (esp. abroad, but also in general) I want to be able to REALLY experience the culture, the people, etc.

I just really don't know where to start: what to do, where to go, what to read, how to go about it. I am kind of waiting to get inspired, but even when I think I've decided where I want to go, I get the sinking feeling that I'll be missing out on something somewhere else. I know that's just indecisiveness, though. How did you get started traveling (if you are a traveler?) Advice, please?
posted by brynna to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Do you know anyone abroad, that you could go and visit?

Or look into working abroad or volunteering.

My cousin started travelling by getting an atlas and randomly sticking a pin on the world map. She ended up working in the Cook Islands for 6 months.
posted by Helga-woo at 1:10 PM on May 26, 2008

Where you're coming from is a good place to start. What I mean is where you hang your hat. You could start a road trip for one thing. Start at your door and head north, south, east, or west. Research points of interest along the way, and because you've got no place to be, figure out ways of getting lost off the beaten path. I can't recommend New Orleans enough as a destination in the southeast, and I love finding new ways of heading there from home. U.S. Route 61 is a historic highway with many things to see that a person with wanderlust. Where do you hail from if you don't mind me asking?
posted by nola at 1:11 PM on May 26, 2008

*for a person with wanderlust
posted by nola at 1:12 PM on May 26, 2008

I'm in San Diego, currently. I've lived all over California.
posted by brynna at 1:24 PM on May 26, 2008

One good way to beat planning paralysis, build a network of contacts in far parts of the world, and extend your budget, while traveling, is to get a job as a road warrior. Increasingly, companies are trying to cut travel expense, but in many industries, there is still no substitute for the traveling representative, be it in management, sales, marketing, service or technical positions. Jobs which have a heavy travel requirement are hard for family people to manage, so if you're willing to do 46 weeks a year on the road, you can expect a salary premium (compared to similar work with lesser travel requirements), and you generally get better travel benefits, just for being willing to live, essentially, in hotels.

Filter Craigslist or any of the major job boards for heavy travel positions related to your field, and see what I mean.
posted by paulsc at 1:26 PM on May 26, 2008

I probably shouldn't be answering this question, but I'm procrastinating...

I travelled for 4 months when I was 20, but I was on a serious agenda to cover all of western Europe, including Greece & Turkey, so it was very much a "If this is Tuesday, it must be Berlin" sort of trip.

In many spots along the way (mostly in Greece) I ran into North Americans who were working under the table for a month or two in service positions which cater to young English speaking tourists -- hostels, backpackers hang-outs, small hotels, etc. Chatting to them, they told me it was pretty easy to get work, and they were on long trips away from home, stopping to work where they could to replenish funds. I was pretty jealous.

Mind you that was 10 years it may not still be easy to work under the table.

To get you in the right frame of mind, why not head to Australia on a working holiday-makers visa? Basically if you have a college degree or proof you are going to get one, this visa will allow you to work and live for a year.

While in Australia, you are bound to meet tons of people your age who are looking to travel, or have travelled (a Gap Year Abroad is de rigeur from what I know), and worked while they were away. They can give you contacts, tips, and inspiration.

My university had a huge student travel outfit that organized work trips you have such a thing where you are? Maybe your college has info?
posted by girlpublisher at 1:45 PM on May 26, 2008

Typically, people in your shoes would choose one of: Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe or Australia, in ascending order of expensiveness.
posted by rhizome at 1:52 PM on May 26, 2008

First figure out if you have enough money to just travel or if you're going to need to work. If you've financially independent, pick a continent, book a ticket and just go. You can figure it out when you get there. Maybe pick up a dictionary if you're going where they don't speak english.

When I travel I'll usually have a start and end point, how I get from A to B is determined by the lay of the land when I arrive. This way you can spend as much or as little time in each country as you like. Hostels are a great way to meet people (usually from a country other then the one you're currently visiting). Find out from other travelers what's good, whats not so good, and where it's best to avoid.

If you have to work, that changes things a bit as you'll need to choose somewhere that you can get a work visa, which requires preparation before hand (never heard of anywhere that you can apply for a work visa while in the country). Or you can try your hand at working under the table, it's to you.

But yeah, pick a continent and a start city. Don't over plan things. Just go and have fun. It's quite possibly the best and worst thing that a young person can do to start out their adult lives.
posted by ChefQuix at 1:53 PM on May 26, 2008

I don't like the idea of just staying in a place for a couple of days. If I go somewhere (esp. abroad, but also in general) I want to be able to REALLY experience the culture, the people, etc.

I would recommend looking into volunteer experiences or language immersion programs. I've done language immersion programs in Italy and they have been the best trips of my life.
posted by Nickel at 2:03 PM on May 26, 2008

These two Askme posts might put you onto some helpful novels about countries and cities.

I'm a big fan of Lonely Planet guides. They're well researched, include historical and cultural information, and can serve as inspiration. This massive 'Travel Book' of theirs might be a good start.

After that, for further research, Wikitravel is a great, free resource for travel research. Looking for places to stay? Try hostel world, hostel bookers, the hospitality club, or couch surfing.

If you're going to fly in Europe, try Easy Jet and Ryan Air. With them you can plan according to how cheap your flights are, and that can be a great cure for the overwhelming vertigo of being able to go anywhere. Act soon if you can, what with oil prices skyrocketing and all the talk of this being the 'end of the era of cheap flights.'

If you decide to road trip in America, there's also Roadfood and Roadside America to consider.

Also, depending on where you go to school and what your degree is in, you could look into traveling abroad. Most students traveling abroad have easy enough schedules to do a lot of traveling in nearby countries during weekends and breaks. You'll also be surrounded by other people interested in traveling at the same time, which can be a good thing.

If you want to do some long term visiting, perhaps after you graduate, think about WWOOF (World-Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms), a network of farms that provide free room and board in exchange for part time work. You'll learn about farming and, with hundreds of farms all over the world, can see a lot of places with minimal costs (transportation to and fro).

Of course, after you graduate you could do the JET program and teach English in Japan. It's competitive, but there are similar programs in most countries. This site should help if you're interested.

Feel free to mefi mail me with any questions. I'm by no means an expert on traveling, not in the slightest, but I can give you decent advice about the UK and Western and Central Europe.
posted by farishta at 2:52 PM on May 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

** 'traveling abroad' should read 'studying abroad' in my last comment. whoops.
posted by farishta at 2:54 PM on May 26, 2008

If you're interested in Europe, try the Rick Steves guides, which are intended to help tourists experience the local culture in a cheaper and more authentic way.
posted by jennyesq at 3:28 PM on May 26, 2008

Don't know if you are interested in volunteering, but I just found this site and it has some pretty amazing trips on it.
--a week to help reforest Kenya: $575
--2 weeks of ommunity work with children in Sri Lanka: $965
Shorter trips would allow you to get your feet wet---I think there are trips up to 12 weeks on the site if you decide to go longer.

Also, have you considered the Peace Corps? That would definitely fit into your requirement of wanting to spend extended periods of time wherever you're going.

My first out-of-US trip (other than Canada, which I don't count) was to Mexico in January '07. My husband and I planned to drive our car down the west coast of Mexico and over to Chichen Itza for the spring equinox. The first night in Mexico we threw out that plan and decided to just drive more leisurely down the coast instead of worrying about having to travel a certain amount of miles every day. That was the best decision we could have made. We spent days/weeks in several stops along the west coast, without much direction/planning, only some maps and Spanish CDs and a willingness to find adventure. We found plenty of ex-pats and friendly Mexicans to give advice on where to stay and where to eat... the rest we just made up as we went along. It was a great adventure and we did some things we could have never planned (e.g. spent all night on a fishing panga and pulled in the fishing net at sunrise with a local fisherman) if we'd stuck to the original plan. So, my advice for travel is: be open to adventure (while making sure you're safe) and interacting with the locals in a curious and respectful manner will get you far.

Good luck.
posted by hulahulagirl at 6:47 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I really want to travel - how can I get started?

Come to think of it, don't you know the answer? I bet you do. Take one step then the other before you know it you'll have seen more than most people do their whole life. Take with you what you know, come back with what you've learned.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain
posted by nola at 8:30 PM on May 26, 2008

I pick a strange quest and focus on that. One year it was being a street musician in the French Quarter in New Orleans. More recently it was attending a highly explosive festival in a Spanish town in the Pyrenees. I decided I had to go to that festival when I saw that the tiny web site for it warned you against wearing synthetics because they're too flammable (here's one reason why you want to wear sturdy cotton with long sleeves).

Basically, I make the quest my excuse for traveling, and then I build a trip around it. Usually the quest itself is only a 2- or 3-day event, or even shorter. I find the quest by following strange trails on the internet, because the best quests aren't in the travel books.

So when you're casting about for a focus, you might keep your eyes open for a short mention of some unusual place or collectible experience and pick that just to have something to focus on, so you can avoid indecision paralysis.
posted by PatoPata at 9:29 PM on May 26, 2008

I think you have to work with what works for you. Some people really love hosteling, hanging out with other foreign travelers, that whole scene. I can respect that, but when I've tried it I hated it. Couldn't stand it. I'm happier going somewhere and staying for a while, trying to learn the language, trying to make friends. I don't want to be traveling around each day -- I want to nestle into a place and set up a cozy little daily routine where I get to know the guy at the cafe in the morning and the street kid who is selling gum every afternoon. For someone else, that would be the most boringest trip in the world, and they would correctly point out that I saw almost none of the sights and took no photos and failed to hook up with hot Swedish backpackers.

What I'm getting at is that people (here, and people you know in person) will tell you about some awesome trip they had. But if it turns out you are a person who needs to travel with friends, and my travel tips are about traveling alone, or vice versa, that won't do you any good. You have to find what works for you, rather than learning what works for other people.

Fundamentally, you have to take that first step and just go, no matter how imperfect or provisional it is. I don't know what you budget is like, but if you can afford it I'd suggest going to a place with a culture and language unlike what you are familiar with. Southeast Asia, or West Africa, or Brazil, maybe? Or maybe those places are old-hat to you and you are looking for something different? Or you really need museums, and want a choice of MOMA or Bilbao? There's not enough information here to make a serious suggestion -- my point is to seek out interesting experiences now, because life is uncertain, and most people find that long-term and adventurous travel gets harder as they accumulate relationships, obligations, and possessions (and yes, there are some great counterexamples to that -- but that is still an argument for going now, to set the stage for later).

For someone who wants some structure (and who maybe can't afford to just jet-set around the globe otherwise), work/volunteer options like the Peace Corps, WWOOF, and religious organizations work really well. By living in one place for an extended period of time, and working with local people (not just taking photos out the window of a bus, or chatting with bilingual tourist workers) for weeks and months at a time, you will have a deep encounter with a place that few outsiders will ever have. There are a lot of issues with these kinds of programs; they aren't for everyone; and you will have to make sacrifices and compromises. But in return, you will see a place in a way you simply can't as a short-term tourist.

And for some people, it is the idea of travel that they really enjoy. Like driving an SUV but never leaving the pavement, they really like planning trips and thinking about the places they could go -- but without actually going. If that's you, that's totally cool, as long as you own who you are. There isn't one and only one approved path in life; travel is certainly not what everyone enjoys.
posted by Forktine at 9:42 PM on May 26, 2008

I'm traveling for a year starting this November.

The first leg will be New Zealand. I am going there because someone in a hostel in Hawaii told me how much they loved it.

Roll with it, or learn to roll with it. Don't obsess over making every destination and moment perfect. That isn't (or shouldn't be) the point of travel. Like anything in life you'll learn what you like and don't like by doing, not by thinking.

Also check out Search the threads and you'll find answers to this question along with every other question you're going to come up with along the way.
posted by MillMan at 12:02 AM on May 27, 2008

I'm going to be traveling around South East Asia and hopefully India from the end of the year, in my case I'm just booking a one way ticket out to Bangkok (Via short three day stop in Singapore) and then traveling till I run out of Money - with a credit card set aside with enough money to get my ticket home when I need it.

I've done two weeks out in Thailand not long ago visiting friends who were traveling, so had a taste of it, but I have no real plans short of arriving in Koh Chang for Christmas where a large group of us are getting together from all over - but I'm planning on just talking to people while out there, and going pretty much on a whim from place to place to where ever sounds cool, and stopping and soaking up the environment when I feel like staying still for a while.

Best thing to do is just get a ticket somewhere, and then when you're committed worry about the details.
posted by paulfreeman at 3:14 AM on May 27, 2008

Working holidays are great. I spent a year in New Zealand with a work visa through BUNAC. While they don't provide as much support as they say they do, you're at least set to work legally - wait tables, work in vineyards or orchards, pick up temp work, etc. And, of course, you travel. Even with a crappy temp job, I was able to sock away money so I could travel all over New Zealand. The country is stunningly beautiful, the people are friendly, and while it's English-speaking the accent will throw you for a bit of a loop. And with a working holiday, you do get to know a place. You have co-workers, you might have customers, you have your favorite grocery store and corner market. You can spend enough time there to absorb the rhythms of whatever town or city you're living in.
posted by bassjump at 4:29 AM on May 27, 2008

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