Updated: Apr 5, 2019
Lets assume you’ve taken your annual vacations for years, consisting mostly of cruises and all-inclusive resorts.
Maybe you and the ex, hit a couple of far away places like Paris or Greece, but it was usually the Caribbean or Mexico. But now you’re ready to step it up, to get more out of the international travel experience.
How do you proceed?
Well, the quickest way to ease into being a traveler, is to return to someplace you’ve enjoyed while on vacation. Preferably one where you understand the language. Not for very long, 3 or 4 days should suffice. Only this time, no cruise and no resort. Look for a regular hotel instead, one that DOESN'T offer tours and excursions. Most will at least have a lobby wall or counter full of pamphlets and brochures to the local tour companies, and that’s all you should need.
Pro tip* Take the pamphlet to the front desk to be verified before calling or
going on their website. Also if a down payment is needed, ask for the least amount required, and pay the balance in cash at the tour.
Use the hotel’s wifi to make calls for any bookings (may need an app if your phone isn’t equipped). This gets you used to relying on wifi hotspots when away from home, to avoid international calling and roaming rates. If concerned about your number being ID’d, you can disable that or use the hotel lobby phone.
If you don’t understand the language, have the front desk clerk assist you, and make sure he or she writes it all down for you. Arranging transportation, tours, etc on your own allows you to interact more with locals.
The hotel should have some sort of restaurant, but since its not all-inclusive and pre-paid with the booking, you wont be obligated to always eat there. This frees you up to try some of the local places.
Try to eat at a different place for every meal. Don't just go to places within walking distance from the hotel. Ask hotel staff or cab drivers for recommendations. Hop a cab or public bus to go to the places which aren't in walking distance. Hotel staff won't send you to bad or unsafe areas. This helps to get you out of the over priced tourist areas.
If you or someone in your group understands the language, great, you should be able to order (most) things without assistance. If not, this is where your translator app will come in handy. Some apps can also translate written words like signs or menus, by aiming the camera view feature at the sentences.
If you haven’t already exchanged your cash for local currency, you will need to do so now. Look up the exchange rate on a site like XE com or currencyrate com, to get a ballpark of what rate to expect. Some of the larger hotels may be able to exchange for you, but the rates will suck. A bank is a better option but not all of them offer this service. The desk clerk should be able to point you in the right direction.
Pro tip* You will get less than the rates you see online because the banks and kiosks will charge a fee, in the form of a reduced rate, for this service. The airport kiosks have the worst rates, banks are better but more time consuming and not always convenient. Currency exchange offices away from the airports offer better rates. You can also pull local currency directly from a bank ATM.
Use these tours, rides and jaunts to mingle with locals and other travelers. This is no time to be shy, especially if you’re solo. You hear another traveler speak English (or whatever your first language is), there’s your opening, you already have something in common.
Fellow travelers are generally friendly and invitations to hang out with them or their group are common. This could later lead to other ventures you didn’t plan on.
Hostels are another option for meeting English-speaking travelers, even if you aren't staying there.
Before you know it, your 3 or 4 days are up, and you’re on that plane heading home. Only this time you felt much different. There was an excitement about it. You may have learned something new about a different culture, met some new, interesting friends and exchanged social media contacts. Maybe now you think 4 days wasn’t long enough.
There was more you wanted to do, to explore.
You cant wait to start planning the next trip, maybe back there for a longer period this time. Maybe try a country whose language you don’t know, or maybe make plans to meet up with your new friends in yet another country.
A transition isn’t as hard as you think, it just requires a desire for something more. Once you have that desire, and start to gain a bit of knowledge and experience, you get less apprehensive. It becomes less intimidating, and more of an adventure.
It may even become a bit of an addiction, but travel addiction is the best kind!
* see all pro tips