I have been asked by several friends of mine what i do to travel quite often. I must say I don’t travel that much as many other friends who do. Nevertheless, more and more friends ask me how to do it.
I will tell you all of my tips I have been learning in each trip. I have traveled since I was a baby, and this is because my father is from northern Mexico and my mother from central Mexico. So traveling to each parent’s relatives was always a must and usually a long trip when we had to go to the north. Since more than a decade I have been traveling abroad to Europe and Russia.
The main thing that encouraged me to make my very first trip outside Mexico was languages learning.
It all started when my mother began to teach me some English words she had learned some years before I was born. Just the fact of learning something different to my mother tongue made me feel really excited. I started to see it was not that difficult. Some years after at the age of 12, I had this pressure of learning English because I was enrolled in a junior high school where students already knew advanced English. I was forced to learn it. It was my very first experience in languages and I realized that it was something that really made me feel happy.
An older cousin of mine, already in high school, hosted two girls from France and it was really exciting been able to communicate with them. I was hoping to live that same experience by hosting foreign students as well.
Three years later I started to study in the high school. There you could choose to go on studying English or French as your new foreign language. I foolishly wanted to carry on with English (I was at ease in my comfort zone and I probably didn’t have in mind my cousin’s exchange student experience) but my mother insisted that I should try something new and take the French course. So I signed up and my very first international experience happened when the French Office of the High School organized a student exchange program where we could volunteer to host a student from Martinique, an island in the Lesser Antilles in the eastern Caribbean Sea belonging to France. This event boosted my confidence in speaking French as I could notice I was doing fairly well.
Then I wanted to meet people from France. In that time, I asked my cousin and told me about an international organization that arranged international culture exchanges. So I applied and my application was approved: a girl from France would live with us for one month! Meanwhile I started to learn French more seriously at the French Embassy in Mexico city. Motivation is key to learn a new language. My motivation was making French friends and eventually traveling to France.
After this girl went back home, I got a postcard from her family officially inviting me to visit them in France. I felt immensely happy. My motivation increased and I carried on studying French.
That is how I started traveling abroad. Since that experience I have kept on traveling abroad. Once you try traveling, you can’t stop anymore.
I will describe every step I advise you to follow in order to achieve your goal of traveling. These steps are inspired on my own experience, also from other people I have met in my trips, and from books I have read so far. The steps are in special order according to my experience.
The first step is to get free time. This may sound obvious, however, you might not have it. Here I explain how to get it. The second step is to learn the foreign language or languages. I will tell you my own techniques to learn a new language easily and fast. The third step is about making friends in advance. This is fun and helpful since there are always people with the will to show you their country and making new acquaintances. The forth step is about saving money. We tend to spend it on things we don’t really need. I will discuss how we can save money for the trip. Finally in step 5, I will tell you the minimum stuff you should consider when making your trip plan.
1) Get (more) free time for yourself.
Nowadays and more than ever it is very common to hear from people that they don’t have time. We actually have lots of time. The real problem is that we waste it by caring about minutiae.
First of all we have to prioritize things. We have to be aware there are three kinds of things in our life: a) the important stuff b) the urgent stuff c) the things that are not important at all.
We have to stop believing that everything is important. We have to avoid distractions.
Learn to say no. If someone asks you to do something else that it is not strictly your work, then say no. You can’t do it. Otherwise you will be losing time on unimportant things.
If it is a place or country where the local language is different to yours, then the next step is to learn the local language.
2) Learn the language.
Today learning a language is more accessible than ever. You can google or search on the internet for websites, video tutorials, free courses online, online dictionaries, forums (where you can freely ask any meaning, grammar use, complete phrase translation and meaning, etc.) languages social networks, songs with lyrics, and online translators.
Examples are polyglot, meetup, couchsurfing, wordreference, forvo, pons, etc…
If you can, buy yourself or get from a friend a course book for two reasons: the learning structure is organized and it has audio exercises to make your ears get used to the accent. Moreover, listening to local radio where you hear people speak helps a lot learning the accent and making your ears getting used to it.
The structure will give you guidelines of the basics of the language, this is what you need to get started.
The audio exercises will also help you learn the pronunciation of the language.
Then you can complement your learning by consulting other internet resources. For example, you can find interesting and funny slang phrases to impress the locals. This kind of feedback will give you extra motivation to carry on learning more. Another reason is that you will get to know more the locals and socialize with them. They will always be pleased to get along with a foreigner who is making the effort to speak their language. Another good reason is that you are sending messages to your subconscious mind that you are thinking seriously of traveling to that place or country. This will somehow set your mind up and everything else around you to make it happen!
You can achieve this by finding pals who want to learn your language. For example visit the polyglot website. Ask for an exchange of your language for your language, have a skype date every time you two can in order to review your exercises and have conversations in your language. You will probably need a book because it has an organized structure to learn. Another good type of language book is that one that teaches you phrases.
A nice technique is to learn complete phrases by heart, but especially those ones that you will need. If we apply the Pareto principle, we can assume that 20% of the language is used during the 80% of the time. That 20% reduces dramatically the amount of time required to be able to speak fluently a language. Think about of the environment where you will be talking. For example, if you are a very sociable person, you will need those phrases related to introducing yourself, telling what you do, and maybe some jokes or whatever you consider important.
3) Find and make new friends.
Contact more people through couch surfing. Here you don’t really have to spend the night to meet them. There are also lots of people who can show you the city or recommend you nice places to visit without having to stay with them. On the other hand, you will have already known several local people just before landing to your destiny!
In order to achieve this, you can do the following: send messages to people who are interested in your language, culture, common interests, hobbies, passions, etc. Nowadays in most websites you can filter your search criteria. This increases the probability to meet people who you will get along with really well.
Send messages both to those who can and can’t host at the moment. The latter will also feel like showing you the city around.
A sample email message could be as the following:
Hello, [his/her name]! How’s it going? (or in the local language, you can google that).
My name is [your name]. I am feeling very excited about traveling to [his/her homland]. Do you know some interesting places to see as well as activities about [you hobbies or interests]? This is going to be my first time, so I want to do and see as much as I can 😉
[Ask about special drinks and local food, anything else you can think of that excites you]
At this moment, don’t talk about meeting her/him yet. If she/he wants to show you around, he/she will let you know at around the third message. 😉 Maybe before … it depends. Use statistics: the more people you contact, the more chances you’ll have to meet nice people who will want to help you and meet you.
Another alternative is to go to the meetup website. There are lots of events all around the world. So take a look, choose meetings, put it into your agenda and you’re done! You will meet lots of local people!
4) Save money.
Identify those things you buy in your every day life that you really don’t need. For example, that coffee or soft drink. By avoiding that kind of stuff will allow you to save money for your trip.
5) Make a plan.
The plan can be as detailed as you consider. I highly recommend that your plan must meet some minimum details. This is for the several reasons: if you ever find yourself with no plans, your trip may become boring at some point. You may like dancing salsa and you don’t know that somewhere close to your current location there is a party salsa or dancing club. Instead, you get back to your accommodation or spend your time just walking without really having fun in your trip.
What you have got to plan is the following:
A) How to get from the airport, train stations to your hotel or lodging. This implies to find out what bus routes exists, taxis prices, train schedules, etc.
B) Where you will change money.
C) Activities you are interested in.