Plan,  Travel

How to Start Traveling (It Is More Than Seeing the World for Free)

Those of you who have dreamed of ways to start traveling may be bombarded with ways to travel free, but you should also consider ways to travel better, in a more conscious way. Travel is more than hopping on a jet plane to the trending tourism destination. Travel can be as simple as doing something different than usual, visiting the neighborhood nearby, or visiting another state. Whatever your form of travel, it usually inspires us enough to smile and plan another experience outside our home.

Whether your ancestors traveled the silk road, the pre-columbus trade trails of the Americas, or navigated the pacific, we all have “travel” in our history. Where did your ancestors come from and why are you where you are today? Chances are your ancestral history is not from the land you currently reside on. While forced or chosen, travel occurs every morning and night across the world, with conscious and unconscious advantages for some.

Now that we are in the 21st century, traveling has even more options for you to get started. Plane, train, or automobile, the time it takes to get from one place to another is much faster today than it was in the past. Just keep in mind that the media’s beautiful pictures, movies/tv shows, or glossy magazines do not show the entire picture. Many times, it does not accurately portray the cultural identities of the tourism destination.

Travel is more than the curated photos people post online; it is more about the experience while being a good visitor to a land that is not your home. Now that you are getting ready to travel, here are some ways to get started:

Figure Out “Why” You Want to Travel in the First Place 

First, consider what is prompting you to think about travel. Before you quit your job and book that one-way ticket or hop in your car. Ask yourself “why.” Why do you want to start traveling? This is important. Your travel “why” will help you make decisions, both short and long term. It will drive many of the choices you make.

What is inspiring you to travel? Maybe you have always dreamed of experiencing a landscape that is completely different from where you grew up. You could be dreaming of seeing the flat rural plains, majestic mountains, a humid jungle, or even the concrete jungle. Maybe you just want a break from your current surroundings and need a week off to reset.

Vacation, childhood dreams, or escape will all have different impacts on your travel experience. Your WHY will be different from someone else’s, but that does not excuse you from being a responsible traveler. Yes, even if you just broke up with your partner.

Do you just want that coveted Instagram photo? Not that there is anything wrong with getting a great photo…How you get the photo is a bit more important. Instead of ruining nature or killing flowers, you could apply better, ethical ways to take a photo. Don’t step on the flowers (leave them for someone else to enjoy). Ask someone before taking their picture (especially when in other countries). Refuse to take pictures of children that are not yours. Strip the metadata from photos of endangered animals, dolphins, whales, eagles, etc (poachers use this info to hunt).

Traveling to a resort property that you never leave will be different from one where you shop and support local businesses. In either case, we all need to remember to be respectful of the places we encounter, so our “why” does not get lost. While your inspiration may change over time, your “why” will allow you to start creating experiences that fit YOU. Now that you have established “why” you want to travel, it is time to choose your destination.

Choose a Travel Destination You Have Never Been to Before (Even if It is Next Door)

The next thing to think about is where you want to travel and how you want to get there. Do you want to cross the ocean and experience a new climate and culture? Or do you want to try a road trip to see the mountains in person? Please do not limit yourself by thinking that the only way to travel is by getting on a plane and flying to another country. There are many new and different things in your own neck of the woods. 

Begin by asking yourself to reframe your location and look at the area around you with new eyes. Start visiting the big city where you are (or the small one). Maybe it is time you truly supported that Black-owned business you follow on IG by stopping by and purchasing something. Remember that travel is not just first-class flights to other countries, it can be remarkably simple.

Whether you choose to visit a new neighborhood, the state next door, or fulfill that childhood dream of visiting Paris just like our favorite Olsen twins did, traveling will be an experience you can talk about for the rest of your life. Or at least you will have something to share with coworkers at that meeting that should have been an email. Once the location has been set, it is time to learn more about the place.

Learn about the History & Culture of a Destination

As I have said, there are unconscious and conscious advantages in travel, which is another reason you should learn about the history and culture of the destination you are planning to visit. There may be unwritten rules or nuances of a location that a first-time traveler may need to learn. No, I am not talking about packing your bags or the best times to visit. Instead, this is about why you should get to know your destination. What is the language, demographic, cuisine, history, etc. This is not only so you can enjoy great food and entertainment on your travels, but so you are a better and hopefully respectful visitor.

Please don’t be THAT traveler, the entitled one, the one who demands that the locals speak English, or who wears spaghetti straps to the religious square because they think they look hot.

As a guest to any location, you must be respectful of the locals and their culture. & yes, for womxn this includes covering your head when traveling through certain religious countries. The local rules may not be as harsh in a tour group vs solo travel, but you should still do your research. You should also understand how tourism impacts locals, including how it can deform culture (i.e. Hawaii)

Of course, start your destination research by reading a travel guide (avoid outdated versions). You can start with Lonely Planet guides, which are respected by many travelers. These guides will not only give you information on where to sleep & eat but will help you have a better understanding of the area. If you don’t want to purchase a guide, try your local library.

In addition to extensive travel guides, you may want to find information from locals. Search for information in your favorite travel group and ask for advice, “I am traveling to __ this summer, what is one thing you wish you knew before you arrived?” You may learn about nuances that may come in handy on your trip. 

Decide How Much Time You Want to Spend Traveling

Obviously, the length of travel will vary depending on where you go (across the world or a few hours away?). While spending 6 months traveling the world sounds great and looks cool online, you may not enjoy living out of a suitcase. Some people will prefer long weekends, while others need an entire week to truly relax and enjoy travels. The answer is not simple, as it will ultimately depend on YOU. 

People who work from home will need to choose destinations with reliable internet. Those of you who have PTO will be able to plan vacations around the hours saved, while others who do not have that luxury will have to budget their time & money.

Here are some tips for those who must make travel adjustments around work: Start by thinking about your job workload and notice when things are “less busy.” Those who work in hospitality will have to take time off when their employer is slow (the offseason, slow times between holidays, etc.), while the office folk will be able to take long holiday weekends. 

If you do not work during Federal holidays, add an extra day off by taking the Friday before off, turning your 3 day weekend into a 4 day weekend (Thurs night-Monday).

Once you decide how many days you want to take off, you can prepare a travel vacation around that time. Whether you choose a weekend trip or a month-long break, proper planning will help you create travel that works for you today.

Prepare for Travel Costs So You Can Afford Better Vacations

Next, planning the costs associated with your preferred travel will change your experience. Spending more money on a local hotel, local restaurants, and local guides will allow you to support the local economy and create a better vacation for everyone. It may mean traveling less, but consider how supporting a less expensive resort will negatively impact the locals compared to more expensive accommodations that truly employ and support the local economy.

The amount of money you spend on travels will vary. This amount will vary greatly from person to person. Start by planning $100 a day, this means that a 3 day weekend will start at $300. You may not get even close to spending this much money, or need to add a zero or two, but this is a place to start if you are not aware of your expenses. A more expensive vacation that supports the locals may create a more memorable experience than a cookie-cutter trip that is less expensive.

Plan your travels, get a rough cost, and start saving for your dream trip. Consider researching truly local accommodations and activities, so your money goes back into the local economy. In any case, paying cash outright for a trip feels really good (and is much better than going into debt).

Now that you have some ideas on how to start traveling, it is time to plan! Whether you are able to travel today or not, planning for your next trip can be done anytime. Use your inspiration to create an experience you would have dreamed about as a child. Choosing a destination and learning about the history and culture of a place will provide much more value to your trip.

That being said, know the local laws and culture. Just because you can open carry with a permit in your home state of the USA, it does NOT mean that you can do this in another country or state. Behave with caution and understand that your “rights” are drastically different in other parts of the world. Simply being a US citizen may not excuse you from the local jurisdiction. Use discretion and be kind. Remember that respect thing we talked about earlier?

Become a better traveler by visiting places that YOU want to see and make it more than just a pretty photo for Instagram. Traveling for yourself, and when you are financially and mentally prepared to, will provide an experience that will always top anything you see on a screen or in the media. Do something for yourself, see a new location, learn & respect local culture, and be a better traveler. 

How are you working towards being a better traveler? Let me know in the comments below.

Up Next: 5 Sustainable Travel Tips For Your Next Vacation >

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  • Susanne

    So many marvelous insights in this post! Loved reading literally every paragraph. Great that you are navigating the travel topic in such a mindful manner – awesome that you’re triggering us to figure out the why. Travel and wanderlust have become the new norm instead of a luxurious exception to look forward to. While continuous travel is absolutely fine, it is important to stay aware of 1) the privilege of being able to travel (gratitude does so many great things for the mind) and 2) knowing what you want to get out of it – otherwise you might just end up lost. I also 100% agree with traveling to new places and especially those places next door! There’s so much to discover in the vicinity, but we’re always longing for the other side of the world. The mind plays many games 🙂 Thank you for the wonderful reminder. Love, Susanne

    • Laurel | BayRosemary

      Thank you Susanne! Yes, gratitude is so impactful and really improves your life. Simply thinking about the things I am grateful for has reduced anxiety and improved my life. Our minds are powerful.

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