Heading off into the unknown, particularly when you’re on your own, is terrifying. There’s no doubt about it. You won’t find a traveller that says they weren’t at least anxious before their first trip. And a way to calm your nerves a bit is to plan ahead. I mean, if you know you have a few nights booked at a hostel, you won’t be worrying about what happens when somewhere is fully booked, on top of everything else.
I’m not saying plan the whole thing. My first solo trip in the US was planned to a tee – every flight/hostel/tour was accounted for and I pretty much knew what I would be doing each day. Now there’s nothing wrong with this, I am a ridiculously organised person and my first instinct is to plan ahead. But it gives you zero flexibility. I would have loved to spend longer in San Francisco or Vegas but I’d already booked and paid for accommodation/tours in the next city… I also spent a lot more than I should have by booking in advance.
Similarly if you plan nothing, you are setting yourself up for more anxiety than necessary. If you’re new to travelling, you don’t know what to expect or how things work anyway, without the drama of being unprepared. How will you find somewhere to stay? Where will you go next? I know people that do plan absolutely nothing, but I’ve also heard horror stories of people spending their first night in a shop doorway or considering going home after a few days because they didn’t know what to do.
It is nice to be flexible though – I think your travelling experiences have a lot to do with the people you meet, so having that flexibility to go off to the Whitsundays with the crowd you just met in Brisbane, will really affect your trip.
So as always, what I’m saying here is you need to find a happy medium. I know a few backpacking gurus will say to book your first 2 or 3 nights but I think your first week is the way to go. When you first arrive, there’s always a bit of culture shock combined with the shock that you’ve actually gone ahead with this and made it all the way there in one piece. Which takes a few days to adjust to. The way I conquered this was to book myself on a week long tour. I went on ThaIntro and it was one of best decisions I made. I’ve created a whole new post for this tour but it meant I made friends straight away, learnt about the country and fell into the backpacking life a little easier.
As well as planning your first week in terms of what you’ll be doing and where you’ll be staying, you should also have a bit of a rough plan for your trip in general. If you buy a Round The World ticket for your flights, this kind of acts as a rough plan anyway. You know what countries you want to visit and in what order. I think it makes a difference to have some direction in your trip. It also stops you from getting stuck somewhere and spending all of your money in one go if you have in mind the next place you want to visit. But don’t let those plans be set in stone. I never expected to visit Cambodia or Singapore in my second trip but that’s the way it worked out. I made friends with someone who wanted to go to Cambodia and then had to do a visa run from Thailand to Singapore. This kind of spontaneity sounded horrifying to me before I went travelling – I’m quite prepared and a bit of control freak so the idea of just getting on a bus to somewhere I didn’t know anything about was daunting. But it’s a way of life you pick up out there. And I actually got a kick out of it – it’s completely liberating to be so carefree. Ok now I sound like a hippy.
So anyway, plan your first week to put your mind, and your friends and family’s minds, at rest. Have a rough plan if where you want to visit. Learn to be spontaneous. You’re going to love it.