22 things we wish we'd known before travelling overseas for the first time

Are you about to go overseas for the first time? Are you looking for advice? We asked eight of our well-travelled colleagues around the office what their advice would be for a first time traveller and this is what they suggested:


“Never, ever, ever buy into touristy trinkets. You like the cherry tea while in Istanbul, yes. But you won’t ever drink it upon arrival back in South Africa. This, I promise you. Things have a way of looking and feeling more attractive abroad, so rather take a step back and think about whether this money could not actually be better spent.

Don’t buy key chains and pens – you don’t need those. Rather have a cup of coffee on a piazza in Rome instead of buying the pen that has a picture of the piazza on it.” 


“Always pack a set of extra clothes and 2 - 3 clean sets of undies in a backpack to travel with as carry-on luggage, or preferably, try and take a small enough suitcase that does not have to be checked in. Having your luggage lost when arriving to your destination is the worst feeling, it’s also very uncomfortable not having a fresh change of clothes, or underwear.

And, it can also prove very expensive having to buy a new wardrobe when you have not budgeted for it, it will kill any hopes of having some nice spending money.

Courtesy of @vesusy Admins: @takemyhearteverywhere ? Venice, Italy ???? Tag your best travel photos with #travellingthroughtheworld

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“Also know what your luggage limits are and stick to them, no matter what. I was recently caught off guard by an adamant airport employee who insisted on taking on my carry-on luggage. As a business class passenger I was allowed a backpack and a carry-on item which was under weight. He argued he needed to take my bag, and I naturally assumed I would get it outside the aircraft when I landed.

He said I would have my bag in Spain when I arrived there, only to find out my bag was in Germany. Luckily I got my bag back a day before travelling home.

It also didn’t help that we tried getting some new clothes in Spain and forgetting they have siestas in the afternoons we ended up in a ghost town for a good two hours waiting for stories to reopen.”  


“Invest in the following tech – universal multi-plug (with USB ports), solar-powered battery pack and water-resistant headphones. These three items have saved my life and are invaluable on any journey. 

“Always eat LOCAL  – If you’re in Thailand eat Pad Thai, if you’re in Chili eat tacos, food that’s made locally will be considerably cheaper than anything that has to be imported (e.g Phad Thai = 60 bhat at a Thai restaurant, Steak = 2000 Bhat).

“ …but never eat what the locals eat/drink – Bacteria exists everywhere and while locals have built a tolerance to endemic germs, your tummy is highly susceptible to acting up in a foreign country. (e.g Bottled water, no ice).

“Buy local – The phrase “Tourist trap” exists for a reason. Try whenever possible to purchase from a vendor away from a city centre. 

“Embrace their culture, don’t fight it – You’re in a foreign land with different people and equally bizarre customs (at least compared to what you’re used to). Embrace their culture, make memories. Remember – you’re the foreigner, you should adapt.

“Travel light – Never check in luggage and you’ll learn that you can get by on as few possessions as possible. 

“Plan activities – the happiest travellers are those that make the best of the time they travel. Have a few activity-packed days and you’ll have stories and memories you can share forever. 

“Start a travelling tradition – Whether it’s collecting sand or local trinkets, you’ll create a collection worth sharing as each item is linked to one of your journey’s (e.g I have an elephant from every country  I’ve ever been to, so 12x items).” 


“Instead of wasting money on those seemingly money-saving packages to do all the touristy things like check out the Empire State building or visit a museum or gallery without waiting in long queues etc, rather do your own research. A lot of art institutions offer free entry on certain days or times or you can get great views of a city from hotel rooftop bars.


“The first time I went on a long haul flight (to Thailand and Malaysia) I threw up three bags full between here and Johannesburg. When I got off the plane I took meds for motion sickness and I was saved from more vomiting. Now when I travel, I always take nausea pills an hour or so before I fly to avoid a messy situation.

“Always dress comfortably for the flight.” 


“For me it’s documents: Always keep your documents close to you and double check them every stop.

“I also make sure I have scanned copies of travel documents in the internet cloud so I can access them at any time should the need arise

“The second one is maps: Download a map of the area you will be travelling so it can be accessed offline. This was very useful for me in Russia and Japan. Having offline maps enables you to navigate without getting lost and finding landmarks (and even shopping malls) is a breeze.” 


“I travelled to the Middle East last year. Super hot - so sweaty and sticky were understatements. Learnt a nifty trick of packing a pillow case to put your yucky clothes in (sprinkle some powder on so that customs doesn’t think your smuggling something gross in there) and it won’t infect your clean clothes with its yuckiness. Thank me later” 


“Navigation: It can be very easy to get lost in a new city. Sometimes the best adventures are had when you lose your way. But it can also waste precious sightseeing time or lead you down a dodgy alleyway. I downloaded an invaluable app (MAPS.ME), which allows you to download the map for your city or area before you travel.

This really helps because you won’t always have wifi or data to use GPS wherever you are. While in the Netherlands, I was able to use this app offline and navigate my way to various sites using the maps I had downloaded while still in SA.

“Freebies: I would recommend that any new traveller do some research/keep eyes out for freebies that are offered at certain airports. With the UK, I found a voucher in a flight magazine that I could swap at Heathrow for a free sim and a few pounds of airtime loaded on it. I know that some airlines/airports with layovers in cities like Dubai and Singapore offer free city tours/meals depending on how long you are there for.

And while you are at the airport, be sure to check these free wifi spots (with codes that are regularly updated). Most cities have free walking tours… all they ask is that you tip the tour operator. A quality way to see all the attractions.

An apartment with a view #london #lse

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“Food: When eating out, breakfast and lunch are generally way cheaper than dinner. Most of the time, you may end up having breakfast included with your accommodation. Be sure to really fill up with all the food you can. With lunch, starter portions can be just as yummy and a bit lighter on the pocket.

While in the UK, we took advantage of lunch specials at supermarkets. The competition is fierce there and you can get great combos that include a sandwich, drink and snack. Even at unusual places like Boots chemist (who would have thought they would sell food?!) they had sushi on special for 50 pence. It looked perfectly fine, but we were admittedly a little hesitant and opted for a meal combo.

We also found out that Tesco would mark down their slightly older fresh produce in the evening. So, we ended up bagging great deals on fresh fruit (export quality blueberries, grapes etc) that we used for breakfasts and snacks.

"Clothing: If you are travelling to a colder climate, it often works out cheaper to buy most warm clothing there. Shops stock clothing that is thermal and better suited to the climate. It is also less likely to break the bank, even after you have converted.

This is because items are mass produced and there are always specials. For women, black leggings are a great all-rounder item. They are great for flying and act as a thermal layer under jeans or pants.”

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