You've decided it, you've saved your pennies and now you are going to embark on the trip you've always dreamed of. It's an incredibly exciting and worthwhile investment of your time and your funds and once you've been convinced, there is little that can stop you from going. It might seem weird but it's totally normal that when you share your travel plans with your nearest and dearest that you get plagued with questions that can seem almost like an barrage. Mostly with the best of intentions our loved ones will have questions that mostly revolve around planning and safety which can serve as kryptonite for a dreamer and first-time traveller and make you want to stop sharing. We're here to say that although the questions can be a lot to take in, oftentimes they encourage you to consider things you may not have thought of as a first-time trekker. Don't let the negative Nancys stop you from sharing your dream trip because we promise that with every teeth-grinding interrogation, two or more red-hot travel tips will emerge that could potentially save the day.
In addition to expecting these questions it can also help you to remember that you are after all, a travel n00bie so it can help to look at these conversations as your opportunity to ask others about their experiences too! Free advice is hard to come by so may as well soak it up, take what seems helpful and forget all the rest of it just as easily.
Here are the 20 Questions you can absolutely expect to get as a first-time traveller:
20 Where Are You Headed?
It makes sense as a natural first question following the announcement of a big trip soon on the horizon. It can be helpful to share your itinerary with people who might have visited the places you plan to go who are keen to share their tips with you. Also, if you are planning to do a few countries, it can be smart to entertain these tips at the start of the planning stage. For example when I did Europe, I had never considered Portugal as a place of interest but when I shared my plans with an experienced traveller she urged me to give it a second thought because Portugal is both incredibly gorgeous and affordable. I ended up going and ranking it as my the top place I visited.
19 Which Airline Are You Flying With?
I would be willing to bet most of my money that you will get 1 of 2 reactions when you tell people your chosen airline. There is 1. the extremely positive reaction OR 2. the extremely negative reaction followed by a long list of anecdotal stories about 'this one time' or an unbelievable story that they heard. Try to remain impartial, when it comes to travel expectations, they are absolutely on a sliding scale and extremely personal. What one person simply won't tolerate, might be your normal / ideal. It's kind of like reading movie reviews where it's not going to be easy to asses things via word of mouth. On the bright side, a seasoned traveller might give you a few pointers about seat selection and/or boarding times that you may not have considered. For example, Ryan Air has a particularly unusual (read: harsh) policy when it comes to boarding times that even as a seasoned traveler, I would not have known if another traveller hadn't share it with me.
18 What's Your Plan?
It's okay if you don't have one. I didn't! Most people will ask this question without considering that a lot of good things come out of not having everything pegged down from the get-go. Conversely, if you have a plan that you're really excited about it, feel free to share enthusiastically but also be prepared for those who will provide you with unsolicited 'improvements' according to their tastes. I once had my acupuncturist tell me not to go to Europe because it was expensive. She suggested (read: preferred) that I go to South America. As someone who had never been to either places, it sort of made me stop and think for a moment but in the end I decided to do what was best for me. From then on, I've learned to turn on my 'filters', so to speak, when sharing my plan with others.
17 What Does ... Think of Your Trip?
This will range from 'what does your employer think of your trip?' to 'what do your parents think of your trip?' and sometimes even your partner (if you're coupled up). It's important to bear in mind that none of this really matters at the end of the day and if you don't know the answer, it's a sign of a healthy decision that you've made for yourself.
Just because most people care about what others think of their plans, doesn't mean you have to. It's perfectly fine, normal and good to take a trip because you feel it's what's best for you and no one else.
16 Who's Going With You?
This one will get diffused easily as long as you're travelling with someone else or in a group. Since most people see red sirens go off the moment you suggest that you are travelling alone (especially as a woman) if you are planning to go it alone, it can help to plan a default response in advance that immediately puts everyone else at ease. Mentioning that you're starting out on your own and meeting friends and/or family can be a good way to do this. Also, by no means are you obligated to tell people! If it's easier for you, a simple and vague, whoever wants to join me! can help avoid needless panic.
15 How Will You Work?
This one comes up a lot for anyone who's planning to travel a long time. Most people feel compelled (even strangers!) to know your financial business once you've announced any sort of break. If you have secured a working holiday visa (or other visa type), then you're all set and can work online doing translations, blogging (ahem) or may even have luck contacting local employment services that geared to support foreigners and/or students. If you don't have any intention of working and have worked out a budget then feel GOOD about it. This may be one of the few times in your life where you can successfully manage not to work and you should embrace it.
14 Do You Know Someone There?
A lot of people may find it tough to swallow that you would go travelling somewhere without knowing anyone when it could very well be your main reason for travelling. If you don't know anyone, it's not a red flag!
You will definitely meet other likeminded travellers and some of them will become your friends for life. Sometimes it can be better to step out of your comfort zone in this way because it forces you to socialize where if you're always with people you know, you might feel more comfortable sticking with them. In either case, there are no rules! Travel alone, with friends, or stay with your Great Aunt for a few days while travelling - in honesty, familiar faces can be like a lighthouse when you embark on long travels.
13 Is It Safe?
But really, how safe is any place? Not always the best way to reply to this commonly asked question by well-meaning relatives and parents alike but it is the truth of it. There are certain countries where you will have to exercise additional caution and adhere to more rigorous guidelines and dress codes to avoid penalty. Researching the places you are visiting is a good rule of thumb and also checking your country's government run travel advisory board for any warnings. Aside from that, don't let the fear mongering cause you to second guess yourself. As long as you are aware and prepared, you will be fine.
12 Window or Aisle Seat?
It's a funny that this is the question that most easily divides travellers. The window seat is scenic, you get to control the amount of light that enters your seat which means you can adjust accordingly for mid-flight naps, and there is also the wall for leaning! The window seat was my favourite before I discovered the true advantages of the aisle.
Here, you are in control if you should need to make a quick jaunt to the bathroom or take a lap to stretch your legs. Speaking of legs, this seat is best for any long legged friends because you are able to stretch out in the aisle during low traffic periods. These days, I'll take leg room over the view any day.
11 Who's Looking After Your Pet/ Apartment /Plants?
It might be best to be low-key about this or share this information only with people that you really trust. It's not a good practice to tell everyone and anyone that you'll be away from your house for an extended period of time if you live alone. However, if you have a friend that you trust offering to water your basil or walk your dog while you're on your journey, definitely get a key cut and accept! Kennels can be really expensive and most animals are happiest in their homes with a bit of human interaction. Returning home will be a bit of a bummer also, no need to add dead plants to the equation.
10 What Are You Most Excited For?
You will get this question before you leave and again when you return in the form of 'what was your favourite country/ place you visited?' which can be difficult to answer. In fact, I don't think I've met a traveller who has been able to answer it concisely to this day! It can be neat to predict what you might find most interesting and then compare notes when you get back. I was most excited to see Ireland but had left it to the end of my itinerary so when I finally arrived after months of backpacking, I just wanted to eat tacos and watch Orange Is The New Black like a normal 20-something. It's something that I've often reflected on since. Even if you don't have a clear answer, it can be interesting to give this some thought.
9 Aren't You Going to Miss...?
Baseball games? Your flat iron? Poutine?!? There will always be something to miss, that's just life! People who haven't travelled before will often ask this with a bit of a puzzled expression as they can't possibly imagine leaving their familiar and comfortable lives. But you aren't those people and while you probably will miss these things (and more!) coming to appreciate the little things, is actually all part of the experience. The good news is that all of the things you miss while travelling will be there waiting for you once you get back - there will be more Poutines in your not-so-far future.
8 What's Your Reason For Going?
A rather personal question yet an easy one to dodge if you don't feel like sharing. A simple I've never done it before could do the trick. It will be however, useful to outline some goals for yourself to think about before leaving. Do you want to work on your language skills via immersion? Do you want to try exotic street food in Southeast Asia? Are you a gelato fiend wanting to sample every flavour that Italy has to offer?
Do you want to swim in caves covered in bioluminescent glowworms in New Zealand? Your reasons for going can be bucket list items or deeper felt desires, and it's up to you to decide who gets in on them.
7 When Do You Leave?
This is probably the first question most first timers get asked especially because it can seem out of the blue to your friends and family who never expected it! If you are going to be away for a year or longer, be sure to take into consideration ample lead up time to break the news to all the people in your life who will miss you the most. While you are revving to go and excited, some people may feel a bit sad that you won't be physically in their lives for a while. It can also help to plan a mini going away gathering, even for you to have everyone in one place for a fond farewell.
6 Are You Ever Coming Back?
Often said in jest, accompanied by a half nervous twinge. It could happen that you fall in love with a country and decide to remain there and consider future 'travels' to be trips home. That said, it's not highly likely given that it's your very first trip. If this question is coming from your employer who has offered to keep a spot open for you, by golly your answer should be an enthusiastic and resounding YES! No matter what happens, if you've already paid your return ticket home, you'll be happy to come home to a job so that you can stockpile more funds for your next journey - trust us.
5 You're Sleeping Where?
If you have let the cat out of the bag that you're planning to stay in hostels or worse, couchsurf in foreign places, you may get a bit of a dramatic response. Staying with strangers? Sleeping next to strangers? It can sound crazy but hey, it's economical and definitely gets you out of that comfort zone QUICK. It can be helpful to spend your first moments surrounded by other travellers or get tips from a local host. In most cases you'll see a more authentic side of the place that you're visiting and there are all kinds of rating systems now where you can check a host / hostel out before committing full-on anyway.
4 Did You Get Your Shots?
This is actually a valid question and likely the first point of research any traveller (not just a first timer) should do. Different countries have different requirements and may request to see a record of your shots upon entry / in order to fully retrieve your visa. Don't get caught in a situation where you are heading back home early due to faulty planning - be sure to get any mandatory vaccinations well in advance especially if there are known side effects. There are a number of clinics that specialize in travel, it can't hurt to make an appointment just as soon as your trip is a certainty.
3 Aren't You Scared?
I mean the obvious answer to this is DUH. But it's a good scared. Even if it's an amazing, fantastic, exciting, dream-come-true trip - there will be moments leading up to take-off where you will question everything. It's totally natural. It can help to have a travel friend who has been in your shoes and can pump you up and remind you of all the many reasons why you said YES to taking the trip, kind of like a travel life coach!
If you're having a panicky moment because you can't get your suitcase closed, or your accommodation fell through, or you can't seem to shake the feelings of fear- call upon your travel life coach (versus the person who is asking you this question).
2 Will You Bring Me Back...?
Ah, yes. This will happen if you are going somewhere that has an abundance of unique offerings. Can you bring me back Cinnamon from Ceylon? A leather knapsack from Florence? A RUG from Marrakesh? You will need to exercise some restraints to your enthusiasm in promising to bring back anything for anyone. Of course, if it's doable and won't stress you out then it's a no brainer but these things are best assessed when you're there living it. It's hard because you don't want to disappoint anyone but maybe promising a souvenir to start is a good compromise and then you take it from there.
1 Can I Come?
Sometimes this will be a cheeky retort when someone is absolutely not seriously considering to come along and other times, this person may very well embark on the journey with you when given the invite. Make sure you know which version you are dealing with before answering 'YES, of course you can, MOM!' Weigh the pros/cons against your travel goals and /or plans carefully because while it's lovely to have someone from home along for the ride, it can also add a layer of complexity as everyone has their own agenda, preferences and travel style. It's better to hash these things out to start before any additional tickets are booked.