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Interview 21 June

Your first-time travel questions answered

Planning your first big trip? We've got the answers to the questions that every newbie traveller asks

Doug Lansky has travelled to over 120 countries. As author of The Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World  and The Rough Guide to First-Time Europe, he is an expert on what those heading off on their first travel adventure want to know – and need to know.

I’ve just got three months. Is that too short to travel around the world?

Well, since the actual flight time to circumnavigate the planet is about 40 hours, no it’s not, but it is too short to try to see most of it. As long as you don’t attempt to visit too many destinations, you’re fine. In fact, you’ll likely have a far more enriching trip than someone who travels for twice as long but tries to see four times as much.

Need more information?
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I’ve got $5,000 saved up. Will that get me around the world?

No problem. You can find great deals on round-the-world tickets for about a third of that price or hitchhike on yachts for free. The more important question is what kind of trip do you want to take and how long do you want it to last? Try to figure out a daily budget that fits your comfort level, and learn which countries offer the best value.

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How do you know where to sleep each night, what to see during the day, and how to get around?

Carry a guidebook – or a digital version of one. It will cover all the sights in each town, with a short review of the best affordable accommodation, often accompanied by a helpful map (although getting a bit lost now and then is a healthy way to travel).

In peak season, you may want to book accommodation a day or two ahead of time, easily done on the internet from wherever you are staying, since just about every remote hostel around the planet has a high-speed connection these days. If you want to think even less, just wander into the tourist office, conveniently located in train and bus stations or in the centre of town, tell them your budget, and they’ll call around and make a booking for you, draw it on a free map, and tell you how to get there.

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I can mispronounce about five words of French and less than that in Spanish. Can I manage travelling around the world speaking English?

Better than your digestive tract will manage only eating at McDonald’s. Learning the local language would enrich your experience and make it easier to understand your new environment and to meet locals, but even the least gifted linguist can pick up “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”, “how much?” and “no, that’s my backpack you’re smelling” in about 20 minutes – about the time it takes to make the final descent before you touch down in the new country. If you must use English, lose the slang, keep your speech slow and basic; and don’t take a puzzled look as a sign to speak louder.

Need more information?
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Is taking time off going to ruin my career?

It might delay that promotion, but there’s a better chance it will improve your career prospects, and make it easier to land a new job. That gap in your CV isn’t going to make you look like a dropout stoner unless you walk into your first post-trip job interview with the same dreadlocks, nose piercing and tattered shirt you only washed twice while crossing India.

Most prospective employers will find your journey an interesting topic of conversation (one you should be prepared to talk about); it’s likely to be either something that they’ve done or a dream they wished they had fulfilled. Make sure you’ve worked out a few life-lessons from your trip and how they might apply to the job at hand. Or consider looking for employment that might fit well with your travel experience (such as wine sales if you worked on the grape harvest in France one season, or a job at a newspaper if you honed your photography skills and put together a solid portfolio from your travels).

If you’re particularly concerned, you might see if you can plan some work-related education into your trip – such as learning a language, taking a writing course or attending cooking school. That also shows prospective employers you were cerebrally engaged during your trip and viewed it as a continuation of your education.

Need more information?
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I’m thinking of going with my best friend. Is that a good idea?

It’s a tough decision. And if doesn’t seem like one, that’s probably because you haven’t fully considered what you’re getting into. Consider what the potential pitfalls are and how you can minimise them.

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myWanderlust Forum (a great place to find like-minded travellers!)

Do I really need travel insurance?

Only if you get really sick. Or injured. Or sued for some driving accident. In short, yes. But unless you get insurance that fits your travel plans, it won’t do much good. Which means you shouldn’t necessarily sign up for that convenient policy your travel agent pushes across the desk or the convenient "click here for insurance" button when you buy your ticket online. If you plan to trek in the Himalayas but your policy doesn’t cover you for trekking (and you get injured), it’s a policy payment down the drain and you’ve still got an enormous bill to cover. Oddly, insurance companies rarely cover the exact same things, so you have to dig a little deeper to find out.

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I want to make my journey alone, but I’m worried about several things… about feeling alone, about foreign diseases, about getting injured overseas, about getting everything stolen.

There are hundreds of thousands of travellers out there right now making solo journeys and most of them had just as many concerns as you do. Loneliness can be a problem, particularly at the beginning of a trip during some meals, but you’ll find your stride and start meeting other travellers before long.

For advice on how to handle injuries, diseases and other survival issues, it’s not a bad idea to pack a little emergency kit and manual such as The Rough Guide to Travel Survival, which will run you through what to do in the event that everything gets stolen, how to get rescued if you get lost in the wilderness and how to treat the most common travel medical emergencies.

Need more information?
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I hear a lot about “attractions”, “must-sees” and “wonders”. Is it tourist-bureau hype or is there something to it?

A bit of both. When the hype lasts long enough, it seems to become legend, or even fact. The classic is the“Wonders of the World” lists. Truth is there’s no such thing as a “must-see” and you’ll have a far more enriching trip if you don’t construct it around seeing the major attractions.

Need more information?
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Is there one thing I’m likely going to forget?

Earplugs. Hostels and cheap hotels are often located next to busy streets and nightclubs. Some buses and trains have minimal ventilation and you’ll need to keep the windows open, which lets in plenty of air but more decibels than you’d care for. And don’t forget about the snoring roommate – there’s typically one assigned to every dormitory room.

First-Time Around the WorldSee Doug Lansky's books, The Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World and The Rough Guide to First-Time Europe for even more tips...

Image: Man on a mountain top. Photo from Shutterstock.