There's perhaps only one thing better than travelling to a place for the first time - going there for a second round.
Lonely Planet has a bucketload of advice for first-timers (in our guidebooks, mobile apps and on lonelyplanet.com) but one of the best spots for know-how is our favourite and most vocal resource: other travellers on the Thorn Tree forum.
They've got advice on what to do if it's your first time in Japan or Cuba or Scandinavia or Chester or [insert destination here]. But some advice is consistent, no matter which country you’re travelling to. Here are some of the lessons they've learned the hard way (so you don't have to).
The number one reminder for first-timers on Thorn Tree is - don’t try and cram in too much. No really.
It’s natural to want to make the most of a first visit – there’s always that little voice warning you might not be back, so you’d better see everything you possibly can. But if you try to tick off too many boxes and cover too much ground, you’ll end up frustrated, exhausted, and chances are you won’t really be absorbing anything around you. Remember to slow down, take a breath, and smell the first-timer roses. Consider it a first date. You wouldn’t be going unless you were interested, so take your time, get to know your date and experiment with your chemistry.
Here are the other general travel tips that our community suggests, that can apply to almost anywhere you’re headed:
Do your homework and share it
Research your trip on the web. Get some great guidebooks. Talk to friends who’ve been there. Post your questions on Thorn Tree (though check it hasn't been asked before - just like Lonely Planet, our members have pretty much mapped the globe between them and many of the questions you're asking already have answers on the forum). Learn what you can about where you might like to go before you go, and you minimise the risk of feeling rushed or that you’ve missed out on something you would have loved. If you have an itinerary and a plan, run them by someone who’s been to that place to see if it sounds doable.
Get your bearings
Take a tour around the area – walking or biking if available. If there’s public transport, ride it around to see where it goes. Find a (slow) way to get a sense of where you are, with the help of a local or a guide if possible. There are a lot of wonderful tour options out there that can be the perfect way to meet a new destination. Once you have your sampler, then you can decide where to take a bigger bite.
Plan to get lost
Make sure you leave time in your itinerary and day-to-day schedule to wander and wonder. Giving yourself time and permission to get lost means you’ll be free to discover hidden gems and sights that aren’t on your map. Leave time to explore, strike up conversations, and lose yourself in the experience. Many travellers report that getting lost ended up leading them to a highlight of their trip they otherwise would have missed.
You know your comfort zones. You might be the adventurous type, or you might be travelling alone for the first time and everything seems pretty intimidating. Stretch yourself a little, based on what feels comfortable. Try your hand at some local words and phrases. Sample some food that might be exotic to your palate. Give yourself a gentle shock to the system and you’re on your way to a unique, memorable adventure for your tastes.
This article was first published in January 2011 and was republished in January 2013.