Best Website To Start A Travel Blog – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Wednesdays

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from Linda who asks,

Q. “Alex, I’m going to study abroad this summer and I want to start my own little travel blog. Nothing fancy just something free and easy. What do you recommend?”

A. – I highly recommend everyone who finds themselves gearing up for an important trip take the time to start up a small blog. Even if you have little/no intention of continuing the project after the trip ends it is a great way to record the experience and to share it with friends and family. It’s also exciting and surprisingly informative to read back through old blog posts. A blog well written can bring back memories that would otherwise be lost. It always amazes me how some of these otherwise forgotten memories can be grand stories which in the moment seem completely unforgettable. When I started VirtualWayfarer these considerations were about the extent of what I had planned, so, you never know when the blog intended for one small trip may turn into something very different given time and opportunity.

Hands down the best, most universal, and widely used platform to blog on is WordPress. WordPress comes in two forms; a .com and a .org version. is free and provides free hosting with a somewhat reduced set of control options. Your website URL will be something like and your chances of building effective search engine optimization and a large readership are usually more limited – though not impossible. However, it is perfect if you want an incredibly easy to learn, free to use platform that is good for some limited random discovery, and sharing with your friends and social network. The added benefit is that allows for a seamless export of all of your posts and data which can then be imported into if you decide to transition at a later date. is also free, however unlike it does not provide hosting and instead is a free copy of the wordpress software. This means that you’ll have to subscribe and pay for premium webhosting – vendors like Host Gator and Blue Host are popular – and then install the software. You’ll also need your own domain name (eg: This option is good if you plan to do something more with your blog or want to use it long term. However, if all you want is a free solution that will sit there without need for maintenance between trips or a re-occurring annual cost this probably isn’t ideal for you. How popular is it?  Well, you’ll find that about 95% of all major travel blogs are using WordPress.

If you’re not a fan of WordPress then consider Tumblr or Blogger. Tumblr tends to be far more popular for sharing images, while Blogger has been making large strides to improve the appearance of their blog interface and the themes they’ve made available. Both of these are similar in format, form and function to the .com version of WordPress.

There are also a mixture of websites designed specifically to serve in a similar hosting capacity to  However, unlike which is general these are tailored to novice travel bloggers.  These sites offer a certain level of increased exposure to the local community, but also provide less control and autonomy than the general blogging services mentioned above.

More specific questions about how to set up your own blog?  Let me know!  I’m happy to help.


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The Dirtiest Hostel I’ve Visited – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Wednesdays

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from Elijah who asks,

Q. “Where was the dirtiest hostel you’ve ever been to?

A. – Ahh, time for a hostel horror story, ehh?  While the vast majority of the hostels I’ve stayed in have been pretty good, there have definitely been a few that were memorable for all of the wrong reasons. Typically, I manage to do most of my research ahead of time using Hostelworld or HostelBookers. The reviews on these sites really help with the booking process, especially because they both have cleanliness ratings. However, sometimes you just don’t get the chance to research ahead of time or have to try a hostel which isn’t listed. That’s what happened to me in Greece.

It was December 2007 and I was traveling through Greece with a good friend.  It was off season and most of the hostels and hotels had closed for the winter.  Luckily those that were still open were willing to negotiate price.  As a result we were able to stay in private hotel rooms for the same price or less than we would have paid for a hostel.  That all changed when we arrived in Chania in Crete. We found a hostel, and checked in eager for the opportunity to socialize.  Unfortunately, the hostel wasn’t listed on most of the main resource sites (with good reason), was a European HI Hostel (which always makes me nervous) and as a result we ended up checking in blind.

The entrance and reception area was spartan and boring, but that’s the way of it sometimes.  The hostel was largely dead, which was a bit of a let down as we were hoping for a social atmosphere, but again, that happens. Especially in off season. The rooms, however, and more specifically the beds were where the hostel really failed and failed miserably. Now, usually in most modern hostels they provide you with clean sheets and freshly washed blankets, or at least a blanket cover. Some of the less hygienic just opt for a clean top sheet and bottom sheet while periodically washing the quilt/blanket. Many  modern hostels also have a plastic under sheet over the mattress for added sanitation and stain prevention. Unfortunately, the hostel we found couldn’t be bothered with any of that.  They offered us one sheet to go with the shaggy brown blanket already on the bed.  The status of the mattresses was…let’s just say, suspect at best.  Lumps were the least of my concerns as I very carefully spread my flat sheet out and did my best to avoid touching anything.  Then, there was the blanket.  It was still somewhat warm in the hostel, but December in Greece is still December even if you are all the way down in Crete.  I looked at the blanket, which boasted more than a few questionable spots and cigarette burns and decided to throw it on the ground.  It seemed much healthier to sleep wearing every warm piece of clothing I could scrounge up.  I suppose theoretically the stains could have been permanent, and that perhaps they washed the blankets after every visitor.  Given the general state of hygiene around the rest of the hostel though, I highly doubt it.

Unfortunately, the rest of the place was equally disgusting.  The bathrooms were grungy and the showers did little to leave you feeling clean and refreshed.  I think the hostel serves mostly as a drunken crash pad during the summer months for beach goers and drugged out party animals. It likely takes a lot of abuse as a result, and the management seemed to have just given up bothering  with the maintenance side of things.

I was also fearful we’d pick up bedbugs as it was that type of place.  Luckily we escaped with only a few mosquito bites and a strong desire to take a shower and a long nap at the next place we stayed.

Unfortunately, I can’t recall the name of the hostel.  Though I also can’t imagine it’s still there, or in business.

That was the worst one that comes to mind from a sanitary/dirty perspective.  I’ve stayed in half-finished buildings, in the middle of floors under renovation,  with slobs, braved group showers and of course had a naked old man towel off in the middle of the room…but when it comes to unnecessary filth.  That hostel is the one that stands out.

Still, even despite the occasional hostel disaster I find that I love them and will take them over a hotel stay in most situations!   If you’ve got a filthy hostel story of your own feel free to share it in a comment!

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How Many Countries For A Two Week Itinerary? – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from Susanna who asks,

Q. “What pace do you suggest setting for a two week trip in Europe. what I mean is, how long in each city/country?

A. – Traveling abroad is usually a somewhat expensive and challenging undertaking. For many, your first trip can seem on-par with other major purchases you’ve made: moving into a new apartment, a down-payment on a car, etc. So, it’s only logical that most people want to cram in as many countries and stops as possible. When friends share their itineraries with me it’s not uncommon for them to schedule 7 countries (or more) for a 2 week trip.

Which makes sense. They’re taking a big trip and they want to see as much as humanly possible in the time they have available.  Which, I actually support – to a certain degree.   In general the advice tends to fall on one side of this issue or the other.  “Spend a lot of time in a few locations” vs. “See as much as you can as fast as you can”.  Which is inevitably followed by a debate over what counts as “seeing” a destination.  If you spent 6 hours in Paris and only saw the Eiffel tower did you “see Paris?” what about 2 days? 2 full weeks?   While there is some validity to these types of debates and they can be insightful, I think they neglect a far more important question which needs to be addressed on a case-by-case/personal basis. What is YOUR goal with the trip?  Contrary to what many veteran travelers might expect, I actually recommend my friends press forward with their whirlwind tours of Europe in about half the cases.  Blasphemy, I know!  This is because in talking to them, they’re interested in sampling a lot of different places and then following up with future trips that strive to revisit favorite locations while exploring them greater depth.  I look at these trips in the same way I look at ordering a beer sampler during your first visit to a new brewery or a wine tasting.  As long as you keep in mind that you’re just sampling a quick taste of each vintage and not familiarizing yourself with its complete history, richness and flavor then you’re in great shape. In fact, it can be a great approach!

On the other hand, I give very different advice to the other half of the group.  These are typically friends who are taking a rare trip, one which they don’t plan to follow up on any time soon (though I always hope the trip changes their future plans…radically). These are the friends who have saved up time off over several years and are taking their big trip abroad to Europe or Asia for the first time before going back to their more traditional cruises, or destination/all inclusive beach getaways closer to home.  For these friends, it’s very important that they get a rich experience in the places they do visit and I often advise them to aim for potency over diversity.  In these cases it’s often good to spend at least 4 days in a city.  I also suggest visiting at least one secondary city to go with the inevitable capital they’ve selected.  So, if they plan on Italy – I recommend spending a few days in Rome, and then exploring a smaller city like Florence or the Cinque Terra.

Regardless of which approach is right for you, I always suggest you spend at least 1 full day in a city and that you don’t count travel days as city time.  Travel eats up energy, it eats up time, and it will detract from the richness of your experience.  It’s easy to want to add as many new countries to your passport as possible, but at the end of the day remember that it’s far more important to relish and experience the moment while there, than it is to collect that extra stamp.

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Most Beautiful Country – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from Sam who asks,

Q. “What is the most beautiful country (overall) you’ve been to?

A. – Oh boy, this question always gives me a heck of a hard time. I’m going to assume that you’re talking natural beauty and not about the native population? So far I’ve spent time in some capacity in 38 countries (this excludes Asia and Africa which are on my to-see list). Some of those visits have been little more than brief glimpses while others have been more in-depth and immersive. I feel as though I’ve still missed a lot, even in the countries I’ve visited multiple times and spent extended periods of time in. So, I encourage you to take these answers with a grain of salt. I also can’t give just one, so I’m going to give you my top three.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

1. Argentina

In 21 days in the country I was exposed to two of the country’s three incredible climates. These were the cold, mountainous and rugged southern regions of Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia in the south and the hot, lush, jungle regions to the north around Iguazu Falls. Due to the country’s massive size, proximity to the Andes and Antarctica it has a lot to offer. While you hear a lot about Argentina’s rich tango culture and incredible meat, its real gem is its natural landscapes. I think it’s one of the most overlooked countries out there for natural beauty and also, thus far, ranks as the all around most beautiful country I’ve visited.

A Dog Resting Atop Sharkstooth

2. The United States

As an American, I find my home country often gets overlooked – perhaps because a lot of English-centric travel bloggers are original from or based out of the US. The truth of it is though that as with Argentina, the United States is amazing and offers some of the most incredible landscapes and environments you’ll find in the world. The rivers and streams of the Colorado Rockies and San Juans are some of my favorite countryside in world. Places like the Grand Canyon, Sonoran Desert, White Sands, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Florida Everglades are beautiful, captivating locales that everyone should aspire to see in their lifetime.


3. Scotland

During my first visit to Scotland I developed a crush on the country. After my 2nd I fell in love with it completely. There’s something enchanting about the collision between history and natural beauty. While the central highlands and Isle of Skye are beautiful, and areas I highly recommend to everyone, I also strongly suggest the north western coastline and the Orkney Islands. Both are regions that I find myself with an insatiable hunger for.

There are so many amazing places out there, it really is hard to pick a favorite.  I invite you all to share your own favorite destinations.  Which 1 (or 3) have you fallen in love with?

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Solo Travel and The Risk of Rape – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from Emily who asks,

Q. “I want to try to travel solo as a woman, but am worried about my safety. Especially the risk of rape. Is this justified?

A. – That’s a rough topic, but a concern I hear regularly from a lot of young female travelers – especially in the US. Let me start by saying that as I try to tackle this issue I can only speak from general observation and conversations with female friends that have traveled extensively. As a 6’4″ 200 pound male the risk of getting raped is a rare issue and usually fairly low on my list of potential threats.

To the question – is there a rape risk as a solo female traveler? The answer is yes, but only because you are always at risk. However, I believe the nature of the actual risk is quite low, especially if you keep in mind several key factors when traveling. To start, let’s put it into context. For the sake of convenient illustration I’m going to pull statistics from this wikipedia article. The first thing to look at is the % break down for who the attacker is. Contrary to what most of us probably assume only 26% of rapists were complete strangers. While another 38% were friends or acquaintances. While 26% is still a significant percentage, it means that the vast majority of rape cases are occurring in situations where the victim knows and/or is familiar with their attacker. That’s pretty staggering. To me, this also suggests that in some way your exposure to situations that might lead to rape may in fact be lower while on the road where your guard is up, and most of your interactions are with strangers and very casual acquaintances.

Additional statistics about rapes in the US show that “over two thirds of all rapes occur in someone’s home. 30.9% occur in the perpetrators’ homes, 26.6% in the victims’ homes and 10.1% in homes shared by the victim and perpetrator. 7.2% occur at parties, 7.2% in vehicles, 3.6% outdoors and 2.2% in bars”. As a solo female traveler you will likely spend the majority of your time in hostels, or hotels. Again, this means that the time spent in “rape prone” situations may actually be significantly lower than your day-to-day activities at home.

Then there is the prevalence of rape in the United States which is an unspoken tragedy and huge issue. Statistics indicate that anywhere between one in four to one in six women in the United States have been raped. Putting aside the fact that this statistic is absolutely vomit inducing, it serves as a strong indicator to me that the view that the United States is somehow “safer” than spending time traveling abroad is likely little more than a misleading illusion.

With all of that said there are aspects of travel, especially solo travel which can lead to dangerous situations which you might not otherwise find yourself in when not traveling. One key consideration for women traveling is the need to be mindful of different social norms and rules. Unfortunately, women’s rights (especially sexual rights) are vastly different from country to country. While you may not need to (or necessarily want to) conform completely with the regional gender role norms in the places you visit, you should always invest some effort and time to research them and to keep in mind that you will be subject to them regardless of what you “want” or what is “right”. The same goes for a culture’s dating behavior. Sheer ignorance of how the dating/male-female dynamic in a country works can lead to potentially dangerous miss-communication and negative situations.

Another key area to be especially careful about while traveling as a solo-female is the danger of alcohol and drugs. A huge part of the social culture surrounding many youth backpacking trips and hostel experiences is the social/party scene. The rape article mentioned above notes that, “In the United States the use of drugs, especially alcohol, frequently plays a part in rape. In 47% of rapes, both the victim and the perpetrator had been drinking. In 17%, only the perpetrator had been. 7% of the time, only the victim had been drinking. Rapes where neither the victim nor the perpetrator had been drinking account for 29% of all rapes”. Which isn’t to say that you should not drink or enjoy yourself. It just means that you have to be particularly careful and take a more responsible approach to looking after yourself. If you’re the type that needs a full time babysitter to look after you, get you home, and make decisions for you when you’re drinking – then it’s either time for you to grow up, not drink while traveling, or find someone willing to babysit you for the duration of your travels.

As a footnote to this conversation also keep in mind that most male hostel-goers/extended travelers are pretty decent people. I know for my part I’ll make the extra effort to keep an eye on the female travelers that I meet through the hostel and go out to the bars with.   I know that a lot of the other guys tend to do the same. Perhaps it’s a bit old fashioned of us, but I think many of us view it as common decency to do our best to look out for each other with a little added consideration for female travelers.

At the end of the day travel (including solo travel) is much safer than many people believe. There are tens of thousands of women traveling solo on both short stay and extended duration trips every day. The experiences you’ll have and the lessons you’ll learn about how to carry and protect yourself will make you safer in all other areas of your life. At the end of the day, the risk of rape is a terrible thing that all women have to worry about. The nature of that risk, however, changes very little between time spent at home, and time spent on the road. Be smart, be careful and above all – don’t let overblown fears or Hollywood horror stories keep you from doing something amazing.

Would you like me to elaborate on an aspect of this response?  Let me know!

I would also love to hear insights from female readers to have or are currently traveling solo.  Please feel free to post your advice, suggestions, experiences, or general comments.

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Why Denmark – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from Lindsay who asks,

Q. “Alex, why visit Denmark over England, France, Germany? Make your case.

A. – That’s a difficult one!  Over the last 10 months I’ve fallen in love thoroughly with Copenhagen, and the parts of Denmark I’ve seen.  However, it’s a relatively small country and geographically fairly uniform.   You won’t find the awe inspiring fjords, clifftop castles, or the soaring spires of the alps. What you will find are beautiful cities awash in vibrant colors which are populated by wonderful, friendly, happy and sincere people.  As most of my time spent here in Denmark has been in the late fall/winter I’ve stayed on the island of Zealand where the capital city, Copenhagen is located.  It will not be until later this spring that I have the opportunity to head to the mainland (Jutland) and the country’s many smaller islands to explore Denmark more completely.

The Danes have a rich history and heritage.  Their flag is the oldest flag in the world.  They were the launching point for the Viking explorers, raiders and conquerors that explored the globe and left a lasting mark everywhere they visited.  More recently they have invested heavily in alternative technologies, education and culture.  All of these elements come together to create a landscape that is distinctly Danish.  Danish artists, architects, musicians, and intellectuals have been incredibly influential on the international stage for hundreds of years – an incredible accomplishment given Denmark’s small population and challenging geography.  Each of these factors shapes and crafts the Danish experience and what you will find when you visit the country.

That said, I would not necessarily call Denmark an exclusive destination country.  It is possible to visit England, France or Germany as the sole destination for a 2+ week trip and leave feeling like you still missed a lot.  With Denmark I think you would find it to be a wonderful, rich, experience but one which might lack the diversity and fast-paced stimulation that you typically want out of a 2-3 week trip.  I believe a good illustration of why this is the case is Copenhagen.  As I mentioned earlier, I’ve fallen in love with the city.  It is beautiful, it is charming, it feels cozy, and it has a lot to offer.  However, it’s what I would call a 4 day or 8 week city. The primary tourist attractions in Copenhagen – Nyhavn, the Opera House, Tivoli, the Little Mermaid, Christiania, etc. – can be seen fairly easily over the course of 2-3 days.  A week or a week and a half would be far too long for a casual visit. However, for those who have several weeks to spend and who want to immerse themselves in Copenhagen, the city has a lot to offer.  Copenhagen has an amazing music scene, wonderful festivals, an incredible outdoor, park and BBQ lifestyle in the summer, charming coffee shops and a wealth of small stores and quirky side streets that draw you in and leave you hankering for more.  In summer it is a wonderful cafe city with its ancient cobblestone streets, a young, gorgeous population, vibrantly painted multi-colored buildings, bikes everywhere, and a wealth of outdoor cafes.  The city’s numerous canals and lakes also give it an Amsterdam-like feel, but in a uniquely Danish fashion.

So, to answer your question – I would suggest Denmark, but I would suggest it as part of a larger visit.  Round trip flights to Copenhagen from Berlin, Germany can often be found for less than $70 USD.   Flights from England and France are often only slightly more expensive making it hard to justify not including Copenhagen in an itinerary.

Would you like me to elaborate on an aspect of this response?  Let me know!

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Best Airline Seats For Tall People – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from James K. he asks,

Q. “I believe I read that you are fairly tall. As a tall person where is the best place to sit on an Airplane?

A. – You’re correct! I’m right around 193 cm or just under 6’4″ depending on the mode of measurement you want to use.  This means that I JUST fit in most airline seats.  It also means that I have a deep seated hatred for people who press the recline button and then throw their weight against the seat back without warning to recline as quickly as humanly possible.  I’m not sure the exact thinking but I assume it is tied to the old “If I do it quick, maybe they won’t notice” line of thinking.  Given my knees are usually flush against the back of the seat in front of me, and align perfectly with the tray arms I do notice.  Every time.  Painfully.  As a result it’s not uncommon for me to finish a flight with lightly bruised knees.

If you’ve found yourself in a similar boat then you will have likely heard that the exit row seating or bulkhead row seating is the best place to sit. In general the common narrative when discussing airline seating seems to be that these are the best seats on the plane.  For years I fell into this school of thought and sought them out.  No longer.

Unless you absolutely require exit row seating avoid it.  It sucks. If you’re tall, but still short enough to fit into the standard seat I suggest opting for an aisle and bypassing the exit row land rush all together.  Why?

  1. Most tall men (and women) seek out the exit row.  Tall people tend not to be bone-thin.  If you get unlucky (as I often did) you’ll find yourself sandwiched into tiny seats next to two other large men who can’t help but sprawl. While you may have picked up an inch or two of added knee room you’ve lost it in shoulder and leg room.  Few things make a multi-hour flight less enjoyable than role-playing a sardine in a sardine tin for 8 hours straight.  It’s also worth noting that these seats are desirable for people who tend to be slightly heavier as well, as it makes getting in and out of the inner seats significantly easier.
  2. You have to stow all of your carry on items. While a fairly minor annoyance the requirement that bulkhead/exit row seats require all luggage be stowed in the overhead during takeoff and landing can be fairly annoying. Especially if flying in/out of an airport with sub-par weather and regular post-boarding flight delays.  As baggage fees increase the lack of overhead space can also be a huge pain.
  3. The seats don’t recline.  While some bulkhead seats recline most exit row seating is locked in the upright position.  In many cases I find that this can be more uncomfortable than tight leg room over long haul flights.  While this may be redundant for many tall travelers, keep in mind that most airline seats are designed to offer back and neck support.  Unfortunately, the molding for these types of seats tends to be for  at maximum a 6’1″-6’2″ build.  I often leave long flights and bus rides with sore shoulders because of the way the seats push my upper body forward with the upper back cradle hitting mid-shoulder blade instead of higher as intended.
  4. It’s probably more expensive.  Responding to demand and eager to make a quick buck a lot of airlines have started charging extra for exit and bulkhead seating.  In addition to being a questionable practice for a variety of different reasons, it’s just not worth the extra money.

Keep in mind that different airlines and different aircraft have vastly different configurations.  Sites like Seat Guru ( have done a great job providing high quality research tools which you can use in preparation for your next flight.   Best of luck, and have a safe (and enjoyable) flight!

Would you like me to elaborate on an aspect of this response?  Let me know!

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Thank you to Budget Car Hire for helping make this post possible.

Destinations For First Timers – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from Andy M. he asks,

Q. “What are good destinations for first timers?

A. – I’ll answer this question from a North American perspective. However, given the international nature of my readership – please custom tailor this advice to your own native language, and cities/countries that may be a good fit for you personally.

When taking your first international trip there are a few key factors to keep in mind that will take what can be a relatively terrifying experience, and make it more manageable.

1. Language Barrier – If you are an American going abroad for the first time, consider countries that are native English speakers as launching points for your trip.  Even if you are semi-fluent in French or Spanish, cities like Madrid may not be ideal for your first time out of the country.  Instead, I suggest countries like England and Ireland which will be exotic, different, but also far easier to navigate.  While the language barrier really isn’t something to worry about, your first major trip can be stressful and most of your experiences will be new and novel. This includes everything from ordering a sandwich to navigating the metro and asking for directions when you get lost.

2. Public Transportation – A great first time city is a city with fantastic public transportation. If you can avoid it, don’t plan on renting a car right away.  Focus instead on countries and cities that have well established public transportation systems that are reliable, easy to navigate, and which are simple to figure out and use.  London is a prime example of a city that has an extensive public transportation system that is ideal for most first-time travelers.

3. Passion – Ask yourself what history and culture is most interesting to you.  Most people have a certain period of history, or cultural region they are more interested in than others.  While there can be a lot of pressure to visit certain places right off the bat, I always suggest launching your travel career in the region or area you are most curious and passionate about.  While this may conflict with tip #1, it is important to go where you want even if that means an American might take their first trip to somewhere like Tokyo, where you’ll find English to be fairly common but not spoken as the native language.

4. Use a Program – If you are looking at your first trip abroad and uncomfortable doing it yourself, consider using existing tour programs. For younger people there are a wealth of fantastic options which range from semester, or summer abroad programs to Contiki, Intrepid and GAdventures style organized trips. While these are not destinations per-say, they are beneficial tools for exploring areas fresh out the door which might otherwise be too intimidating or challenging to tackle on your own.

5. Security – I suggest starting in a safe city.  While your safety and general experience will vary largely based on your own behavior in a given city, it’s usually advisable for first time travelers to avoid cities that have extremely high mugging, kidnapping or violent crime rates. This is another reason I tend to suggest cities like Dublin, Edinburgh and London for first time travelers.  While they have their issues, and dodgy areas all three tend to be relatively safe and well policed. Bribery also tends not to be a major issue, which helps first time travelers avoid uncomfortable situations.

So, what specific cities would I suggest? For an English Speaker from the US or Canada I would suggest launching your travel career in the British Isles.  While London and Dublin are far from my favorite cities, they will offer you a wonderful starting point for your trip. They are easy to reach, and have fantastic rail and bus systems (metro as well in London).   Trips out into the surrounding country side are easy, and for those eager to also explore places like Paris and Rome – trips as part of the second leg of your visit are easy.  Other cities in Europe that are extremely visitor friendly are Amsterdam where the language barrier will be nearly non-existent, Paris, Rome (I would avoid Naples initially) and Madrid which regularly handle massive numbers of foreign tourists, many of whom are novice travelers.  Other prime candidates include Sydney and Auckland in the Oceania region.  If looking for countries in Asia consider Seoul in South Korea and Tokyo in Japan.

Ultimately, where you start is up to you and your sense of adventure.  Remember that your personal mentality and approach to the experience will be what defines and shapes if it is positive, negative, or just a neutral experience.  Chose to chase your passion and pick your initial destination based on what your comfort level is. You know yourself better than anyone, though hopefully your first trip abroad will help you learn about and strengthen parts of who you are.

Would you like me to elaborate on an aspect of this response?  Let me know!

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