My sister was a first time traveler when she visited me in.
In fact, she had never ever even left the United States when she decided to come visit me in Thailand.
She got a passport specifically for the occasion, and broke it in via a cross-Pacific flight that first took her to a nightmare of a layover situation and delay in China (never fly China Eastern!) before landing in BKK in the middle of the night.
She was the first person to visit me in over a year, and I was so excited to introduce her for the first time to my love of traveling.
I was SURE she was going to fall in love with this lifestyle, culture, and country.
So I packed as much into her 10 day trip as humanly possible. I included sightseeing in Bangkok, island hopping, and even a day trip to another country, featuring boats, ferries, planes, buses, tuktuks, taxis and trains, in addition to cheap fan rooms, too many boozy buckets, and not enough information.
It was a disaster. If you would like to create a similarly stressful time for your loved ones who are also first-time travelers, read below to discover the ways to ruin a first-time traveler’s trip.
How to Ensure the Most Hectic and Unfun Time Ever
When Hosting an Inexperienced or First Time Traveler
1. Try to pack way too much in.
On my itinerary for a 10 day trip:
– two major cities in two different countries (Bangkok, Thailand and Singapore, Singapore) – including zoos, temple tours, and market visits
– four islands and island hopping (seriously FOUR islands in five days!), all of which were interspersed with major nights out
2. Totally disregard jet lag.
The night my sister arrived, after her first international flight (over 24 hours worth!), I planned a big night out. After each of our regional flights (one to Krabi, one to Singapore – including a sleepover at the airport, and one returning back to Bangkok), I planned full days of tours and LOTS of walking. For my sister who can count the number of times she’s flown on one hand.
3. Forget how late/unsafe/inefficient cheap public transport can seem to a first time traveler.
My safety-conscious sister and I took the cheapest shuttle boat from Railay to Koh Phi Phi, which turned out to be an overpacked speedboat (over 4 times the suggested number of people), and one of the motors blew out (smoking) along the way. There was so little room that some people had to cling to the hardshell roof of the boat. It was terrifying, even for me. This is in addition to the (forgotten in my eyes) safety issue of taxis not having seatbelts. The constant lateness and inefficiency of the buses and ferries really hampered our plans and dampened our spirits as well.. and of course this issue stems at its root from #1.
4. Don’t provide any safety or cultural explanations.
At one guest house, we arrived before checkin and wanted to go to the beach. I asked the manager if we could leave our bags with him in the locked storage room (I had stayed there twice in previous visits and trusted them).
My sister LOUDLY questioned me – “But what about all of the money in your bag?”
Rather than calmly explain to her that I trusted them, and that they were leaving the bag in a locked room, and the money was hidden in a secret pouch (or even better, explain in advance the importance of never pointing out the location of valuables)- I got really frustrated over her ignorance and we got in an argument. Later, I was able to explain that if you don’t point it out, trustworthy people won’t go looking – but once you put a “bug in their ear” and introduce the idea that there’s a lot of money sitting and waiting to be taken, that’s opening Pandora’s box.
Additionally – I didn’t properly explain Thai Buddhism, nor etiquette, or any cultural differences in advance. We traveled during Songkran (Thai new year, basically a nationwide 3 day water fight), and I didn’t really explain what to expect at all… and just assumed that she would like it, like I did.
5. Don’t see the trip through your guest’s eyes and experiences. Totally disregard your guest’s personal likes and dislikes, and follow the guidebooks only.
I planned a culturally heavy (lots of temples), island-hopping extravaganza for my first time traveler sister. I assumed that because she only had a few days, she would want to see as much as possible, and that she would be just as interested in the religious sites and cultural idiosyncracies as me. But, a young 20s girl who just finished college and is working a stressful job in the Midwest has quite different tastes than someone who majored in religion (with a particular fondness for studying Theravadan Buddhism) and quit her job to live and travel in Asia.
When my sister said she wanted a relaxing vacation – I should have thought of what HER idea of relaxing was, instead of mine.
I should have planned more activities that are fun and interesting and exciting to new visitors (and aren’t used to tuktuks and shakes and padthai on the street and fish spas and massages and beautiful beaches and fun people from all over the world).
I also should have considered her food preferences and made more of an attempt to find comfortable (though maybe not “authentic” food that she would like)
I should have planned more of this:
and less of this
Luckily, I think I learned my lesson and planned a better, more relaxing trip when she visited me in Brazil.