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The Practical Traveller: With any trip, where you begin matters

To get going, a traveller needs to let go of their fear of missing out and just get started.

I often hear from other travellers, as well as those who want to travel but don't know where to begin. Someone wrote to me recently, asking for advice but sounding somewhat apologetic.

"I know you do this all the time," she said. "But I'm going to Paris for the first time ever. I'm simultaneously nervous and excited. It's not a big deal, but what should I do?"

The first thing I told her was, "Hold on! Don't say it's not a big deal ... it is a big deal."

When you leave home for the first time, setting out to foreign lands, you're taking a big step. It doesn't matter what other people have done; it matters what you've done. For someone first learning to run, their first five-kilometre race is just as important as someone else's marathon. Don't despise small beginnings. Treat your first adventure - or your 31st - as an important step.

Some people spend a lot of time trying to decide on their first big trip. They worry that they'll somehow get it wrong. They eventually settle on a region, perhaps South-east Asia, and then decide on a trip to Thailand. But then they read about the neighbouring countries and begin to worry. Is the grass greener in Vietnam? Are the spring rolls fresher in Laos?

These would-be adventurers suffer from FOMO - "the fear of missing out". Thankfully, there's nothing to fear. You can't really do it wrong, unless your FOMO keeps you from going in the first place. (That's what you should really be afraid of.)

A few years ago I was staying in England and my parents came over to visit. We only had a short time together and wanted to make the most of the trip. On a Friday we hopped on a budget airline over to Dublin, setting out to see Ireland over the weekend. The only problem was that we attempted to see all of Ireland in that one brief weekend. Much of the trip was spent driving along rural roads, quickly stopping off at various castles and other attractions before jumping back into the car and dashing off again.

By the end of the weekend we were laughing about our fast-tracked Irish break. "I think we may have tried to see too much," my sister said in the understatement of the year. But you know what? Even though the trip was rushed, we still had a great time as a family. Going back to Ireland again, we'd probably do it differently, but there was nothing wrong with the first trip. As we looked over the photos later, we realised we were actually able to pack in a lot. The only problem was trying to remember which castle was which.

When I travel, I focus on a couple of key things I'd like to see or places I'd like to visit in each new country. Last week in Sudan, I was mostly interested in exploring Khartoum and seeing the markets and mosques. If I made it there, I had decided, I wouldn't worry about the rest. Upon leaving Sudan, however, I wished I had taken an extra day to travel tothe pyramids, but I knew that it would have been a bonus - not something I simply had to do. Having a balance of "tour stuff" and improvised activities works for me, so I didn't suffer from FOMA in Sudan.

You may want to share your experience with others at home and around the world through a blog. The basics of blogging are fairly simple: you can get a free blog at Wordpress.com or, if you already have your own website, you can install free code from Wordpress.org. From there, you can share short entries for readers back home in whatever format you prefer.

If you're only into photos, you can upload them directly to Flickr.com or other services, geotagging them with their location and writing a brief description.

One tip I've learnt from experience: most readers aren't interested strictly in the where and what. They also want to know why. Of all the places in the world, why did you choose the one you visited? What did you learn there? Did the trip change you?

Sometimes the lessons aren't always obvious, and sometimes it takes a while for them to sink in. A week or two after you return, revisit the trip through your photos, notes and memories. How did you feel leaving and returning home? Is anything different now that you're back?

Pay close attention, because the feelings you have during this time may give you insight into what to do for your next trip. You may be more curious about the same part of the world, or you may wish to apply your newly acquired travel skills to somewhere completely different.

As you gain experience and confidence, you'll begin to work out your own preferences when planning future adventures. Just remember: the more important task is to go.

Chris Guillebeau, 33, is the author of The Art of Non-Conformity, published by Penguin. He is on a five-year mission to visit every country in the world, and is currently on number 184. Next week: Chris Guillebeau heads to Nauru, the world's smallest republic

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