Well in the broadest sense of terms you need four things:
time, money, confidence and desire - but we'll skip desire on the assumption that if you are reading this you already have it. The rest are a little more tricky!
Money is the first and main stumbling block for most. Travel is not free and expensive for most, especially younger folk. Equally it is hard to gauge just how expensive it is with would be travellers often benchmarking costs from the price of travel on tours in glossy brochures, but travel is far less expensive than you many think especially if your trip is done mainly independently (having said that, it is also generally more expensive in totality than than many ultra-budget travel blogs state). Of course how much your trip actually is going to cost depends on where you want to go and what you want to do. If your idea is to climb Mt. Everest or see Penguins in Antarctica, it is going to be a hell of a lot more expensive than you probably think, but if you are realistic about where/what you want to go/do then it is not going to be too much. Anything from $100-$1000 on a plane ticket, maybe few visas, a ruck sac, a few bits of kit, and then about $30-40/day if you are travelling to a developing country or about $40-50/t if you are going to a developed country - but those are pretty broad numbers and have a lot to do with exactly how you want to travel and activities you do, so take them with a pinch of salt. You can spend more or you can spend less. So if you are going away for a month you are going to spend $1,000-1,500, plus your plane ticket, plus your visa, plus your other bits and pieces and travel gear. It is not the end of the world compared to just 'living' in a big first world city (and actually having just $3,650 to your name (net) makes you wealthier than half of the planet).
If you have got the money you probably struggle for the time. Then again we all waste a lot of time and life is full of opportunities to get away if we really look for them. It is about seizing those opportunities. Whether between jobs, before you start your first one, school/college holidays, sabbaticals, retirement or just using normal annual leave from work to the maximum potential (as many do). You don't need to travel for months at a time and you can see and do an amazing amount in two-three weeks (or less) if that is all you have. If you really want the time you will make it. However, a word to the wise: don't put it off. If you have the opportunity, take it. It only gets harder as you get older. Getting richer/older normally means getting busier and having more commitments.
And then there is confidence
can be the tricky one. Perhaps you have travelled before and know all
about it or are pretty confident anyway so are happy to head off and are
only here to find somewhere new you are a little apprehensive about. Then
again that is far from everyone and if you are a very first-time traveller
(as we all are at some stage) it is really easy to be freaked out.
Just remember all these places you are thinking of going sound really
exotic and distance right now sitting at home/work, but when you arrive you will
realise distances mean little, the world is more similar than you could of
ever imagined and much less scary.
Other societies and ethical norms [deep down] function pretty similar to the one you know and what's more there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of other travellers there right now moving around safely, enjoying themselves in what is a highly developed infrastructure of tours, transport, accommodation, food, etc. All geared for people just like you to make your trips as fun and easy as possible (in exchange for a some money of course!) and in the event there is not you will move with, talk to and be with all those others who are only a question away from giving you far better local advice you can ever find on the internet.
If you are female and/or travelling alone this can make
it more difficult and add reasons to be nervous, but going solo is something
that hundreds of thousands of people do (male and female). There are places/attitudes
that are better for it than others and in all cases you're a sensible
guy/girl who got this far in life - you'll be fine (with a bit of
commonsense). The worst that can happen is you turn up, hate it and come
home - well that is not really the worst that can happen, but the worst that
can happen is blown out of all proportion in terms of actual
probability through media reports and scare stories.
It is all about knowing the facts, being sensible, understanding the real risks and that you are not 100% safe where ever you are in the world. Remember when you arrive you are not really alone, there is literary a small army doing the same, in the same boat, especially if you go to a popular destination - which is best for first-timers low on confidence/experience. If you are worried start small in the developed or semi-developed world on a popular route and build up, and you will get there. And what's more that's why you are here, this site is designed to give you the confidence and knowledge. It is a step by step approach to all the stupid questions you wanted to ask, but didn't.
So read on through these steps and make your way in the world:
Easy! We have all at least dreamed of exotic destinations or have deep down inside romantic notions of what we want to see or do, but...
It is worth reading though some of the general advice on starting to pick a route, destination(s) and understanding your own motivations.
Don't forget to give some thought to visas. You can't always just go when and where you like.
Look at the practicalities of getting to all those places you always dreamed of. There is plenty of information on this site, in the links section and also in various overview guide books like the First-Time Rough Guide series - invest in one.
Think bigger, there may be plenty of places you don't know about or haven't considered: have a look over some of the where to go recommendations.
Remember: you can't see it all and will have to compromise somewhere. Better to go away and miss something than not to go at all.
Book a ticket; that hurts. Hunting obsessively for the best price, making a decision (if you need advice you can find it here) and forking out the cold hard cash, but now you are committed. Excited? You will be, you're going. After that you need to start to get your ducks in a row and give some thought to:
Getting some travel insurance. Remember your plane ticket is probably non-refundable. If you could not make the flight it is pretty nice to know you don't lose your money.
Remember: you can read about some pretty cool trips on the internet, but you don't always get the full story behind them and - to use an analogy - although it is possible to have a tiger as a pet (in fact there are more in Texas than in the wild), it is better off to start with a cat. Be realistic in your plans if you starting off without first trip experience.
With all the best intentions in the world you will probably leave this to the last moment. It's called human nature. You do however need to at some stage pack your bag and probably do some shopping to pick up anything you don't have. Things like....
A few electronics devices
...but don't over worry. You don't need much and can pick up pretty much anything on the road. Then again having a manageable bag (in terms of size) is one of the secrets to happy travel.
Just don't forget: money (and an ATM/credit card), a smart phone and your passport (and maybe some ear plugs). If you are stressed out just head for the short list or half everything you want to take, and take twice as much money.
Maybe you are heading off for a year, maybe a week. It doesn't matter, almost all are nervous before they go. What have I forgotten? What will it be like? Did I say goodbye to all my random friends? All normal thoughts.
If you are travelling alone, remember you will meet plenty of other people.
Avoid websites with bad stories or negative news about where you are going. It is a bit like going on the internet to self-diagnose an illness, you will freak yourself out with information not relevant to you. Then again it is always worth remembering basic commonsense advice to stay safe and not get you stuff stolen. Your own government [foreign/international office] will also have a travel advisory website where you can get the most recent safety/health information.
This is all read before you go stuff really (so before you get on the plane). Once you arrive you will be a pro pretty soon and won't need this advice, but knowing it before you go can help put your mind at rest and help you better plan/prepare. The world is a big place so there is a lot of detail to provide information on every region and major variations - so not all of it will apply, but you will almost certainly be interested in:
How you are going to actually get around when you arrive - trains, planes and automobiles.
Getting ill and staying healthy - malaria to dodgy tummies.
Where you will sleep - hostel to hotels, camping to couch surfing.
You should definitely be interested in:
Pretty much as soon as you arrive you start getting hold of local travel information
and get to talk to locals and other travellers. All of whom have ideas, advice
and stories about regional attractions. In most popular destinations you are
barraged with details about local tours you can join with ease or people you
meet you can travel with.
You will start to realise that many of the places you thought you might go to are not as easy to get to as you expected and there are much better options. You start to understand the effect of travel, the climate, what you like, what you don't - and start to adapt. Maybe a planned week on the beach in Bali turns in to a boat trip to Komodo or hiking in Peruvian Andes turns into just chilling out with some cool guys/girls you met in Cusco. The point here is don't over plan or worry. Things change and by its very nature travel can't be 100% known. This is the sheer joy.
If you do spend the time to read through and check out the site you will notice apart from a few Amazon links (where their is commission) there is no 'buy us a coffee/beer', e-book for sale or requests for money - but please when you arrive if you want to add something to anything you have read here and most importantly help keep the country summaries upto date with a simple one line update e-mail then it is really appreciated and helps maintain a travel resource for all to read. What would you liked to have known before you went?
Remember: if you can help out with any updates or comments for a future 'you' it has to be good karma.
Well it is hard because unless you are going somewhere close and familiar for a short time, it is a big deal. You are taking a leap into the unknown and spending a lot of money/time in the process. We are all to a certain extent brainwashed by media reports. Going to Central America it's wall to wall drug cartels, the Middle East? Oh my god you will be kidnapped as soon as you arrived. Africa? Surely not! Have you not heard of Ebola or HIV and don't get me started on Asia or Australia - earthquakes, tsunamis and deadly animals. All this is utter nonsense and as soon as you land you will realise the reality. The world is a pretty small place, find someone on the internet (boots n all, travellers point or the thorn tree, etc.) they can put your mind at rest - but take the comments with a pinch of salt.
Not every trip is a great one, not every country is fantastic to visit. The sun does not always shine, not all food stays down and definitely not all roads are flat. Nevertheless every experience in totality has something positive and is a little extra to your life that you saw, experienced and had the balls to take the opportunity (or made the opportunity) to go when you had chance. Good for you!
And lastly... Remember:
"If you think you can't you won't. If you think you dare not, you don't;
If you'd like to travel, but you think you can't It is almost certain you won't.
Life's opportunities don't always go to the stronger or faster, but soon or late the person who does is the person who thinks he can! "
Modified from 'Thinking' - Walter D Wintle