Here are some pointers for exploration in Vanilla Minecraft.
You will need tools.
Essential Exploration Tools
- A stack of logs
- A stack of torches (You'll want them at the ready for when night falls)
- A stack of coal (to make more torches)
- A row of stone picks
- An iron pick
- A sword of iron or diamond
- As much armor as you can make
- A stack of your favorite 'placing' block (dirt, cobblestone, whatever block you want to use to build makeshift barriers. Dirt is cheap, but cobblestone doubles as a quick construction material, consider taking a stack of both)
- A compass (Essential for returning to spawn)
- A bucket (Not entirely essential, but good for adventuring, and doubly good if you carry two and have one filled with water)
- A stack of wool (for making beds)
- A crafting table (you can skip this if you'd rather conserve the storage slot for something else, since you can make one easily out of a single log)
- A stack of food (You gotta eat, and you can't always find animals)
- An axe/shovel (for gathering more logs or clearing out dirt)
- 28 Obsidian blocks (For 2 Nether Portals)
- A Diamond Pickaxe (For Nether Portal Mistakes)
To Prevent Getting Lost
Before you start your adventure at all, as a completely optional task, build yourself a Nether portal near your home.
One effective way to avoid getting lost is to pick a direction and stick with it steadfastly. The Sun offer a good guiding point, just follow it until noon, then keep it at your back once half the day is out, or whatever orientation you prefer.
It also helps to leave a torch every 16 blocks or so, to reduce the hostile mobs that will spawn along your path and to mark it for future travels.
If you're feeling especially industrious, you can even build yourself a path. Gravel will do, though cobblestone is a bit nicer, and a full minetrack nicer still. You may also choose to build your road after you've travelled a certian distance, to help keep you on track for future exploration.
Mark notable locations with buildings. Tall towers can be fun and are very easy to spot, but can be a bit time-consuming. A simple hut will do, but feel free to be creative and construct to your heart's content. You'll be needing to build shelters for night anyway, so you may as well leave your little houses in-place as roadmarks.
Of course, none of this prepares you for the truly most daunting part of exploration....
Short, shallow bodies of water can be easily bridged with some construction blocks, but whether or not you WANT to bridge it is another matter entirely. If you do, you can go simple and just make a long line across with careful use of holding the 'walk' key and placing blocks, or if you want to make it into a noticeable road point, go all-out and build a full bridge. You might want to build a shelter before making a full bridge, as it can be an all-day crafting affair.
Large bodies of water can throw a huge monkey wrench into your exploration plans, since you can't exactly mark them with torchlights. You'll want to mark the side you start on with some sort of construction, most likely a dock for launching-off, connected perhaps to a little shelter for sleep. Boats, fortunately, are cheap and easy to produce, and break apart into useful materials (or just leave it when you reach the far side as an extra transportation device).
If you travel in a boat across large bodies of water, you will want to start early in the day, as reaching land at night can be very dangerous. If you find a small island as night approaches, make a shelter and sleep, leaving your boat docked against the shore. Once you reach a large landmass you want to explore, you can build a small dock to keep your boat safe (or just break it apart) and mark the shore with a shelter so you can find it again.
Or you can just build a Superbridge across an entire ocean, complete with floating cabins along the way. If you're feeling incredibly industrious and perhaps a tiny bit insane.
The End Of Your Adventure
Once you reach a spot where you want to start mining or building a large structure again, set yourself up a quick camp and get right to it. Build yourself a chest to store any vital material you might gather, and generally set up your home the way you normally would for your own convenience.
For rapid access from your old home to your new one, consider building yourself a Nether portal and walking the distance back to your old home. You can either try to calculate in your head how far in the Nether you need to travel to get to your old home, or just use the Nether Portal you build before leaving as your guidepost. You may want to build shelters within the Nether itself around each portal, or even a protective transportation shaft if you intend to travel between the two points frequently.
If you don't feel like taking the Nether route, you can always build yourself a minetrack with powered rails between your two homes. You'll need some solid surface to build it upon, but beside the Nether, it is the fastest way to travel from point to point.