For first time travellers, planning a trip can be daunting. Some people have told me that they would love to travel but do not know how to go about it. It might appear as a headache at first but the entire planning process is a useful period for getting yourself equipped and mentally prepared for where you will be going and what you might encounter.
There is no wrong or right way to go about planning an adventure. There are some travellers who will just buy a plane ticket and wing it once they touch down. I prefer the more methodical route but this does not say you need to follow your itinerary. Moments of spontaneity often make better memories than anything you could prepare for.
1.) Choose a Destination
This is where the fun begins! This should be the easiest as you may already have some inclination of where you want to go. For a lot of Brits they usually want to go somewhere hot. Others may prefer somewhere with culture, museums and parks. While still others might want a famous city with her bright lights and vivacious night life. Everyone is different so pick a destination that is in alignment with your interests. Adrenaline junkies may be drawn to the activities of Queenstown, New Zealand, sun worshipers will want the relaxing lifestyle of the Caribbean and art lovers will want to immerse themselves in the soul of Paris, France.
Once you have decided on a place you would like to visit, it is time to do some investigation. The first stop is a trusty website www.wikitravel.org, that will give you the lowdown on a country or city. It is informative and gives you advice on everything you need to know: things to do, transportation, places to eat and even includes a quick history lesson. Also, look for online documentaries and publications from other travellers who have been to the area. The best bet is to purchase a Lonely Planet guide. The book will ooze with more information you would ever want to know about your destination and is wonderfully written and always handy to have nearby.
By no means make an excuse to stick within your comfort zone. If there is one thing this blog stands for it is to encourage you to try something new and exhilarating! Your parents take you to the same place every year as a child? Do not become a creature of habit and go for that safe option. Go somewhere you cannot speak the language. Try a new continent. Look for somewhere that has a special place in your heart that previously you had only been able to visit through the mediums of book and film.
USEFUL TIP: Take out a map and a pin. Close your eyes. Stick the pin into the map.
2.) Visa & Health Considerations
After becoming well informed of your future destination you will be excited and wanting to start booking flights and hotels. Do not get too eager just yet, there are important things we must first check. Some countries have strict rules on who can go past their political boundaries. If you are lucky enough to have a passport from a EU country then most of Europe will be open to you. In other circumstances you are allowed to get a visa on the border and you may be permitted to stay for a limited amount of time.
My biggest obstacle was with China. I had to fill out an extensive form that wanted to ask me about my life history, the hotels I would be staying at and flight details. Then you have to send the form and a passport to your closest Chinese Embassy and can either have it posted back to you or you can pick it up personally if you live near the embassy. It is not cheap either, costing at about £90 (prices may vary depending what country you are from). Be mindful of doing this well in advance of the intended date of departure.
It is important to consult your GP/doctor before going somewhere for the first time. There may be a number of diseases you may need to be vaccinated against. In Britain, the most common shots are free and you may have to pay small fees for the more uncommon ones. Typhoid, Hepatitis A & B, Tetanus, Diphtheria and Malaria are ones to be aware of when travelling through the developing world. Not going to lie, one of my arms was dead for two days after getting the shots but prevention is better than a cure. Also, if you are planning an exerting trip, make sure you are in tip-top shape.
USEFUL TIP: In most countries, the tap water is not drinkable. Locals may drink it but their bodies are accustomed to it. Avoid water from the tap, ice cubes and stay away from salads/fruit as they may have been washed with said water. Make sure you always carry around some bottled water/soda when walking around in the heat.
3.) Accommodation & Tours
Decided to travel by yourself? No problem. There are plenty of companies out there that specialise in arranging tours through every region in the world that you can think of. Here are three best tour operators that I know of:
I booked my Wild China tour through STA and G Adventures and it was organised to an excellent standard. The group size varies but you can expect there to be around ten other travellers. From what I hear from other backpackers, there is a high percentage of solo travellers so there is no need to be worried. The group I travelled with were for the most part newbie backpackers and we had the utmost fun together and I consider them life long friends. The journeys you will share with these strangers will create unbreakable bonds due to the immense experiences you share together.
Tours will sort out your accommodations for you but if you are booking independently you will have to decide on where you want to stay. For the traveller perhaps accustomed to luxury, hotels will be the only viable option unless you are expected to stay out there for a considerable amount of time and in that case you might want to consider short term sublets in an apartment. Hostels are my recommendation for those who do not mind roughing it up a bit. The aspect of sharing your sleeping quarters with complete randoms can be a bit scary, I have seen twenty bed dorm rooms advertised but the most I could talk myself into was a ten bed.
Hostels are an excellent place to meet fellow travellers. Especially to go on day trips, you should be able to meet like minded people to join you on your excursions. They are also a far cheaper option. This does not mean you can book just any old hostel. Check the reviews of all the hostels in the area and do not settle for places with bad scores. The website I use the most is www.hostelworld.com where the hostel is rated on character, security, location, staff, atmosphere and cleanliness. Make sure to check this before booking and remember to have somewhere to sleep the night before entering a new city.
USEFUL TIP: Be nice to the hostel staff. They are in charge of your stay there and why get them agitated? Friendliness and smiling can get you a long way on the road.
4.) Booking Flights
If you cannot reach your destination easily by land, it is time to book those flights! Unless you are Iron Man that is. The most reliable site I find is www.skyscanner.net for when you search for your desired dates it will compare all the airlines flying between the destinations and give you the list of options with the cheapest first.
Some airlines have better reputations than others but I mostly see it as transport from A to B and would be happier to save money for other aspects of the trip. For the majority of you, it will be economy all the way so make sure you check in (now possible online) early to get that preferred aisle or window seat.
Be mindful that some parts of the year are cheaper than others, best not to travel in the peak of the holiday seasons or when school is out. If you have more than one destination it is worth looking into red eye flights as they are less expensive and it saves you one night of accommodation. Once you know your plans book in advance as far as possible. Flights tend to get expensive closer to the date.
5.) Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems
After spending on flights, tours and accommodation you will now have to budget for the remainder of your trip. Work out how much you expect to spend each day on food, activities and leisure and budget for a bit extra. You will never know when you might need that extra wonga. It is useful if you carry an internationally accepted credit card but you can buy cash cards from certain travel agents that you are able to top up online. Check with your bank what the restrictions are of using their cards abroad.
Review the exchange rates as they tend to fluctuate. Change the maximum amount of money you expect to spend. Before flying out, become familiar with your new currency as there is a good chance the value of 1 will not equal your understanding of 1. As a trick I would get a rounded amount of what would equal £10 and the work in the multiples of 10. In China, £10 was roughly 100 Yuan so I worked on that basis. This is useful when shopping in the markets and need to do quick conversions in your head.
When travelling in exotic lands it is always worth taking good ol’ fashioned US Dollars with you. It is a currency that is recognised most places in case you run out of the local money.
USEFUL TIP: When travelling do not keep all your money in one spot. I usually hide a $20 note somewhere secret for the worst case scenario.
Do you have any other tips you would like to share with the readers or any questions about starting to plan your adventure? Please leave me a comment below.