The advancement of a new travelling experience means a lot of organisation. I can see why companies who professionally organise trips actually exist.
There are the flights (that’s the easy bit), then accommodation (but reading one poor review after ten positive ones sets me back to square one), what to do and see, visas, vaccines, luggage, transport, currency, insurance, what to pack, must-eats (a personal priority), contacting local friends to arrange meet-ups, learning a few basic words in the country’s language and acquiring the essentials e.g. sunscreen – factor 50 for those of us with a fairer complexion.
It can all be a bit overwhelming, but from experience I can tell you that excellent planning makes for a less stressful and more fulfilling trip. Imagine the disappointment of getting home only to realise you missed out on seeing a wonder-of-the-world because you didn’t plan enough to time or even know it existed. Or (and even worse in my opinion) realising you missed out on the cheapest Michelin-starred dim sum.
Here are some of my tips for making the most of those days and weeks leading up to your trip:
- Speak to people.
- Visit your library.
- Read blogs.
- Compare flight options.
- Check the important bits.
- Get some brochures.
- Don’t forget the #hashtags.
- Leave time.
- Go with the flow!
Speak to people.
Often, the best tips come from those who have been before, learnt from their mistakes, found a hole-in-the-wall restaurant from a local and stayed in a grotty hostel so you don’t have to. Ask family and friends for advice on your destination, message someone on Instagram who has posted a pic from there, tell your colleagues at work. I’m thankful I did this.
Visit your library.
No, not for some holiday reads (although I don’t rule that out), but check out what destination guidebooks are available. New ones can be expensive and it’s something you will only use once, so borrow, get your fill of ideas, make some notes, and return for the next hungry traveller.
Well done, you’re already doing this! Check you out, savvy person. Reading travel blogs are an excellent way to get a very honest and candid review of a place through the eyes of someone who has been there before you. Honest pictures of the inside of an overnight train can really help decide if that’s an experience you want to live out. Even a shot of a steaming bowl of ramen may influence your dinner choice. Maybe you’ll come back and write your own blog…
Compare flight options.
Don’t ever settle for the first price you come across. It makes sense to have a look around, adjusting dates or times of travel where necessary, or making a stopover to decrease costs. Google Flights and Skyscanner have great options to choose a starting point. When using these sites, leave the time of travel to “whole month” or destination as a whole country, or “anywhere” (if you’re really open to flexibility!) for the best range of options. Don’t forget to check other surrounding airports to your local one, as sometimes the cost of a train or bus to a further departure point will more than warrant the money saved on a cheaper flight. Do be careful to ensure the arrival airport is convenient at the time of arrival – some airports require long transits to your accommodation – not ideal if arrival time is late at night! For Frankfurt- Hahn airport is 127km from Frankfurt city centre.
Do you have a 100L rucksack lying at the back of your wardrobe? No, neither do I, but thankfully someone kind enough does and is willing to lend it to you. Try to borrow some travel essentials to save on costs. Just ask, and hopefully, ye shall receive.
Check the important bits.
Okay, I know it may seem cool and spontaneous to rock up at your destination hoping for the best, but it is not so cool when immigration don’t let you into a country without the visa you require. Or you realise the country has a high malaria-risk and it’s too late to get the meds you need. The best source is the Government’s Foreign Travel Advice page for up-to-date security, health and entry information.
Get some brochures.
Pop into a STA travel or Trailfinders store, ask lots of questions, get some advice and grab some brochures. You can always take the ideas but plan your own routes. I couldn’t justify £1,000 for a planned 10-day boom boom boom non-stop tour, I like having the freedom to spend as long as I like at each place. But for stealing a few ideas, you can’t beat it.
Don’t forget the #hashtags.
Social media may not be your thing, but oh how useful it is. Search places and names of restaurants on apps such as Instagram for lots of travel inspo, pictures of places you didn’t know existed and ideas for some beautiful shots!
I’m speaking from experience on this one. Ringing your GP one week before departure and asking to book an appointment to discuss travel vaccines won’t do as the medication needs at least 6 weeks for immunity to sufficiently build up before departure. So learn from my mistakes and do the research for these things in advance. Thankfully, I have a colleague who runs a travel clinic and I’m getting mine the day before. But don’t do that!
Go with the flow!
Sometimes, even with all the planning you managed and possible scenarios you prepared for, things can (and will) go wrong. You might get ripped-off (don’t believe those who try to divert you by telling you an attraction is closed…), you may lose something (take care and be sensible) or the reality of wet season may inhibit your trekking dreams, but just have a good attitude to it all and keep going. It’s part of the experience. Think of the stories you’ll have to tell.