Planning Your Trip
So, you know where you’re going. You’ve spent countless hours on the Internet researching your trip, got an awesome tip-off from your friends or simply stuck a pin on a map without looking. Whichever way you decided, you can now get down to business of planning your travels and get even more excited about going away. But where do you start? What are some of the things you should be thinking about before getting on that plane. I look at some of the things you should consider before embarking on your next adventure.
Visas and Passports
You might think that this is very obvious, but you will be surprised at how many people don’t check whether they need a visa to enter a particular country. Ensure you look up visa requirements for your destination, how long you can stay somewhere without a visa, how many re-entries you are allowed on a single visa and how long it will take you to get one, if you require it. If you are going on a group tour, don’t automatically assume that the company will sort your visas out for you. If unsure, ASK! I personally use VisaHQ.
If you are going to be in transit, check the visa info for that country. You might have enough time to explore a place for a few hours or even book an overnight stay. On our way to Australia in 2012, my friend and I had a flight that gave us around 12 hours in Singapore and we managed to leave our luggage at the airport and do loads of sightseeing for the day.
Another example of when doing your homework pays off – on my recent layover in Brunei, I found out that the transit area had absolutely no refreshments due to refurbishment works. However, my British passport allowed me to enter Brunei, relax in an air conditioned main terminal with full facilities for a few hours before heading back to catch my connecting flight. All the while other passengers sat in uncomfortable seats without food for 4 hours.
How you approach a trip will be very different if you go away for a six month multi-country trip compared to, say, a city break for a long weekend. As well as finances, you will need to consider what luggage is appropriate, what you will pack with you and how much money you will need to take. Whereas, it’s quite easy for me to be spontaneous and go away to Amsterdam for a weekend, my dream trip to South America would take a little more planning. Consider what you want to see and do and how long you are able to go away for.
If getting time off work is an issue for a longer trip, ask whether you can take a career break or unpaid leave. A good employer will understand that you have interests and will try and find a solution. Yes, I have a VERY understanding boss who gives me time off to travel, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get! Be sensible and don’t ask for time off after a week at your new job, but if you have been somewhere for a while, check what the company’s policy is and go from there. City breaks can easily be done in a weekend. I tend to book a Friday or a Monday off and get an early flight out before coming back on an even earlier flight and heading straight to work. Yes, I do normally need a LOT of coffee that day, but it’s well worth it!
Ok, so you’ve found some bargain flights to your dream destination with a half-decent airline. It certainly feels good to land a great deal, but make sure you have thought about all the other costs for your trip. Accommodation prices can vary vastly depending on the country and the same goes for food and drink. Decide what kind of trip you have in mind and budget accordingly. Don’t forget to factor in any tours and activities you might want to do once there. It’s better to bring more than you need to allow for any unforeseen circumstances.
For example, flights to many countries in South East Asia will, by far, be your biggest expenditure. Once there, you can enjoy cheap street food, great accommodation and exciting activities all for fractions of a price you would expect to pay in Western countries. On the other hand, I flew to Helsinki last December, getting a great deal on the ticket. However, once there, daily costs were much higher than I expected. So, make sure you factor these things in!
And while we are on the money subject, decide how you are going to carry yours around. While cash will be necessary in many places, especially if you are heading to some of the more remote parts of the world, it would be a good idea to know how much your bank will charge you for using your cards abroad. Some banks offer cards that will not charge you for withdrawals.
If you travel a lot, get a credit card with rewards, such as the American Express air miles cards. You could find yourself getting free flights if you use them regularly but don’t forget to be sensible. Travel money cards are also a great way of carrying your cash and some let you load up to six currencies on one card so you don’t have to worry about exchanging money every time you arrive somewhere new. Most banks now offer these and they are easy to compare online.
Oh, and don’t forget to let your bank know that you’re going away. The absolute worst thing would be to get stuck in a new country without any money because your bank thinks there is fraudulent activity on your account and blocks your card.
It can seem daunting to find the right company to book through with so many out there. I always check a few different websites to get an idea of what sort of prices I am looking at. For short-haul trips, always check low-cost airlines (in Europe, easyJet, Ryanair, Norwegian and Germanwings are all quite popular) as these will often not show on comparison websites and searches.
For long-haul flights, don’t forget to check individual airlines as they may have a promotion on that won’t show up on searches. Another tip is to break up your flight into chunks and use different airlines. For example, instead of flying directly to Australia, I tend to book a flight to a South East Asian hub such as Kuala Lumpur or Singapore and then look for cheap low-cost airline options like AirAsia and Scoot for onward travel.
Some websites I use when comparing flights:
Holiday Pirates (these guys dig out some incredible deals from time to time)
While I have seen plenty of people arrive in a new place without somewhere to stay, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it. The last thing you want to do after a long flight is to lug your suitcase around the streets of an unfamiliar country looking for a hotel. Pre-booking your accommodation will ensure you will save money, will not be stressed out when you arrive and will avoid sleeping on a park bench on your first night.
The type of trip you do will dictate how you will book your accommodation, but booking the first few nights in advance is always a good bet. If your plan is to stay in one place, you can always move somewhere else if you don’t like your digs. If you’re planning to travel around, you can ask locals for best options to stay in other cities or get a better deal through calling the place – something you might not be able to do from home.
These are the websites I use when looking for accommodation:
Agoda – great for comparing hotels and can get some fantastic rates
Hostelworld – my go-to website for hostel accommodation. Never failed me
Airbnb – rent from locals – loads of options.
Couchsurfing – if you’re travelling on a shoestring, this is a great way to save money and meet new people.
Tours and Activities
You’ll obviously want to do a lot of exciting things on your trip and booking various activities for your trip is a great way to fill up your days. I normally spend a day or two just scoping out the new location, wandering the streets and getting the feel for the place while seeing what activities are on offer. Your hotel/hostel will usually be able to organise tours and experiences for you and there will rarely be a shortage of travel agencies who will all be trying to undercut each other, so it pays to browse and haggle.
Sometimes, popular activities will need to be booked in advance. For example, Alcatraz Island visits in San Francisco tend to sell out in high season, so booking in advance is advisable. Always make sure that you book the activities you REALLY want to do in advance so you don’t lose out.
Viator – ran by TripAdvisor, you can find good deals on tours and activities all over the world
Buying travel insurance is one of these “administrative” type tasks that no one really wants to do. Nevertheless it’s really important to make sure you have a comprehensive policy which will cover you for any eventuality on your trip. While you obviously don’t have to add extreme sports cover to your weekend in Paris (I might be wrong and you want to scale the Eiffel Tower or something), make sure that you have a think about everything you are likely to do on your trip and find the policy that suits you.
And in case you are one of those people that think you will not need it, I can tell you that you just don’t know what’s going to happen. Your laptop could be stolen, your luggage might be lost and you could have a motorbike accident and, without insurance, be in a whole load of trouble.
Yes, it’s not super fun and I personally have never bought a policy until the day I’ve travelled (yes, I am lazy) but I would never recommend somebody to go away without a policy. I use insurengo and they are well worth checking out. Alternatively there are plenty of comparison websites on the web, so just search for “travel insurance” and punch in a few details to get a quote!
Another one of those things that isn’t the most exciting part of preparation for your trip, but another important one. Whereas, I have been guilty of not getting some of my jabs in the past, I know the importance of getting them sorted well in advance of your trip. The travel clinic nurse gave me a very stern look when I answered her question of “when are you travelling to South East Asia” with “in 4 days’ time” meaning that I couldn’t get some vaccinations such as rabies which require a course of jabs.
Research where you are going and what activities you will be doing. While you will not need jabs in Los Angeles or Berlin, you might want to get a few for your jungle trek in Costa Rica. Be smart – you don’t want to end up catching something that was preventable by vaccinations in advance of your trip.
Travel Clinic – Has a list of countries and up-to-date vaccinations advice
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of things to consider, this should give you an idea of what you need to think about before your trip. I will cover other essentials like packing and budgeting in future posts.
Next time, I’ll talk about travelling solo vs travelling with other people.