Doing some Groundwork

Once you’ve made the decision to go travelling, and you’re sure you know the reason why you want to go, this is when the work begins. Planning a big trip like this takes months if not years of preparation. There is so much to sort out! I would hazard a guess that it is this stage that puts people off; leads them to believe they haven’t got what it takes.

Research

Maybe you choose where to go first and then research the destination. Or perhaps by looking into various places you decide on your itinerary that way. I’m quite a cautious person and I’m not happy about visiting somewhere if I don’t know the first thing about it. What language do they speak? What’s the currency? What’s the best way of getting around? Do you need a visa to be allowed in? What’s worth seeing there? Are the people welcoming? Annnnnnd so on.

Depending on how prepared you like to be and how long you’re going for, researching could take a long time. It may sound like a chore, trawling through the Wikitravel and Lonely Planet websites, staring at maps and trying to find out whether that transatlantic flight is cheaper on a Sunday in October or a Tuesday in April… but to me, I could spend (and have spent) many happy days and nights finding out this information. Piecing together the most sensible itinerary by talking to friends in foreign places, finding out when’s cheapest to fly, and researching the weather of the country you’re going to at different times of the year has become a bit of a hobby for me. I’ll be the first to admit I’m a travel geek. I dream up potential itineraries for fun. I know. I’m weird.

Visas, flights, places to stay, getting about and others things to consider

At the moment, this is the stage I’m at. I’m researching the countries I plan to visit extensively; stringing together destinations to make a cohesive trip where I see everything I want to.  However I’m very aware that there is a lot more to do following that.

Being from Britain, I’m pretty lucky that I can go to any country in Europe (bar Belarus and Russia) without a pre-arranged visa, and also visit Canada, the States, New Zealand, Australia and Japan without much hassle. As a consequence, I have no idea what to do when it comes to visas. I’ve never had to get one before setting off! I need to get a WHV for New Zealand, and tourist visas for Vietnam and Thailand etc. I plan to dedicate a whole post to this subject. So I’ll come back to this another time.

After deciding which countries you’d like to go to and attaining permission to go to them, it’s worth investigating whether you’ll need any vaccinations before arriving. For the time being I’m sticking with Europe and North America, so I should be ok for now. But if you were to go to Asia, Africa or South America, then this is something of the utmost importance to look into! Some countries won’t let you enter if you haven’t had the relevant shots.

The single most useful tool for figuring out how to get the cheapest flights is a website called Skyscanner. Put in where you’re flying from (as unspecific as “The UK”) and to (can be as vague as “Everywhere”) and when (either an exact date or just “whole month” or “whole year”) and the website will tell you when the cheapest flights are. Incredible. It compares hundreds of airlines and flights and tells you the best deal. Just be wary that your £200 flight to New York doesn’t include 2 overnight stopovers, fly with Pakistan Airlines and take 35 hours. The cheapest isn’t always the best (can’t believe I just said that).

Accommodation costs are the largest expense of travel. But of course there are many ways around paying £50 a night for a hotel bed. From backpacker hostels to work-for-keep arrangements, there are limitless options to saving money on sleep, but I think I’ll dedicate a whole post to it to do the subject justice.

Depending on how stingy you are, there are numerous options for the travel between destinations. These include hiring vehicles, participating in car shares, hitchhiking, taking long distance buses or trains, or jumping on a plane. I’m more than likely to use all of these methods at one stage or another. Choosing which one is usually a compromise between cost, time and comfort. Different websites proliferate containing information for each, a list of which I better get drawn up…

The destinations I visit will be dictated in part by the places my friends and relatives live. It might not be a bad idea to broach the topic of you travelling to your family (and possibly even dropping in on them!) in the hope they might offer you a place to stay for a few nights. Make the most of any contacts you have; there’s nothing to lose from asking!

However it is important not to lose sight of the reason you’re doing the trip. It’s easy for your ambition to be waylaid in the pursuit for the cheapest place to stay, or maybe you’ll find that you haven’t enough money left to achieve the goal that brought you out here. Maybe staying in a particular hotel is one of your goals. Maybe taking a particular train or route through a country is your ambition. Don’t compromise on these aspirations! Fit the other aspects of your trip around these central ideas.

Take the plunge

Something to remember is that although researching is advisable to you being prepared for your trip, some action is also required. Once you’ve decided which country you want to fly to and when you would like to go; book it! Being decisive and taking a risk is part of the process. It’ll give you a deadline to be ready by and put the time you’ve got before you leave into perspective. I haven’t booked a flight yet, so this is some advice I need to take myself!

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