I don’t know about you, but I constantly crave my next trip’s departure date. The anticipation of settling into my seat, awaiting the flight crew’s safety message may just capture that perfect moment. By this point, the tedious job of packing, reducing and repacking is completed. My itinerary and selected accommodations are sorted, at least to the level desired. My To Do list has been sufficiently ticked off. If there was only some way to jump ahead to this instant. Could the planning phase be streamlined?
If you can relate to this feeling of dread, read on. It usually settles in when I first sit down to structure my next journey – right after the initial excitement tapers off. The volume of information available can make the task seem daunting, especially when you already have a busy daily schedule. So, I have pulled together some of my most reliable tricks. These tips have evolved over the years, from both short ventures to long-term journeys. They have helped me prepare for a one year around-the-world trip, two five-month sabbaticals and innumerable multi-week adventures.
Not sure where to go or what you want to do once there? Lonely Planet’s online shop offers free preview sections for most of their travel guidebooks. Books are organized by country or region. These often include suggested itineraries, simple maps, recommended durations and a brief overview of the highlights en route. I find these downloads filter much of the noise and help to focus on what appeals to you.
After gaining a general sense of your chosen itinerary, you will be in a much better position to move forward within a manageable framework. No need to feel overwhelmed.
In my experience, Google Flights offers the most flexible and economical flight options. Its calendar view is particularly useful to find preferred days to fly.
I recall an excellent flight deal when travelling through Central America in 2015/16. On a last minute whim, my husband and I decided to swap the final month of our five-month journey from Columbia to Cuba. For just a few hundred dollars each, we found a ticket that launched us from Panama City to Havana. It was a rather lengthy flight path, routing us through Columbia and Mexico before landing in the land of Castro, but the low price fit our travel budget.
For train travel in western Europe, check out sbb.ch/en. A fellow traveller swears by seat61.com as the best site for worldwide train ticket information.
Once in a country, I generally prefer bus travel. It allows you to kick back, enjoy the scenery and absorb local life. A rental vehicle offers more flexibility, but at a higher price. Also keep in mind that navigating a new country, sometimes amid road signs in a foreign language, can test even the most solid relationships. A third option is to hire a private car. This last option worked well for us in northern Nicaragua around Christmas time. Public buses were jammed packed and we were travelling to three remote ecolodges. If you choose this option, hotel staff can often help recommend trustworthy drivers at reasonable rates.
The choice usually depends on your personal travel style, the destination country’s road quality, the reliability of public transport and the remoteness of your chosen destination. Blogs such as TripAdvisor’s forum and Lonely Planet’s Thorntree can often provide recent traveller accounts to help decide what is right for you. Local intel from staff at your hotel can also prove invaluable.
My preferred booking service is Booking.com. They include a broad array of hotels, guest houses and bed & breakfast locations. Their variety beyond traditional hotels seems to have improved over the past year. If you travel a fair bit, it is worth setting up an account as frequent users receive additional ‘Genius’ discounts. From my perspective, users’ reviews have been accurate and the App is easy to use. I prefer it for functionality, ease of making reservation changes and a seamless payment process, when advance payment is required.
TripAdvisor.com provides an alternative and up to date source of feedback to crosscheck hotel reviews. They sometimes have additional locations that are not covered by Booking.com. However, their default search criteria only pulls hotels. You must manually switch to “B&B” or “Specialty Lodging” under Lodging Types to see other varieties within a particular location. I find this extra step can be annoying.
When comparing prices between the two platforms, be aware that Tripadvisor.com typically excludes taxes in the prices displayed while Booking.com generally includes all taxes in the rate shown.
Vaccinations may be recommended for some regions that you plan to visit. Depending on the risks, time of year and your existing coverage, it can take up to two months and multiple shots to become fully protected. Certain countries even ask that a Yellow Fever vaccination card be presented in order to enter the country. Without this declaration, officials often allow you in, but charge a fine. So, be careful not to leave this task until the last minute.
You can usually get medicine for most minor troubles when on the ground. But, I like to carry a few basics for stomach bugs, altitude sickness if relevant, rehydration salts and any other preferred brands or coverage that you may want to have handy. Your medical pack will likely vary depending on the remoteness and facilities available where you travel. I have visited medical clinics all over - from Uganda to Nigeria to Bhutan. Plus, local pharmacies can provide a good array of supplies, mainly located near cities and some towns. Outside such centres, it is good practice to carry a decent medical kit.
If you have allergies or sensitivities to common medicines, talk to your doctor before leaving. Doctor advice is always a good idea to ensure that you are properly prepared for your particular destination(s) and taking into account your personal situation.
For travel insurance, I typically use World Nomads. Most of their policies cover trekking and evacuation from remote locations, which not all company policies include. A premium is charged if trekking above 3,000 metres. However, I recently purchased a well-priced annual policy through TD Meloche Monnex which also seems suitable. I have never had to make a claim, so please take my advice with caution. Be sure to read the terms and do your own homework before accepting any policy.
Tuck a photocopy of your passport somewhere safe and inconspicuous in your bags - just in case.
If you travel with Apple devices, be sure to activate the ‘Find My iPhone’ App. For Samsung devices, ‘Find My Mobile’ is the equivalent. This allows any data to be wiped remotely if a device is stolen. I am sure other brands have similar functions.
I suggest purchasing eBook copies of your travel guidebooks. Not only will this lighten your load, but you will be more likely to blend into the crowd by reading from your phone rather than pulling out an conspicuous travel book. Nothing screams “lost tourist” more than staring at a guidebook on a street corner - a calling card for local scammers.
Above all else, have fun and make your travels your own!
Nancy O'Hare has lived and worked across five continents and travelled to over eighty countries. Her writing shares insights from her travels and musings about the world around us.