Once upon a time I was not a traveller. I remember clearly being somewhat terrified that I had just bought a 7 month round the world ticket. As I sat on my bed, laptop on my lap, guide book to Argentina in my hand, questions rampaged through my mind.
What happens if nobody understands me?
Will I get ill?
What if I hate it?
What happens if this bus service that this guide book tells me about stops running before I get there?
I am almost embarrassed now when I consider how I used to be. Luckily I don’t really do embarrassment and this is the transformation that any new traveller has to go through.
Wind forward 4 months and I was carefully packing my detailed plans for South America safely in my bag. The notes were neatly written, with a useful map on each page, lists of “safe” hostels for every location along with a few well reviewed eateries. I even worked out where the bus station was for each city and town. It took hours. Luckily I had time as I was housebound recovering from an appendectomy at the time.
South America was the second half of my trip. My girlfriend (a somewhat more experienced traveller than I at the time) had chosen to plan the first half through South East Asia and New Zealand. Her idea of planning was to work which were the best beaches and book a flight here and there. Her blase attitude towards foreign travel hardly helped to calm my worries.
The Moment of Truth
Our first destination was Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Which with hindsight is probably not the best place for a painfully pale, under travelled and nervous Englishman to begin his travelling education. The traffic was insane. The motorbikes were really insane. people were hacking up chickens on the pavement. They dug big holes in the pavement for me to fall in! It was incredibly hot and I had no hat.
In for a penny, in for a pound
By the time we had traversed South East Asia I had got used to being misunderstood. I had dealt with illness. I had eaten and enjoyed weird food (pig penis anybody?). I had even survived the Thai Minibuses of Doom between Siem Reap and Bangkok!
In New Zealand I learnt that you don’t really need to book a hostel. We in fact took to driving aimlessly around ithe delightful roads of New Zealand. Unknowingly we had shaken off any plans that entered our minds
Some 2 months later, as we bused our way around Bolivia I found my notebook, tucked safely in the same place I had put it when we set off. I flicked through it, laughed at how awful my plan had been, and put it back in my bag never to be touched again on foreign soil.
And that is why I don’t plan things. The truth is that once you have covered off the basics, like visas, inoculations and flights, any sort of long term travel just looks after itself. Buses got you places…eventually. Hostels are just where you need them to be…there or thereabouts. Food is edible…mostly. And no matter where you go you will probably find like-minded people who can recommend, help and even join you for a while.
Travel is easy. Why ruin it with all that dull planning? That said, let me backtrack a little. Some planning must take place. Luckily it just easy stuff.
How Much Planning is That Then?
It makes sense to do the basics. Some surprises are best avoided. Here is my list of pre-travel checks :
1. Check the weather at the time of year you will be going.
I saw a really cheap flight to Korea a while back. It turned out that it was the coldest time of the year. And by cold I mean COLD!
2. Get inoculated
Some people like to wing it. I don’t, and I really hate needles. If you are in the UK check out the NHS Fit for Travel site.
3. Get Travel Insurance
This happens to be my area of specialism. And like most insurances, people don’t fully appreciate them until they need them. Travel Insurance can get you out of a really big hole.
And whilst I am at it. Buy your Insurance when you book your first flight so that you have the cancellation cover in place. A close friend of mine failed to heed this advice and lost a lot of money when ill health meant that he could not take his flight.
Money Saving Expert has some good tips on this.
4. Save copies of your passports, visas and travel insurance documents to your email address.
Scan them and email them to yourself. If you lose them you will not believe how useful this is.
5. Book (at least some of) your flights
You can get some great flight deals if you book well in advance. Maybe not all of your flights. For example, I just checked and I found a return flight from London to Ho Chi Minh for GBP399 in a couple of months. That’s the sort of flight that dreams are built on!
There are plenty of websites that can do the searching for you, but I particularly like the deals appearing on Holiday Pirates at the moment.
6. Pack the right type of clothes.
I didn’t do this. I was too busy plotting the walking route to Salta bus station probably. So when I got to South East Asia with improper footwear I found out that UK12 size shoes are not easily found in that part of the world.
7. Get your finance solutions sorted
Travelling may be easy but you don’t want to be caught out with no money. I tend to carry 3 credit or debit cards if I am travelling for a long time. One on me, another on my travelling partner and a third well hidden back at the hostel.
I also hide a small amount of cash on my person (I won’t tell you where…..no not there!) just in case.
At present, in the UK the best overseas card option is Halifax Clarity which does not charge a fee for overseas cash withdrawals.
Other than that I might take a pre-paid travel card like FairFX and also my debit card for my UK account for absolute emergencies.
Actually that makes me sound like I do plan!
Well yeah I suppose it does. But some things are just common sense I suppose. Buy you still wont catch me reading hostel reviews when I’m in the UK!
I would love to hear your tips. Get in touch and let me know. Am I mad? Am I missing something?