Trip Planning V.1: Pre-Booking Plans
A general technique I like to use for dealing with stress and anxiety is planning to not plan. For instance, I have a flight booked to Hong Kong booked for March 27, and a flight to the Philippines booked for April 2, and because they won’t let me into the Philippines without a flight out, I have a flight to Singapore booked for some time in late April, and that’s pretty much the extent of what I have planned for this trip. Budgeting and preparing to leave a job while solving the sublet/storage/cat-sitting situation apparently takes up a lot of time, and trying to figure all that out while planning this trip would just suck the fun out of everything.
Anyway, I had marked on my calendar to spend February figuring out pre-trip logistics and to not think about the trip itself until March. Check. So now it’s time to “roughly” plan a trip route. This means getting a sense of the geography and transportation options. When is monsoon season? Just kidding, I looked that up before booking any flights. Always figure out your weather situation before booking a flight.
Actually, before I talk about how much I HAVEN’T planned yet, here’s a list of things you should really figure out before you book a long trip, ever:
- What is your daily budget while traveling abroad? Factor in transportation costs, lodging, food, attractions, emergency costs in case of sickness, etc. Be realistic about your spending habits. For instance, I’m not big on souvenirs and I’m cool with eating street food and sleeping in
buses/random cornersbudget hostels, but I know I’m apt to spend money on experiences like scuba diving. Plan accordingly.
- What is the current exchange rate? Currency fluctuates, so be aware of how much your home currency is worth and plan for changes between when you book your trip and when you actually travel.
- What is your method of payment? Are ATMs common in that country? Will you be using mostly cash or credit? Consider the exchange rate and extra fees attached. (I ended up needing to sign up for a new credit card that waived international fees since my current credit card charged for that.)
- What is the climate/temperature like? This will impact what/how much you have to pack. If you’re backpacking, consider buying extra clothes abroad if the cost of living is cheaper than your home country. Weather also impacts what you’re able to do while abroad.
Visa Policies and Requirements
- What are the visa policies of the countries you’re visiting? Some will let you apply at the border, but require cash. Others require you to apply several weeks to months in advance and need specific paperwork. Visiting length vary from country to country. In some countries, you’ll need to provide proof that you’re leaving the country in the allotted time (such as a return flight ticket). You should always have extra photos for visas on you.
- Does that country have any immunization requirements? If you’re able to, ask your doctor or a travel specialist. For instance, I knew in advance that I’d need malaria pills, but I had no idea that a Hepatitis A epidemic was currently breaking out in southeast Asia until I asked my doctor. Also note that insurance doesn’t always cover preventative travel care.
- How will you get around the country once you land? Car rental? Train? Bus? Uber?Guide? Hitchhiking? Familiarize yourself with transportation options, costs and customs, and be aware of potential scams. Being familiar with your options also helps with budgeting.
- Be aware of the political climate in the country you’re visiting. Is there civil unrest? Is the government dependable? Are the police trustworthy or corrupt? Originally, I had planned to go to Myanmar, but there has been a lot of civil unrest near the border crossings in the past year, so I scrapped that idea for obvious safety reasons.
- How does the country you’re visiting view your home country? Is there a history of conflict? What are current relations like between your countries? Are you comfortable navigating potential conflicts?
Culture and Language
- Be aware of the official language. Don’t ever assume anyone will know how to speak your language. It helps to know basic terms like “Hello,” “Goodbye,” “Please,” “Thank you,” “I am from _____,” “Where is the restroom?” “I don’t understand,” “I understand,” “Do you speak _______?” “Yes,” “No,” “Check, please,” and “Help.” (I’ve gotten stuck in elevators abroad before and knowing how to say “Help” comes in handy.)
- Know cultural customs. Is the culture liberal or conservative? What clothing is appropriate to wear? What are meal schedules like? How strict are certain customs? If you’re a vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions, what are your food options? As with all travel abroad, you are a visitor to this country, so knowing if you’re comfortable with adapting to these customs will help you determine whether you should go.
There’s so much more that you need to research and plan for before going on any trip abroad (such as taxi etiquette, a general travel route, medical options for prescriptions, types of toilets), but the list outlined above are the basics you should consider before booking any flights.
Whew. I started writing this post with the intent of writing about how I have no idea where I’m going after Singapore, but it turned into this. Guess I’ll have to write something else later!