With a month to go til we head off, the countdown is really truly on now. I get asked a lot if we have everything sorted and planned out, and to many peoples surprise the answer is no. The joy of travelling in my opinion is not knowing where you’re going to end up and having the flexibility to do as you please. There is nothing worse than having to follow a strict itinerary – what if you meet some great people somewhere who ask if you want to join up with them for the next few days – but you can’t because you have to catch an early morning flight the next day? Likewise what if that dream island you’ve booked a hotel for a week on turns out to be a hellish experience ridden with bedbugs?
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t plan anything in advance. Obviously there are some things that you’ll definitely have to sort out before you go. Below is a list of things we’ve sorted already, and things that we are leaving to chance.
Vaccinations – A key one! These need to be done at least 30 days in advance of your departure – different countries have different requirements and some need 3 doses to be done up to a month apart. If you’re planning on going away, make sure you go and see a travel nurse ASAP who will be able to advise you on what is needed. The NHS website has also been a really useful tool for us: http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/destinations.aspx
Budget – Whilst we don’t know our full itinerary, or even our return home date, we’ve planned out roughly how much we’re expecting to spend over the course of our trip. This was a very rough idea (you can go into more detail than me – there’s loads of planning spreadsheets out there) that I created in excel, planning out the countries and the maximum possible days we’d end up staying in each (visa restrictions, certain big flights to catch on certain dates etc) and multiplied this by the advised daily budget for 2 people that you can find online. The total of these amounts is our combined budget for the trip. We have some extra funds as these calculations don’t include car hire, experiences and any big purchases we may need to make, but it has been a really useful starting point for us. We intend to keep track of how much we spend per country.
Cash – We’ve sorted our bank accounts, know how much we have to spend and have an international withdrawal card that doesn’t charge extra fees. We also purchased a small amount of a few different currencies for some of the countries we are going to as we got a Black Friday deal. You don’t need to get cash for all of your destinations, but it’s normally useful to have some USD or a small amount of currency for your first stop so if you need to buy some water or hop on some transport quickly, you’re not stuck searching for an ATM.
Leaving to chance
Accommodation – We don’t have a room booked for our first night away. Or for any other day asides from the night of the Full Moon Party in Koh Phanang (as leaving that to the last minute means you’ll have no where whatsoever!) This is what shocks people most, but it really is so easy to find a room once you get there. If anything, it’s actually easier than an internet booking because many hostels and guest houses aren’t online – it’ll be cheaper too! The SE Asia lifestyle is very laid back and on my last trip to Thailand, not once was I left without a room no matter what time of day I arrived at my next destination. You can stroll around bargaining for the cheapest room amongst hundreds of weird and wonderful guesthouses that fill the streets or you can follow others who have already booked rooms to a place and often get a cheaper rate than they have paid for in advance! Your tuk tuk driver or bus driver will know a place to go to (undoubtedly owned by friends or family) – just ask for a recommendation and be wary of scams. This is definitely the weirdest concept of travelling to get used to – leaving things to chance and not booking in advance. It’s also the most freeing. Ask to see some rooms – if you don’t like them, move on! Other than the very peak times of year, and the Full Moon Parties, you’ll be inundated with options.
Route – We have an idea of the countries that we want to go to, and a ‘sensible’ route to follow, but we have nothing set in stone. This is because we could run into visa issues, we might not be able to get flights or transport into a different country when we want to, we might hate a country or love a country and want to leave early / extend our visa – we just won’t know til we get there! We’ve booked our Australia – Canada flight as that’s the most expensive, but other than that we are leaving things up in the air. It’s flexible, it’s exciting, it leaves us the option to do exactly as we please rather than having to follow a set itinerary of flights and border crossings that we may not want to follow once we get to our destination.
There’s a bunch of other things I could write about, but I think these are the main points that you should take on board if you’re considering going away. You need to be sensible about what you leave to chance, but it’s also a great opportunity to cut loose and not live by the rules we confine ourselves to in Western society.
Careful thought also needs to go into your bag and what you bring with you – in a separate post I’ll take you through the ins and outs of my bag!