Travel Planning, Part 1 – Getting Started
That’s it. You can’t take it anymore. That unused luggage has been taunting you from on top of the wardrobe and it’s a taunt that cannot be ignored – it’s time to travel.
Once that travel bug bites, everything gets very exciting very quickly. Before you know it you’re on the net, on the phone, in a travel agency, in a gear shop. You’re buying tickets, trying on trusty travelling shoes and purchasing plastic soap containers. Suddenly these mundane tasks become thrilling.
Smile – you’re travelling and the memories start here.
Where and when?
First and foremost, you need to decide where you want to go. Maybe you’re already set on Italy or India and know when you’re going and with whom. But if you’re starting with a blank slate, weather and budget will be the things that shape your plans. Do your research – for example, when Europe is warmest, during July and August, it’s also at its busiest and most expensive. Be mindful of school holidays wherever you are – these are peak times when families are hitting the road.
What about the weather?
Generally, peak season means the best weather, but it also means the biggest crowds. So what happens if you go off-season? It varies. Well-visited cities like New York, Paris and Venice just carry on with worse weather but fewer crowds. If you’re heading anywhere tropical, watch out for monsoon or rainy season – there’s a reason people avoid it. Other destinations, like the Greek Islands and Croatia, simply go into hibernation. There’s a silver lining to travelling off-peak though – Norway may be pitch black and icy cold, but you could also see the magnificent northern lights.
Obviously the more money you take and the more wisely you spend that money, the better time you’ll have. If you’re travelling on a shoestring, you’ll need to watch every penny – blowing your daily budget by a mere US a day over a six-week trip can put a major dent in your plans. As well as being able to splash out occasionally on a better bed or a meal that isn’t served on polystyrene, you won’t forever be passing on spur of the moment experiences like bungee jumps that cost that bit more than your daily budget. It pays to work a little longer and save a bit more before you go, as well as budgeting carefully wherever you’re going. Oh and avoid casinos. Here’s a rough budget per person per day.
Book early to get the best deals. If there’s one great myth about air tickets, it’s that there are great, late deals available. The truth is, leave it to the last minute and you’ll be paying more for all but a handful of undersold peak-season charter flights. Beggars can’t be choosers either – it’s a case of grabbing what’s left. Don’t look to stand-by flights for bargains either: airlines are more likely to regard a late walk-up customer as a desperate punter who’s willing to pay over the odds.
Book early to get the best deals. If there’s one great myth about air tickets, it’s that there are great, late deals available.
Of course there are plenty of ways to get a well-priced ticket. A few years ago shopping around would have required foot and phone power, but now you can use price comparison sites. You’ll score better flights at off-peak times and flying at unsociable hours, but this might not get you where and when you want to go. The most important thing is to find a fare that suits and book it early. Going to Europe? Start your adventure in Germany or other points north, where fewer tourists visit and airlines and hotels are geared towards businesses. You’ll score cheap weekend deals.
Visas are wonderful things. Once you’ve weathered the long, grumpy, sighing queues you get a very fine sticker in your passport that will make you the envy of your friends. Visa-wise, it definitely pays to be informed. Virtually nowhere – though you’ll do very well indeed to include Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iraq on a round-the-world itinerary – is off-limits; just check it out in advance. In the majority of cases it’s easy to get a visa. Generally it’s a case of applying to the embassy in advance or getting one issued on arrival.
In Europe, the situation is different: with an EU passport, you can go anywhere within the EEA (the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland).
Without one, you may need specific visas depending on where you’re from. There’s also the Schengen Area, a common border and visa area for some but not all EU countries. Applications for these visas should be made at the embassy or consulate of the country you will be visiting. Confused? Start from the top down: work out where you’re going and check the individual country’s entry requirements.
If all else fails, there’s always the Thorn Tree, where helpful travellers will have heard your visa question – and any other type of question – before and be able to offer specific advice.
Lastly, here are a few other items I’d suggest you sort out in advance:
- An email address – free from Google, Hotmail and Yahoo among others – and check it once a week or so.
- Inoculations and vaccinations – watch this space for a more detailed health feature, but in short, consult a health professional as soon as you’ve decided where and when you’re travelling. If you’re shuddering at the cost, I promise it’s nothing to the shakes a dose of malaria will give you.
- Your first few nights accommodation – even if you’re a hugely intrepid traveller it’s still a good idea to arrange somewhere to stay when you arrive. It will give you some ammunition when your taxi driver tries to take you to his brother’s house. At 3am.
- Travel insurance – don’t take anything you couldn’t stand to lose, but a comprehensive travel insurance policy will get you out of most bad situations you can run into while travelling. Make sure everything you’re planning on doing is covered.
If this all feels too daunting and you’re tempted to just push that luggage back up on top of the wardrobe and pretend none of this ever happened, don’t worry. Once you’ve made those first few plans and you’ve got your ticket in that little plastic wallet, your trip will feel real, the departure date will speed towards you and before you know it that same luggage will be in the cargo hold of a sky-bound jumbo. Buckle up – you’re travelling. And you’re going to have the time of your life.
|Africa||Oct-Feb (central); Jan-Feb (eastern); Mar-May (north)|
|Australia & NZ||Dec-Feb|
|Europe||Jun-Aug; Jan-Feb (snow)|
|North America||May-Sep; Jan-Feb (snow)|
|India||Jun-Sep; Oct-Dec (Kerala)|
Budget per person per day (budget/mid-range):
|Africa||£30 / £60|
|Asia||£20 / £50|
|Australia & NZ||£35 / £70|
|Europe||£45 / £120|
|North America||£45/ £120|
|South America||£30 / £75|