“If you dont know where you are going, any road will lead you there” – unknown
Travel planning can help or hurt you, depending how far you take it. The best way to break travel plans is to make them in the first place! This is true, because you will most likely meet people along the way or see things that make you want to change your itinerary entirely.
Try not to make the mistake of setting a strict timeline; instead, focus on a loose plan to help you get the most out of your trip. It is worth researching things like festivals, weather, and visa requirements so that you will have some idea of what to expect.
Extreme flexibility beats extreme preparation any day!
Where to Start Travel Planning?
The only two things that you have to know for sure to begin your trip: what country you want to start with and when you want to go. Everything else done for travel planning is simply a bonus.
When choosing your destinations, keep these things in mind:
- Seasonal Weather: Many tropical areas can have months of continuous rain. Forget getting a tan or enjoy any diving if you visit during the wet seasons, although accommodation prices will be rock bottom and there may be less tourists. Most people plan their travel around the monsoon seasons.
- Budget considerations: You will get way more bang for your buck in developing regions like Southeast Asia, Africa, India, and South America as opposed to Australia, North America, or Europe.
- Time of year: Other than weather considerations, you may want to plan your travel around things like huge festivals and crowded tourists seasons. Imagine arriving in a country, just missing a historic festival by days, but still paying the high prices imposed because of the visitors that were drawn to the festival.
- Political climate: The mainstream news media seems to play up the dangers of traveling abroad, particularly for Americans. In reality, there are very few places that are too dangerous to travel provided that you use some common sense.
- Language: Don’t let the local language — no matter how difficult — be a deterrent to visiting a country. English, of varying quality, is spoken almost everywhere that there are tourists. Learning the local language is a nice way to enhance your trip, however, doing so is not a requirement. Do not worry about studying too much before the trip, you will learn a language exponentially faster once you arrive.
Travel Planning with Guide Books
Once you have an idea of where you want to start your journey, go buy only the guidebook for your first destination. Books are too heavy and expensive to carry more than one destination’s worth. Besides, you can trade with other travelers that have just come from your next country or buy them locally.
With the amount of free information on sites such as WikiTravel.com, buying a guide book is optional anyway.
- Lonely Planet is the most popular guidebook for budget travelers – love it or hate it.
- If you buy one of the gigantic consolidated versions like “Southeast Asia on a Shoestring”, feel free to tear out countries that you do not plan to visit. Removing unimportant pages will conserve precious space and weight in your backpack. Save the pages and staple them together for later just in case!
- Do not get guidebookitus when planning travel — don’t make the guide book your new Bible. Believe it or not, but there are places to eat, stay, and visit that are NOT covered in the guide books. In fact, you can almost count on the top several places listed for accommodation to be full during the busy seasons.
- Watch out for the “Lonely Planet effect.” The LP Effect is a theory that suggests too many backpackers are using the guidebook, so all the places listed with excellent reviews near the top of each section become saturated with business. With so much good business coming in no matter what, the actual quality of service declines at these places because they no longer have to try so hard. Sometimes this is true, so trust your own judgment about a place and listen to other travelers that have stayed there. The positive side of the LP Effect is that if you are looking to meet other backpackers, these places are usually where the party is.
Travel Planning Advice From Travelers
When travel planningl, take full advantage of the travel forums in places like www.bootsnall.com and our very own Backpacking Forums. Many of the people out there are genuine, have just come from your future destination, and are anxious to help.
Try reading travel blogs! Most of those people are not being paid to write, and you will get an honest, personal glimpse into what a destination was like. Check out some vagabonding blogs here on the site. (or my very own http://www.vagabondinglife.com)
Remember that everyone travels in their own style. What you consider a bonus adventure might be someone else’s nightmare if they are expecting more luxury on the road than you. Take things that people tell you with a grain of salt, as people tend to filter memories through one or two specific events that happened when they were there.
Traveling Solo or Together
- You will need to decide from the start if you are going to travel alone or with a friend. Needless to say, this decision will radically change the overall experience of your trip. Many first-time backpackers — especially women — feel more comfortable if they have a familiar face from home tagging along. The truth is that you never have to be alone; other solo travelers are always available and team up together. Read about traveling alone.
Here are a handful of things to think about for travel planning:
- Local Customs: Learn how not to offend someone accidentally. Offenses and customs differ between Buddhists, Muslims, etc. If you’re starting in Thailand, go read about Thailand etiquette.
- Currency Exchange Rate:. Know the current exchange rate before you hit the ground. You can check rates directly on Google with a search string like “1 USD in Thai baht.”
- Book Your First Night: Consider booking your very first night at your first destination. You will probably be exhausted after the flight, and having a room provides a good peace of mind. Only book one or two nights, then shop around in the morning for something better/cheaper. HostelWorld.com is the most popular site for booking.
Be a Wanderer!
If you have less time abroad, then plan more; otherwise, try to resist the urge to over plan. When travel planning, strive to just stay flexible, keep your eyes and mind open for new experiences and opportunities, and let the road take you where it takes you.