What to think about when you're planning that BIG trip
Sun 20 Sep 09
A friend recently decided to go travelling for a year, and one Friday night she invited me for drinks to grill me about destinations, routes and where she should go. As a first-time solo traveller, she was hesitant about where to start and she wanted to see it all. So she decided that lacing me with wine would get her some solid advice. She’s not the first one; over the years, I’ve been approached by a lot of people wanting to know where they should take off to, what was realistic and what they should consider. I, in return, have developed a quick set of questions to help them come up with their ideal destinations.
Your personality. Travel tends to bring out the best and worst in people, so have a quick think about your personal positives and negatives. Get anxious when the tap in the public toilets is broken and you can’t wash your hands? Then India might not be for you. Love the great outdoors, hiking and being in fresh air? Jot Peru onto your wish list
Travel tends to bring out the best and worst in people
Your interests and hobbies. Travelling is a great way to explore new hobbies and expand your knowledge of your existing ones. If you are the proverbial culture vulture, Europe would keep you busy. Love food and gourmet experiences? Africa might leave you wanting for more. Always wanted to try some extreme adventures? New Zealand would have you screaming for more.
Your budget. Money is, unfortunately, a big factor when travelling. I always find it hard to answer people’s queries about budgets because people’s spending habits are different; some shop, some party, some do neither. Sure, if you are on a shoestring budget of about $15 a day, then going out in Oslo is a bit out of your range, whereas you could probably have a perfectly nice night out in most of South East Asian destinations. Lots of countries are camping-friendly, but a lot of backpackers aren’t. Be realistic about your expectations. Although you have a tent and a sleeping bag for that 6-week trip around Western Europe, you might not want to sleep in it every single night. Similarly, a nice meal in a mid-range restaurant will cheer up the daily bread-and-cheese routine tremendously. The same amount of money will last a lot longer in Asia, Africa and South America than it will in Europe or North America.
Time. How long do you have? There’s no point in planning a round the world trip if you only have 3 weeks of annual leave. There are still a lot of places which are hard to access easily and therefore need more time to be reached. I’ve deliberately left some fantastic cities in Europe un-visited, figuring they were close enough to visit later on when I might have a permanent job and less time off- doing an overland trip in Central Africa would be hard on a short holiday, but doable now
Local Customs and culture. Fancy going out clubbing every night, sampling beers? Not so easily done in Iran. Love the beach life? Try Australia. I spent six months living with a Zambian family who simply could not understand why I sometimes wanted to be alone, as it is common to do everything communally in most African cultures
Fantasise and dream. Borrow a few travel guides, read a few travel stories, browse through the blogs here at Traveller’s Point, watch a few travel programmes on TV. You might just find you have developed a desperate need to visit Burkina Faso (like me) or Alaska (my best friend)
There are no must-see destinations in the world, only the ones that are a must-see to you
Don’t follow the flock. Travel agencies tend to pre-design packages with their most popular destinations and recommend those, but there’s more out there. Where did you dream of going to as a child? A vast majority of the world is accessible to the average traveller- don’t be fooled into thinking that nothing exists outside that package presented to you at the travel agent’s, and don’t be afraid to include a less than usual destination, such as Central Asia, to your list. There are no must-see destinations in the world, only the ones that are a must-see to you
Do some research. Although I am not a huge fan of planning, some research is good, such as seeing if you need visas, if some routes are ok to travel, and to give you an idea of the time/money required. An Australian friend turned up at a London airport a few years ago, on her way to the Czech Republic, but without a visa; she missed Christmas in Prague and had to stay in London alone. Some research to your destination is advisable
Be realistic about your expectations. It is impossible to see it all, and it’s very easy to get greedy when planning your trip. Always calculate a bit of extra time for things like getting ill, possibly missing your bus/flight/train, and simply for meeting new people whom you just want to hang out with. Travelling is not a race to see as much as possible, and if you make it into one, you’ll stop enjoying it. Narrow it down to the things you really want to see, and add a few more if you have the time and the money
Don’t listen to other people too much. Travelling is very much a subjective experience, and every place has its good and bad points. If your acquaintance got her wallet stolen in Ecuador, she might be less than likely to recommend it as a travel destination. I spent most of my time in Bolivia ill, and therefore hardly ever recommend it- not because I dislike it, but because I cannot suggest much to see or do there. Take all advice (including mine!) with a pinch of salt.
Or you could simply do what I did- Unsure where I wanted to go on my first long trip, I opened the atlas at random, and China it was. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a cheap deal there at the time, and after a few frantic last-minute calls, I found myself on a plane to India. There’s something to see everywhere- go and experience it for yourself.