Hey and welcome to the second part of my blog series “The Ultimate Guide to Individual Travel”!
I’m going to tell you a bit about how I plan my trips, even though, to be honest, there isn’t that much planning I do nowadays. Still, I’ll tell you some of the most important things to keep in mind when planning a trip. I’ll be covering each aspect in depth in later posts.
You can read the first part of this blog series, where I get into what to pack for your trip, right here.
Thinking back to my first long-term backpacking trip, I must say, I planned the shit out of that one. I knew exactly which places I wanted to go to, how I’d get to each stop, how long I’d stay at each place and where I wanted to sleep. In the end, I guess that was OK, but I still learned on that trip that planning too much ahead is pretty much a waste of time (and money), because first of all, things will probably not go as planned and second of all: What’s the fun in planning the whole thing through and not having any wiggle room to decide anything spontaneously?
For example, on that first trip, I planned my whole way around the South of Spain- over to Portugal, up that coast- and along the North of Spain all the way to Barcelona, where my flight home was going to depart. What I didn’t expect was that I’d be totally blown away by Portugal, being there for the first time. I’d totally fallen in love with a little place called Peniche, where I stayed for a week (I had only planned to be there 3 days), went on to Porto, just to come back to Peniche again after 2 days, because I already missed it so much. Long story short- I stayed in Peniche until one day before my flight left off in Barcelona and took a 24-hour bus ride all across Portugal and Spain just to catch that flight I had booked. Wasn’t the smartest move ever.
Read about what else I’ve learned on my trips here.
So my advice: Pick a few places before that you’d definitely like to see, but don’t plan every step ahead. Keep your options open and give yourself the freedom of being able to choose where you want to stay and for how long. If you don’t like a place- keep going, if you do- stay. Book a hostel or hotel room in the first place you’re going to stay ahead of time, so you have the security at the beginning of your trip (I find it less stressful than having to look for a place on my first day there), and then book place by place while you go or go to a place and decide on-site which hostel/hotel you want to stay at. Also, rather book fewer days in one place and then extend your stay if you like it there. This way you are way more free and don’t waste time in places you don’t really like.
OK, so let me tell you what it looks like when I plan a trip.
In terms of finding a travel destination, I usually just let myself get inspired by a blog post, a movie, a photograph, a story, a book or whatever else. (I actually have a list I started with all the places I’m interested in seeing, which I can check out when I need ideas on where to go.)
The next thing I’ll do is check out some of the background information on that destination, if I’ve never been there before (where exactly and how far away it is, what the best way to travel there is, approximately how expensive it is, what the weather’s like, maybe what the political and social situation looks like and so on) just to get a general idea of what I’m dealing with.
Next is deciding on how to get there or how to get around. Is it going to be a city trip? Will you be camping and need a car? Can you get around well with public transportation? How safe is traveling by bus or train in the country you want to go, especially at night? And can you use car sharing services or hitch-hike to get to places you can’t get to by bus? Will you just be staying in one or two places or do you want to be moving from place to place a lot? Will you be traveling alone?
To answer these questions you need to think about what your preferences are and what the country you want to travel to can offer correspondantly.
Then, depending on what type of trip it’s going to be, you should figure out in what types of places you’re going to stay, mainly to figure out your budget. Will you be staying in hostels? In an Airbnb-apartment? A hotel? Will you be camping? Or couchsurfing? Or maybe you want to alternate from night to night? This, you can also decide when you’re on the road, depending on what you want to maybe try out or what you’re feeling up to. (Unless you want to go camping, that’s kind of hard to spontaneously do, because you need different equipment then, of course.) The accomodation also depends on the country you’re traveling to. (For example, when I was in Greece, on some of the islands, hostels were non-existent, so you’d have to mainly stay in hotels, which is a bit expensive when you’re traveling alone. So this you should consider when you’re planning on going somewhere.)
Where you can find all this information:
You can either search for this info on Google, better yet on travel blogs! You can also check Facebook for travel/backpacking groups- they often offer loads of information on this kind of stuff and if not, you can always ask there. Asking other travelers who have been to the country or asking a local is, to me, one of the most helpful sources.
And of course you can get a travel guide for the destination you are looking to go to. I don’t do this that often any more and if so, it’s more out of anticipation for my trip. I’ll then leave the guide at home to avoid the extra weight and instead write some notes in my notebook or in an Evernote-note that I can read on my phone any time. If you want a travel guide with you, I recommend you get a Kindle and download the travel guide there.
I will also be going more into depth on all of these topics (accomodation, transportation and so on) in further posts, so keep your eyes open for that 😉
After the whole research part, I’ll usually do a budget check to see if my idea of the trip I want to take is doable with the money I have. If I have a bit more money at hand or if I’m taking a shorter trip, I might stay in an Airbnb-apartment rather than a hostel or if I have less money, I might just stay in one place instead of going from place to place a lot, for example. Also, when picking your destination, consider that you might get really cheap flights to a place, but the living costs might be pretty high (in my case, other European countries that are close), whereas if you go to a place that’s further away, you might have to pay more for the flights, but your living expenses will be super low (e.g. some Asian countries, parts of Latin America etc.)!
Book, get set, go!
And then, once I’ve figured out what my options are, I have all the info I need and have done a budget check, I’ll look into booking a flight (If you want to go by car or your destination is close enough to go by bus or train, of course you’ll skip this step.) To search for cheap flights I’ll either use Ryanair, if I’m traveling somewhere inside of Europe, or Skyscanner or Momondo, if I’m traveling somewhere further away.
When I’ve picked my dates (always try to book outside of peak-season and the holidays, also on weekdays is almost always cheaper) I’ll book my flights and the hostel for the first nights of my trip. Depending on how much time I have and how far away the place is from home, I’ll just book a one-way flight there, so I don’t have to decide ahead of time which place I need to head back from. I can then book my return flight later along the way, when I’m more sure of where I’ll be by the end of my trip (This could get expensive though, depending on how far you’re away from home!).
Last thing and most importantly: Always check that you’re covered insurance-wise, especially by health insurance. Depending on the place you go and how long you’re going to stay, your normal health insurance might not cover your expenses. It’s a good idea to also have a travel insurance, especially for the loss or theft of your luggage and in case you have to cancel your trip or cut it short (or you get sick and need an emergency trip back home). If you’re traveling with equipment like a camera and/ or laptop that should also be covered, just in case. And depending on the country you go to and how long you want to stay you might also need a visa. This you can find out really easily at your Foreign Office or online, though.
How do you plan your trips? How much do you plan ahead and what do you decide on-site? Have you had any experiences planning too much or maybe even too little?