Travel planning 1: preparations and itineraries

Well I can’t believe we’ve been home a month! We’ve well and truly settled back into normal life although still savouring the final few ‘summer’ holiday days before I start back at work. Catching up with our families and friends has been lovely but we’re most certainly missing the freedom and fascination of life on the road. Although we’re back living with my parents, we decided it best to hit the ground running with regards to buying a house and, if all goes well, are hoping to be in our new abode by October half term.

So the reason for this series of three posts… in the very early days of this blog, someone suggested that I explain how we had approached the planning of our round the world adventure. At the time I really didn’t feel qualified to comment since, in truth, we had hardly done any preparations due to the more imminently pressing matter of a wedding to organise! But now that we have the benefit of hindsight, I can at least share how we muddled through for anyone inspired to do the same or purely interested in our methods. Of course there are many other ways to do it depending on the timescale, budget, destinations and travellers’ personalities, but this is how it worked for us.

Apologies to my regular readers who will probably not find this very gripping but we’ve spent an incredible amount of time this year scouring the Internet for blogs to answer our questions so I thought it was about time we gave something back. Although we live in the UK, hopefully some of the information will be transferable to travellers from other countries too.

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On New Year’s Eve of 2012, we were sitting in an Italian restaurant on Plymouth’s Barbican mulling over the previous year and discussing the future. Agreeing we wanted to travel, it took us several months (and a marriage proposal) to finally make a concrete decision on the matter. There were, of course, plenty of reasons not to go. Here were some of ours with their solutions:

☆ Job: many people we met on our adventure were surprised that we’d both retained our jobs but it doesn’t hurt to ask: there are only two possible answers!

☆ Money: neither of us are big spenders so we’d accrued several years’ savings but surely that’s what savings are for?

☆ Homesickness: of course we missed home but really just every now and again and not for long. The likes of Skype and Facebook make the world seem a very small place plus lots of the time we were having too much fun to miss home!

☆ Coping with the backpacker lifestyle: if the adventure is worth it, you adapt, believe me!

☆ Food: of course it’s good to try new things but, unless you venture off the beaten track, you can guarantee there’ll always be something to sustain you even if you don’t absolutely love it. The occasional upset stomach is all part of the journey and rarely lasts for long.

Choosing your destinations and activities carefully can help avoid creatures you’re scared of. Houses can be let. Kids can come along for the experience of a lifetime as this man proved. And if you’ve no one to go with, there are always sociable hostels or tours to meet people and a small amount of common sense can keep you safe.

Of course, sometimes some things are insurmountable but otherwise decide first and then you’ll iron out the problems one way or another!

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With a world map in front of us, we chatted about our country wish list then eventually whittled it down to a manageable 20ish countries, reluctantly consigning Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, northern India and Nepal to future trips. Armed with this information we booked some flights. It wasn’t a typical round the world ticket schedule (southeast Asia, central America, south America) so we got quotes from various travel companies, settling on Travel Nation. We bought the Great Escapade ticket; an unlimited stop, 29000 mile ticket using Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic. This covered 10 of our 20 flights including all the intercontinental ones. It is possible to arrange this ticket directly through the airlines but we found it difficult to get in touch with them.

Talking to the experts can alert you to other options such as our 12 days in Japan and six in Los Angeles which arose purely because they were en route between Asia and Central America, and our unlimited destination RTW tickets meant that we could add in the extra destinations for a minimal extra fee. A benefit of booking with one of these companies is that flights can be changed at no cost. Unless your schedule is very rigid, this can be really useful: I think we changed six of the ten. Another completely different approach is to look at where flights and stop overs are cheapest and plan your itinerary around that.

Some other things to consider:

☆ If you know you want to do something requiring permits, for example the Inca Trail in Peru or trekking with mountain gorillas in Uganda, you need to book these several months in advance. The same goes for any volunteering you want to do.

☆ Find out what immunisations you need for each country using the NHS website then make an appointment with your local surgery’s nurse. Some require multiple injections over a few months and there is a cost for several of them. Look at different malaria tablets if necessary and remember some need trial periods before you leave.

☆ Look up the entry requirements for each destination and apply for any visas necessary using either the Foreign Office or individual embassies.

☆ Start researching what there is to do in the countries on your list by following Lonely Planet and Guardian Travel on Twitter, browsing the internet for ‘top 10s’ and perusing forums (e.g. Lonely Planet’s Thorntree) and other travellers’ blogs.

☆ Keep an eye on what’s going on around the world in the news and by using the Foreign Office website https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice, which will also give information on currencies, health and safety.

☆ Sort out your insurance. We got travel insurance from Outbacker and a separate one for camera/electrical items from Photoguard. If you’re travelling with a lot of camera equipment (or other expensive items classed as ‘valuables’ under standard travel insurance policies) then it can be a lot more cost effective to do it this way.

☆ Ensure you have enough space in your passport and enough time left on it before it expires.

☆ Tell your bank where and when you’re going in as much detail as you know so that they don’t regard your transactions as suspicious when you’re away (some allow you to do it via internet banking.) It’s best to take cards from more than one account with you, a mixture of debit and credit cards, VISA and MasterCard. Halifax’s Clarity credit card is a wise choice as they don’t charge you for using it abroad, and you can take cash out of ATMs for free, without additional loading charges and at a good exchange rate – you just have to remember to pay it off regularly to avoid paying too much interest.

☆ End or suspend all your contracts, insurance policies and bills if you can.

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The way you plan your itinerary is completely down to personal preference. Before leaving, we knew which countries we were going to visit, put them in a logical order and vaguely assigned one, two or three weeks to them. Then, with a rough idea of what we’d like to do in each country, we assembled a detailed itinerary whilst actually travelling, one country at a time.

Each destination in a given country was assigned an appropriate number of days (1 to 5), usually with a day in between for travelling to the next. Once we got to the end of a planned section, we would take a rest day and spend it in a comfortable hotel with good internet, reading, researching and planning the next stage so that only fine tweaking and accommodation booking needed to happen as we went. The main benefit of this approach is that you can be very flexible, just aiming for any immovable flights or pre-booked activities. However it does mean that there’s more ‘work’ to do while you’re away, which isn’t always relaxing, though doesn’t have to take long. We preferred this method because getting in-country information and ideas from people you meet is often easier and more accurate and of course you may not have time to plan it all out before you depart.

Tips:

☆ If you can, make sure you plan in free days. You may miss a bus, get ill, find an activity is booked up, get caught in a storm, have your transport cancelled or simply love a place too much to want to leave.

☆ Unless your interests are very limited, try to create a varied schedule. Temples, cities, beaches, adventure activities and jungles are all great but you can have too much of a good thing consecutively so aim to mix it up a bit.

☆ Check what seasons you will be experiencing so that you can stay safe, pack appropriately and make the most of the destinations.

So that’s it for part 1. Watch this space for parts 2 and 3 🙂

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