Planning has become my escape. I think, obsess, and dream about this trip. Having only 3ish months to get everything together stressed the heck out of a dramatic perfectionist like me. Especially having never volunteered/ travelled abroad alone before, I needed a lot of time to understand what questions to ask and to do proper research. Which led to the list I developed below.
The point of this post is to hopefully help some of you who are planning a backpacking trip. This is also to serve as a reference post for myself in the future… if I make it back alive. I told you I was dramatic, didn’t I?
I’m only going for 54 days. But this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to push myself to do, so this makes it my spotlight. I also beg to differ by pointing out that I am not going to comfy, developed, english-speaking countries. On top of which, I won’t have anyone to sob to when my chocolates get stolen (it’s a hard grudge to let go of).
4-6 MONTHS PRIOR TO YOUR TRIP:
- Start brainstorming the major destinations you would like to go to. Check out the weather around the time of year you plan to go. Monsoon season? Temperatures hot enough to bake you? Cold enough to freeze your limbs and have them spontaneously crack off? Weatherspark is a good site with graphs that show you past recorded temperatures and precipitation levels. Also check with your country’s travel advisories- here is Canada’s. They also list information about visas, some of which you may need to apply for beforehand.
- If this a volunteering trip, do your due diligence in researching the volunteer organization. Read blogs, find vlogs. What are your priorities? Is it cost, safety, or the ethics of the company? For me, responsible volunteering was a priority so I chose an organization who seemed to place high emphasis on this and encouraged volunteers to ask questions. They even asked if they could publish my list of questions I emailed them! *brag-worthy moment* After my trip, I will share my thoughts in working with them and the local partners.
- Start booking flights! I have heard rumors of purchasing on a Tuesday/ Wednesday because apparently this is when companies choose to slash their prices. No miracles have happened for me, yet. Let me know, has this worked for you? ThriftyNomads offer good guides, including tips on how to book the cheapest flights. Also, search around for some coupon codes.
- Buy travel insurance. First, find out what kind of insurance you may have already included with your health care plan or credit card company. On my first trip alone, I bought insurance only to realize after my trip that my health care plan covered me completely. Way to go, Petrina. Call companies about top-up plans because you usually won’t be able to buy them online, and they are way cheaper too!
Travel Guard and World Nomads are insurance companies raved about on the online community. My bank and provincial health organization had some good plans that covered everything I wanted them to as well (Do they cover lost possessions? all airlines and tour operators? extreme activities such as skydiving, scuba-diving etc.? working as a volunteer? Does the company help with billing in emergencies, or is it pay-out-of-pocket and reimburse later only? Is medical evacuation covered and what is covered before & after the hospital?). It is also recommended to buy trip cancellation insurance very soon after buying flights. If something comes up before you buy the insurance and you need to cancel your trip, you are toast.
2-4 MONTHS PRIOR:
- Get jabbed. Go to a travel clinic at least a few months in advance. Some vaccines require you to return after a month to receive a second dose. Give yourself time to call your health insurance to ask what is covered, and do a cost-benefit analysis of the vaccines/meds that are recommended but not mandatory. Also shop around for clinic/ vaccine costs. To my surprise, some clinics charge a lot more!
- A good, responsible volunteer agency will ask you for a criminal records disclosure. I simply went to my local police station, filled out some forms, and paid $30. It takes about 4-6 weeks to get mailed to you.
- Make sure your passport does not expire until at least 6 months after your return date. This is the base requirement and getting your passport renewed takes about 20 business days, I believe. Also double check the expiry on your credit card and driver’s license.
- Start planning details of the trip. Where are you going to stay? Tours or DIY trips? Tours take away the stress of detail planning, and allow you some peace of mind, knowing you have a guide and group looking out for you. DIY gives you freedom over activities, time, and most importantly saves you the big bucks. Research everything, what do previous travelers have to say? Check out this link on how to book the cheapest accomodations. Hostels help you to meet people, but do be choosy.
- Budget wisely. If you plan on having a future, it’s best to have the funds laid out in front of you. It is soo easy to just spend and spend to your heart’s content. Record all the pre-trip costs, and see how much room you have to work with in terms of spending money.
- Have a multitude of ways for accessing money. Carry more than one debit/ credit card, and stash your cash in different places. If you’re going to Asia, $USD is your go-to emergency currency. Ask your bank about foreign transaction fees, and see if you can’t find a better option. Here’s another good link for the best travel credit and debit cards.
I signed up for Tangerine, whose fees are a lot less for international ATM withdrawals, plus I got a free $50 for signing up. You need an orange key code for this, here is mine if you need one: 43095153S1 (you get perks for every referral you make as well!). Call your bank and credit-card company to let them know your dates of travel, while you’re at it. Travellers’ cheque is another way, but the trend is dying.
- If you want to use your phone while travelling, ask your phone provider about international roaming fees etc. A lot of asian countries will offer you a local phone to rent for cheap, too. With an unlocked phone, you can get a local SIM card, which is a cheaper alternative.
- Start buying necessities for your trip. What bag are you going to bring? Keep in mind if you’re going to be on a lot of trains and buses, or be in a less developed country, a traveler’s backpack might be easier than a luggage bag. Go and get fitted in one. I also read that items such as strong mosquito repellent, deodorant, or tampons won’t readily be available in Asia.
- Pack. The general rule of thumb agreed by everyone is to pack everything you think you need, then take away 1/3 of that pile. If you plan to do a lot of shopping, pack shirts you don’t really care about, in case you need to leave them behind. There are some good packing lists out there online.
- Prepay any bills you can.
- Make sure to make copies of important documents.
- Learn some useful phrases in the languages of the countries you plan to visit. Don’t be a “why-doesn’t-anyone-here-speak-English” snob.
- Confirm your flights close to the day of departure.
This is the amount of wisdom that I have gathered from the web as of late, so I am by no means an expert. I just wanted to share some of my favorite travel blogs and pages that I found the most helpful. Don’t be afraid to make calls and send emails if you have questions about the place/organization/tour. Lastly, remember that the web can be your best friend. Next to me.