I know how overwhelming it can be to plan your first big travel experience.
There are so many things you need to think about and plan for. It’s easy to find yourself thinking ahead to every moment, trying to figure everything out before you go.
The good news is that you don’t have to plan every inch and moment of your trip. There are some things that should be planned in advance, of course. But there are also many things that you can figure out after you arrive.
Let’s take a look at what you definitely need to determine before you travel – and what you can work out while you are on the road.
What You Should Figure Out Before You Travel
These are the logistics and plans you should figure out before you set off on your journey.
How to Get From the Airport to Your Hotel
There’s no need to figure out all the transport for your entire trip, but it’s helpful to know how you will get from the airport to your hotel when you first arrive.
When you touch down you’ll be tired, jet-lagged and might not have access to WiFi or a local SIM card. Your phone might even be out of battery from the long flight. You don’t want to wait until that point to start figuring out how to get to your accommodation.
Ideally, you should have a step-by-step plan figured out that doesn’t require you to be online. Fortunately, there is a lot of information available to help you with this. Simply Google “How to get from (Airport) to (City)” and review your options. You might even want to copy down or print the information so you can access it even if your electronics run out of battery.
First Day and Last Day
Although you don’t want to have every second of your day planned, you might want to figure out the first and last days of your trip before you travel. After all, these are days when you are going to be catching flights so you’ll need to be a little bit organized.
On the first day you’ll have just arrived and (as I mentioned above) it’s great to have your route from the airport to your hotel already planned out.
It’s also nice to have your last day figured out too. Know where you will be staying on your last night – and how you’ll be getting back to the airport from there. That way, you can plan ahead and make sure you are leaving on time.
Visas and Work Permits
Before you board the plane to your destination, you need to know the visa situation. Can you get a visa on arrival? Or, do you need to apply for a visa in advance? For example, if you are traveling to the USA you’ll need to be approved for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) before you fly.
This is especially important if you are going on a Working Holiday. You’ll need to have the correct work permit for your Working Holiday Visa category before you arrive. When you go through immigration in your arrival country, you must show your Working Holiday Visa.
Often a helpful resource for visa entry requirement information is the “Get In” section of the Wikitravel page for that specific country. Of course, be aware that this information may be out of date and you should always verify it on the official government website of the country as well.
Another important aspect of your trip you need to figure out before you go is your travel insurance. This needs to be done in advance, as often it won’t be valid if you purchase it after you have already left.
Ideally, you’d purchase travel insurance within 15 days of booking your trip. That way, you’ll qualify for full coverage. However, even if you have already booked the trip you can still buy travel insurance up to one day before you depart.
Travel insurance is crucial to have. When Lee went to Canada several years ago, he ended up breaking both of his wrists while riding a bike. His treatment cost about $5,000, which was thankfully all covered by our travel insurance.
Researching Local Scams
Another important thing you should research before you go on your trip is the common scams in the area. You should know these before you arrive, because otherwise it might be too late.
To illustrate this, I have a story about an American backpacker we met in Buenos Aires. Let’s call her Sarah.
Sarah went out sightseeing and came back to the hostel in tears. She had been walking down the sidewalk and an old woman had stopped her to let her know that there was bird poop on her shoulder.
Sarah stopped and looked and sure enough her shoulder was splattered with white goo. The old woman offered a tissue and Sarah tried to scrub the stain off her clothes. She even put her shoulder bag down so she could reach the stain better.
While she was distracted cleaning up the bird poo, a young man ran out of the crowd, grabbed her bag and ran away. She lost her camera (with all her trip photos), her phone and her cash.
When Sarah told me this story, I felt incredibly bad for her. What an awful experience! But I also immediately knew what had happened. This “bird poop” scam is a common one in South America and other places around the world. This is what likely happened:
- Prior to this moment, another scammer had subtly squirted a fake bird poo mixture on her shoulder.
- The old lady (who was in on the scam) distracted her while the theif grabbed her bag.
If Sarah had done her research, she would have known that this scam existed and when the old lady tried to stop her, she would have just kept on walking. That’s the most powerful defense you have against getting scammed: knowledge.
What You Can Figure Out When You Get There
These are the things you don’t necessarily need to have figured out before you leave for your trip. You can work them out while you are on the road.
Your Exact Itinerary
You never have to figure out what you are doing on every day of you trip before you leave. I mean, you can if you really want to. But it’s not necessary.
In fact, I would suggest that having every minute of your trip planned is actually a bad idea. Here are a few reasons why:
- Some things will inevitably take longer than expected, so you will want your schedule to be a bit flexible to accommodate.
- You can’t predict the weather, so you’ll need to be able to adjust your plans around it.
- There might be days where you don’t feel like whatever activity you have planned and would rather do something else.
- You will discover things at your destination that you didn’t even know were there, so you need to have room in your itinerary to fit them in.
- It’s actually really fun to have a couple days of your trip where you just wander with no plan in mind and “see what happens.” In fact, they can be some of the best experiences.
Where to Eat
Some of the best dining experiences I’ve had while traveling have not been planned in advance. So, leave some room in your trip to wander and be spontaneous when it comes to the food you try.
Of course, this is not to say that you shouldn’t research the best restaurants in your destination in advance online. That can be a great way to find a few excellent places to eat during your stay.
However, sometimes you can also find some absolute gems by wandering through the city and following your nose.
When Lee and I were in the Algarve in Portugal, we weren’t impressed by the overpriced cookie-cutter restaurants along the touristy seafront. Instead, we wandered back into the backstreets of the village and found a small family owned restaurant on a quiet street.
Although our server spoke no English, we knew the words for beer and chicken in Portuguese – so that’s what we got. A heaping table filled with crispy and spicy roasted piri piri chicken, salad with big juicy tomatoes, french fries and cold bottles of Super Bock and Sagres.
It was the most delicious meal of our trip – and one we would have never experienced if we hadn’t been spontaneous.
Travel Immunizations (Sometimes)
In some countries, you’ll need to show proof of certain vaccinations in order to enter. In some situations, it makes sense to get your immunizations before you head off on your trip.
However, this is not always the case.
For example, Lee and I saved $1000 by getting our immunizations after we arrived in Bangkok. (You can read more about how we did it in this post.) It made a lot more sense and it was so much cheaper and easier than doing it in Canada.
Before this, I’d assumed that travel vaccinations were always something I had to get done before I left on a trip. However, that experience proved me wrong. It’s worth checking if you can get your vaccinations done right after you arrive – especially in countries where healthcare is much cheaper.
Which things do you usually plan in advance before you travel? What do you like to figure out while you are on the road? Leave your comment below and let us know.