Part 2. The final planning stages
Budget minded traveling is a lot more fun than signing up for a pre-designed tour. Being involved in the planning makes it more real, and choosing low-budget options means you're spending more time with the local folk, and isn't that what travel is really all about?
You've read all the advice in Part 1. You’ve been diligently saving those dollars and checking every possibility. You know when and where you'd like to go as well as how long you plan on staying. You've lined up the cat sitter and planned for every possibility you can think of and now you are ready to make the decision and buy your airline ticket. Before that final commitment, do a few last checks.
Visas. Does your chosen destination require a visa? If so, do you need that before you leave, or can you get it when you arrive? Are there any travel restrictions in place? Should you get any shots? You absolutely need to know these things before you leave and your guide book should provide all the information.
Start watching ticket prices. Buying your ticket three to six months ahead of your trip is usually the best time to get a good deal. You can look for a good price to a specific destination, or, if you’re like me, look for the best price to any of the places on your list. I don’t usually know where, or exactly when I’m going until I’ve bought my ticket. Vacation restrictions at your work may limit this option for you.
Choose your luggage. You really need very very little to travel. I travel for a couple months with only a single backpack. Check out my picture – that little backpack is all I ever carry. Ever. Think how much easier it is to get dressed if you only have two pair of pants to choose from, or one pair of shoes. You can wash out your clothes in a sink, or save them up for a laundry run once a week. It’s OK to wear a t-shirt more than once before washing, no will know anyway.
Plan where to lay your head. When you know where you’re going, start investigating hostels, or cheap hotels. In some countries a bed-and-breakfast option is the best deal, other times you’re stuck with a pricey hotel. As you are considering these, make sure you have a list of what you expect from your accommodations. Do you need Wi-Fi? A computer? Breakfast? A shuttle? Private bathroom? Kitchen? Which ones are a must, and which are you willing to forgo? Also have a list of qualities that you don’t want – Is it over a bar? (noisy) Far from any sights? (transportation) In a rough place? (safety). My recommendation: Quiet and well connected. I’m more of a morning person and less likely to be out at night. All the other things I can find elsewhere if they aren’t offered by the hostel.
Hostels. Yes, I’m a hostel person, although I now tend to choose the ones that offer a private room. I like meeting other travelers in the kitchen and the buzz of a lot of happy people in the halls. Some people feel a hotel room is a pleasant luxury at the end of a long day, I find it cold and depressing. Even shelling out for a private room, the hostels tend to be cheaper than hotels or B&Bs and I like spending my money on a museum rather than a shiny room. This is your vacation, you choose where you’d like to stay, but don’t write off hostels without at least a little bit of research. You might like them.
Reservations. I don’t make them, except perhaps for the first few nights that I arrive. Although I always start with a travel plan, I have flex-days in case I want to stay longer somewhere. This method means that I have to work a little harder to find a place to stay, but I can change my plans without worrying about cancellation penalties. There are plusses and minuses to both of these and you’ll need to find the balance that works for you. If you want to stay in a specific place, like, a castle, make a reservation and pay attention to your travel schedule. My recommendation: Reserve your room for your arrival and call (or have your host call) the next place when you’re ready to go.
Guide books. Hopefully you’ve found the guide book style that works for you. I like Rick Steves’ books because he qualifies the sights. I like to know if “The Amir’s Palace” is really just a fakey tourist trap. Lonely Planet lists more sights, but without an opinion attached to them. Rough Guide is also geared toward the budget traveler, and all three of these are more likely to describe lower cost options, although they all do include the pricier choices. Don’t scrimp on the guide books. These are your roadmap to fun, get them. Get more than one. Books are heavy and a recent revelation has lightened up my travel considerably. Get an eReader. It doesn’t really matter what kind as long as it works. Most books are available in an eReader form and there are programs that convert between formats. Your Kindle guide book can be converted to read on your Nook. Not only does this nifty little device hold your guide books, you can load it up with history, biographies, or just plain fun reading material.
The day before
Leaving. Avoid the stress of last minute problems; pretend you’re leaving the day before your plane leaves. Leave copies of your itinerary, passport and credit cards with someone you trust. Check that your prescription meds are in a labeled container. Double check the key items, passport, visas, plane ticket, credit card. If you have those four things, you can deal with just about every unexpected issue that might arise. Leave your stress on the doorstep, grab your single bag and head out.
My personal mantra: If everything goes well, it’s a great vacation, if nothing goes well, it’s a great story – either way it will be an awesome chapter in your life. Have a great vacation!
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