There are a number of things I do before each trip that make me feel more prepared and more excited! Overall these things make my trips and planning them go more smoothly and helps me to make sure I don’t come home feeling like I’ve missed out on something. I highly advise doing at least some of these before any trip to a new country so that you can have an awesome trip!
Must sees? Off the beaten path tips?
After deciding where to go I often google the main “must sees” for the city I’ll be staying in. But to get more detailed recommendations I’ll ask a travel group for their recommendation. Typically I’ll end up asking the Facebook group Girls Love Travel, because with over 240,000+ members at least a few of them have specific tips for the city I’m about to visit. And sometimes you’ll even get recommendations from people who have grown up there! But there are other Facebook groups that can give you recommendations. I would rather ask people on Facebook for recommendations rather than Tripadvisor because if I have follow-up questions I can just ask the person right then. For instance, if someone tells me to go to Palawan Beach in the Philippines (the trip I’m currently planning), I can then ask them how they got there and learn more about their experience. It also just feels more like I’m talking to REAL people. They also often recommend places I wouldn’t have thought of going since they may be living in the city I’m visiting. Also I often find someone headed in the same direction around the same time and can meet up with them along the way.
The easiest resource out there for planning an EPIC trip is tour operators’ websites. I never plan my entire trip with a tour but I don’t mind stealing from their itineraries. Think about it, these tour groups spend so much time perfecting their routes; they make sure to hit all of the major sites, they know what you can fit into a single day and they take into account some time to relax. Their websites offer a wealth of information that are useful for finding out about how long to stay in each city and about how much things should cost. My advice is to find an itinerary that you would loveee to take, if you had the money to use this costly tour operator. Adapt it to your taste and then have a comparable trip for about half the cost. Seriously, I would estimate that doing a similar trip on your own is about three-fourths the cost of using a tour company for comparable hotels and less than half the cost if you stay in hostels and budget travel. I personally love stealing ideas from Contiki itineraries but I also sometimes look at Topdeck Travel, Intrepid and Geckos Adventures.
As I start booking things I make sure to look up local currency rates and costs. I try to start using the local currency in my head while I book things and practice converting before I even get there. So then by the time I actually get to the country, I know the currency well enough to convert as I shop. I often try to make up really convenient system to convert in my head, for instance, a friend of my was converting from Malaysian ringgit to USD by multiplying by finding 20% each time. Whereas I just divide the price by 2 twice. So as I’m planning I start to think about how to make the conversion easier. In Vietnam, where the exchange rate is 22,000 VND to 1 USD, I thought about how I could use the currency to estimate. If its below 22,000 its less than a dollar, 44,000 less than two dollars, 66,000 less than three, and multiply all of these by 10 to see that lower than 220,000 less than 10…. Ok, ok maybe it’s more simple in my head! Point is, make up a system that works for you.
A lot of people still don’t know that google has this AMAZING offline feature where you can download a map and use it without being online. It’s kinda like in the old school days when you had a paper map, that is, if the paper map showed you as a blue dot as you moved around. Just search for the city you’re going to, click the text on the bottom and there should be a download button. On some phones this doesn’t work but if you type in “Ok maps” in the search bar while hovering above the area you want, it should work no matter what phone you have. Some areas are not available, like all of China. If there’s no off-line map, I at least look up the route from the airport to the hotel and screenshot it as well as the area around my hotel. This has saved me more than once from taxi drivers who couldn’t quite find my hotel.
I typically look up at the minimum how to say hello and thank you in the local language. People really do appreciate you making an effort to learn their language and about their culture. I also almost always look up the word for fish so I can avoid it! If you have food your allergic to or that you just absolutely hate it’s helpful to lookup those words and write them down. Alternatively, print out some allergy cards to take with you, I find them a bit tacky but if I had a deadly allergy, I’d definitely be willing to look tacky.
Context for your trip?
Last but not least, I try to get or download to my kindle a book by a local author to read while traveling the country. I think that it’s nice to have some more context to the place in the book as well as the places you are visiting. It just adds to my trip! I’ve also recently starting writing about these books and how they related to my experience int the Reading Around the Globe section of my blog.
I might be over planning, but these tips make me feel more safe, excited and ready for my trip! I hope you’ve found them helpful!