Updated September 6, 2020
Making the decision to travel long-term is one of the most exciting and scary moments ever! Once your heart rate calms down a bit, it’s time to start what I find to be the most daunting task: TRAVEL PLANNING!
Some people love travel planning and this won’t be a chore for them at all, but I am not one of those people.
The first time I decided to travel long-term, I had no idea where to start or what to do; family and friends would be asking me questions about where I I planned to stay or what I planned to do, and I didn’t have a clue.
Now that I am a seasoned long-term traveller, I’d love to tell you that I’ve become a master at the travel planning phase, but that would be a lie. I actually prefer to only have accommodation booked for the first night or two so that I’m not tied in to something if my plans change. And other than having an idea about what the highlights of the area are, I often don’t plan my activities or make any kind of itinerary.
After all, you never know what your destination is REALLY going to be like until you’re actually there.
However, despite all of this, I have realised that there are some very important things that DO need to be planned in advance, before you leave your home country.
The important stuff can seem overwhelming, so here’s a list of tips to make the whole process a lot simpler.
Where do you want to go? What do you want to do when you’re there? How will you get around? Where will you sleep? How much will it cost? What should you bring?
These are all questions you should be asking yourself in the research phase of your travel planning. Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor forums are great for getting real answers from real people, and if you search travel blogs and Pinterest you’ll find helpful articles on your chosen destinations.
Just having an idea of the options available to you will help with your nerves and make you feel more comfortable on arrival.
It is also a good idea to get yourself up to date with the local customs and culture, to ensure you don’t unknowingly cause offence or break a law and find yourself in a very difficult situation.
2: Save money
Once you’ve done some research, come up with a monetary goal that you want to reach before you leave, and figure out how long you’ve got to reach that goal.
Now you need to focus on saving your money wherever possible.
Take a look at your monthly salary and write down how much you NEED for your living expenses every month (rent, bills, food, fuel etc.), then look at how much is left and set a goal to put a certain amount into a savings account every month.
Cut down on your spending as much as you can. Buy supermarket own brand foods, cut down on your electricity usage at home, say “no” to drinks at the pub, cycle or walk instead of driving, buy only what you need.
It may get boring or tiresome at times, but it is also the most important first stage of your travel planning list, so make sure you keep your dream destination in mind! It’ll all be worth it in the end, trust me.
After all, when you’re relaxing on a beach in Thailand or standing on top of a mountain in New Zealand, I can guarantee that you won’t be thinking about that video game or those few beers that you could have bought back home.
3: Check your passport
Do you have a passport? If not, apply for one as soon as possible.
If you do have a passport, check the expiry date. Is it due to expire soon?
If you’ve done lots of travelling in the past, do you have enough blank pages left for your new visas and stamps?
Keep in mind that many countries won’t issue your visa if your passport expires in six months or less, or if there are no blank pages.
Getting a passport issued is much easier while you’re in your home country than when you are abroad, so make sure you include it in your travel planning and get it sorted as one of your first priorities.
4: Plan and book your flights
Start looking at flights to your chosen destination early so that you get an idea of the prices, and keep an eye on them as they’re often cheaper on certain days of the week. Depending on how long you plan to stay in the first country, it may also be worth looking at the flights between countries as well.
For example, we flew from the UK to New Zealand, and two weeks later we flew from New Zealand to Hong Kong. Both flights were booked before we left the UK.
My favourite app for flights is Skyscanner; they find a flight and show you the prices on each website so that you can find the cheapest option. You’re then taken to that website to make the actual booking.
They also have an ‘Explore Everywhere’ option, which is great if you’re flexible as it finds the cheapest destinations from your current location!
Pro Tip: search for flights in ‘incognito mode’ so that your device doesn’t remember your previous search and show you the same prices.
5: Buy Insurance
This is a must! Insurance can be pricey, and hopefully you’ll never need to make use of it, but it is an important safety net if something goes wrong.
No matter how careful you think you’ll be, some things are completely out of your control and you could end up with a large medical bill, a cancelled flight, a lost bag or a stolen possession and your insurance can cover you for any and all of these things.
6: Don’t forget about visas
Look into the visa requirements for every country you plan to visit; they differ depending on your nationality so be sure of the specific requirements for you.
Will you need a tourist visa or, if you’re staying for a long time in one country, is a Working Holiday Visa an option so that you can work and top up your funds while you’re travelling?
Some visas can be gained on arrival at the country, some need to be arranged in advance. Prices vary hugely depending on country and visa type too, so do your research first.
Pro Tip: Carry some passport photos with you when travelling; they could come in handy when applying for visas on the go!
7: Get your travel vaccinations
Book an appointment with a travel nurse and talk with them about your destinations and whether you will need any vaccinations or anti-malaria tablets before you leave.
Some vaccinations are pricier than others and I found it helpful to speak with a professional about which ones are absolutely necessary and which are optional (if you’re careful and know what to do if something bad happens).
Anti-malaria tablets usually need to be taken for a week or so before you enter and after you leave the area where malaria is present, so this needs planning in advance. The travel nurse will advise you of the exact amount of time you need to take them for.
There are a few different types of anti-malaria tablets, and a conversation with a professional will help to ensure you are prescribed the right type (I had a bad reaction to Larium, but was fine with Doxycycline).
8: Stock up on your essentials
Think about the things you need no matter where you are, like any medications, contact lenses, birth control etc, and make arrangements to ensure that you will be covered while travelling.
Before leaving for our current trip, which has taken us around South East Asia and to New Zealand, I made sure that I had at least 6 months’ worth of contact lenses and birth control pills in my backpack, knowing that it would be hard to get hold of them in Asia, but much easier in New Zealand.
If you’re on medication, speak with your doctor about the best course of action.
9: Inform your bank
Make sure your bank knows where you’re going, so that your withdrawals overseas don’t result in your card being blocked for suspicious or fraudulent-looking activity.
Remember your stop-overs for long-haul flights as well, as a coffee in the airport may be just what you need in the middle of a long trip, but is not worth a blocked card!
Your bank may also be able to offer you a low-fee credit card or travel card for your trip.
10: Unlock your phone
If you’re planning to take your current phone with you, make sure it is unlocked to all networks so that you can buy cheap SIM cards on the go and avoid those roaming charges!
Most networks will unlock the phone for a fee while you’re still at home, but there are also websites where you can buy an unlock code yourself.
11: Buy your foreign currency
Do some research and find the cheapest places to buy some foreign currency near you, and compare it to the charges you’ll receive for withdrawing money overseas at an ATM.
I prefer not to travel with large amounts of cash, so I would recommend only buying enough to cover you for the first first week or so.
12: Photocopy important documents
It’s a good idea to leave a copy of your passport, travel insurance policy and flight details with a trusted friend or family member at home, who can pass on the information to you if any of your copies are lost.
You can also upload the documents onto a memory stick or an online storage site, but make sure they are backed up in one way or another.
This is it! You’re almost ready to embark on your great adventure!
Make sure you’ve got a good quality backpack or suitcase that will last a long time, and pack as sensibly and lightly as you can, whilst ensuring that you’ve got all the essentials (look up packing lists online for your destination).
Remember, even if your airline and your bag allow for 30kgs, you probably don’t need or want to take that much, especially if you’ll be carrying it on your back! Plus, if you fill your bag to begin with, where will all your new purchases go when you’re on the road?
Final thoughts on travel planning
The planning stage always brings on a mix of emotions for me; excitement for my next adventure and reluctance to actually sort anything out!
Maybe that’s just me, but if you struggle with planning too or you just don’t know where to start, I hope that having all these travel planning tips together in one place has helped you overcome the overwhelm.
The key is to give yourself plenty of time to get it all done so that you’re not rushing in the days and weeks leading up to your trip.
Once you’ve ticked off everything on this list, the fun can finally start!
Have I missed anything? Which item had you not thought about before? Let me know in the comments! 🙂
Want more like this? Check out these articles:
- How to actually save money for travel
- 17 Important things to do before your trip
- Travel Safety Guide: 12 tips that could save your life
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