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Preparing for a trip?
“It’s time to plan my journey.” It’s a statement that makes me ecstatic. Travel planning. Some people love it and others loathe it. It can be very exciting while at the same time labour intensive. It is one of my passions and many people have asked about the steps involved. On my most recent return to Canada, the customs officer even asked me, “How do you do it? Do you plan your entire itinerary? Do you like travelling solo?” He was genuinely interested and started a lengthy conversation despite the line-up behind me!
Here are my tried and true steps to plan my journey whether it be a nomadic adventure or a week visiting family overseas.
Spend a lot of time dreaming and imagining possibilities. For me, that looks like surfing the internet. I love travel blogs and Lonely Planet. Of course, searching always turns up a gem or two – a new place, image or a new blog. I leaf through glossy travel magazines at bookstores. I visit my local library (when I am a resident) and sign out stacks of travel books. I am a google maps nerd (where is this exactly? How far is it from A to B to C?). I also spend hours searching housesits and figuring out how they can be a part of the adventure. And I ended up here because of Instagram!
I always have a long list of where I might be headed.
Having flexible dates, although not always possible, can lead to some great airline deals. My two favourite sites to check out flights and prices are:
Make sure Skyscanner is set to Canadian dollars (if you are Canadian).
I also try to think outside the box. Can I find a cheap flight to London and then take EasyJet or the train to my destination?
I love searching various airline sites such as Westjet, Vueling, Air Asia or Emirates …. for me, it’s the kick off to getting the next adventure underway.
Be warned though…this can eat up a lot of time and eventually you just need to dive in and make a decision.
Another consideration is one way or return flight? My nomadic spirit loves a one-way flight. The downside? One way flights are usually more expensive than half of a return flight. Also, most countries want to know your onward travel plans to ensure that you are going to leave within the maximum permitted stay allowance.
Often when you check in, the airline will ask you about your onward travel plans.
I was asked by Air Emirates flying to Bangkok when I was leaving Thailand. I had already purchased an inexpensive one-way ticket from Bangkok, Thailand to Phnom Penh, Cambodia that I knew I wouldn’t use. I had my answer ready. It doesn’t go over as well explaining your plan of bus and a boat travel to Malaysia on an, as of yet, undetermined date.
Standing in line to board my flight from Paris to London, an airline official asked me about my onward travel plans. My flippant reply that I had no booked ticket out of the U.K. was not well received in fact, I wondered if I would be allowed to board the plane. I made a conscious note to myself right then and there about sassy nomadic answers and having all my bases covered when using one-way tickets.
If you are flying on a one-way ticket, make sure you have done your research.
Planning your journey…full speed ahead!
Booking Trains in Europe
Searching the schedules gives you a good indication of the frequency of trains on your route.
Trainline has great information as do other sites such as RailEurope.
Search on the internet and lots of info will be at your fingertips. The glitch? Some sites, you can’t pay with a foreign credit card, a Canadian one at any rate.
This site accepts Canadian credit cards.
There is also a line of trains in France that offer much less expensive rates called oui. sncf. Much to my dismay they do not accept Canadian credit cards either. I ended up paying more than double for my ticket and when my train arrived in the station it was the oui train…….I did write and complain on behalf of Canadians especially since they accept American credit cards.
Train Information World Wide
The Man in Seat 61 is an incredible resource of information on train travel. When planning travels in Sri Lanka, the information on what to expect and the schedules were top notch.
Non- negotiable. This is a critical part of the “plan my journey” strategy. Don’t leave home without it. You just never know what will happen. Do your research.
I have 92 days of coverage but when I am away for longer, I use World Nomads Travel Insurance. It also allows you to book health insurance when you are already on the road.
Serendipity or Planned to a T?
We are all wired differently and some travellers feel safer and more in control when everything is mapped out. I am able to live with quite a large dose of ambiguity.
When I decide on a destination I research until I am clear on my “non-negotiables.” I don’t want to find out after leaving that I missed a huge landmark or incredible photo opportunity. I also leave a wide berth for wandering and serendipity.
Depending on the destination and how much my heart is set on a certain experience, I will book in advance. In Borneo, I pre-booked the Kinabatangan River experience (pygmy elephant sightings). In Sri Lanka I booked the Yala National Park excursion well in advance (elephants and leopards) and in Thailand the Kaeng Krachan National Park birdwatching camp.
Arriving at My Accommodation, Worry Free
I always have at least my first night’s accommodation booked in advance. I use booking.com, Airbnb and Trip Advisor as a starting point. I read the reviews thoroughly. When I have narrowed down where I want to stay, I use google maps to investigate the location.
I like to know where I am going when I arrive somewhere new. All part of the “plan my journey” strategy! While I have internet access, I check the suggested route provided by my Airbnb or hotel. Next, I use google maps to see the route. Just in case there is no wifi at the airport or no place to get a SIM card, I screenshot my route onto my phone. That way I have the pictures to get me there no matter what.
I have also used maps.me which is an offline map app. You have to download the maps while you have an internet connection.
Funny thing is despite all this pre-planning, I still walk up from a metro, having taken a wild guess on which exit to use, and am immediately disoriented. Thank goodness for the age-old tradition of asking directions!
Landing at a New Airport
Instead of using the exchange counters at the airport, I wait until I arrive at my new destination and use an ATM to withdraw local currency. You can always google (good old google) to verify that there are ATM machines at the airport or train station. My last arrival in Prague, there was great advice to not use the cash machines by the luggage carousel (as they give terrible exchange rates) but to find the actual bank machines by the exit door. Thank you TripAdvisor!
Make sure you have given some thought to how much local currency to withdraw. I remember once standing in front of an ATM and not knowing whether I needed 50, 500, 5000 or 50000 of the currency. Oops…better to have an idea in advance.
I use the app Oanda Currency Converter to help me out here.
I always travel with an unlocked iphone. It used to cost $50 to get a phone unlocked in Canada but as of December 1, 2017, the fee has been banned.
I look around the airport for a place to buy a local SIM card. At Charles de Gaulle in Paris, for example, I go the Relay store (like a 7 -11). In many airports, there is a cell service provider, such as Vodaphone, in the terminal.
Once I purchase a local SIM card, I make sure the data is working BEFORE leaving the airport. To activate the new SIM, sometimes you need to call a number or wait 15 minutes and then restart your phone.
I have had my fair share of challenges in the data and SIM card department when I didn’t wait. It is totally worth the extra time to leave the airport knowing I am connected.
The benefits of having data? Being able to connect with my house sitting assignments for arrival times or unforeseen delays. Accessing apps such as google maps and trainline (for train schedules) on the fly. Having a local number.
Of course, I use wifi whenever I can and switch my phone into airplane mode when not using data.
And there you have it. My steps for preparing a journey.
Or, you could say, for turning a dream into a plan.
Use the resources provided to help you start planning and please add any feedback in the comments.
“What is it you plan to do with your ONE wild and precious life?” M. Oliver
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