Friend: “YO I NEED TRAVEL TIPS. Have you written a blog post on it? I wanna go to Lisbon and some other places.. but I have NO idea where to start.”
Me: “Here’s where to start.”
Let me preface this by saying that planning to travel is making a series of small decisions and then putting money down on those decisions. It helps if you know what your travel style is like, what you generally enjoy doing and what you want out of a trip.
1. Decide to go and tell the world about it so you can’t back out.
I’m writing this on a train from Interlaken to Bern, marvelling at the beauty of the sunset. The shades of blues and pinks and deeper pinks never fail to distract me from more productive endeavours like, you know, writing a blog post. Sometimes, I find myself asking: Is it really worth it? Is the trouble of researching and planning and spending hard-earned money just to leave familiarity and comfort actually worth it? Looking at this glorious sunset, my answer is absofuckinglutely.
Just decide to go and get on with it.
With the decision made, watch your brain unravel with plans and goals and ambitions you’ve never even dreamt of. Shout it out to the world so you can’t back out, no matter how scared or/and uncertain you might feel.
Dealing with the fear: Talk about it. I’m going on my first solo trip and I’m terrified. Most people will tell you that you’ll be fine and begin to share stories from their own travels and why they loved it. Everyone’s got an amazing story to tell, trust me. If you could collect all the travel stories from people around you, you’ll have enough to keep you inspired and hungry, effectively dulling any fear you might have felt.
2. But where do you actually start from?
Again, if you’re not sure, ask. Ask anyone who will listen. Ask Google if you must. Pick a part of the world that fascinates you most, is within your financial means and start from there. It might be a short trip at one destination, perhaps a beach break; or a month-long stint or perhaps an indefinite one – it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that you figure out where you’re going to begin.
3. Get a map out and plot your route
Once you know where you want to go, start plotting it on a map. Mark out all the places you want to go to and you’ll begin to see a rough route unfold. Do the research and let yourself go down the rabbit hole that is the internet for a while. You’d be amazed at what you find. You might end up adding a point of interest here or a pit-stop there, and that’s great. Having a rough idea of where you want to go, and how you intend to explore is a good way to start.
Think about special events like concerts, festivals, Christmas markets or marathons you might want to join while you’re travelling and adjust your route accordingly.
Also, make sure to research the destination’s visa requirements. If you need to get one, how do you apply, how long will it take, what documents do you need and how much will it cost? Again, ask Google.
4. How much is the whole thing going to cost?
Speaking of costs, how much will the entire trip cost? You’ll need to have enough money to cover your expenses, here’s a rough list of expenses I can think:
- Travel costs – planes, trains, buses, ferries, boats, bikes, rentals
- Accommodation – hotels, hostels, campgrounds
- Food – eating in and eating out
- Tours or activities you might be interested in
- Special events – concerts, musicals, plays, festivals, etc.
- Attractions you want to visit – museums, galleries, parks
- Travel insurance
- Emergency fund
- Spending money
- Visa costs
- Stuff you need to buy before you even leave – backpack/suitcase, warm clothes, slippers, toiletries etc.
- Subscriptions to services like Netflix, Audible or Spotify (especially useful for long-term travelling)
- Phone charges – It’s always a smart option to buy a local sim card, just be aware that some countries require your passport to sell you one (Malaysia, Thailand and Switzerland included)
What to do for money if your trip is:
Short-term: Anything less than 1 month
You’re going to need to save up buddy! Your money should cover all your trip’s expenses and sustain you until your next paycheck.
The key here is knowing your priorities. If travel is a priority for you, your actions and how you spend your money will need to reflect that.
This is a great podcast by Jackie from the Budget Minded Traveler on priorities and is an episode I go back to time and time again when I need a kick up the rear-end:
Here are a few more articles from my new female solo traveller crush Shivya Nath about how she affords to travel long term:
- How I Afford My Travels, and How You Can Too
- How I’m Funding My Adventures Around the World Through Travel Blogging
- Saving Money For Travel: 9 Practical Tips
(I’d talk about my own saving and spending habits but I find that these articles do a better job than I can so make sure to bookmark them!)
Long-term: Between a month and 3 months
For this type of travel, it really depends on how you intend to explore the world. If you’re hoping to do a grand tour that takes you across 30 countries in 3 months, I’m afraid you won’t have enough time to think about work while you’re travelling. So saving and splurging is your best option.
If you decide to take it slow, perhaps one country a month, I’d say look into skills exchange opportunities. I’ll cover that in the next section.
Super-long-term: More than 3 months or indefinitely
Working while you travel is probably the most efficient and sustainable way for you to explore the world. You could opt to travel slow, where you stay in a destination for more than a week, perhaps even a month. It gives you time to learn about the local culture and make real connections with the people you meet.
Here are a few options you’ve got for money:
- Start an online business – You could be selling digital products or physical products shipped from the factory to your customers. I’d recommend checking out Location Indie and Tropical MBA for more ideas and to discover the incredible world of being a (I hate this phrase) digital nomad.
- Get an online job – If you can write or design or code or basically work online, you’re all set. Check out this video for some ideas on how to get started.
- Skills exchange – You basically work in exchange for accommodation and sometimes food. WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a popular option and is a great way to meet other travellers. You could search for similar opportunities on other sites like HelpX and WorkAway. These sites usually charge a small fee, roughly €10, for you to apply to as many opportunities as you want. Also bear in mind that the type of work you’re expected to do, the hours you’re expected to work and the compensation you’re given can differ quite a bit.
- Working in hostels – Some hostels hire travellers and applying for a position can be as simple as asking the receptionist if there are any openings. The hours you work for compensation in return can differ – some just offer accommodation, other perhaps food and some pocket money. Again, it depends.
It’s important to note that in all these instances, you’ll still need money to cover the start of your trip, your plan ticket home and those sorts of things. Use working opportunities as supplementary income or as a means to extend your money. If you can save on accommodation in exchange for making a few beds and cleaning a few toilets, why not?
Also, note that some countries and employers can be strict about working visas or working holiday visas so do your research.
5. Start booking big items
With your game plan, i.e. your route and how you intend to finance your trip, put it in motion and start booking big ticket items. I’m talking about your means for transport (train rides, bus rides, plane rides), your accommodation and travel insurance.
My thoughts on travel insurance: After getting robbed, I’ve never travelled without travel insurance ever again. If it wasn’t for divine intervention/luck/the universe taking care of me, I would have been stuck on an island with very limited money, no phone, and no means to get either one. Plus, it’s better to be safe than sorry, even if you plan to YOLO your way through life. My most recent insurance purchase was from World Nomads and was definitely the next most expensive thing after my flight ticket (it cost about $100 a month).
(These purchases and their ridiculous price tags are going to make you wonder if you’re doing the right thing – yes you are. Don’t back out now! You’re almost there.)
6. Talk to people about your travel plans and ask them for recommendations
Take your time to find out what there is to do at the destination. Ask friends and family for recommendations, post a question or ten on Facebook or TripAdvisor – there’s no harm. I even bought Lonely Planet guides to have an idea of what to do.
(I never actually bring these guides along with me because they’re too bulky and heavy.)
Narrow down the things you want to do on your trip, the places you want to eat at (I’m still a Malaysian after all), the museums you want to visit, the plays or musicals you want to get lost in, the festival that’s going to blow your mind, whatever it is – make a list and get excited about it.
Prioritise the important experiences you don’t want to miss. Keep it to no more than three items per destination.
7. Start booking tours and activities and plays and whatnot
If you’re on a short term holiday, time is of the essence and you want to get the most out of your vacation as possible. Work out the best way to fit in all the activities you want and book them beforehand so that you don’t waste precious time at your destination figuring out which tour or activity operator to go with.
You can use platforms like Viator or go directly to the tour or activity operator’s website – they sometimes have better deals. When booking all these activities, make sure to give yourself time to relax and unwind as well – don’t book a walking tour right after a surf lesson, you feel me?
If you have time, I would recommend booking your “Things to do” through your hostel or scouting out the best deals once you’ve reached your destination.
8. Pack pack pack
By now, you should know what sort of a trip you’re embarking on and should be able to suss out what you need for your trip. (If you’re on an indefinite trip, good luck.)
Here’s some advice: Remember to bring enough clean underwear and always bring a swimsuit. If you’re staying in a hostel, bring a pair of slippers so you don’t have to stand in a communal shower barefoot. Don’t forget your travel adapters, phone chargers and laptop chargers. For long term trips, do laundry at your destination to avoid carrying giant bags that only weigh you down (literally and figuratively).
Also, don’t forget to bring enough cash in the correct currency. If you don’t mind relying on your cards, at least bring enough to cover taxi fares and snacks.
9. Say a short prayer before taking off
In my family, we make a big deal when someone is taking off for a while. We sit in our living room before leaving to the airport or bus station and my dad usually says a prayer for us all. And then the family jumps into the car to send whoever it is off. It’s a tradition that I occasionally roll my eyes at, especially when the prayer gets too long or we’re running late.
Yet, it remains a source of comfort for every time I leave, I’m filled with moments of fear and panic before the excitement and adrenaline kicks in.