Planning an overseas trip involves a wide range of details, including a realistic budget, travel and accommodation reservations, insurance, what to take, where to go, and how to get there. For occasional and first-time travellers, this can seem overwhelming; it is common to hear novice travellers say “if only I had known….” upon their return.
When friends ask for advice on these topics, my first question is what type of journey is it? Once you have determined the duration of the trip and who is going, then the answers start to fall into place. For example, short duration trips should involve less distance (and less time zones), and journeys with more than two people travelling together should include more unplanned time.
The most helpful focus for travel planning is to keep the purpose of the trip in mind at all times. If the main reason for the trip is to explore new destinations, then advance research will help decide between the A list of ‘must see’ places, and the B list of ‘other possibilities if time permits’. Another way to discover new places, with the least amount of concern (or preparation), would be a package tour that includes local tour guides. Whereas if the main goal is to unwind and relax, then the choice of destination and style of accommodation should reflect that (for instance, cruise ships and holiday resorts specialise in this market).
Usually there are several expectations attached to a big trip; travel companions should discuss these at the planning stage. This conversation may reveal distinct differences between your A and B lists, which could suggest the need to do some things separately (one might see an art gallery or museum while the other goes shopping). Another key topic for travel partners to negotiate is how much to pre-arrange versus unplanned leisure time.
Planning the itinerary is best done with the aid of a calendar and a map. First decide how much time you wish to spend in each place, and then create a sequence for the destinations. Sometimes this is guided by specific dates and locations (such as attending a business conference or visiting family/friends for a special occasion), and other times the mode of transportation may determine the order in which places are visited (direct non-stop flights are preferable to multiple stops, or long journeys by train or bus may require an extra recovery day before continuing).
As a guiding principle when deciding how much to fit into a journey, it is better to include plenty of unstructured leisure time between commitments. Often the most memorable travel experiences occur spontaneously, and sometimes these chance discoveries are only possible when time permits you to ‘follow your nose’ rather than stick to a detailed plan. Furthermore, if and when things don’t go to plan (delays are a common theme, as is poor weather and other unexpected events), having chunks of spare time can reduce the impact on the rest of the itinerary.
Possibly the most important advice is almost a cliché: take more money than you think you’ll need, and less luggage. If an intended overseas journey is seen as ‘once in a lifetime’, it makes sense to budget accordingly and leave space in your bags for souvenirs and mementos. In other words, it is preferable to be pleasantly surprised by spending less than you expected, rather than stressing about money while you are away. Finally, very few travellers complain about wishing that they brought more things with them!
If booking your own flights and accommodation online seems all too difficult, following the above advice before consulting a travel agent will get the planning process well under way and bring you closer to take-off.