You’ve booked your flights… now what!? There are a million things that you could plan, organize, book or buy, but don’t worry about it. Follow these essential tips and let the rest work itself out!
You don’t need to book everything before you leave.
Plans change, mistakes happen, you meet people who are doing something different and you want to tag along. If you book everything from hotels to tours you are really limiting yourself to that very specific itinerary, meaning you can’t deviate without losing money on deposits.
Try booking your first three nights before you arrive in a new city or country, and go from there! It sounds scary, and it can be, but trust yourself. You will meet people who can become your best friends after one night and now you can travel with them for a while! You might hear of something you just have to see and it’s in a different direction, go see it! Let nothing hold you back.
Research and plan.
Now I know I said don’t book everything… and you certainly don’t need to plan every aspect of your trip, but how would you feel if you got home and realised there was a beautiful waterfall or a festival in the next city over that you missed because you didn’t check it out before you left?
National Geographic Traveller is a great magazine you can subscribe to cheaply. There are a million blogs and websites with people dying to tell you all about their trips, like me, for free. Any of the guidebooks are a good addition to your backpack, some people hate them, some people won’t leave home without them. They have good information on accommodation, transport, food, sights, and activities. Use Pinterest, Tumblr, WordPress, StumbleUpon or Instagram for inspiration. Check out the travel section at the bookstore, countless books with lists of things to see before you die. I love lists. Make your own list! Don’t hold back, nothing is too crazy or too boring. Do it all!
Trust me, and every other backpacker, on this one. Whatever you think you need, halve it. Re-pack, and halve it again. There is nothing worse than having a bag you can barely lift, with no room to buy anything new. This is so important, I made the mistake of trying to pack 9 months of things for my first 9-month trip and had a nervous breakdown before I left because I couldn’t even lift my backpack. Pack light!
You can buy everything while you’re away. New clothes, shoes, toiletries and anything else you think you can’t leave without. Buy travel-sized shampoo and shower gel, toothpaste, and sunscreen. Pharmacies around the world will have anything you need, and probably for cheaper than you can buy at home. Take minimal clothing, you can do laundry easily wherever you are whether the hostel has a washing machine or you pay someone to do it for you. If you read a lot, buy a Kindle or take one book, most places have a book swap. Makeup? You don’t need it. That teddy bear you’ve had since you were a child? Valuable jewelry? Leave it all safely at home.
Not quite. Don’t forget the really important things. Do not leave home without travel insurance. It will cost a fortune and always seems like a waste of money when you make it home without a claim, but in an emergency, it can be a lifesaver. Dental or hospital bills can be expensive and take a chunk out of your savings. If you’ve missed your flight or it’s been canceled for whatever unforeseen reason, your travel insurance can help you out. Get it before you leave, no excuses.
Visas… A lot of countries require a tourist visa upon entry. It’s very easy to find out if you need one and how you get them, you might be issued one automatically at the airport or you might need to pay online in advance like the ESTA for America. It’s a good idea to research this, I flew into Indonesia without one and spent an hour being questioned by airport security in broken English before they decided I wasn’t a drug dealer, just a dumb tourist.
Lastly, keep documentation of your flights, insurance and a copy of your passport, just in case. Keep an extra copy on your phone or in your email account. Sometimes you need to prove you are who you are, or that you have a flight out of the country you’ve just arrived in.