“You can’t get a suit of armour and a rubber chicken just like that. You have to plan ahead.”
– Michael Palin
I started thinking about planning my trip six months ago. It started off with a desire to travel the world for a year and visit as many places as I could possibly stuff into one RTW package.
I have always wanted to go to New Zealand and it has been high up on the List of Places I Want to See Most in the World – I can thank Peter Jackson for that – and I was worried that I wouldn’t get to experience it fully in only a month. It’s a pretty small place and I could easily visit the tourist traps in four to six weeks, but the whole point of travelling – surely – is to go away and experience living somewhere new, and what better way to immerse yourself in another culture than with a Working Holiday Visa (WHV)?
So my plans have changed and, as silly as it sounds for a 29 year old woman, I am really proud that I’ve made this decision without completely freaking out and losing the plot. I have mentioned this before, I am such a terrible planner because I hate decision making.
OK, so I am not going to lie, there were a few minor freak outs, but I seem to have evolved from my usual coping mechanisms (do something else, put it off, worry about it some other time) and actually focused on the task at hand. Mostly.
So what have I been up to?
- Booking Visas – I mean, everyone knows that these are super important. No visa, no entry. My advice for booking visas are as follows:
- Don’t leave it until the last minute – most visa services are speedy and, if you’re not expecting problems, there’s no harm in booking as close to the date as you want. But if you know you’re definitely going somewhere, then what’s the point in leaving it until the week before you go? Allow time for problems.
- Look at Visa options – UK peeps are allowed to visit a number of countries as part of the visa waiver programme. Each country differs on how much time you can spend there and most of them usually require some sort of admin (e.g. ESTA in the USA) But is it the right option for you? Remember you can’t work using a tourist visa and, if you’re on a budget like me, you might want to supplement your travel expenses with a few weeks working here and there, or you might find somewhere you’d love to spend a bit more time and it’s an excellent way of funding this.
- Flights first? Personally I would book my visa first but again it’s all down to preference. It’s a myth that you have to book flights first – most places simply ask that you have enough for a return ticket and a brief estimate of your departure dates. If it’s a holiday with cheap flights, I’m less inclined to worry about it, but if all your savings have gone to pay for flights, I’d be a bit more cautious.
- Researching flights – As mentioned above, I am going to wait until I receive my visa before booking as the flights I’ve been quoted are pretty pricy. I am undecided about my full itinerary and how much I want to pay so it’s been a bit confusing. Here’s what I’ve found:
- Get someone to explain RTW flights and how they work. I read about them in a travel guide and got confused. I read about them on a blog and felt a little better. So I called STA with my questions. They explained. Simple.
- Multi stop tickets might be your best bet – there are some great tickets on offer out there. Check them all out. STA have some great routes ranging from 2 or 3 stops to mammoth multiple stop journeys! You will have to book your stops in before but these are changeable
- RTW might not be the best option for you – it sounds amazing but it might not be right for you. It may work out more expensive/restrictive. Do your research. If you’re wanting to spend time “living” in a country – why restrict yourself? While you cant buy a single ticket to most places anymore, you can buy a return and alter the date for a fee (if the air fare has increased, this may also alter the fee so be careful and make sure you check with the airline before booking).
- Budget flights also exist in other countries, not just the UK – Remember with a working visa you can leave the country and return as many times as you want (although this time will still count as part of your 12 months even if you’re not in the country) In the UK we have budget airlines and sales on flights, same goes for everywhere else.
- Don’t dismiss your local boutique travel agents. Ring and compare prices with the smaller agencies. You might be pleasantly surprised.
- Don’t Panic. I had a small panic that I’d left things until the last minute. I still have almost three months left to book my flights!
- Planning my itinerary – I went travelling around Europe a few years ago with my friend. We meticulously planned one week (accommodation, timeframe etc.). The other we left to chance. By the time we’d reached the second day of the second week we’d discovered three things: 1) you cannot pitch a tent in a sandpit 2) there are no petrol stations in The Hague 3) Never “go off itins.”
Now I’m not saying an itinerary is the be all and end all. I don’t want to fastidiously plan every single stop because a) where’s the fun in that? and b) I lack the ability to anyway. But it’s best to be a bit prepared:
- Have a rough idea of how long you will be staying in each country/place
- Have a rough idea of how you will get around and the price you’d expect to pay for transport
- Plan the first couple of weeks – You don’t have to stick to it but it will give you security.
- Book some accommodation – unless you want to sleep at the airport or pay a fortune for a hotel room. Hostels get booked up in advance – maybe just book the first few nights which is my plan!
- Stay open to suggestions – remember its supposed to be fun! Will I regret not popping over to Fiji and Samoa for a few extra hundred quid? Yes! When will I ever get to fly to the South Pacific for that price again? After all, it’s the trip of a lifetime for most of us.
If you, like me, are a reluctant organiser, here are a few helpful resources:
- STA Travel – although they are big fans of the cross-sell, I have found them to be helpful and friendly when enquiring about flights etc.
- Independent travel agents – it is worth comparing quotes from larger companies with the small, boutique shops because sometimes they can work out a lot cheaper. You also don’t feel packaged into a certain trip or route
- Travel blogs
- Travelettes – I use the group forum on Facebook to ask questions about countries, flights etc. Its aimed at women travellers and its wonderful. The website is great for tips on things such as packing and solo travel.
- Lonely Planet – most people I know differ in opinion when it comes to travel guides. My preference is for LP. I’m also a big fan of their website, in particular their Thorn Tree forum where you can seek advice from other travellers.
I’m a novice travel planner and the above is only the stuff I have come across as I’ve stumbled through planning my trip. Do you have any brilliant travel trips you want to recommend? Are you a reluctant and panicky planner like me? Or do you prefer to go with the flow? Most importantly, have you ever been to Fiji?