I’m a planner. So there’s this process I tend to go through before and after tickets are purchased.
Pre-trip: Frenetic scouring of guidebooks, researching places to stay, reviews, attractions (and, for me, usually dive conditions and best dive sites). According to one survey, the best time to purchase plane tickets is 47 days before you leave (this is down from last year, which was 54 days!). I check US and foreign immigration websites to see whether or not I need a visa. A lot of countries now have Visa-on-Arrival or online visas available, which is huge, since it’s stressful to put your passport in the mail, fingers crossed that it comes back intact, avec visa, in time for departure (note: also check your passport’s expiration date, as many countries require at least 6 months left on your passport for entry).
There’s a slight lull right after the tickets are purchased… the initial accommodations are booked and the countdown begins. I try to book at least the first few nights’ hotel in advance so I know where I’m landing, and where I can get a shower and (my bearings) when I get there!
Then there’s the compulsive checking of news and weather. I’ve had Thai, Indian, Burmese and European news sites on my Twitter feed for years – keeps me up to date on what’s going on (politically, environmentally and socially) in the area(s) and gives me a head’s up on what to expect when I get to my destination (extreme heat/cold, coup attempts, special events: all right there on my Twitter feed!).
And then there’s the packing… About 3-4 weeks before the trip I make a preliminary list of things I always forget (sunglasses, adapters, chargers, reading glasses, etc.)…can’t say enough about having the right equipment! Most things you can get wherever you’re going, but some random things I always try to bring with (in no particular order):
Assuming you’ve already gotten the vacation time-off approved and you’re ready to go, here’s a rough timeline:
2-4 months in advance: Research destinations, weather, visa requirements, check your passport expiration date (renew if necessary!), start watching flights, subscribe to news feeds, start getting excited about travelling somewhere new (or again)!
6-7 weeks in advance: Book flights, research hotels, book accommodations and special activities if you think they will sell out quickly.
4-6 weeks in advance: Look for sales on things you might need (travel luggage? off-season clothing? gadgets?).
3-4 weeks in advance: Start your packing list. Begin a “to-pack” pile (include things you know you’ll need but might forget). Confirm plans for dog-sitting, begin to solicit rides to/from the airport (the promise of exotic gifts works really well as payment). Visit the travel clinic or your doc if you need any immunizations/medications. Figure out what kind of plug/adapter(s) you might need.
2 weeks in advance: Start packing in earnest. This gives you an opportunity to pull out your off-season clothes, do laundry, figure out what you need, what fits, what doesn’t, and do some quickie trips to the dreaded mall if necessary. Check with your cell carrier on overseas rates/plans; set it up in advance so you’re not frantic at the last minute.
1 week in advance: Finalise dog-sitter and airport drop-off (esp. if you’re travelling at a wonky time of day). Finish packing and weigh your luggage (many airlines require your bag to be lighter than 50lbs/23kg…check with your airline, esp. if you’re going to be on a smaller connecting flight). Buy travel snacks (suggestions: nuts/dried fruit/trail mix, energy bars, turkey jerkey and other things that are easy to carry, high in protein and won’t melt!) Ginger chews may be my favorite travel snack of all time, as they are tasty but also doubly-good for the tummy.
Travel week: try not to brag to your immediate universe that you are going somewhere really cool. Get to a good stopping point with work (you don’t want to be thinking about that where you’re going!), remind your emergency contact person of your trip details, finish packing (removing at least one thing per day; re-weigh luggage), confirm flights/check-in online, and relax… anything that can go wrong [might], so go with the flow and things will work out!
And some general things I’ve learnt along the way:
- Pack less than you think: re-wearing stuff isn’t nearly as taboo as you’d expect (nobody cares and if necessary, you can always do laundry there; underwear washed in the sink dries remarkably fast except in the rainforest)
- Wear (vs. pack) your heaviest shoes
- Read up on customs and laws before travelling (some tips here)
- Bring +/-$200 emergency cash; stash it somewhere and don’t touch it unless necessary
- Take photos of important documents (credit cards, passport, dive certification cards, etc.) and download copies of your flight itineraries – store on your phone just in case you don’t have WiFi when you need it
Your friends and family may think you’re a little obsessive about the planning, but they’ll secretly envy your packing cubes, and will certainly turn to you when they need a travel snack or band-aid.