The 5 tips you need to plan for that trip of a lifetime
A seasoned traveller on what to book and what not to, how to choose your route and yes, how to save.
This article was originally published November 16, 2017
As a seasoned traveller who has crisscrossed the continent for love and travelled across the globe for the thrill (both solo and with friends), I've done my fair share of planning for trips. If I've learned anything as I get ready to embark on my first multi-month trip, it's that planning for a long-term adventure is very different from a typical vacation — and it can be overwhelming if you don't know where to start.
It's best to tackle your to-do list one step at a time, and don't expect everything to be perfect. Try not to forget that you're prepping for an adventure of a lifetime and enjoy it the process!
Below are my top tips for what to consider when preparing for a major trip.
Start planning… to save
You'll need a fair amount of money to be able to travel for months on end, so having a financial plan is very important. It's good to start by setting a trip budget and make it higher than you think you'll need so you have a built-in safety net (pesky unexpected costs can add up). Once you have your budget goal, find creative ways to save. Opening a dedicated travel savings account to keep track of your trip savings and to monitor your goal is helpful since it separates your trip savings from your everyday money, making it less tempting to spend. Signing up for a credit card with travel perks is also a good idea as it can help you collect points towards travel or save on travel-related purchases, depending on the card.
It's also important to be smart about how you spend your money on trip-related expenses. Treat your travel expenses the same way you would with other expenses in your life. Compare prices, shop around for the best deals, and only buy what you need. For flights, monitor prices on travel apps and use currency rates to your advantage by booking on websites that will give you the best price once converted to your currency; example: book on the Australian version of an airline's website instead of the Canadian version, if the Australian dollar will give you better value once converted. Research is your best friend when it comes to saving money.
Choose your route wisely
After doing some research, make a wish list of countries you want to see. Narrow that list down based on how long (approximately) you would like to spend in each place based on the total time you have available for travel. Once you have your short list, look at the climate in each area during the time of year you'll be visiting, and map out your general route based on the best time to visit each location. Keep in mind that it's most economical to travel forward without looping back.
In my opinion, it's best to have a general route, but not a full itinerary. This will give you the flexibility to choose which cities you visit and what activities you do as you go, based on advice from fellow travellers, locals, and your own experiences. Just pick a starting point and an ending point in each country on your list, then decide the rest as you make your way.
Book in advance, but not everything
There are some things you can book in advance to give you peace of mind, but there is also a benefit to booking other parts of your journey once you arrive. Before you leave, I suggest booking: your main flights along your route (approximately three months in advance); the first night or two of accommodations in each new country so you don't have to worry about finding a place to sleep after a long day of travel; and long-term car or campervan rentals, since they often get rented out quickly. If you know you'll be in the area and there's a popular restaurant you're dying to try or something that requires advance registration to guarantee your spot, then book it, but try to stick to only one or two must-do activities.
What should you save until you arrive? Your remaining accommodations, since you shouldn't book something long-term before you get a lay of the land and have an idea of the part of the city you want to call home during your stay. You may also decide that you want to move on to another city earlier than expected, so not having full accommodations booked will allow you to do this freely. I would also hold off on booking excursions until you've arrived. They are usually cheaper this way, you can plan your time more efficiently, and you may hear of better, lesser-known excursions once you're on the ground.
In all the excitement leading up to your big adventure, don't forget about your health. Make sure to book appointments with your dentist, doctor, and any additional health professionals you see regularly. Ask your doctor about immunizations you may need based on where you're travelling, and fill all your prescriptions, remembering to bring enough to last you for the duration of your trip.
Other things I would consider are purchasing life insurance and getting your will in order. End-of-life planning tends to be something that we procrastinate on or don't want to talk about, but it never hurts to take precautions - no matter what your age.
I would also suggest taking a first aid course and packing a first aid kit. Although you hopefully won't have to use your newfound skills, it's always good to know how to deal with a sprained ankle, heatstroke, or any other emergency that could come up on your travels. Additionally, be sure to get comprehensive travel insurance so you can avoid high medical bills if you get hurt or sick while abroad.
Document it all
Organizing your important documents and banking information before a long trip is paramount. If you're properly prepared, you will make your life so much easier if you lose your passport, have your wallet stolen, need to pay a bill back home, or are entering a country that requires a visa.
The first thing you can do is sign up for online banking (if you haven't already) and set up automatic bill payments. Also, arrange to have all bills and statements delivered electronically to ensure that you'll see them and to eliminate mail. Make sure you're signed up for travel-friendly bank accounts and credit cards that offer travel rewards or do not charge international fees.
Scan your passport, driver's license, health card, birth certificate, insurance policy, marriage license, and any other important documents you may have, and keep them in the cloud so you can access them if needed. It may also be helpful to give someone you trust access to these scanned documents. Leave any important documents that you won't be taking with you (like birth certificates and wills) in a safe spot - either in a safety deposit box, a fireproof safe or with someone you trust.
Finally, research visas for each of the countries you're visiting before leaving home. Some visas will have to be secured before leaving, and others can be purchased on the road.
In the end, the most important thing you can do when planning a long-term trip is to be flexible, since that is the very nature of travel. Things won't always go as planned, so be willing to accept it and go with the flow. As important as it is to be prepared, it may be even more important to make sure you don't over-plan. Take it from a traveller, it's the things you don't plan for or expect that turn out to be your favourite memories from the road.