How I plan a trip to a place I know nothing about
“It feels good to be lost in the right direction”
I’ve recently returned from a short trip to Guatemala where we spent a few weeks exploring ancient mayan ruins, hiking up volcanoes and soaking up the local culture.
It occurred to me whilst doing some basic pre-planning prior to visiting the country that I knew very little about Guatemala. I had heard from other travellers it was one of their favourite countries in Central America, so naturally I couldn’t wait to get there.
What did I need to learn? I appreciated that the country had incredible sights with volcanoes, jungles, natural limestone pools and the country was also originally a Mayan civilisation. But, other than that, I didn’t know much else such as what currency they use, which volcano to climb, any potential safety issues, what is the best way to get around and what the food is like there. There were plenty of question marks…
But thankfully, traveling is now so convenient. Online guide books, instant messenger, video chat, various social media platforms, digital maps and countless other travel Apps – it’s now easier to travel the world than ever before. The most travel-savvy people I’ve met are the ones that take advantage of these tools and are well prepared. Like Benjamin Franklin once said, “by failing to plan, you are planning to fail”.
However, you may have noticed from reading my previous blog posts, that I don’t generally like to plan too much in advance. “No plan is the best plan” has been my mantra since I have begun my travels. Though, I do advise it’s always better to have a bit of an idea, especially if it’s to an unfamiliar destination. This reduces my chances of getting lost, getting ripped off and basically avoiding situations that might be uncomfortable to most.
Now each time before I go anywhere new and sometimes old, I have a few boxes that I make sure are checked off before I travel:
⁃visas; I research online at official local government websites only. Beware of visitor information websites that are not official government sites as they may display inaccurate or out dated data,
⁃immunisations; again official local government sites will display the information you need. I only get the mandatory and strongly recommended immunisations. I do some research prior to booking to get immunised. Many doctors will advise you to get unnecessary needles all of which can add up costing big bucks,
⁃guide books; I purchase and read digital copies of guidebooks, I use Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. These books create the foundations for my planning and give me a good overall idea of what area is best to start my trip,
⁃travel blogs; I often come across good tips that might not be mentioned in a guidebook. Blogs offer personal experiences of other travellers to assist in planning for a trip, so, by reading this, you’re already on the right path ;)
⁃word of mouth; I ask friends who have already been – what do they recommend?
⁃books; not guide books, but books, novels based on events or stories from that country. These portray a different insight to the history, past and current events and the people,
⁃currency; I never exchange all my money in the airport. The rate is usually not fair. I try to have only a small amount of local currency needed for some local transport to the nearest bank once I arrive in a new country,
⁃Instagram; a recent tip I learnt, actually from traveling with Linda, is searching a location on Instagram to find out what others are posting. We’ve often found amazing restaurants, incredible sights, national parks and so much more that you might not find in guides and travel blogs.
But, my overall number one best tip is to just wing-it. I love trying to figure things out on my own. This can only be done once I’ve arrived in a new place. Whether I’m entering by plane, car, bus or boat, my routine is always fairly similar. Firstly, I test out the local transport – combi-vans, chicken buses, trains… – it doesn’t matter. There is no surer way of seeing a new place than by riding shoulder to shoulder with the locals. They might even give you some hot tips on where to stay and eat while you’re there and anything else to check out. Again, something you won’t find in the guide book.
Another reason I never like to plan too much before leaving for a trip is I know my route is sure to change once I get started. But, I at least have to be aware of the basics I’ve outlined already. These are the only comforts I need to be able to travel to somewhere new, anything else is a blur until I arrive and begin exploring myself. My travel plans are always changing. Even a quick 2 minute conversation with someone in the hallway of a hostel has inspired me to change my plans that day. One day I would wake up planning to catch a bus to one city, then later that day I might have changed my mind and be somewhere completely different.
Visiting a place I know little about is a daunting yet exciting and sometimes challenging experience. It pushes me to get out of my comfort zone and really appreciate the adventure and the different people I meet along the way. Sometimes I get that voice in my head saying “mate, are you really sure this is a good idea” but, in the end and once I conquer that fear I laugh and often wonder what the hell I was worried about in the first place. It’s incredible just what we as travellers and a little bit of confidence, can set out to achieve.
Now I am more aware that things out of my control can happen and go wrong when traveling. Experience has taught me to Google search news for events that I might need to make myself familiar with. Even though I know the media overplay many topics, I wouldn’t ever cancel a trip but I’d be more aware to travel smarter and make good decisions. This might include anything from riots and protests to virus outbreaks to natural disasters. There is nothing worse than finding out of something catastrophic when I arrive in a new place and not being prepared for what is happening.
So with a little pre-planning for my trip to Guatemala, I was now more prepared, confident and excited for the new challenge ahead. Super stoked: my next adventure was waiting and something new was going to satisfy my hunger. Do you want to follow my journey on Instagram?
Photo by LovaLinda