How to plan a trip to a place you know nothing about
“It feels good to be lost in the right direction”
We 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 us whilst doing some basic pre-planning prior to visiting the country that we knew very little about Guatemala. We had heard from other travellers it was one of their favourite countries in Central America, so naturally we couldn’t wait to get there.
What did we need to learn? We 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, we 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 you will meet 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 our previous stories, that we don’t generally like to plan too much in advance. “No plan is the best plan” has been our mantra since we have begun our travels. Though, we do advise it’s always better to have a bit of an idea, especially if it’s to an unfamiliar destination. This reduces the chances of getting lost, getting ripped off and basically avoiding situations that might be uncomfortable to most.
Now each time before you go anywhere new and sometimes old, there is a few boxes that you should make sure are checked off before you travel:
⁃visas; 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. Only get the mandatory and strongly recommended immunisations. 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; purchase and read digital copies of guidebooks, we use Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. These books create the foundations for planning and give a good overall idea of what area is best to start the trip,
⁃travel blogs; often have 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; 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; never exchange all your money in the airport. The rate is usually not fair. Try to have only a small amount of local currency needed for some local transport to the nearest bank once you arrive in a new country,
⁃Instagram; search 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, our overall number one best tip is to just wing-it. Try to figure things out on your own. This can only be done once you’ve arrived in a new place. Whether you are entering by plane, car, bus or boat, your routine should always fairly similar. Firstly, you 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 we never like to plan too much before leaving for a trip is your route is sure to change once you get started. But, you at least have to be aware of the basics we’ve outlined already. These are the only comforts you need to be able to travel to somewhere new, anything else is a blur until you arrive and begin exploring yourself. Your travel plans are always changing. Even a quick 2 minute conversation with someone in the hallway of a hostel can inspire you to change your plans that day. One day you would wake up planning to catch a bus to one city, then later that day you might have changed your mind and be somewhere completely different.
Visiting a place you know little about is a daunting yet exciting and sometimes challenging experience. It pushes you to get out of your comfort zone and really appreciate the adventure and the different people you meet along the way. Sometimes you can get that voice in your head saying “mate, are you really sure this is a good idea” but, in the end and once you conquer that fear you laugh and often wonder what the hell you were 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 you are more aware that things out of your control can happen and go wrong when traveling. Experience will teach you to Google search news for events that you might need to make yourself familiar with. Even though you know the media overplay many topics, you wouldn’t ever cancel a trip but you’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 you arrive in a new place and not being prepared for what is happening.
So with a little pre-planning for our trip to Guatemala, we were now more prepared, confident and excited for the new challenge ahead. Super stoked: our next adventure was waiting and something new was going to satisfy our hunger. Do you want to follow our journey on Instagram?
iPhone Photo by LovaLinda