Planning the big trip: The practical bits

So once you’re decided on a destination, budget, goal etc, your savings account is getting slowly fatter, so now you need to think about the practicalities of it all.

 Your job

If you have a full time job you will either need to:

  1. Request a career break or sabbatical
  2. Quit

It’s really as straightforward as that. Luckily for me, I was a part time sales assistant working overtime (technically) and so by leaving I wasn’t letting them down. I had formed a great relationship with my employers so I have the opportunity to return when I get back the UK next year.

This is one of the advantages of travelling while you’re in your 20s and, unfortunately, where my expertise on organising falls short. I am less well versed in the practicalities of travel for someone with small responsibilities but people with families, mortgages and careers have, let’s face it, a harder time. Wanderlust has a great article on career breaks though which addresses some of those issues. I hate to admit I don’t know something but, put simply, I don’t plan on settling down for quite a while yet.

For those of you in a similar position to me, don’t be afraid to tell your employers your plans. My lovely managers told me to go and experience everything and if I wanted to work for them again I just needed to make arrangements when I got back. Super understanding and, by being honest, I could talk to them about the future.

In this climate, thinking about starting a career can be scary. It’s hard to get a job, let alone one you want to pursue, but it’s much easier to do it now than in 10 years.

Your visa

Applying for visas isn’t half as annoying as you’d imagine. The process can be a little fiddly and can take a while but these days most things are done online and are pretty smooth. They can take a while depending on the type you apply for so check visa processing times before you book flights. You’ll be heartbroken if you arrive in New Zealand only to find you can’t actually get into the country.

If you have a British passport, things are generally pretty cushty. We have schemes in place with a variety of countries like America’s J1 visa for au pairs or the EU countries where we don’t need a special visa at all (double check this though, they are allowed to change without notice). Some countries, such as Hong Kong, only need a visa if you’re there over a certain amount of time and others, like Oz (I really did my research before I organised this trip, can you tell?) have dozens of visa type. There are the business visas, visitor visas and for people between 18 and 30, the working holiday visa. This is great for the thrifty among you ask it allows you to work (within limits) in Australia while you travel. Brilliant! If you’re there for less than three months, you need to fill in a short application online which essentially just tells them you’re intentions to travel to the country. Anything longer needs another type like mine, which is a 6 month visitor visa. These generally start when you enter the country so it really is a case of earlier the better, do check though.
(NOTE: The classification of my visa changed about a week or so after I applied so, like I said, do thorough research and plan accordingly, getting your application in ASAP)

Visas are the most adminy job of all but they make everything less stressful. I’ve heard of people heading to Europe where they could stay for three months visa free, heading to the immigration office and being told there is a two month waiting list for a visa application interview. Bye bye Europe, hello early return home. It’s not what you want. Get it done and then even if things go tits up, at least you’ve got that basic legal requirement sorted.

Insurance

Another thing people hate to think about. I cannot stress how important it is. Read my article from Wanderlust for examples of how truly shitty things can be without it.

The good news is, there’s a million comparison sights these days. All you have to do is pop your travel details into one of them and you get a gazillion prices on one page. You barely have to do any work! So there’s no excuse.

Sometimes you get travel insurance with your bank or house insurance but check what it actually covers. If you fancy bungee jumping and the like you’ll usually need extra cover.

Pre-booking

Confession time. I don’t book anything. I generally just turn up and see what happens. Partially because things almost always work out if you’ve got the basics covered (aren’t you glad you sorted out your visa and insurance already?!) but mostly because the excitement starts as soon as you land. Point in case, we arrived in Bangkok from Hong Kong with no forwarding travel arrangements to Koh Samui. It was about 4am. We met a lovely lady and got a teeny tiny aeroplane to a teeny tiny airport for less than £100. It would have cost us a bomb load more if we’d pre-booked and we’d have been limited in our choices because we would have had places to be a certain times blahblah.

This isn’t for everyone. And I’m still surprised it’s even for me (if you haven’t realised yet, I’m super organised…) but it’s so much fun. The good news is there’s usually travellers wandering around and you can hitch yourself to them if you’re completely lost. Let’s face it, fellow travellers are usually nice, have probably been in a similar position and it opens up a whole realm of possibility. You could make life long friends with that person or they could just be another face on your journey. You don’t know until you say hello.

My only tip with pre-booking, if you prefer that, if to have an idea of schedule. If you’ve got a week in a city have a list of must-dos so that you get things ticked off. Again, I prefer not to do this because exploring is more fun if you’re a bit lost. Jumping in a tuk tuk and wandering round temples with little to no other tourists at peak season in Bangkok is one of my favourite memories of all time. I couldn’t tell you what I saw, I couldn’t tell you where I was, but I can tell you I felt incredible. The meditative calmness of one temple in particular springs to mind. Outside it was 42 degrees, in that temple, despite lack of even a fan, it was still and cool. I could have stayed there for hours. Maybe I did. I sat and closed my eyes in front of a beautiful golden Buddha and revelled in the calm.

There is an exception to my rule, however. If you think you will only ever go to your destination once in your life, there are sometimes you should try and experience. I was lucky, and didn’t plan for the following examples, but in retrospect I would have been heartbroken to miss them.

Song Kran in Bangkok started the day after we’d gotten back from Koh Samui. It was 40+ degrees. It was the most fun I’ve ever had. We got hammered by 2pm, philosophised about the world and Yumaashis pissed himself. Memories. In Hong Kong I just so managed to arrive the week of Chinese New Year. The city was more beautiful than it was second time round a few months later. The evening itself was so much fun. Another brilliant set of memories and photographs. And on arrival in Brussels, on a train to Ghent, two hungover bearded boys across from us told us they were on their way to Ghentse Feesten. It’s a ten-day-long FREE musical festival in Ghent city. Again, a complete accident, but the trip wouldn’t have been the same without it. Dancing, live music, making friends with Rastafarians and enjoying the buzzing feeling of a city on fire with joy. Bliss.

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