So, you’re ready to strap on that overstuffed backpack and take a trip overseas. Maybe you’ll make it a euro-trip, hopping Eurail trains and sipping café au lait in Parisian cafes one day, then downing giant mugs of bohemian lager in Munich the next day. Or maybe you’ll head to South East Asia and sample strange south east Asian fruits like the Durian and the Mangosteen, stop off at hole-in-the-wall noodle houses and explore the tropical jungles and sunny beaches. No matter where you end up, any backpacking trip abroad requires more than a little planning. But where should you start?
I’ve planned and completed more than a few trips abroad myself, but I still screw something up every time. The best advice I can give you is to be flexible. Something will go wrong, there will be some places you just can’t make it to, and you’ll almost always spend more money than expected.
Here are a couple of tips to help get you started!
- Get Equipped for Your Trip!
If this is your first trip, you’re going to need to do some shopping. You’ll probably want a reusable water bottle (Nalgene), a small lock for hostel lockers, a utility knife, some cheap-o sandals for gross hostel bathroom floors (who knows what really happens in those showers, but I’ve seen drains clogged with hair and some unmentionable sludge…gross), versatile clothing, comfortable shoes, and a most importantly, a backpack to hold it all in. do your research and you’ll be sure to get some good deals on all the travel gear you’ll need. But don’t stress too much! If you realize you forgot something, you’ll be able to buy it along the way.
- Get a good deal on airfare!
If you’re planning a backpacking trip abroad, or any trip for that matter, you’ll probably want to buy your airline tickets early. There are loads of online discount ticket retailers to go through, so you’ve got a lot of options. Be sure to do your research and make use of any discounts you might be eligible for. Are you a student? Get student discount fares from websites like www.StudentUniverse.com or www.STA.com. Even if you’re not a student but are under 26 years old, a lot of the student discount fares still apply to you.
Be sure to check all the regular websites like Orbitz.com and Hotwire.com, which often have good deals available, especially when booking in advance. This will give you a good benchmark to work with whe trying to find the best deal for your airline tickets. A couple of other sweet websites to check out are www.farecompare.com and www.farecast.com.
You can sometimes get better deals by going directly to the airline’s websites, so don’t forget to do your research. Don’t be lazy about it, kiddos! This is the digital age, the age of Google – an hour or two of online window shopping is worth weeks of research in yesteryear’s web-less world.
- Get your tickets now!
For real. Right now. Stop reading this and go book something! Not only will you get a better deal by booking in advance, but you’ll set a date for your departure. It’s easy to push your trip back because of finances, cold feet, relationships, or a million other reasons. I can’t tell you how many times I didn’t end up taking a trip because I never set anything in stone. If you really want to travel, then you should buy your ticket now. Everything else will work itself out.
- Make a budget and plan your finances!
Okay, this should probably be higher up on the list. Probably step one, but I didn’t want to scare you off by talking about numbers and savings plans. Really it’s common sense, but figuring out your budget is a major part of planning your trip. You’ll want to know how long you plan to stay, then multiply that number by how much food, shelter booze (don’t forget to budget for beer, cigarettes, and whatever other illicit substances you might like to enjoy on the road!) and transportation will cost wherever you will be traveling.
If you don’t have all the money right now, don’t worry! Figure out how long it will take you to save that much money, then buy your plane ticket, giving you enough time to refill the coffers.
- Build a travel blog for your trip abroad!
Sure, the Euro Trip might be a little stale and the euro trip blog may seem a bit hackneyed, but who cares! This is YOUR trip and you’re going to love it! You’ll feel like you’re the first American (or whatever) to ever travel through Europe (or wherever) and you might as well blog about it for your friends and family back home – they’ll appreciate the stories and you’ll have a record of your travels to drool over later on down the road when nostalgia hits after a couple too many glasses of Chianti.
There are loads of free online blogging tools, and many of them are geared towards travelers with cool mapping features and location tags. Check out www.travelpod.com and www.matadortravel.com. I’d recommend going with a regular blog instead of a travel-specific blog because you’ll hopefully want to continue blogging when you get home and are no longer traveling. www.blogger.com is probably your best bet. (check out my travel blog at www.KingAmongRunaways.com!)
- Learn about your planned destinations!
The more you know about the places you’re going, the more you’ll enjoy them once you’re there. Read about the histories and cultures of the places you plan on traveling to, and read fictional books that are based in foreign locales. Di Vinci Code tours are easy to find if you’re a Dan Brown fan, but there are stacks of other great travel literature that should get you salivating about distant destinations. You can also watch movies about travel and movies based overseas. Headed to Turkey? Watch the 1978 classic Midnight Express and you’ll know why I ditched my hash in Greece!
There is obviously a lot that goes in to planning a backpacking trip abroad, or any trip overseas. You’ll want to really learn as much as you can about your destinations, by reading travel books and watching travel movies. You’ll want to get a good deal on your airfare and buy your tickets early. Don’t forget to plan your budget and blog blog blog – There’s nothing like a good travel blog!