Dear Sarah Von,
I know I’m blowing your mind here, right? Wow, saving money for a big trip? Sarah Von, you financial wizard, you!There’s no hard and fast formula that will help you calculate how much money you need to save for a big trip. Obviously, your spending habits, the countries you’re traveling through, where you’re staying and how long you’re staying there all effect the bottom line, right? I traveled for five months in 2007 and it cost me around $7,000 – flights included. However! I traveled through really cheap countries (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia) volunteered in exchange for lodging (Greece) worked (Italy) and stayed with friends (Germany, Scotland, Wales, NYC).
However much money you think you’ll need? It’s probably a good idea to save at least 20% more than that. One of the cardinal rules of travel is that everything takes longer and costs more than you planned. Best to be prepared, eh? Here’s a post I wrote about saving up for big ticket items.
Though I don’t do this, I know many travelers establish a daily budget and don’t stray from it. I traveled with a couple in Bolivia who did this and got by on $30 US a day between the two of them. They survived mostly on hostel dorm rooms and street vendor food, but it worked for them!
Figure Out Where You Want To Go
This sounds rather elementary, no? But there are different ways to approach a ‘mega trip.’ If you’re just looking to get the eff out of dodge and see a bit of world, your best bet might be a ready-made world ticket, with the itinerary already in tact.
Here’s one for San Francisco – Hong Kong – Bangkok – Bombay / Mumbai – Bangalore – Singapore – San Francisco starting at $1,600. And here’s one for New York – Frankfurt – Cape Town – Kuala Lumpur – Bali (Denpasar) – Singapore – Bangkok – Hong Kong – New York starting at $2,000. There are heaps of world ticket booking companies that sell these pre-designed trips and they’re usually the cheapest option.
Of course, you can also design a world ticket on your own. It’s usually more expensive, but that way you’ll surely be able to see the World Cup, Angkor Wat aaaannnnd the inside of your Aunt Josie’s suburban McMansion. I used TripPlanner to book my last world ticket and was quite impressed with them.
Other things that you should consider when choosing countries to visit: What’s the exchange rate? How safe is it? Will you like the food? How will the locals react to someone of your race/gender/sexual preference/faith? How’s the weather? Do you know anybody there? Do you speak their language? What percentage of them speak your language? Is it easy to get around?
In the event that you don’t know, a visa is not just a type of credit card. It’s also a document that some governments require travelers to have in order to enter a country. (Though, really! How confusing is it that a credit card company has the same name?!)Visa requirements vary from country to country and depend largely on your home country’s relationship with the country you’re visiting. When I was traveling through Bolivia, I had to pay $120 for a visa – but none of the Canadians or Japanese travelers had to. Sometimes you can get a visa at the border. Sometimes you have to organize it in advance. Sometimes the expiration on your visa starts ticking as soon as it’s issued, sometimes it’s not activated till your passport is stamped at the border. Make sure you understand the rules and regulations affiliated with all of your visas when you’re applying for them! Obviously, this can be especially hard when you’re traveling through many countries. But maybe not as hard as trying to make hiking boots work with every outfit.Getting visas is a bit of a pain, can be expensive and involve a lot of paper work. Just google “tourist visa (country your going to)” and you should find that country’s immigration website which will detail the visa application process.
Get The Immunizations
Yes, really. It’s super important and despite what everyone says, Yellow Fever isn’t sexy. This website can tell you which countries require which immunizations. It’s also a good idea to carry copies of your immunization records with you, or scan them and store them online. You might need them at border crossings.
Familiarize Yourself With The Language
If you’re traveling through Europe or Southeast Asia, you can get by on English. But South America? Well, most people speak Spanish. Do a bit of research on the countries that you’re visiting and if one of them has a noted lack of English speakers, do your best to brush up on “Where is the_____?” “How much is this?” “Thank you” etc in the native language. You can even learn languages for free on this BBC website!
Of course, if all else fails, most people speak the international language of “smiling and nodding.”
Figure Out What You Want To Do When You Get There
As tempting as it is compulsively schedule every minute of your trip, resist the urge, friends. It’s only going to send in blisters and tears. Read up on the countries that you’re going to and choose a few absolutely-can’t-miss things that you simply must do and see. When I went to Peru and Bolivia for three months I had a list of twelve things I wanted to do and see.
This miiiiiggght strike you as an overly laid-back approach to travel, but whoever said that famous thing about the journey vs. the destination wasn’t pulling your leg. Once you’re back in your first world condo, some of your fondest memories of your trip will probably be relatively mundane things – sitting by The Perfume River and drinking Vietnamese coffee, or eating Cheetos topless on a beach in Greece, or riding on the back of a motorbike through Bangkok. And you might remember The Louvre, too.
Over scheduling will stress you out, wind you up and exhaust your resources. Buying tickets, navigating public transport, reading maps, waiting in line – all these things take a lot of time and a lot of patience. I would recommend limiting yourself to two sites/outings/adventures per day. And make sure you allow yourself the occasional day of hanging out in the air conditioned hostel, watching DVDs and skyping!
Create A Packing List
Of course, what you pack will vary hugely, depending on where you’re going. The weather, culture, your planned activities will all effect what’s inside that backpack. Here’s my comprehensive packing list (for long-term, slightly adventurous travel). Here’s a packing list for a beach vacation and here’s one for a cold weather trip. Here’s an excellent article on packing for India which would be helpful for anyone going to a conservative, hot, developing country.Be Realistic
You are going to have so much fun. So much fun! I promise.
You will also eat things that disgust you. You’ll spend too much money. You will be over charged. You will sleep poorly in dorm rooms because people are constantly going through their bags/drunkenly turning on the light at 3 am/crawling into each others bunk beds and making out.
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves when we’re traveling to have The Best Time Ever. And you will! But it’s not going to be like that every minute of every day. Many days it’ll just be “So. I’m in Vietnam. Yup.” That’s okay! But you’ll be better emotionally prepared if you realize this. You need to practice some Travel Zen!
Have you ever traveled for long periods of time? Any more advice for our friend?