…with very little time and on a shoestring budget!
You’re probably sick of me banging on about it, but in four weeks’ time, I will be starting a four-month adventure in South America. Although I have been wanting to go for a long time, I only started planning this trip last month. Compared to a week ago (Preparations of a Novice Backpacker) I am feeling remarkably Zen about it all. I understand that doing everything at the last minute might not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s not always a choice, and I can show you that it is at least possible! So here, in my view, are the things that are important to sort out in advance, and those which you don’t need to worry about.
If you plan to combine your travel with work or volunteering, if it’s more than casual work, get this sorted first. I especially feel strongly that volunteering placements should be carefully researched to make sure that they are really benefitting the local community – and also that you are going to have a positive experience and not be ripped off. I was researching volunteer options for a few months before I planned anything else about the trip and my first priority was making contact with the organisation. Everything else has taken shape around this. I’ve also kept up a dialogue with the co-ordinator, asking loads of questions and I’ve even started preparing some teaching resources at last! The point is, you need to make sure that the placement is right for you, right for the community and that all the practicalities are in place before you go.
2. Passports and Visas
It goes without saying that you need to check that your passport is well in date and whether you need any visas for particular countries. Don’t have a last-minute panic because you can’t remember which ‘safe place’ you put your passport in!
Ok, so if you’re doing a really, truly last-minute trip, you could in theory book your flights at the very last moment. But when I’m going halfway around the world and have a specific date I need to be there by, I’m happier once the flights are booked and one less thing to think about. I use multiple price comparison and airline sites to get the best deal, but www.kayak.com is my favourite for its flexibility, simplicity and generally the best prices to be found. I’ve also booked the few internal flights I’ll be taking, which does limit my flexibility when I’m there, but I found deals that were too good to miss and just takes the pressure off.
This is something that’s easy to forget about, but it’s important not to underestimate the cost and the time you’ll need to get the necessary jabs done. If possible, you need to have an initial appointment at least 6 weeks before travel so that you can complete courses of certain vaccines if you need them. And thinking you can get away without them is probably not the wisest strategy! Some countries actually require proof of certain vaccinations, such as for Yellow Fever.
If money is no object – lucky you! But if like me, you’re doing your trip on a pretty tight budget, make sure you have at least a vague idea of how much things such as accommodation, food and transport is likely to cost and put money aside accordingly. Always overestimate – there are all those incidental and unexpected costs which quickly add up. I know that I don’t want to spend my time worrying about how I’m going to afford the next hostel – so don’t bury your head in the sand and hope that it will be ok, just spend a bit of time beforehand budgeting!
I have my accommodation sorted for the 2+ months I’ll be volunteering for and I have researched the options for my travels, but nothing else is booked yet. I’ve learnt not to worry too much about exactly where I’ll be staying and just go with the flow. I like to have an idea of which areas of a city to stay in and I read reviews so that I know which places other travellers recommend (and don’t!) but I’m also happy to get recommendations along the way and be flexible.
Generally, I wouldn’t book these in advance, I think it ties you down too much. I prefer to expect the unexpected and just go and find what a particular place has to offer. You’ll also get better deals and be able to make more informed decisions once in the country. However, certain trips are an exception: I have booked the Inca Trail trek, for example, because it has to be booked in advance and there are strict limits on spaces. It doesn’t hurt to have a couple of major things pre-booked into your itinerary, with freedom around those to make it up as you go along. At least, that’s how I like to travel!
- Volunteer South America (Free and low-cost volunteer opportunities, connecting you directly with local organisations, cutting out the money-hungry middle-men)
- Voluntoursim: How to make sure you are really doing some good (an article I wrote for Mallory On Travel)
- The Ethical Volunteering Guide (7 questions to ask to make sure your placement is ethical)
- Kayak (my favourite flight comparison site)
- Fit for Travel (all the info you need about travel vaccinations, country-by-country)
- Karikuy (budget-friendly and ethical tours in Peru)
- Thorn Tree Forum (Lonely Planet’s travellers’ forum is a friendly place with a wealth of information to help you plan your trip and find answers to all your questions)