I tend to turn into a bit of an obsesser when planning a vacation. I buy books, I spend hours on the Internet, I set a phone countdown, I’ll talk the ears off anyone listening, you get the idea. While I’m sure it gets very annoying for other people to hear, I always like to be prepared and have at least a tentative itinerary planned out for our trip.
My first move is always to head to Barnes & Noble. Yes, the Internet can provide me with countless reviews, statistics, ideas and photos, I like to read an actual book I can hold in my hand about my destination. Plus, I can keep them as sort of pre-trip souvineers- there to remind me about my amazing adventures. I’m a Lonely Planet girl myself, but there are plenty of great guidebooks out there, Foder’s and Moon being good options as well. Regardless of where I’m headed in that particular country, I usually read my guidebook cover to cover, just in case a possible itinerary change is in order if a must-see location isn’t completely out of the way.
Next, I start planning out a timeline. Assuming flights are already booked, I pick out a few places or cities I absolutely can’t miss and start planning my days out around them. For example, on our upcoming trip to Thailand and Cambodia, we knew we wanted to hit the Phi Phi islands and not just for a day trip. I used Tripadvisor to find a great cheap boutique hotel in Phuketown for the first two nights (we get in at 2am, I figured catching an early morning ferry to Phi Phi was out of the question), and then an amazing looking hideaway called Dee Dee Beach House for our time on the island. For the Kruger part of our South Africa trip, we were originally going to spend all 4 nights at Crocodile Bridge Camp. I reviewed some of the other rest camps in Kruger and checked the maps online, and decided we should book nights at different camps since we were going to be doing a lot of driving anyways- why turn around and go back the same way we came? Plus it upped our chances of seeing the Big 5 and a bigger variety of animals as opposed to ones that were just roaming around the South-East entrance of the park. Backpackers and people traveling for longer periods of time may not pre-book their accommodations at all, which is fine if you aren’t traveling during the high season.
Printing out all travel information and keeping it organized in a folder is a must. I keep all my confirmation emails anyways but just in case, it’s always good to have back ups. My friend Allison created a great spreadsheet for our Thailand/Cambodia trip that we can all edit and add suggestions to.
Lastly, no matter how prepared you are, there will always be bumps in the road. Flight delays, lost luggage, and trouble communicating and translating in foreign countries will always be a possibility. When we were traveling from Kruger back to Johannesburg to catch our flight to CapeTown, my uncle got pulled over by the South African police and had to talk his way out of being taken to the station, 50 kilometers back in the direction we came from! Luckily he got off with a somewhat minimal fine and we got a few laughs watching him from our vehicle.
Keep an open mind and try to stay calm and flexible. Don’t be afraid to try something new should excursion plans fall through or a hotel reservation gets “lost.” Part of traveling is the experience, and you’ll have great stories to tell when you get back home, regardless of what happens along the way.