Nowadays, whenever I meet up with friends or ex-colleagues, the same question always seems to pop-up – “So, what have you been up to?”
My answer always seems to stay the same – planning, planning, planning.
With 4 days to go until I leave, I’m finally coming to the end of planning for my extended travel trip. When I first started contemplating the idea of leaving my job to go on an extended travel trip amongst pursuing other things, I had no real ideas of where to start or how to go about it. The planning task itself felt ginormous, and there seemed to be too much to think about and do. Feeling overwhelmed, I did the classic thing and basically ignored all the issues that needed to be thought through and all the tasks that seemed to be screaming for attention.
I then plunged headfirst into a concrete decision – I handed in my notice at my corporate job 2 days after returning from a short holiday to Slovenia.
I would have done it immediately upon my return, but it so happened that my boss was out of the office for 2 days. 😉
Impulse decision? Perhaps. But the huge contrast in the feelings I felt during my holiday and when I was back in the office was just so marked, that I instinctively felt it was the right thing to do at the time. The consequence of that decision on my future remains to be seen, but what it has done is to make things very real, very quickly. I work best under pressure with a solid deadline and losing my monthly paycheck in 3 months was a solid a deadline as they come. It would’ve been too easy to talk myself out of taking some time out before this due to all of the planning required and uncertainty that lay ahead. Resigning meant I had no choice but to just go ahead with it.
The Various Stages Of My Planning Process
- Set your departure date
I knew that I would have to work my 3 months notice period. I also knew that I wanted to take a computer course before I left, do some work on the side-project I co-founded using my (hopefully!) new-founded computing skills and have time to adequately plan for my trip. I therefore set my departure date just over a month after my last day in the office. This was probably the single most efficient thing I did as having a definite date to work towards really did focus my mind.
- Decide which countries to visit
I’ve done most of Europe, and neither of North America or Africa really appeals much to me at the moment. I was a little worried about the safety aspects of travelling South America on my own, especially as this would be my first time travelling solo. New Zealand on the other is pretty safe and has always been one of my dream destinations to explore. As I was flying to the opposite side of the world, I figured I’d throw Australia in for good measure too. I also decided on South East Asia due to its proximity to Australasia and I figured that as a Malaysian, I ought to know my neighbours a little better. Also the relative cheapness of SE Asia would be very much welcomed following on from Oz and NZ. Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos were a must. Other neighbouring countries were potentials depending on the amount of time I had.
- Decide on the duration of your trip
I arbitrarily decided on three months. It seemed like a good amount of time to try the whole solo travelling thing out. If I didn’t like it, I would return to London. If I find that I do like it, I can always extend my trip.
- Understand your current financial situation and create a budget
I rather enjoyed creating my personal balance sheet and monthly current and on-the-road projected profit and loss statement. Banker-type traits die hard. Thinking through the numbers confirmed to me that 3 to 6 months of travel was doable.
When putting together what I figured my ongoing costs in London would be (e.g. mobile phone as I wanted to keep my UK number even when abroad, mortgage payments, property leasehold costs, etc.), it got me thinking about what my sources of income could be and how I might be able to cover as much of my expenses as possible, and potentially even make a monthly excess which would help me cut into my savings at a slower during my travels. This helped me decide to clear up my apartment, rent it out and gave me some idea of how much I should charge.
- Consider what the fixed points during the trip would be and plan around it accordingly
For me, this consisted of:
- Meeting my boyfriend (JD) somewhere on the road for Christmas and New Years. He’s visited pretty much all of the places I intend to visit apart from South Island, New Zealand and Vietnam. Upon further consideration, meeting in NZ fit better into my plans.
- Ensuring my brother was available during the 5 days or so when I intended to visit Sydney (he’s in the midst of setting up a new business and time was therefore scarce for him).
- Coinciding my visit to Lake Tekapo with that of a friend from Malaysia (who I haven’t seen in over 2 years) who would also be visiting in December when I was there.
- Making sure my parents would be at home in Kuala Lumpur when I planned to arrive in KL!
- Checking that my plans worked for a few other friends I would be meeting up with along the way.
- Creating rough itineraries for the initial period of travel
I had to do this for Australia and New Zealand as I need to show and therefore buy my return tickets to qualify for entry into those countries. After ensuring my itineraries covered all I wanted (realistically) in both countries, I booked my main flights from:
- London to Melbourne;
- Christchurch to Auckland (both JD and I would be leaving NZ at the same time);
- Auckland to Sydney; and
- Sydney to Kuala Lumpur
- Determine the points in between and book as many travel tickets and nights of accommodation as you feel comfortable with
As I only have just over 2 weeks in Australia, with a busy itinerary consisting of some internal flights, I planned the vast majority of my connections as I couldn’t afford to have a slack day. For New Zealand, as JD will be visiting during one of the busiest holiday periods, I have everything booked for the South Island, with rough Intercity bus connections booked for my passage through the North Island. These bookings are all flexible with the ability for me to change them at the last minute if I find my plans changing on the road. Clearly this way of planning will not suit every traveller, but I find it difficult to go into anything without a plan of sorts. I guess this being my first time travelling solo adds to my anxiety as well and I don’t feel quite comfortable leaving everything open to chance. 🙂
The Nitty-Gritty To-Do List
Other smaller tasks that needed to be checked off over the planning period and before the departure date were:
(* indicates tasks still to be done)
- Declutter and clear out flat
- Find short term renters for my spare room
- Become a YHA member (provides HI hostel discounts and backpacker discounts)
Flights and logistics
- Apply for tourist visas (only Australia for me)
- Practice packing my backpack to ensure suitability for classification as carry-on luggage
- Finish packing*
Body and health
- Prepare travel medical kit
- Get vaccinated
- Buy a travel water bottle filter (I went with the Water-To-Go bottle)
Get a haircut(decided to wait until I’m back in Malaysia – cheaper!)
- Complete my PADI scuba diving refresher course (to get ready for some diving at the Great Barrier Reef)
- Cancel non-essential direct debit transactions e.g. gym, groceries
Change appropriate amount of foreign currency– decided to withdraw cash as necessary in Australia / New Zealand since I will probably be using my credit card the majority of the time
- Apply for a travel credit card (I went with the Post Office travel credit card)
- Notify bank of the countries I will be travelling to
- Buy travel insurance*
- Understand up to date financial situation just before leaving (to ensure you can keep close tabs on how much you actually spend on the road)*
- Download backup of key documents from cloud to local computer*
- Bring spare set of passport photos
- Create physical copy of passport and proof of UK residence visa
- Send electronic copies of above to my email, JD and my sister
- Print necessary visa documents, tickets, etc.
- Sign up for email alerts on potential dangers in each of the countries I intend to visit (Smart Traveller alerts from Australian government)
- Determine how to update loved ones on my current location when on the road
- Draw up list of emergency numbers (friends, hostels, banks, credit card providers, travel insurance company, flight providers, Malaysian consulate)*
- Packing cubes
- Travel detergent and peg-less washing line
- Tech and travel gadgets (click for more details)
- Microfiber towel
- Light waterproof jacket
- TOMS shoes in black (versatile, comfortable shoes for travelling IMO)
- New Zealand Lonely Planet travel guide
- Backpack lock*
- Meet up with and say goodbye to everyone important in your life!
- Create email and postcard address list
- Put together a list of travel resources for the road
- Fill up my Kindle
Have you ever planned an extended travel trip? How did you go about it? Am I missing anything?