A Guide to Travel Planning
Travel Planning is very enjoyable, but also quite stressful at the same time. We spent ages before we went away consuming various nuggets of information from blogs and Lonely Planet books, looking at amazing pictures of places we'd heard of but had no idea of how to get to.
The one thing we learnt very quickly is that we like to travel slowly. By that we mean we prefer not to zip through a country seeing all it's highlights in a week, and only spending one night in each place. We'd much rather spend some quality time in a couple of places, and actually experience the local culture/food/way of life.
Also, travelling as a couple, one always has to consider what both of you want to do. Not just what one of you wants to do! If one of you loves museums, and the other loves beaches, you're going to have to make some sacrifices...unless of course you find the lovely beach with a museum that's been hidden from everyone else.
One of the things that we learnt very quickly is that we prefer to travel by train rather than bus. Train may be a touch slower, but you have the freedom to get up and have a little walk if you want, and you can go to the bathroom whenever you need (side note - you may not want to go to the bathroom, but the choice is still there!), rather than having to wait until the bus stops at 3am at a random service station.
So, here's the things we consider when we're travel planning;
1. What type of person are you? If you get bored quickly when lying by the sea, then don't organise to spend 75% of your time on the beach. Similarly, if you are scared of boats, maybe island hopping isn't necessarily the best idea. Maybe pick a couple of islands with airports that you can access easily without having to worry about getting a boat!
2. How do you get around? If you want to hire a driver, then obviously, you have much more choice about where you go and when. If you want to travel solely by train, then obviously you're tied to the train timetable, and especially in Asia, not all trains leave every day. This can impact how much time you get to spend in some places.
3. Don't try to do too much! This is the number one rule!! It's so important to underestimate what you can do. If you spend one day here, one day there, one day somewhere else, all you'll remember is the travel. Trust us! Your memories will be of the seat in front of you, rather than what you saw off the bus! Remember - you're not the same person when you've spent the 28 of the last 72 hours on a train. You're just not.
4. What do you want to achieve? If you're goal is to see the seven wonders of the world, then obviously you're going to do a lot of flying, see a lot of tourists, and generally have less interaction with the local culture. If you want to spend lots of time with local people, then maybe avoid areas like this. Avoid tourist traps and big hotels. There is nothing wrong with what you want to achieve - just be honest with yourself, because if you think about it properly, this will increase the amount of fun you have dramatically.
5. What's your budget? Obviously, this is key! If you don't have bucket loads of cash, you can't stay in the $300-per-night hotel. Duh! But travelling slower tends to make your money go further. You can seek out the cheaper restaurants, you pay less for travel, you can often to deals with hotels/guesthouses. It pays to travel slowly.
6. Think geographically. Say you wanted to go to Thailand. You have 2 weeks. You fly into Bangkok, and would ideally spend some time in the north of the country, as you've heard it's nice and you like trekking, and then you want to get your tan on, which requires you to be in the south, where the islands are. It doesn't take a genius to work out that your geographical movements aren't efficient. That's no problem if you can afford to fly from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and then down to Koh Samui. It is an issue if you can't afford this! think efficiently about your movement. Maybe there is somewhere else that offers a similar vibe to the north, but that is closer to where you want to be. Maybe you can get what you want out of a country by changing where you go so that you don't necessarily hit the big "important" areas.
7. Think about Visas. Geographical efficiency is great, and in a country-less world, that's exactly how we'd all travel. But sadly, international borders can affect your route significantly. Most tourist visas will allow one entry, and for you to stay for a fixed period of time (generally 30 days). To get the most from your visa, hopping over the border for a couple of days is both expensive and inefficient. Instead, consider doing everything you want to do in country A before heading to country B. That way, you'll save money and some pages in your passport!
8. Why do you want to go there? A lot of people we met would travel hundreds of miles to see one "attraction", then hundreds of miles back. Is this an efficient use of your time? If that attraction means something to you, or you really do want to see it, then of course, go for it and do it! We're not here to judge. What I would say is that if you're going to a place just to see one thing, then maybe it's not necessarily a great use of your time? We visited the Golden Rock in Myanmar when we were there. That was the only thing to see there. It took 5 hours from Yangon, and then a further 4 hours when we left to get to Mawlamyine. Plus the night we spent there it was such a waste of our time!
9. Don't be afraid to change! Best laid plans of mice and men and all that. Who cares if you on't make it to one last place because you fell in love with a city? Or who cares if you wanted out of that hell-hole quicker than you could scream? It's your money and your trip. Everyone else's opinion means nothing.
10. If you like somewhere stay! One of the places we liked a lot more than we expected was Sihanoukville. We had planned to go to some islands, but instead we spent a week just in one place because we loved it so much. Don't be scared to stay somewhere for longer if you like it. We found that when we left somewhere too early, we ended up wishing we'd stayed for longer, and often this meant that we didn't like the next place as much as we could have.
So, there you have it. That's what we think about when we do our travel planning, and although we don't like to be all preachy, hopefully something above has helped you think about where you'll go. If it has helped you, let us know! If there's anything you think that we've missed out, let us know too!