Tuesday, 19 August 2014

How to plan for a trip you don't want to plan

So, as many of you know, I never plan my trips. Sure, I'll book a flight, sort out the visas, but usually just show up and see what happens. You can't have an adventure if every step of the way is planned.

But still, in todays world, it's almost impossible to just wander along, somehow one day finding your way back. Money, visas, flights and responsibilities often get in the way, and I thought I'd use this as a chance to describe how I personally plan a trip through dozens of countries, 4 continents and around the entire world, while planning almost nothing at all.

Step one was to make a rough guess of where I wanted to go. South America, Central America, a brief stop in Asia. After that, it was to check the visa requirements of those countries (http://projectvisa.com/ is amazing to help out with this). Once I had these, I wanted to check what flights went where. Can I fly from South America to Asia? Nope. All the flights went back across the Atlantic to Africa, or Europe, and from there hopped over to Asia. And I want to circumnavigate the globe! http://skyscanner.net is amazing for this. And then, once I had a rough idea, with a couple of printed off maps scribbled with notes and arrows, it was time to 'plan'.

To start, you need to know your limitations. List 'em out, what can you not wing? What is out of your control? For me, it was a pretty short list:
  • I need to be in Amsterdam by mid March
  • I have a limited amount of money in my bank account
  • I need a visa for China and Vietnam, which I cannot get at the border
That was about it. Everything else is variable, and could be adjusted to work for me. 

So next up, it was a list of what I wanted:
  • I want to visit every country in South America
  • I want to fly to Asia, and spend Chinese New Year in China
  • I'd like to visit some countries in Asia I missed last time
  • I want to circumnavigate the globe
  • I want to save as much money as possible, so booking flights in advance is good
From here, it was rough planning time. There's a nice trick to planning flights; do a search as if you were going to fly tomorrow, and then a search for the same flight in 6 months time. If the price is about the same, don't book now! It's not going to change. Trick number two with flights is to do a search from one city to another, and see where the flight changes are. If you want to fly from Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh, and all the flights go via Manila, you might as well spend a week in the Philippines first! It costs more to fly direct to Ho Chi Minh from Hong Kong than it does to fly to Manila, spend a week around the Philippines, and then fly to Vietnam. Keep an eye out for where the transfers go!

So, with this information in hand, I could book the key flights: One way to Rio, Mexico City to Hong Kong, and Seoul to Amsterdam. Everything in between is guess work.

More planning posts to come, but I'm only just getting back into the hang of writing!

Thanks for reading,

Andy

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