Travel insurance? Check.
Camera battery? Check.
Studied for Biology exam? Oh no…
I dashed to my calendar and scanned through it. Thank goodness, I exhaled with relief. That exam isn’t until next week. Things had been pretty hectic for the past month. When you plan for a trip you’re excited for, all other things seem to fade away, no matter how important they might be to your GPA.
I opened my desk drawer and looked at the various things I had begun collecting in preparation for my trip. Prescriptions for malaria and altitude sickness, biodegradable soap, and a guidebook with a smug-looking alpaca on the front. Ha ha, alpaca, I thought. I’m going to be on my way soon. I smiled as I started fantasizing about all the things I was going to see and do while romping through Peru. I imagined myself charging up mountains (without breaking a sweat, of course) carrying my backpack and wearing a cute knitted Peruvian hat. I pictured myself strolling through the jungle with ease, and spotting rare and incredible wildlife around every corner.
I opened my computer and started looking up photos and videos of Peru, and scrolled through my mental checklist and itinerary. First on the agenda was two weeks of volunteering in the jungle doing restoration work and conducting wildlife surveys with IVHQ. After that, I set aside two weeks to see and do a good chunk of all the interesting things in Peru. While amazing and exciting, this also means I have a variety of things to consider and plan for.
When I begin a new adventure, I have a checklist that I follow. I start with the big, general things and then move to the smaller and more specific. Here, I’ve broken it down into three steps:
- Step 1. This comes after deciding on a destination. The first thing I do is buy a guidebook and familiarize myself with a general geographical lesson.
- Step 2. This is when I create a rough itinerary of all the places I feel that I must visit. Sometimes they are big and famous landmarks, and other times they are a random obscure place I stumbled upon in the depths of the Internet.
- Step 3. This occurs as departure time draws near. That’s when I start buying any gear I will need, photocopy my documents, and buy trip insurance.
Step 1 is by far the hardest.
Of so many amazing places in the world, how can I decide on one? When in this stage, I usually try to do the mature thing and consider several factors: Is it within my budget range? How easy is it to get around? Are there a lot of things to do there? But every so often I’ll see a photo on Instagram or Pinterest and think, I have to go there! After I’ve made a decision on where to go, I’ll buy a guidebook to look through and familiarize myself with the place. I’m a big fan of Rough Guides, since their information is thorough, intuitive, and pretty accurate, as far as I’ve seen. Some people would say that spending money on a guidebook is not necessary, but I think it is a very helpful and concise tool. Other travelers I know prefer to use the Internet, but I have a difficult time finding all the information I need in one condensed place.
In Step 2 of the process, I delve a little deeper.
What places will I definitely want to visit? Foods to eat? Places to stay? I sketch out a rough itinerary of my route, which usually looks like a drunken, very uncoordinated snake. At this time in planning, it is a very good idea to know what kind of traveler you are. Do you want relaxation? Adventure? A bit of both? Do you like to plan every activity to the minute? Or do you prefer letting the wind or the Fates decide? I’m somewhere in between: I like to keep my plan rough because I like to have an idea of where to go, but I also enjoy being able to change that plan if something spontaneous and interesting comes along. When I was in Sarajevo, I was at a hostel and had no idea where to go next. But in the hostel common room, I met the owner of a hostel in Mostar and two other travelers, and the hostel owner gave us a free ride to his hostel in Mostar, which turned out to be one of the best hidden-gems of my trip!
Step 3 is the best part, in my opinion.
It’s when your departure date is excitingly close, but not close enough for you to start freaking out. Plus, you get to go to outdoor stores and wander around pretending to know what you’re looking for. If you have no idea what to get, blogs are a great source for ideas, tips, and advice. When I was traveling in Europe, I read multiple blogs that recommended traveling with a smaller purse that you can stash under your clothes if need be. I followed this advice and was never robbed during my six months there. For this trip to Peru, I have read that the weather can be very unstable, so I plan on bringing a variety of warm and cold weather clothes to layer, as well as sturdy hiking boots and a lock for my luggage when I put it in the hold of a bus or leave it in a hostel. I also read somewhere that instead of using harmful chemicals as mosquito repellent (which I hear can be fierce in the jungle) you can apply shampoo to your skin and let it dry. This supposedly acts as a second skin and discourages any hungry bugs that might want to nibble on you. I’ll let you know how that works! This final stage is also when you have to do the boring things like buying trip insurance (I recommend Tin Leg or World Nomads) and getting vaccinations (I got mine at my university’s health center, but you can also go to your local travel clinic or county health department).
All this planning might seem stressful or superfluous. It all depends on your traveling style, but for me, this process works. When I board the plane, I feel prepared and confident for any situation that might appear. But the most important thing, more important than anything else (besides bringing your passport) is to have fun! If you’re stressed and need a break, change something. If you’re bored out of your skull, change something. These days, we are very lucky to be able to personalize our travel experiences to what we are looking for. Any kind of travel, big or small, is such an incredible gift. Being able to donate your time volunteering while being abroad is an even bigger gift. Breathe, relax, and enjoy!