For ease of illustration, let’s assume you wish to go to Chile and that you live in the Western Cape, South Africa. It normally takes us 18 months to put a holiday together (mainly in terms of saving money for it) and it really picks up steam from around 12 months to go. Here are 11 things to keep in mind:
This normally takes time on our side, as we need to negotiation and blackmail each other 😉 luckily you know it is Chile. But this rough guide will work with basically any destination. Watch a few YouTube videos about your chosen destination, to get a feel for the country. Also, to know what to expect. Not everything in life needs to be a surprise.
2. Time of year
Nothing is more off-putting, than visiting a foreign country when the weather is not great. Some people handle heat/cold well – I don’t. Google “best time of year to visit Chile”. This will give you an indication of weather, along with crowds. You will need to weigh the two up against each other. I forgot to mention, I also hate crowds. It is a fine balance. Good comfortable weather = lots of people = peak season = expensive. If you choose a “shoulder season” (either before or after peak season), the prices will be slightly cheaper, the will be slightly fewer people, but the weather might be dicey. If you choose “off season”, the prices will suit the pocket, there will be less people, but the weather is guaranteed to be crappy. Pick whatever is important to you and live with the rest.
3. What to do there
Google “what to do in Chile”. This will return loads of websites. Read them all. After a while you will find a trend of things to see/do/experience. Visit a few travel agencies’ website and see what their package tours include in Chile. This will correlate to a large degree with the above search.
TripAdvisor is your friend. It is a community based information portal (as no one is paid to do this, the feedback is largely honest) where fellow travellers rate and recommend accommodation, restaurants and sightseeing items. Just be aware that some people are gullible and will think that Bellville Station (a local train station near Cape Town) is awesome … similarly, as it is difficult to please all, some people will think that the One and Only (allegedly a fancy hotel) in the Waterfront is lame – if you get my drift. Use TripAdvisor to get a general feel. When reading what other people complain about, decide for yourself if this is something that is important to you. (Often Americans complain about food portion sizes).
If you know the cities you will/want to visit, you can refine your search to “what to do in XXXXX” for example.
If you have time (and the inclination to), try to mix things up: do some touristy things and try to find one or two things off the beaten track as it gives you a true experience of the foreign country/culture. Try not to celebrate and experience the similarities between your culture and the foreign one, but rather try to do things you cannot experience in South Africa/Western Cape. (It is almost the same as eating out. Why go to a restaurant to order a bobotie, if you can build a mean bobotie at home yourself?) Try to book a half-day cooking class. You get to experience foreign tastes and textures, plus you will return home with a new skill to impress your friends and family 😉
4. How long to stay
This is a balancing act between what you what to see/do in the foreign country, vs how much leave you have available vs your budget. Depending on how adventurous you are, leave at least a few days open at your end of the holiday, before you return to work. Chances are you will suffer from jetlag and will need a couple of days to normalise to local time again.
Google “how to overcome jetlag”. I am not a tree hugger and fix my jetlag issues with a short course of sleeping pills – it is the fastest way to reset your circadian rhythm.
5. Flight path
Decide with whom you are going to fly. Direct flights are more expensive. Can you obtain discount via eBucks or other loyalty programmes? Try using it. Do not have enough eBucks? Study the guide on how to get more eBucks (for example) and do some of the things in-order-to get more points. You can always cancel/undo some of the things after you’ve paid the tickets 😉
What are the requirements of the country you wish to visit. Google “Chile visa”. Note the various lead times and ensure you apply in time.
7. Additional stuff to take into consideration (Download my travel checklist.)
Pets – who will look after them, or book them into ‘hotel’. Make a booking so long, to secure space
Medication – prescription meds (plus letter from prescribing doctor) diarrhoea, headache, rehydration, energy booster (Cipla’s MaxiBoost works well) + sleeping pills
Bills to be paid while you are away?
Pre-paid Electricity – is there enough units left?
Garden Services / watering of plants / collection of mail
Alarm company – appoint someone as contact person and advise your service provider.
Extra set of keys to someone (alarm contact person?)
Cellphones – international roaming vs sms roaming. Smart phones are dangerous abroad. We normally only activate “sms roaming” and record an “extended away voicemail”. This way around people can listen to my voicemail but cannot leave a message. If you are on international roaming and someone calls you from South Africa, the caller pays local rates and you foot the bill for the international leg of the call. Pricey!! We normally dumb-down our phones to fancy camera stage only, where we’ve turned off all data and cellular connectivity for the duration of the holiday, but allow wi-fi capabilities only. Free wi-fi is your friend. Use it whenever you can.
Geyser – why keep hot water when you are not around. Save yourself some money and switch it off. When you return home, switch it back on then. While you are waiting for the water to heat up, unpack your bags so long and start the first washing. By the time the water is ready, you will be suitably tired and ready for a quick clean up and nap.
Comfortable (walked in already!!) shoes – do not bother to make fashion statements abroad. Wear shoes that you know will support your feet and that are comfortable.
Special clothing? Due to the time of year/weather do you need special clothing like a warm jacket … remember our climate in South Africa is timid in comparison and that warm jacket of yours might not be warm enough. If you are going to purchase a jacket, consider a down product. It is warm, yet lightweight. Better yet, buy the jacket on the other side. You will save on luggage space and get to purchase something tailormade to their climate.
Certified copies of important travel docs – have a copy in each suitcase (check-in, as well as carry-on). Better be safe and paranoid, than sorry. If you are especially paranoid. Take photos with your phone as well.
Leave itinerary with contact details (of hotels) with your designated alarm contact person.
Is passport still valid for 6 months after return date? Most visas require this.
Advise your bank and medical aid that you will be abroad. The bank will note this on their system to not block and suspend your account, due to transactions originating from Chile during the given period. Similarly, your medical aid need to note this too. They might even be helpful with international medical emergency numbers.
Credit Cards – check with your bank that your cards will be operational internationally. Then wait a day or two and call again, to check. You want confirmation from two different people and their responses better tie up. Also check and confirm international spending limits.
Travel insurance? Check with your medical aid if they offer international cover then decide what is your appetite for risk. Based on this, decide if you need additional insurance and what type of cover. Generally if you bought your tickets with a credit card, you should have some basic form of insurance already – check with your bank.
Foreign currency – there is hardly a need for this anymore. We fly with credit cards, land on the other side and look for an ATM to draw cash in the local currency.
Sleeping pills – regardless of whether you think this is good or bad. You need about 5 per person for 2 nights on the other side and the first 3 nights back at home. It helps to speed up your recovery from jetlag.
Perishables in your fridge – clear your fridge from items that might go off when you are away. Milk suffers from separation anxiety rather fast.
Computer backup – rather be safe with all your precious holiday photos and importance files and back them up safely somewhere. Preferably offsite.
8. Keep track of everything (and the budget!) on a spreadsheet.
Also, start a hard copy file or a folder, to keep things together.
9. Budgeting abroad
Have access to emergency money – once again, better be safe than sorry.
Decide on a daily budget and split it 50/50 between food and shopping. It will take you 2-3 days to refine this budget on the other side once you get use to the currency’s buying power and the cost of food. Try to have more money for spending and less for food. You are in a foreign country – buy a souvenir and/or items you cannot get in South Africa. Do not fall into the temptation to want to buy gifts for other people … do this test: If I buy this lovely and unique t-shirt for Lucille, would she buy me something whenever she travels abroad? Chances are the answer is no. Then do not waste your precious money on people that will not remember you in return. It sounds selfish, but it is your holiday and your money. Buy a handful of fridge magnets and hand them out as gifts, if you guilt easily.
10. How to pack your suitcase
Forgive me for having an opinion about this, but people pack like idiots. You need less clothes than you think. Each t-shirt is good for at least 2 days (obviously not 2 consecutive days) and a jean is good for 5+ days. Take 2 jeans and alternate them. Leave fancy jewellery and make-up at home – it is a holiday, not a fashion parade. Recently we started to stop throwing our old t-shirts away and deliberately keep them to take along on holiday. After it served its 2-day purpose, we throw them away. It is great for making space in the suitcase for shopping on the other side. This wear-and-toss principle works well with underwear as well. (somewhat special behaviour I guess, but extremely practical)
Forego a vanity case and use loads of Ziploc bags instead. They morph better in a suitcase and you can use them to fill crevasses. Stuff your shoes with underwear and socks (to retain the shoes’ shape). Roll up into sausages as much of your clothes as possible. It helps with reducing creasing and in the process, you can fit more clothes into the suitcase. Beg, borrow or steal a suitcase with wheels – you’ll thank me later.
Don’t waste your money to “cling wrap” your bag at the airport. If someone wishes to break into your suitcase they merely slice through the plastic with a knife. Weight your suitcase before leaving for the airport. It is pricey to be overweight. Don’t waste money to buy a “suitcase scale”. Weight yourself on your trusted enemy in the bathroom. Pickup your suitcase and weight yourself again with it. The difference is your suitcase.
Your “day bag” you intend to use at your destination, can double as your carry-on bag. (If you are a female, please consider using a backpack, instead of handbag – it is just more practical.) Take your valuable items (and electronics) with you in the plane.
11. Keep a journal
It sounds like a nerd thing to do, but it is a good way to collect memories while traveling. Get into the habit of reflecting at least twice a day (when you are having a cup of coffee, or waiting for a bus/train/plane) on interesting things that happened or what you’ve experienced. Also capture what you’ve paid for ordinary everyday things, as it makes for great info bits back home. So often you will hear about someone who traveled abroad and you will ask them how it was and they merely replied: “it was great”, because they cannot recall any detail. Please do not be one of them. It is boring. You’ve taken the time to go to another country, have at least something interesting to say and share about your experience. The more personal, the better the story. You can even consider a write-up afterwards, it remains the best way to save your memories forever. The upside of a write-up is that if anyone asks you afterward about your holiday, you do not have to tell them anything (in fear of repeating yourself. Bad habit), merely send them the write-up.
If you are going to post to social media (like Facebook) while on travel, post 3-4 curated photos a day as a highlight of your day. Do not photo dump. It cheapens your message and as akin to spamming. Two days in and your friends will start ignoring your posts, which you don’t want to happen either. Rather post too little, than too much.
Half the fun is in the planning!