There’s a lot to do before leaving for a trip. So much, that you might be tempted to put off figuring out your exact plan until the last minute – maybe even on the plane (from experience, I can tell you that doesn’t work). There are simple things to do before you leave that can make your trip less stressful and more enjoyable.
Know your guidebook
Get familiar with your guidebook. Know if there are city maps in the back, indexes organized by different topics or highlight lists. This can help you plan ahead and not realise something important in the last moments of your trip.
If there are pages you are absolutely sure you won’t need, tear them out before you go or as you use them (my apologies to book gods and librarians). Taking unnecessary pages out makes your load lighter but I’ll admit that an intact, well-loved guidebook does make a cool souvenir if you have the space to carry it your whole trip.
Highlight info that you think you’ll use, including sites you want to see and accommodation you might stay in. Use sticky notes to bookmark sections you refer to regularly.
Figure out the best way to get around the country (car, train, bus, boat, ride share or hitchhiking) and familiarise yourself with the transportation websites you will be using.
On the internet
Try reading news focussed on the places you’ll be. Having a heads-up on local politics and other issues can be a good conversation starter once you’re travelling. An English source directly from that country is best but the world section of an international news source will do the job.
Travel blogs can be a good source of perspective on a country, too, and can give you a good look into the culture, food and traveller’s issues.
Just a heads up: when you’re travelling, people might expect you to be an expert on your own country’s politics, news and culture. I often find that other people know more about what’s going on in my country than I do (I don’t watch the news while I’m travelling) and sometimes, it’s kind of embarrassing. So buff up on your national news, too.
In your spare time
Reading books, whether they’re guidebooks or simply travel fiction or memoirs, can motivate you to go certain places and see certain things. Here’s a list of travel fiction and memoirs that I’ve read and enjoyed.
Listening to free travel podcasts can be inspiring, too. There are loads of free podcasts on iTunes aimed at different countries, regions, languages or cultures. Have a browse and see what interests you.
Top tip: these are good things to do even if you don’t have a trip planned. Reading a well-written book can be a way to travel while staying put on your own sofa.
In the kitchen
If you like to cook, you can find recipes from the places you will be traveling.
Cooking special regional dishes can give you a chance to experience another country before you leave and once you’re there, you’ll have an idea of what to expect.
Perfecting recipes from your travels can be a great souvenir to bring home and share endlessly with your friends and family. I’ve got a biscotti recipe from a friend in Italy that always goes down well with friends. Here are some other recipes I’ve found on my trips.
Instead of watching that rerun for the umpteenth time, why not watch a show that you can learn something from?
There are many travel shows that can be found on the web, even for free. Watching these can be educational and inspirational. I like Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern (both on the Travel Channel), Rick Steves’ Europe on PBS and if you want some international comic relief, go for Ricky Gervais’ An Idiot Abroad on the Science Channel.
Movies are good, too. They don’t have to be subtitled, foreign films or documentaries. Most movies that take place in another country or culture can give you an idea about that place. Just realise it’s still a movie and not completely factual.
Before I went to Greece, the movie ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ seemed to me like it exaggerated Greek family life. Believe it or not, my friends in Greece told me it hit extremely close to home and was a pretty accurate representation (by Hollywood standards) of life in an authentic Greek family.
By doing these simple things, you can learn a lot before you leave and have less to worry about once you’re on the road.
Try to not cram it all in at the last minute – by doing a little each day or each week, it will be easier and less stressful and you will have more time to let it sink in.
Find more posts about travel planning here.