Some people loathe planning holidays. Others revel in it. I have always been the latter.
At the age of 15, I went on my first overseas trip to France for six months all by myself (in 2009). It was never planned. It happened spontaneously. Yes, I was in Year 10 and missed half a year of school. It was fabulous – I went to high school, learned about the culture, learned the language, celebrated my 16th birthday/Christmas/New Year’s there and so much more.
If you are interested in knowing why this trip was so ‘spontaneous’ here is the back story:
I was in French class in high school one day and our French teacher said to the class that there was a competition on closing in a couple of days where you could win a scholarship to study and live in France. I thought, why not. I will give the competition a go. The competition required an essay on something like ‘why do you think you should win a scholarship to live in France’. I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got no clue’. Anyway, I somehow managed to smash something out overnight and send it off via the post on the closing date. I knew it was going to be late arriving because (1) I posted it off on the due date and (2) it was the Easter long weekend. I did not expect much from it, neither did my parents.
Fast forward about four months later, I get a phone call after school… it went something like this:
‘Hi Madeline, it is XXX from XXX’
‘I am calling about your essay entry into our competition’
*racks brain for what the essay was for*
— oh yes.
‘Well I am pleased to let you know that you have come 2nd!’
— what, sorry?
‘You came 2nd in the competition! You are eligible for XXX scholarship’.
— oh wow.
‘You will just have to make your mind up within the next 2 hours otherwise we’ll give it to the next person in line…’
— okay sure. I will get back to you as soon as possible.
*hangs up, calls mum*
— You wouldn’t believe it… you remember that essay I wrote for that competition?
— Well I came 2nd!
And the rest is history. It was from this point that the travel bug hit.
At the end of 2011, something similar happened. My mum was advised by a colleague that a family in Switzerland were looking for an au pair for 2012. Mum came home and told me about it. I was not originally convinced. I had plans to finish Year 12 and go straight to university. I was convinced that if I did not go straight to university, I would lose all motivation and never go. The myth about gap years had me fooled. Despite that, I threw in a random application to the family and forgot about it. Then to my surprise (again), I got an email from the family. They wanted to Skype me. Sure, why not. I agreed, we skyped for two hours, I got the job. Wow. University was deferred, I was jet setting off in January 2012 for a year in Switzerland.
During that year abroad, I travelled whenever I had the chance including to:
- Czech Republic
- Switzerland (home base)
- USA (Boston, Cape Cod)
I then came back and surprisingly went back to university.
For those of you who truly know me, know that I can be very spontaneous. I have an inner wild child who mostly manifests itself in adventures and holidays. I will think of something, action it and make it happen. I am always dreaming, thinking…
Since 2012, I have been back to Switzerland, the Netherlands, Indonesia, Egypt and Kenya. I found a Dutch man, married him, finished university, became a lawyer and so much more. I hope to continue to use this blog as a travel content blog. I hope you enjoy reading it or find something useful!
TIPS FOR PLANNING AN OVERSEAS HOLIDAY
Step 1: Choose a destination(s)
Some people, like me, pretty much want to go everywhere but it is a matter of priority. Choose a place that is at the top of your bucket list or if you are flexible and do not have set plans, keep an eye out for error fares; but be ready to book spontaneously.
Step 2: Choose a time to travel
It is critical that when it comes to travelling that you choose a suitable time for you – I often base this on the weather of the destination at that time of the year; but there are other factors too like cultural celebrations, monument closures etc. Depending on what I am looking for, I will avoid certain seasons. For example, my sister and I are planning to go to New York at Christmas and New Year’s. We have always dreamed of travelling to New York at Christmas despite the cold. Whereas the holiday I am planning to Europe will be during the European Spring/Summer.
Step 3: Decide on holiday length
For some people this is flexible however for most of us, we have other commitments like study, work, children, animals and so forth. The reality is that these factors will impact on the length of your holiday. Choose a length of time that is appropriate based on your particular circumstances.
Step 4: Decide on budget (if there is one)
Some places are more expensive than others. This factor will often impact on your destination of travel and/or the length of stay. For example, a few years ago I was convinced I wanted to go to Finland (specifically Lapland) for Christmas to see ‘Santa’ and the Northern Lights. It turned out that what I wanted to do was going to be too expensive and not only that, I missed the boat with accommodation and flights so I decided that that holiday could be for another time. I did not want to go and not do it exactly how I wanted to. Some people are willing to compromise on particular things however for me, I was not going to go if I could not do everything I wanted; and this included staying in an igloo!
If you realise your budget will not allow for you to travel to your desired destination, decide on your budget first and then start from step 1!
To get an idea of destination costs, have a look at flights (Skyscanner), accommodation (Booking.com) and the cost of food/tours. This will give you a good idea of whether or not you will be able to afford it. Like with everything, there are always options — budget to luxury. It depends on what you are looking for. I have stayed in quite a few hostels particularly when I was travelling solo but these days are well and truly over – you will not see me dead in a hostel.
Step 5: Look at flights and accommodation (but don’t book!)
At the end of the day, often flights and accommodation will be the most expensive aspect of the holiday (unless you get lucky with an error fare). Again, depending on what you are looking for, frequently flights with more stopovers or longer layovers are cheaper. Same goes with airlines. The more reputable or well-known the airline, the more expensive. For me, depending on what the price difference is, I will choose the more direct flight to save the inconvenience. However, on some odd occasions I will opt for the longer flight if it is cheaper. For example, if there was a flight that was 30 hours with 3 stopovers costing $1,500 and a 25 hour flight with 2 stopovers costing $2,500 – I would pick the longer flight because there is a significant cost saving.
Step 6: Check visa requirements
Some places are easy to travel to and do not require a visa for a tourist holiday under a certain amount of days. Other places require a visa to step outside the airport. Depending on how far in advance you are booking your holiday, if you need a visa this might impact on your ability to travel depending on the requirements. Some visas are simple: apply online – pay money – visa granted. Others require extensive documentation, proof of travel and identity, and original documentation. Another tip with visas is to always check how far in advance you can apply for the visa and how long the process will take. You do not want to leave your visa until the last minute in some cases.
Step 7: Check for any vaccination requirements
When my husband and I travelled to Egypt and Kenya there were obviously vaccination requirements. Some were recommended, others like Yellow Fever, were compulsory. Always make sure you check whether there are any compulsory vaccinations and have these arranged in advance, especially for vaccines like Yellow Fever. The Yellow Fever vaccine is not effective until about 10 days after you have been vaccinated which means that despite having the vaccination, it will not protect you for almost the first two weeks so always ensure that this has been organised well in advance. Further, for some vaccines like Yellow Fever, they are not always in stock and may require pre-ordering.
Step 8: If you have the time/energy, start to create a draft itinerary
By drafting an itinerary in advance, you will get an idea of what things you want to do and how long you will need in each city or country. It is almost always the case that I will change from my original idea as either I think I will need less time than I actually do or I give myself too much time. The level of detail can vary – I tend to draft thorough itineraries mainly because I find it therapeutic. However, for some people I get that it is a chore. I always use Google maps to try and work out how far things are from each other – this will give you a good idea about whether you are going to be able to walk to places, or learn to use the metro or use taxis/drivers/tours.
Step 9: Book flights and accommodation
I have put booking flights and accommodation near the end as sometimes throughout the process of drafting an itinerary, factors change. You discover new locations, you decide to ditch cities, you decide to add other cities, you decide to add/remove days from cities… lots happens. For me, blind booking flights and accommodation happens rarely before I have a working draft itinerary. I always change things. Always. By having not booked anything first, everything is still flexible.
Flights are obviously pretty easy to book especially when using servers such as Skyscanner. Booking flights can come down to a number of things – cost, travel time, airline. It’s completely personal.
When it comes to booking accommodation, there are many techniques. I always choose accommodation based on location from the main monuments or attractions that I want to see. As I have gotten older (yes, I’m still young) I have realised the sheer importance of this. By staying close to the main attractions you save yourself stress, effort and often money. For example, I booked accommodation in New York purely based on walking distance from most of the main monuments so we can just wake up everyday and walk nearly everywhere!
Then I shortlist accommodation based on location. Booking.com offers a mapping option which will show your accommodation on a map and then you can calculate the distance to attractions (similar to Google maps).
After shortlisting accommodation based on location, I peruse the reviews. I don’t read all of them but I try to read a good majority to get a balanced view. Sometimes people complain about the stupidest things honestly. One review I read for a hotel complained about not being provided with slippers *face palm*.
I also look at their star rating. Booking.com is very helpful for this as they give you an overall star rating based on reviews and also an indicator on whether that rating is within the average range for the area or better/worse (using colours). After finding accommodation in a good location with good reviews, I shortlist based on price or overall impression. Then it’s time to book!
Step 10: Read or research about other people’s experiences in the same city
These days there is so much available in an instant about everything. I love reading other people’s blogs about their travels and researching the places we are going to be visiting. You learn so much and sometimes they have some really helpful tips.
Thanks for reading, I hope you found it useful. As for now, back to planning my holidays!