Travel Advice #1: Before You Go
Planning your budget, visas and vaccinations before you go. Deciding where to go and what to do is part of the fun, but there are lots of paperwork and medical preparations you should take care of before leaving home. To help you succeed, I created three travel advice pages that are divided into:
Basics: Where, When, and Budget
- Where to go?
I recommend the Lonely Planet series for adventure travel as they give a nice overview of cities and sites to visit, detailed seasonal weather, language basics, cultural advice, scams to avoid, and a variety of travel itineraries to help you plan.
- When to go?
If possible, avoid the rainy season in tropical areas and winter in low latitudes. As well, try to miss major religious holiday festivals unless you like the crowds.
I would suggest one month per country, but this depends on the size of the country and your activities. e.g. I spent three months cycling across New Zealand and never got bored, but only two weeks in Belize as there not much beyond the beach.
- Travel Budget
I would suggest $1,000 per month, but this depends on how you travel and plan to stay. In more expensive countries like New Zealand, I went with a bicycle and a tent; spending this budget on supermarket food. In cheaper countries like Guatemala, I took the bus, stayed in hostels, and ate out at restaurants with this budget.
- Airline Ticket
You can save money by purchasing your ticket a month or more in advance and being flexible on departure dates. There are tons of airfare websites to research the best flight options to your destination, but I usually go directly to the airline’s website to purchase the ticket.
- One-way or Return?
I usually only buy a one-way ticket as I don’t know when or where I will go next. However, some countries require you to have an onward or return ticket to get an entrance stamp, see Entry Visa below. You can avoiding this hassle by purchasing a refundable return ticket, or just PhotoShop a return ticket receipt.
Documents: Passport, Visa, and Money
- New Passport
If your current passport is remotely close to expiring, more than half full with stamps, or the image does not reflect your current hairstyle – get a new one! It’s also a good idea to have a few (6 to 10) extra passport-sized photos, as random border crossings and government forms will require a photo; especially in SE Asia.
- Drivers License
Even if you are not planning to drive abroad, a government-issued drivers license is an accepted second form of identification with a picture and signature. However, if you will be driving abroad, you should definitely get an international drivers license.
- Entry Visa
Some countries require you to apply for an entry visa in advance, while others will give you a free or paid entry visa upon arrival. You should search online for the embassy of the countries you plan to visit, where they will list entry visa requirements for different nationalities, and clarify if you need an onward or return ticket to enter the country.
- Credit Cards
I recommend taking two or more credit cards; at least one Visa and one MasterCard, as foreign ATMs can be fickle about what they accept. Keep your banks updated to where and when you will be traveling via their websites, so they do not block your access.
- US Cash
I recommend taking 500 dollars in new $20s hidden in your backpack for emergencies, e.g. when the ATM runs out of money, or you have to bribe a crooked official. The $20s should be crisp and clean, as any bills that are marked or torn can be refused by foreign officials.
- Cheat Sheet
I create a small printed paper that I seal in clear tape that has important facts that I don’t need to memorize: passport number, website user name and password, important phone numbers, CC pin numbers, etc. These facts are listed in a way that only I would understand, so if it was lost, the information could not be used by anyone else.
Medical: Vaccinations, Repellent, and Cipro
- Basic Vaccinations
Visit your local hospital or family doctor to make sure you are up-to-date on basic vaccinations and boosters: MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, Polio and Varicella (chicken pox). They should have a yellow Immunization Card that lists all vaccinations you received since birth; be sure to get all shots from different clinics listed on this card and take a photocopy of it with you while traveling.
- Travel Vaccinations
For traveling abroad to remote locations, you should find a travel clinic to get extra vaccinations: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Rabies, and Yellow Fever. Note that some of these vaccinations need to be administered over several weeks, and you may not want to take more than one at the same time, as the Typhoid vaccine made me ill for days.
- Exotic Vaccinations
Research the Center for Disease Control website by country for additional exotic vaccination recommendations for the regions you will be visiting, such as Japanese Encephalitis, Yellow Fever, Cholera, Tuberculosis, and West Nile.
- Antimalarial Meds?
Unless you are working in the jungle, I do not recommend taking anti-malaria pills. Many travelers have told me horror stories about their physical and mental side-effects; from constant nausea and liver damage to nightmares and amnesia. For your average backpacker, I personally think it is better to just use an insect repellent.
- Insect Repellent
I don’t use DEET as it’s poisonous to the wearer and destroys synthetic clothing; instead I take a two-step approach to keeping mosquitoes and ticks away. Primarily, I soak all my clothes and sleeping-bag liner in 0.5% Permethrin solution and then let them drip dry; this protection will last for a dozen washings and will not affect the synthetic material. Secondly, if I’m in a buggy location, I use a natural spray with Picaridin, Citronella, and Lemongrass; it smells great and keeps the bugs away.
- Ciparo Pills
Ciparofloxin is a broad-spectrum antibiotic that treats bacterial infections; such as skin infections, food poisoning, and urinary tract infections. You will need a doctor’s prescription, but I recommend getting a dozen 500mg pills just in case you develop severe symptoms away from medical help.
Pro Tip: If you do find yourself a victim of severe food poisoning; drenched in sweat, cringing with abdominal pain, projectile vomiting, and vicious diarrhea – you’ll be glad you have these. Take two per day for five days, drink lots of bottled water, and stay out of the sun.
More Travel Magic
Lighting The Path
I developed this site to inspire you to go explore this big blue marble and discover the transformative magic of personal empowerment. Guiding your wanderlust, there are regional maps of the world that illustrate some Magical Places among the multitude of tourist traps.
To help you succeed, I created Travel Advice pages divided into:
1) Before You Go: Basics, Documents, and Medical;
2) What To Take: Luggage, Clothing, and Technology;
3) On The Road: Immersion, Philosophy, and Books.
Lighting the path, the Travel Magic eBook series shares my personal experiences and takes you away to exciting locations; joining me to go cycling across New Zealand and backpacking throughout Vietnam.