Pre-Travel Routine of an OCTP* – Part II: Planning My Trip

Please click here for Part I.

Well! Now that the budget and the place have been decided, it’s time to pack! Ha! If only… At this stage, there is still the same five/six months left to go! Maybe it’s just time to kick back, relax and wait for the trip to come! For most, that’s what happens, but not if you are me! To me, what comes naturally from now on is the travel planning! Time needs to be optimized! I don’t particularly like to just “parachute” down into a city, grab a map and explore, I end up missing a lot of the jewels the place has to offer, off the touristic track. Does that explain my OCTP behaviour? Maybe not… ah well! Let’s see the next stage of my pre-travel routine.

  1. Familiarising myself with the city/country

It’s time to get the travel books and google out! I really enjoy looking at maps! May they be old, new, in paper, online… I just love maps! In the case of an entire country, becoming familiar with the geography, where the cities are located, public transport connecting them, what’s interesting in each place and, in the case of a city, pretty much the same! Placing the hostel in the city, seeing how to get to and from the train/bus station or airport, becoming familiar with the streets and streets names, location of the places of interests, what the places of interests are… Exhausting, but don’t forget! Five months to do it!

As thing start to become too much, is time to get the old travel book out and take down some notes.

  1. Print out maps of the city and its public transport network

Why? At this stage, I know the city very well! I know the places I want to see, why I want to see them and I know where they are… roughly! At this stage, I start to consolidate all places into my paper map (Don’t rely on technology while travelling!) and glue them to my book. I like seeing the places all laid out and a map of public transport beside it, should I need it (I hardly do! Love walking!). Now I can divide the city into daily/half daily sectors, so that once I have visited that particular sector, I don’t need to return to that region.

Geographically speaking, I theoretically know the city well now! All maps are glued to my book, the days are all planned out, entry times and prices all have been worked within the budget etc etc etc… Time for the next stage!

  1. Learning the history of the city and country

This is a great stage! Learning where the cities and the country went through! I tend to focus on the local history and end up learning the country’s history as a consequence. Local history is so rich, one can take months reading about it! This way, I can put the geography into context: Why is the city the way it is? Who made it that way? Who built this and that? Of course I can’t learn it all, but I read as much as I possibly can. Only bullet points summarizing the main points go into my book. This works as a reminder of the big picture. (There is an anecdote related to that! But for a later post)

What else is there to do?

  1. Getting the travelling companion

Now the tickets are bought, trains booked, days planned, the budget is sound, maps are only needed in case of emergency, the history is just as fluent as my own. Is there something else to do? Get my good old loyal travelling companion: Samppras Carrot! My friend and I bought him in 2009 and he has been to several countries, mostly with me.

Travelling alone can be a very lonely business. Sometimes we all need a break and something to cheer us up. Well, my way to do it is by taking photos os Samppras in different places. Everywhere I go, he goes. Some people may think it is crazy, but he became part of my trips as much as my backpack and my camera.

He is great! Ah well, now it is time to take a break! Part III (and final) will be posted soon! Thank you for the audience!

Pre-Travel Routine of an OCTP* – Part I: Budgeting And Destination

Bare with me, pictures are yet to come in Part II!

And here is for Part III

Travelling combines probably most of my strengths and passions: The love for geography, history and just good old general learning. I love maps and spend a lot of time on Wikipedia, going from one article to another. It’s amazing how much we can learn when we are not trying to do so.

After posting about some of the places I have been, I have never posted about the part that, in my opinion, composes of about 75% of the trip: The planning. I will post these in a series of three posts to show you how the mind of an Obsessive-Compulsive Travel Planner* works.

These posts will be based on my almost 14 years travel “career”, where I kept a budget of all my expenses for most of my solo trips and studied their/my average pattern. As most of you probably know, budget and choosing a destination are not independent of each other, so here is how I work:

  1. Setting my holiday dates

This is probably the most stressful of them all: I need to ask for holidays about six months in advance, but I hate asking my boss for the time, but it gives me plenty of time to choose the right place. I guess everyone has to go through it, after all, most of us are not lucky enough to be able to do this for a living. Six months in advance may be too long for some? Well, I really can’t do it any other way. I need a very good excuse to make me travel at short notice (< 2 months), otherwise, how can I learn about the place? (topic yet to come). And if I need to travel at very short notice, most of the time it is not for a good occasion, which I need not go in to.

  1. Matching my budget and choosing the “right” place to go

As soon as I get home with the dates at hand, it’s time to check the travel fund and see how far I can travel. Budgeting and choosing where the place is never easy, but I have a rule of thumb: Including all expenses (plane tickets, accommodation, food, entertainment etc), I summarize my budget to £50 per day (€63/US$85). It doesn’t matter where I go, this is my budget. To what does the £50 break down? Here is a pie chart to roughly illustrate the point.

This is just an estimate, based on a trip where I don’t know anybody, am going by myself and based on hostel dorms in cities like New York/Paris/London (expensive stuff, but there are very good options if you do your research). If you have travelled before, you know that prices can vary. The destination is constrained by how long my holidays are, which makes sense. If I don’t have a lot of time, I go close by. You won’t see me taking a two-week holiday to Vietnam or China!

Deciding the place is then relatively “trivial”! Take the daily travel budget, multiply by the number of days and check how far you can go!

Once the place has been decided, JUST CHECK that there are plane tickets available within the budget, then arrange the place to stay FIRST. Avoid buying the plane tickets before accommodation, because once you commit to the plane ticket, you HAVE to go, regardless on how much your accommodation will cost you.

Most times, there is money left over, I never spend it. I add it to next trip’s budget.

Part II of this post will be published very soon, thanks for your audience! Stay tuned for more!

Cua Dai Beach – Vietnam

Very close to Hoi An, in South Central Vietnam, there is a little beach. My friend and I had rented a moped the day before and before we had to leave to Hanoi, we still had a the entire morning and most of the afternoon to do something… why not go to the beach? My friend decided to pilot the moped, not an automatic though, but one of those 3-gear ones. He had never been on one, nevermind driven one. My God!!!!!!!! I saw my life flash before my eyes, so arriving in Cua Dai beach at 7am, still deserted, I thought that I had died and gone to heaven… and heaven was a beautiful sandy beach in Vietnam, with clear blue skies and cirrus clouds hanging overhead, some coconut trees and coconut water to drink until I’d had enough (Can you really get enough coconut water? Not me!). Well, maybe that’s what heaven is! Who knows? I loved the place, but as soon as lunch time came by, it got soooo busy, so many people bringing their food to the beach, leaving some litter behind, some floating on the water… maybe that was God showing what heaven could be like and what it really is… it is up to you how you want to see it!

Rio Pratinha – Chapada Diamantina

In 2007, I visited the town of Lencois and took some amazing shots. I loved the place and this place in particular, the Pratinha River. The crystal clear river flows under the rocks to the other side (See the other side of the river here.) At around 2:30pm, the sun shines directly on the water of the river, through the narrow gap between the rocks and the river glows blue. It is amazing but lasts too briefly!