Lonely Planet

Next Steps: Planning, or Lack Thereof, and Why I Got a Guidebook

So I’ve decided to go to Central America… Now what?

The planning process this time is much more low-key than it was for my RTW trip last year. In fact, it’s near non-existent. With the aim to travel totally flexibly and recommendation-based, I don’t want to do much research into specifics. I know some places I want to see in every country – obvious ones like Chichen Itza, Caye Caulker, Antigua, the Panama Canal – and that’s enough of a start for me. If I look into it too much then I’ll come up with all of these places that I’ll try to make it to like I did last time and feel rushed to keep moving. I’m going with a more “ignorance is bliss” approach this time; I can’t miss what I don’t know about.


I still did buy a guidebook: Lonely Planet’s Central America on a Shoestring (if it’s not broke don’t fix it). In my last trip I thought the Shoestring guides were good resources to have with me even if they weren’t my first mode of planning. At the end of each country chapter there’s a history section that I would read on my way into the country to get a little background on where I was going and what I would be experiencing. If I found myself without a clue of where to stay when I arrived somewhere I would go to the accommodation page and target the neighborhood pointed out as a hostel-centric area. Plenty of times I tore out the maps and used them to get myself around a city or neighborhood, especially at night in search of a bar. And of course if I had a lack of advice on where to go next I could read through the locations for inspiration.

Most helpful though was the transportation information. Each country has a “getting to” and “getting away” section that not only helps with flight versus bus evaluations but also finding your way into town from the typically far away airport or bus station. Then there’s the call-out boxes of bus matrices that are good guidelines for frequency, length of time, and cost to get between between places of interest. But if I were to give a “most helpful section” award it would go to the border crossing information. These guidebooks highlight the best places to cross borders and explanations of how it all works. This information is hard to find elsewhere; many travelers referenced my books to see what we were up against.

As helpful as the internet is, there’s no way to beat having a physical reference in your hand when you have to make a snap decision in Bangkok traffic about whether you can ditch the southern bus station idea and instead go to the train station with your new travel companion to catch an overnight train to Surat Thani to make it to Khao Lak by tomorrow. With no cell phone service and no understanding of Thai where else are you going to get the answers you need?

Notice though that all of these reasons for getting the guidebook are not talking about planning, they’re focused on use on the road. I’ve barely opened it since I bought it and don’t plan on reading it much until I’m on my way into the next country. And of course I will again rip out the countries as I leave them, decreasing the heft of the book as I go.

I got one more reference book: Lonely Planet’s Latin American Spanish Phrasebook & Dictionary. Now that I have this, I wonder how I could have possibly gone to South America without it. The layout is so helpful, broken down into sections like transport, meeting people, and menu decoder, plus a small two-directional dictionary in the back, that I am already anxious to put it to use. I am also trying to keep up on my Duolingo app to refresh what Spanish I knew and learn more before I go. This time I really do want to learn Spanish, especially when I think about how easily I picked it up last time. I’ve even thought about taking a language class in Guatemala for a week or two.

My last written guide, for now, is BootnAll’s How to Plan an Extended Trip in Central America. I read this back when I was still debating what to do; I wanted to have some sort of idea what I would be getting myself into, and as I read about the different places and type of travel I would be doing I found myself only growing more and more excited. It’s part of the reason I ended up seriously looking into flights. As always, BootsnAll provided helpful inspiration. I marked the places the guide highlighted in a Google Map to get a general idea of a route, and I will again be using this website to outline my budget.

Otherwise I’ve already gotten extremely helpful tips from friends on where to go in Mexico and Nicaragua, and am hoping for more soon. So please, if you know anywhere I absolutely can’t miss, let me know!


Final Analysis of My Packing Decisions

Before leaving I had to make a ton of logistical decisions. Never having done a trip like this before, I made educated guesses informed by reading guidebooks and blog posts. At what was originally my halfway point I wrote a mid-trip analysis of how some of my pre-departure decisions were going, so now that I’m back I figured I should write a final analysis on how it all worked out in the end. Honestly, I was pretty spot-on.

Perfect. They held up so well through being thrown around on all forms of transportation and a few long walks in the rain (even if the color is a little faded and they’re now rocking the ‘worn’ look). They fit every need I had and by the end of the trip I could pack them in about five minutes; everything had its place. I will never travel with a normal suitcase again. Being able to move around with everything on my back is the best way to travel. I even brought my backpack into NYC instead of a typical overnight bag. And I still use the Fjallraven bag daily – it is just the right size, has just the right pockets (inside a small one for wallet and keys plus a laptop sleeve, outside one for quick access stuff), and I’ll never stop raving about the three ways to wear it (shoulder bag, messenger bag, backpack).

The only change I would make for next time is perhaps using a smaller backpack. The main reason for this is airplanes: I would like to be able to fly carry-on (although having a Leatherman with me made that impossible anyway) and budget airlines charge more based on weight, so I never wanted to go over 15 kg. I think I could fit everything into a 40L bag since mine was really never full. However, with the ebb and flow of how much I carried with me, it made sense to have a little extra space for those times when I picked up a few extra things for a short time, like a bulky shawl and a gift in my final days in Japan, or when I had to shove all my stuff into the backpack in Salvador for safety concerns. But any woman who’s looking for a 60L backpack, the Gregory Deva is the best, I highly recommend it.

Overall my clothing decisions were pretty good. Even though I became totally sick of them and all the hostel washing machines wore them down and stretched them out, most of my clothes lasted me the whole year. Along the way I did pick up a few things and drop a few things, either sending them home with people who visited or throwing them out.

Some things that I should have brought that I picked up along the way: scarf, cardigan, and more underwear. Whoever said you just need a weeks worth of underwear must love washing it in the sink. Yes this is doable, and I did it as well, but when family came to visit in Vietnam and Thailand they all brought me more underwear. Great, I thought, I could throw out the old ones. Nope. I kept them all. Girls underwear is small, I had the room, and it meant I did wash less often (to be honest I only washed my clothes when I was out of underwear). A cardigan was a nice addition just to have another layer that wasn’t an outdoorsy jacket. By the time I got to Southeast Asia it was so hot all the time that I didn’t need heavy jackets, but at night it was nice to have some other layer. A scarf had to be my favorite addition. It was an easy fix when I was slightly cold in a t-shirt or absolutely freezing bundled up in all my layers, and came in handy as a blanket on an overnight bus. Plus it easily fit in my second bag so I always had it on me.

Bolivia sweater, Peru socks, Ecuador gloves, Vietnam pants, New Zealand sneakers
Bolivia sweater, Peru socks, Ecuador gloves, Vietnam pants, New Zealand sneakers

In the end though I’m happy I didn’t have everything I needed because now I have souvenirs from all over the place. I didn’t let myself spend precious money on souvenirs, but when I needed cold weather clothes in South America or hot weather clothes in Asia I could justify the minimal amount of money they required. It was a great excuse to pick up some useful things that remind me of the places where I got them.

Something I would have brought next time: sneakers instead of hiking boots. Unless you’re planning on doing some serious trekking, consider sneakers instead of boots. I could have done the hikes I did in sneakers and also worn them daily in cities or actually have gone on runs (I like to think not having the proper footwear is the reason I didn’t work out…). For my trip, they would have worked better. I already have a pair I’m planning to bring on my next trip.

Something I didn’t use: clothes drying line. It’s so easy and cheap to drop off laundry around the world (except Australia, of course) that I never did end up washing all my clothes in the sink (except the occasional underwear). For $2 all my clothes were washed, folded, and ready for wear in 24 hours, and while that was being done I was out exploring. It was worth it to me.

Cameras, great: the Canon G16 was perfect for high quality photos in a reasonably compact camera body, and I used the GoPro even more than I originally thought for adventures both extreme (scuba diving) and daily (rickshaw rides). I can confidently say I documented my trip well and I am exceedingly happy about that.

Laptop, great: the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S was small and portable enough to not feel like a burden but with a full keyboard and ports (USB, card reader) functioned exactly how I needed it to, plus the rotating touch screen was a nice perk when I wanted to watch The Sopranos or prop it up for music (although the speakers are pretty bad).

Something I will bring next time: portable hard-drive. While Google Drive totally did work for backing up photos in the cloud (I now have 7 email accounts), I was still paranoid about losing everything and kept almost all my pictures on my camera’s memory card until I got home and could put them on my big external hard-drive.

Something I didn’t use: the extra back covers with the openings for the GoPro. I was too worried to ever take off the waterproof back. Also I could probably go without the head mount; the clip mount and a backwards hat worked just fine for the very few times I wanted it on my head.

My surprisingly most-used device: my iPhone. I debated whether or not to even bring it, and now it’s one of the things I tell people they should bring with them. It’s a little portable computer, and now with widespread wifi and map apps that don’t even need wifi (maps.me is a traveler’s best friend – it syncs maps to your phone for offline use and can even find you in the most hectic places, like Hanoi) I have to admit it’s incredibly useful. As much as I liked being disconnected, for those times when technology really does help and a laptop is just not as easily accessible, the iPhone was a great addition.

I left the States with two books: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, and Lonely Planet’s South America on a Shoestring. I did not bring a kindle. I knew hostels had book exchanges so I wanted my reading material to come from those; I hoped to discover books that I may not have thought to purchase myself, and, figuring many of them would be left behind by other travelers, ones that were enjoyed by people with similar interests to mine. It worked wonderfully.

I read 11 books during the year. Since I only had Don Quixote, in Brazil Bobby gave me one of the books from his traveling library as a back-up, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. When I finished Don Quixote, a 1000-plus-page feat that took all of South America, I left it behind in my hostel in Buenos Aires and picked up a two small books – a thriller and a German book (ambitious of me) – whose names I forget because I never ended up reading them. Once we got to a hostel in New Zealand with a better option I swapped the thriller for The Pelican Brief by John Grisham. Meanwhile I was reading The Satanic Verses, which I finished and swapped in my Melbourne hostel for The Hunger Games, Part 2 by Suzanne Collins. After the last two serious books I figured I deserved a break, and I had a long flight coming up. I read it cover to cover on that 9-hour entertainment-less flight. In my hostel in Hanoi I swapped it with a girl in my room for Wild: An Elemental Journey by Jay Griffiths, which was left behind in Vientiane for Chelsea Handler’s My Horizontal Life. Meanwhile I had started The Pelican Brief, which I finished in Dreamtime and swapped for Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakmi. In Dreamtime I also left behind the unread German book for Isabel Allende’s My Invented Country: A Memoir, which I plan on reading this summer. I finished Sputnik Sweetheart in Myanmar and, in my hostel in Inle Lake, swapped it for The Harp in the South by Ruth Park. Another fast read, I was done with it by India, where a girl in our Jaipur hostel gave me Wild, From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed. I swapped this in Hampi for another book about finding oneself in the nature of the United States, Into the Wild by John Krakauer. In the meantime I had ditched Chelsea Handler – which I could not finish, it was terrible – and The Harp in the South at our hostel in Goa, where Kwaz gave me Dave Eggers’s The Circle. At this point it was Japan, so I brought that one home with me and instead swapped Into the Wild for The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton in my hostel in Aso, my final book swap. So what this long saga is hoping to convey is how well the book exchange worked. I read books I’ve never heard of as well as books I’ve always wanted to read. I fully plan to travel this way again in the future.

As for the guidebooks, I only had the one for South America and Southeast Asia on a Shoestring (which I ordered through Amazon to my aunt, who nicely brought it to me in Vietnam). The rest was planned by advice from other travelers or online research. I don’t plan to bring a guidebook with me on the next trip because I learned that it is easy, and often much preferred, to pick a next location based on hearsay from other backpackers. But that’s not to say I didn’t at times find them extremely helpful – for sightseeing ideas, border crossing information, history of a region, and last-minute hostel options for those times I just showed up in a place with no reservation and no internet connection. So if you’re considering bringing a guidebook I do think they’re a good investment, especially if it’s your first time on a trip like this. I would also recommend treating them as I did – I ripped out the pages of places I wasn’t going to or had already been, often giving them to other travelers who were on their way to that location. It lightened my load quite a bit, even if the books looked totally massacred by the end. I still have the cover of each as a keepsake.

Health and Wellness
Honestly, all good. I got some back-up supplies from my sister when she joined me just after the 6 month mark, which was super helpful – tissues, wet wipes, and cold and flu medicine (which I used up during the time I thought I had dengue fever). Somehow I never ran out of bug spray or sunscreen – probably because I stopped using sunscreen around Australia when sun no longer burned me. I brought all the extra medicines that were recommended and never ended up needing them – Cipro and things like that, tons of Advil I never touched, and I even came back with spare Malaria pills. I also never did have to show my Yellow Fever vaccination card but at least I had it just in case, and that was one less disease to worry about. Better to be safe than sorry.

I had Travel Insurance the whole time but never once had to use it. I could view that as a waste of money, but I chose to see it as a solid investment. I think it’s one of those things where if I hadn’t gotten insurance I would have needed it, and if I did get it I wouldn’t need it. I prefer the latter, and that ended up being the case. Plus the reasoning behind getting it proved accurate: I never had to worry about anything I wanted to do while I was traveling. Scuba diving, skydiving, sandboarding, jungle treks, wine country biking – I was covered so I went for it all. Better to be safe than sorry again.

So I lived out of a backpack for a year. How did that go?
Living out of a backpack is easier than you think. I actually find myself having a hard time with all the extra stuff I have now that I’m back home. I keep reverting to the clothes that I brought with me on the trip – they feel normal, comfortable, easy. I’m actually hoping to get rid of even more stuff now that I’m back. And now that I know it can be done, packing for the next trip is going to be a cinch. People have more stuff than they ever really need, and experiencing only having a backpack’s worth of possessions was actually freeing. I was totally mobile and prepared to go anywhere in an instant – it felt great.

24 Hours in Brisbane

I decided to do a quick stop in Brisbane on my way to Byron Bay. I had to go through it anyway so why not check it out? People heard I had just 24 hours and thought I was a little crazy, but I had done a dozen stops like this in South America, so I went for it. And I’m happy I did.

Brisbane is much better than I expected it to be. I’d heard that it wasn’t worth going to unless you knew someone there and maybe that’s true for a weekend or longer stay, but I had a very pleasant day in Brizzy.

I arrived at 3:10 pm and had a casual evening. I took advantage of the massive roof deck of my hostel to write some blog posts at a table overlooking the city and ate my couscous and avocado dinner (a true backpacker meal of leftovers from Noosa) outside. Brian, a quirky Swiss guy from my room, suggested we check out the free ferry City Hopper to see the city lit up from the water. Great idea.

The ferry is a nice nighttime activity. It was pleasant to putter around on a boat on such a warm night and see the glowing bridges and buildings of Brizzy. It was on this boat ride that we learned that the river really does have sharks in it! When we returned to the hostel I took advantage of another one of its perks: the movie theater. Pirates of the Caribbean? Don’t mind if I do.

The next morning I set out early to do Lonely Planet’s CBD walk (taken from a fellow traveler in Noosa). This walk was a great introduction to the city; it took me through main plazas, urban districts, important civic buildings, bridge views, riverside boardwalks, the Botanical Gardens, and the South Bank, which is a fantastic public amenities space. There’s a rainforest walk with a Nepalese Pagoda, plenty of places to lounge in grassy fields, walking/running/cycling paths, cafes and restaurants, a cultural center, and the Street Beach, Brisbane’s lagoon. What is with Australia and their love of public swimming pool lagoons? I had now seen this 3 times: Cairns, Airlie Beach, and Brisbane. They’re all so well maintained too, looking clean and inviting. I wonder if that would ever happen in the States.

I spent a decent amount of time in the Gallery of Modern Art. This museum is a perfectly manageable size and had some interesting exhibits. I discovered 2 new artists I really liked: Tracey Moffatt and Hiraki Sawa. It is definitely worth a visit, not just for Art History people. (And it’s free!) On my way back I encountered a food market in front of the Treasury where I wanted to buy everything, but I held off because I’d been told of a cool stop in an alley nearby.

I almost missed The Brew – on Albert between Queen Street Mall and King George Square – because it really does just look like an alleyway, but it’s good thing I found it. This is an awesome chill place I could spend hours in, the type of place where you can hang out alone or with friends, starting with a coffee and moving on to food and beer as the day moves on. I let myself get a mocha (so good) and took some leisure time. A reward for a good 24 hour visit to Brizzy.

At 4:00 I boarded my bus to Byron Bay happy with this last-minute stop. I needed a city in between all this beach time. I didn’t realize I’d missed cities until I took more pictures on the hour and a half boat ride than I did on all of Fraser Island. Add Brisbane to the list of places that made me think more about my future, this time leaning heavily in favor of city life. And when I spent a lot of time trying to get a good picture of a funky skyscraper and a trussed bridge, and sitting in a gallery to listen to an architect talk about his work, I was again reminded of my love for architecture. Could this year bring me right back to where I was before I left, just a year older and more traveled? TBD, but after Brizzy, it’s possible. Then again after this year anything is possible.

São Paulo

I left São Paulo with conflicting feelings: three days absolutely flew by, but I also felt like it was enough time to get the city. It is huge, yes, but there doesn’t seem to be too much to see from a tourist perspective. I feel like I did everything I wanted to, and on top of city sights I was able to just enjoy being there for the World Cup and in the Vila Madalena neighborhood.

Monday morning (6/23) I got an early start and did a solo walking tour through Centro SP, thanks to the guidance of Lonely Planet. Centro is a bit nuts – it reminded me a lot of Taksim in Istanbul. There is some historic architecture scattered around, but it is surrounded by nondescript towers, leaving an impression that was just ok. There are pedestrian-only streets running throughout Centro, and some that you’d swear were pedestrian-only until a car almost hits you, lined by what used to be beautiful smaller buildings that have had their first floors converted into run-of-the-mill shops. People are everywhere, and right now there are people hawking Brazil paraphernalia every step you take.

What I found to be more interesting than the physical make-up of the city was observing the buzz of the city. I admit, I’m usually the pedestrian with headphones in controlling my own soundtrack as I walk around. I commuted this way on the Metro but took out the headphones once I got into Centro and just listened to the soundtrack of the city. It was fascinating to me. Hearing the local language, music, traffic, and occasional soccer horn set the scene. I was aware of this as I was walking around, and made a mental note to recommend others also ditch the headphones and let in the sounds of the city.

Monday afternoon was a completely different scene. After lunch in Vila Madalena watching the Chile/Netherlands game, and a quick wander through the Beco de Batman (the Bat Cave) street (more vibrant street art), me and a couple new friends from the hostel got ready to go into Centro again to the FIFA Fanfest for the Brazil vs. Cameroon game.

We were too late. The Fanfest was already full to capacity, so we walked half a block up and got a table on a side street that had a small TV outside. But what more do you need really than a street full of soccer fans, a TV, and access to Brahma (the beer of choice). It was so fun to watch with both locals and visitors – the Chileans that were still there from their afternoon game were definitely the most vocal but they were also supporting Brazil. Everyone was singing and chanting and just so happy to watch Brazil win.The Chile cheer has become a favorite just because it’s so addictive to yell: “Chi Chi Chi! Le Le Le! Viva Chile!” But this was nothing compared to the scene in Vila Madalena.

We got back on the Metro and, after picking up some R$4 beers on the way, joined the street party on Rua Aspicuelta. Street party doesn’t even begin to do this scene justice. Block after block was entirely packed with people. If the bars were open we didn’t even know it; people had full bars set up in the trunks of their cars or in carts in the middle of the street. We navigated through a sea of people making friends on the way. “Making friends.” Most of the time this consisted of Brazilians asking us to kiss them. Sometimes they didn’t even ask but just went for it. I don’t even know how to describe this night other than hilarity and insanity. The Brazilians sure do know how to celebrate a win. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures, it wasn’t the kind of place you want to bring any electronics. We went equipped with a little cash and nothing else.

Tuesday (6/24) was a little quieter. I took the majority of the day to do some more exploring in a different are of Sao Paulo. Thanks to a recommendation, I went to the Itaú Cultural in Bela Vista to see an exhibit on Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. Having an architecture background, this was right up my alley. (And being a backpacker, the free admission was also perfect.) It was a very interesting exhibit with his drawings, some models, and a documentary about his work. I was especially fascinated to see his drawings. Having been a part of producing concept design books for my job, I was captivated to see how he put his drawings together. Back in the days before computers too. This was my nerdy moment of SP.

From there, I walked down to the Ibirapuera Park. This beautiful park was a nice escape from the bustle of the city. I sat under a large tree, facing a building that resembled a modernist painting, reading and enjoying the warm weather. I stopped by the Modern Art Museum (picked up a little Brazil notebook in the gift shop that has already been so useful for addresses, directions, and general notes), and wandered through the park. I stumbled onto a little lunch spot where I had a local snack (it was basically an empanada, just a Brazilian version) and watched Uruguay beat Italy (seriously the World Cup is on everywhere) before wandering back out and home. It was lovely.

I had started out my day thinking I’d try to make it to a museum, maybe the contemporary art museum or the soccer museum. I’m happy I didn’t go that route. Not only did I really enjoy my wandering, but it further proved that cities everywhere have a lot to offer without having to cost a fortune. Since I’m still so early in my trip I’m obviously budget conscious, and I had a terrific day full of culture and nature without spending anything. If this keeps up then I’ll feel a lot better about the splurge moments (thinking ahead to Rio now).

Tuesday night was a much more tame street party, just within one block this time, and some fun chilling in the hostel. Then it was up early and off to the airport.

My impression of São Paulo is positive, but not raving. Vila Madalena is very fun, with the rest of the city seeming large but not exactly packed with a lot of attractions. The excellent Metro (R$3 per ride) makes it very manageable to get around; I was definitely impressed by the public transportation system. The Viva Design Hostel was also a highlight – new, clean, friendly, and full of other travelers, solo and in groups ranging from 23 to 38, from Australia to Chile to Holland. I even made plans with a hostelmate to go to Brasilia and Salvador together after the World Cup is over.

I would call this first stop a great success. It was what I was hoping I would find on this trip: great people, interesting places, a mixture of alone time and group fun, and the ability to navigate a new, big city where I don’t speak the language.

Travel Insurance

I finally got travel insurance… only a month behind schedule. Luckily it starts immediately so I was only uninsured for 2 days (my medical insurance through work stopped at the end of May, whoops).

A while ago I decided to go with World Nomads. They’re highly recommended by all the travel sites I’ve been using and gave me the kind of everything-is-covered insurance that I was hoping for.

I wanted one plan that would offer trip protection and medical insurance, and this one does just that. It covers everything from trip cancellation to hospital visits to emergency evacuation (which is the one thing my nurse at the travel clinic told me I HAD TO GET). Plus with World Nomads I can extend my coverage on the road, so I can get 10 months up front but if I end up traveling for another 6 months I can extend it when I decide that.

So why the hesitation to buy?

World Nomads has two levels of protection – standard and explorer. Standard is definitely the more cost conscious decision. For most normal trips I probably would have gone with standard immediately and been done a long time ago. But this isn’t really a normal trip. Looking further into what activities are covered, things I want to do like skydiving and scuba diving are only covered under the explorer level. Even car rental is covered in explorer, which is maybe not a plan now but who knows if I’ll want to rent a van and drive around New Zealand for a few weeks. Plus it has elevated coverage for other expenses like hospital stays and evacuation.

I was having a hard time though spending an extra ~$300 for things I’m not sure I’ll need covered. So I called my dad (who works in insurance). Now you’re probably thinking of course a parent who works in insurance is going to tell you to go with the higher coverage, and you’re right. He had a lot of valid points on why I should chose the explorer level, points you could probably guess, but there was one thing that he said that really resonated with me:

Do you want to be about to do something and have to say “wait, I have to check to make sure it’s covered in my insurance”? In the grand scheme of things, an extra $300 to give you peace of mind to do everything you want to do is not that much. Like you said, you want to do whatever you can in this trip – if you go with the explorer you’ll never have to worry about whether or not you’re covered, and you can just do what you want when it comes up.

He was right. This is a trip that I want to be able to say yes to absolutely any and everything that comes my way. For a few hundred dollars more, I can do a lot more and not have to worry about it. And that’s why I worked the extra months past hitting my budget goal anyway, so I would feel ok spending this money up front.

So I went with World Nomads explorer level.

Now lets hope I never have to actually use this insurance.

The Big Trip

When I started to plan this trip I knew I would do a lot of online research, but I have always had a soft spot for real books. So when I got an email from Lonely Planet that they were having a sale I jumped on the chance to get their book “The Big Trip – Your ultimate guide to gap years and overseas adventures.”

Lonely Planet's "The Big Trip"

Lonely Planet’s “The Big Trip”

This book became my bible. I made myself wait until I was a year out – June 2013 – until I read it. I thought that planning too early would just make me too excited and make the reality of waiting to go so much harder. So the summer of 2013 I would dedicate to reading this book cover to cover. It didn’t take me the whole summer, I could barely put it down.

The guide is set up to help you plan out logistics as well as destinations. It’s arranged in four parts:

Part One: Travel Smarts – This is where the logistics are. From visas to immunizations to travel insurance, it has helpful websites and information to get you started on all the less fun but entirely necessary details.

Part Two: Tailoring Your Trip – Starting to get more into the details of actually traveling abroad, this part has options for where to stay, working and volunteering, even learning a new language abroad. I took some notes on international German programs in case I want to explore that option (despite being a German major in college, I’ve gotten embarrassingly bad).

Part Three: Where to Go – Ah the fun part. This is where the day dreaming starts and the destinations get mapped out. I wrote down so many places and activities that I wanted to see from this section. It also helped more substantially form my trip; I was able to rank places as Must Sees or Would Like to Sees or Could Misses.

Part Four: Directories – I am considering taking these pages with me. They’re helpful websites and organizations to know about before and during travel.

I took a lot of notes in my travel notebook from reading this book. I frequently refer to them to see when I need to start looking into things (get a passport ASAP! Brazil visa first! Immunizations 8 weeks out!) or just as a reminder of the cool places I’ll be going. I carry this notebook with me everywhere in case inspiration hits or I feel like I need to check about some important task that I think is coming up.

I can’t recommend The Big Trip enough. It’s a great resource in so many ways and it helped me with a lot of the pains of initial planning. And it made for inspiring evenings staying in reading.

Wine helps calm the planning nerves

Wine helps calm the planning nerves