I’ve only been to handful of countries but I have picked up quite a bit when it comes to building a trip itinerary and maximizing your options. Usually, I average about five locations per 2 weeks. That may not sound like much but it’s the consideration of variables you need to look at. My big three are cost vs. value, effort vs. fulfillment, and complexity vs. convenience. As a foundation, I found these to be sound and fitting. They serve as gauges to estimating the total experience you will be getting on your dollar and your time. Use these guidelines or don’t. Regardless, I guarantee it will spur questions you never knew you had and answer ones you have always been asking.
THE BIG THREE SYSTEM
Like I said before, this system may not be the "be all- end all" solution to your overseas trip but they are things to consider in order to get the most out of it. Believe me, without planning through some of these points you could end up like this guy. And nobody wants to be so disillusioned and confused about their travel goals to the point where they are taking pictures of garbage. Travel safe, travel smart, and please don't travel special. You are representing your country when you step off that plane. My God, the urge to tackle this guy is insatiable.
COST vs. VALUE
The most resounding of the three and there is a good reason for it. Cost vs. Value is a principal etched in our modern financial DNA. When you were a kid you were taught this concept. But the price paid in a transaction is not only financial. It can involve other things that you may be giving up. For example, in addition to paying money you may have to spend time learning to use a product, pay to have an old product removed, and close down current operations while a product is installed or incur other expenses. Similarly value does not always mean monetary value. Is this something you always wanted?, something personally fulfilling?, will it yield future or long term benefit?, does it provide a return? In the military this can be associated with what is called 2nd and 3rd order effects. I knew a few commanders who used to preach it as they’re keystone. It got annoying but it’s true. Everything has a 2nd and 3rd order effect. When applying this principal to travel I always broke things down like this:
1.Time- You know the saying, “Time is money”. Nothing can prove that to you more than when you are traveling. Don’t try to squeeze too much in. You can prevent this by factoring in needed sleep and transit times so you don’t put too much on your schedule before you leave.
I break it down into “free time” (time spent at your destination, doing activities etc.) and “transit time” (time used during transit btw locations, time zone fluctuations, etc.) Remember, if you change time zones you may lose time or will need to factor in sleep/rest cycles.
2.Safety- Have you weighed any potential safety risks of this trip? Not to sound like nervous nelly over here (very far from it). At a minimum understand the potential injuries you might sustain for each activity you planned. Always take a small first aid kit with you. And please, see what’s inside of it before you leave. You would be surprised at how much useless crap they put in there. Replace things and customize for what you are doing. Usually I will end up taking away and adding a lot, especially things like moleskin for blisters and additional antibacterials for cuts. Just in case this shit happens...
3.Resources- If you think you will head off to an overseas destination and just “pay as you go” you will most likely find yourself wasting valuable time and money. BLUF: THIS IS A BAD IDEA. I’m not saying show up with a pallet of crap but you need to think about the essentials which I’ve covered in previous blogs. One of the biggest things people forget is international power converters. My first overseas trip to Italy almost ended with us burning down a hostel……… (bad news bears).
Now we’ve got a snapshot of cost. Value can also be broken down to help estimate things better. These are the benefits, and who doesn’t like reviewing the good stuff?
1.Satisfaction- This one may seem silly. I mean who would choose to go somewhere or do something that isn’t satisfying to them? That’s a good question and my answer is 1(laziness) or 2(for someone else). Before you go somewhere you should think long and hard about what really makes you feel fulfillment, (not just a spur of the moment 3 week hiking trip to Nepal). Personally, I like accomplishment; getting into an area, roving through the back streets (safety permitting) and finding that hidden something (singing w/ a band in Ireland) or (living in a shoe in New Zealand). Find one thing that would make the whole trip “worth it” for you. Secondly, if you are going with someone involve them in the planning process and come up with a plan together. It will help each person do or experience something they weren’t thinking about.
1.Longevity- Is there any permanent or long term benefit to this travel? Building or strengthening old family ties? Information gathering with people in an area that you want to live in the future? Or are you just trying to build your cultural consciousness and world knowledge? Maybe all three? There are a multitude of lasting benefits to travel contrary to the common notion I hear from non-travelers that you are spending money and receiving nothing for it. My long term benefit is the photography. Permanent images marking where you planted your feet all around the world is pretty cool. You can read more tips and thoughts on Photography in my previous blog entry.
1.Return- Sort of an odd concept but some of us out there are blood thirsty capitalists always "trying to beat the Jones" in the name of the almighty dollar. Personally, that’s not me. But I must say, overseas travel does afford you the unique opportunity for some major profit. Whether it’s buying Jade stone in New Zealand, Kangaroo skins in Australia, or Persian rugs in the United Arab Emirates, there is a profit potential there. Like any investment, or in this case, dare I say “gamble” you can lose money.For those dangerous people out there you may want to stock up and re-sell. Find out what the valued items of the country are and gauge the price point.
EFFORT vs. FULFILLMENT
What I’m talking about are the sometimes inconvenient costs of travel vs. the total satisfaction you’re getting out of the event, activity, or location. A good example of this for me was going to Pisa to see the leaning tower. It took an overnight train ride, a 2am stop at Bologna, and a 4 mile walk (with packs). in the rain, through the city. Not to mention the dozens of aggressive North African street salesmen pushing crappy bootleg items in your face. We had yell at them in English and Italian to back off every time. If you ask me to do a effort vs. fulfillment comparison I think you know where I’m going. The way I do this is not perfect since the “effort” piece can involve a bunch of unanticipated factors/events.
1.Transit/Connections- A true traveler always recognizes that the trip is half the journey. You should take it all in while en route. In the end you want to get to your destination and explore though. If my transit time to get to a location is more than 1/4 of the time I’m spending there I may need to reconsider how crucial or valuable that location is.
2.Cost- How much money is it costing you to get to this place? Consider transit, food, drink, and other services such as guides or equipment rental. If you are getting a ferry or bus pass consider how much you will be moving around the area and opt for a multiple day pass.
3.Homework- Have you done your homework about what this place has to offer? Think about how much you’ve done on this specific place or event. If it’s costing considerable about of time and money then you should have done substantial research. This is the best way to avoid “tourist traps”. Use local blogs and review sites (Tripadvisor) to figure this out. What the people say is the truth, not what commercial websites are telling you. See my links page for some reliable sources.
COMPLEXITY vs. CONVENIENCE
I think when people hear the word complexity they treat it negatively but that isn’t the case. By answering the following questions you can get an idea of which way to lean on this comparison.
Make a fun new years resolution to yourself this year and start saving for your overseas trip. Indonesia, South Africa, Croatia, Morocco, Thailand, Turkey, Spain, Tasmania, the choices are endless. There's a lot of stuff out there people; 2013 is your year. I start socking away a bit every month in favor of other stuff (movies, coffees, clothes, electronics, etc.) When I think I'm about to falter its as easy as getting on Google images and typing in where you want to be. Even better, start getting your plan together. It will make you realize that this is going to actually happen, it just takes discipline and choices. You will get there sooner or later. Don't give up before you ever start. Good luck and as always, Great Travels!