So you have finally caught a break. The stars have aligned in perfect harmony, and you have the money, time, and availability to go on an overseas trip. Your eyes have darted around Google maps for weeks and you have found the country you want. Before you start digging your old luggage out of the closet here are some great things to take into consideration. But who am I to tell you what to do, the nerve of this guy right.... Well I've been the guy who pulled the bags out of his closet and took off and I learned a lot of these lessons, just in a much more inconvenient and sometimes painful way. Because I'm such a bleeding heart I wouldn't want to see someone else go through it when they didn't have to so here we go. This is the first piece of the puzzle to get the most out of your overseas trip. Great travels, Larry.
Your probably wondering why I am talking about this if you read my introduction to this site with my "get out there and go speech" but its a little different when you are going on overseas travel. In this case doing some serious research on the country or countries you are visiting is a smart idea. This is more than knowing how to pronounce the name of it and what language is spoken. It usually takes me about a month before I feel that I know enough about a country to decide to visit it. Since I am a military man I have a bad habit of breaking things down as such lol yes even my travel planning. Lets use the METT-TC model which in the military stands for (Mission, Enemy, Terrain, Troops Available, Time and Civilian Considerations). With a few alterations I break my trip planning down this way:
Mission becomes Goal- What are the 2 or 3 biggest things you want to take away from this trip? Is it the food and culinary appreciation for the country's dining?, the environment, wildlife and beautiful landscape? or the cities, culture and nightlife? It is important to consider this carefully and be honest with yourself as the rest of your planning will center around it.
Enemy becomes Danger- What are the possible dangers that you can encounter on this trip. This should be tailored to the goals you have. For example, if you are going to be spending all your time in the cities you probably don't need to concern yourself with what deadly snake may live in the back country. Instead you might want to understand the disposition of the people towards your nationality (American for myself). Also check for events going on while you will be there. Will there be a demonstrations or protests while you are there? Not trying to incite fear here or say that you shouldn't go, but its very important to be aware of your surroundings. Be prepared for trouble rather than stumbling into it.
Terrain becomes Environment- This one is pretty self explanatory. Ensure you understand what the weather will be like when you are going (My wife and I had a harsh learning experience in Ireland). Furthermore this is the time to see if there are any medical requirements or vaccinations needed before going. Its also good to verify if you will require a visa as many countries do (i.e Australia). What does their power grid look like and what kind of outlets do they have in the walls? (Also another painful learning experience). Believe me the nice people at the B&B your staying in won't be so nice after you start a fire lol.
Troops becomes Resources- What resources and materials will you need for this trip. If your planning on going Canyoning in New Zealand what do you need? What does the adventure company provide? Turns our you may need to bring gloves. How much cash do you need to carry on you. Some countries have ATMs and take every credit card you could think of, others you may not see a ATM machine outside the cities, and some you may never see an ATM at all.
Civilian Considerations becomes Customs- In my opinion this is the most overlooked. When you step into another country realize that you have just stepped into someone else's house. The behaviors may not be the same, the services may not be the same, and the driving may not be the same. In Italy for example most dining places did not have ice cubes, some upon request, some none at all. Or in U.A.E, people would constantly invade your personal space and talk uncomfortably close. If you can't understand things like this then I highly recommend that you never leave the country. The worst thing you can do is display yourself as an ignorant tourist. To them you are representing the country where you come from. Your actions and words are assumed to be "all of our" actions and words. For your own safety it is better not to be noticed as a tourist especially in a negative light.
NOTE: THIS IS NOT A COMPLETE LIST OF CONSIDERATIONS BUT INSTEAD A BASIC LAYOUT
Ok, stay with me. To put it lightly, I am a nerd so I felt this picture would be perfect to move to the next piece of the overseas planning puzzle. Just like you have an inventory in a video game the same applies to real life. Most people just don't have it organized as well. After completing your research about the destination in question take all the considerations you have gathered and determine what equipment and materials you will need for your trip. Then it is a simple exercise of moving around your house or apartment and verifying what you already have. Sounds like a piece of cake, yet many people tend to "neglect" this. Once you have gathered everything you need (or think you need) lay out all the items you have gathered in one place. The Army calls this a PCC (Pre Combat Check) or PCI (Pre Combat Inspection). And there I go again with the Army acronyms, my wife is going to kill me.
Once you have everything in front of you begin packing your bag(s). Yep, I said it, just start packing everything up! After you have fully packed your bag(s) pick it up and walk around your back yard or if its a backpack through it on your back and walk around......trust me. No this isn't a step by step guide to act like you've lost your mind however you can freak your neighbors out this way.
Hopefully, you will realize that even after all your planning thus far you still have too much stuff. Carrying your bag is important because it really helps you to consider whether all of that stuff is worth the weight that is "literally" on your back. Maybe you are that one percent, but everyone I have ever known including myself tends to pack too much when traveling. Normally I'm not a fanatic about the Minimalist approach to things but in this case it can only do you good, so long as you pack the right things, that is.
Remember, more than likely you will be staying in a hotel, B&B, or even a hostel. Many of these places have laundry rooms with washers and dryers.
Speaking of that bag....
Typically, my wife and I don't go on trips overseas for more than 2 weeks at a time, primarily because of life in general (cost, resources, time off work etc.) For travel of 2 weeks or less I would strongly recommend using a Eurobag (7 day) pack size and one day pack per person. Please do not use a "fanny pack", it hurts my heart every time I see someone wandering around with one. It is almost guaranteed that you will have more than enough room with this setup so long as you will have the following things provided during your trip:
-Shelter (staying at a establishment)
-Food/ Water available (in a populated area)
Almost all of the bags (pictured above) have adjustable frames to properly fit your torso. Most are unisex but they do have some specifically designed for women (not sure what the difference is). Additionally try to find one that has a built in tarp. This saved me during a downpour in Pisa, Italy when we had to walk 4 miles from the train station to the leaning tower. I just unzipped the small pocket at the base of the pack and pulled the shell over the entire thing. It kept all my items safe and 100% dry. The day pack you get should be as light as possible and have decent shoulder straps.
This is a subjective topic, but only to a degree. I understand that the whole point of your trip is more than likely to get away from all the schedules, all the monotony of daily rhythms and have a fun, relaxing time while traveling abroad. Unfortunately, with no form of direction planned for your trip, especially one lasting longer than a few days, you could find yourself with some serious headaches.
I am not saying that you need to have things planned by the hour or even the day but you should have an idea of how many days you would like to stay in each location during your trip. For instance when I went to Ireland I did what I like to call "framing the picture" or "building the skeleton".
Basically by determining that some of the towns I was visiting we're extraordinarily small (population:209 Castlegregory) and some places were obviously large (population 527,612 Dublin) you can gauge how many days it would reasonably take to see the sites and fully experience the area. In most cases I avoid spending 1 night in a location back to back. You will feel rushed and tired by constant travel. Usually 2 nights for small to medium sized towns hits the spot. Allow at least 3 nights for major cities (i.e. Dublin, Frankfurt, Rome, Philadelphia). Personally I feel that is the minimum time you can be there and experience the scope of the location at a comfortable pace.
And that is it, my basic ABCs of planning before an overseas trip. I am a very methodical person so I have spared you the pain of going into detail with each of these aspects. The purpose was to give a basic template or foundation. I have used this method for a couple of years now and it serves me very well. Adjust as needed for yourself but always remember that the planning is part of the fun. It is when "a trip" becomes "your trip" and provides a great feeling of accomplishment when you find yourself in all the amazing places doing the things you have planned. Travel starts in the mind and ends with the plane ticket.... the rest is the experience of a lifetime. No two are ever the same and if done right you will learn a lot from it after your done! I look forward to hearing your thoughts and Great Travels! Larry