After a long period of time spent living in London, I am finally planning a big trip. I’ve booked a one-way-flight. There’s no going back.
I’ve been meaning to go backpacking ever since my last long trip five years ago, but my career and my financial situation have held me back until now. Of course, my current situation is not perfect. I will have to put my career on ice for a while, and I don’t think I will ever be able to save money as long as I’m living in London, but it seems as good a time as any to take the plunge.
Dropping everything to go travelling inevitably becomes harder and harder as you get older, you accumulate responsibilities and you, potentially, have more people in your life who rely on you. I’ve decided to take advantage of my present situation and do something I’ve dreamt about for years, and accept the risks that come with that choice.
The next thing to consider as I begin to plan my solo trip – beginning in Malaysia and the Philippines, and then possibly Nepal and Sri Lanka – is how much to plan in advance. I am not a meticulous planner, I shan’t be drafting budgets or exact routes, but there is a certain amount of joy to be had in researching unknown locations, knowing that I could be there in a matter of months.
I have already bought myself Lonely Planet’s latest guide to Malaysia (Singapore & Brunei), and rifling through it is giving me a lot of excitement. This will be my first long, solo trip – so I have never had such autonomy to go exactly where I want, when I want. The possibilities are endless.
In the same vein, I want to be able to make some of those choices while I’m actually at the destination, based on who I meet, how I feel and how much I like the area. Also, since I am going away on a relatively small budget (in the interest of just bloody doing it), how long I can stay in each country and overall is dependent on whether I can find casual work, and you never know how easy that will be until you’re in a place. Which is why I haven’t yet booked a return flight; if I can’t find any kind of work, I’ll only be able to stay away a few months, no matter how careful I am with my money.
Much work available to backpackers – for example hostel work done for boarding or meals rather than cash – is appealing because it allows you to stay for longer in an area you love. Obtaining this type of work in advance, therefore, is less attractive.
As a compromise, I have booked all of my flights around Malaysia and Borneo, where I will spend a month, but I plan to leave the Philippines open. That way I can try to find work and, if I can, stay longer. After that, who knows? Having some things booked in advance ensures that I see a minimum amount, but leaving space in my diary allows for unexpected adventure.
Planning a few key connections and milestone activities, or in my case, animal encounters – turtles and orangutans in Malaysia and whale sharks in the Philippines – seems like a good jumping-off point, but I will be careful not to over-plan, and potentially limit my trip. The least expected adventures are often the most rewarding.
Are you a fastidious planner, or a fly by the seat of your pants kind of traveller? Let me know in the comments section below.