Before Traveling, Prepare your Mindspace, not just your Suitcase
Most people overlook the most important thing to do before a trip.
I love travelling and am terrible at planning. I find it boring, stressful and irritating, and would far rather just land in a new place and be completely lost in the chaos over there. Generally, I don’t plan anything beyond a place to sleep the first night if I’m getting in late, I just let myself be swept up by the flow of things. And it always works out. You find a ride, on a friend’s motorbike or perching on the roof of a busy bus. You find places to stay, and end up in homes you would never have seen if you had been sticking to a rigid plan. I’m a pretty classic backpacker in this way. There are places you encounter when roaming around where backpackers all stay, because they love it, and when you ask them, most of them will tell you they are leaving “the day after tomorrow.” Then they add “Probably.” And two weeks later, they are still there. That is the beauty of not planning: you can let your trip grow and evolve like a living thing.
The fact is, the actual things that need to be planned are not that many.
And the one thing that is essential before travelling is overlooked by most people: preparing your mental state to ride out the bumps in the road! Here is my attempt at a Step-by-Step Plan for giving your mind the TLC it needs before you set off.
Take a pen and paper — or what will become your travel journal if you keep one, and go to a place where you feel relaxed and inspired to delve into your brain a little bit. Away from your phone and wifi. The idea is just to take an hour to reflect on your hopes and expectations from a trip, as well as the challenges and obstacles you might face. Answer the following questions:
- What are my intentions for this trip?
It is important to clearly define why you are travelling before your departure because otherwise, it is easy to get swept up into doing things on the classic tourist circuit, that might not actually correspond to what you wanted to learn about a country, or how you wanted to meet its inhabitants, or what you are looking for in your trip. Knowing your intentions also means that you have a clear horizon for the times when you are tired or frustrated, or when your bus has broken down in the middle-of-nowhere, or you are queuing for hours in front of a museum.
Your intention could be “to discover a new place”, “to party and meet fun people”, “to reconnect with your travel companion”, “to see a new way of living”, “to help out an NGO” etc. It should express more of a general sentiment than the specific ways you want to achieve it.
Bearing in mind what your top priority is will affect how you chose to spend your trip. For instance, if your intention is to “reconnect with your travel companion”, you might choose to skip something you would have liked to do because it would bore them, and could lead to arguments, which goes against your main aim.
2. What activities would fit in with this aim?
Rather than writing out a checklist of not to miss activities, brainstorm things which could be good for your intention, and that you can keep an eye out for once you are over there. Keep it flexible, a list full of things that excite you.
3. What concerns do you have?
Write a list of the challenges you can imagine facing. Maybe you are worried about feeling lonely on a solo trip, or that you might be too hot, or not have the right equipment. Maybe you are concerned about the language barrier or whether there will be the right food for your particular diet.
4. How can you address those challenges?
Next to each challenge in your list, write down at least one possible solution or coping strategy. You could make sure you always stay in hostels with common rooms to make new friends or find a way of picking up the basics of the language of the country you are travelling to.
5. What are your most important values, and how to respect them while travelling?
If you are a family person, you might want to plan for how you will be able to let your parents know where you are at every step of the way or make sure you have internet connexion to skype a cousin for their birthday. If you are an environmentalist, you might feel bad taking a plane and wish to travel overland instead. If you are a feminist, you might be worried about being angry when going to a country where women have fewer rights. Think of the things that matter most to you, and ask yourself if there will be challenges in the country you are visiting. Determine if there are any ways you can make sure you feel like you are being true to your values, or develop coping strategies to deal with difficulties along the road. This could be meditating, writing, phoning a friend back home… whatever works for you.
Worry-Free Paper Work
Now that you have clearly defined your intentions for your trip, and prepared yourself mentally for any challenges you might face, here is the short check-things that actually need to be sorted out before you go. If you have these few things sorted, everything else can be worked out upon your arrival.
- Insurance — Is travel insurance included with your Visa or MasterCard, or do you need to take out a separate contract?
- Cash — Do you need to carry cash or does your bank card work where you are going? Do you have limits on how much you can withdraw abroad?
- Drop-Off Point: do you have somewhere to crash on the first night?
- If you want to buy a local sim card, is your phone unblocked?
- What are the power outlets in the country you are going to? Do you need an adaptor?
Pack once, unpack, remove at least one-third of what you have got, pack again.
There is nothing you will need more than light, easy to carry luggage. No item or outfit could make your trip better than not having to lug around a huge haul.
Here are some random things you might not think of and could prove useful:
- An old cotton duvet cover which you can sleep inside, like a sleeping bag, when sheets are of a questionable level of hygiene.
- A padlock
- A headlamp
- A plastic bag to cover your luggage in the rain
- Slip-on shoes
- A card of important numbers: your loved ones, insurance company, the embassy of your country. To be stored apart from your valuables, in case your phone or wallet get stolen, you will still be able to reach the people you need to.
- A Sarong/blanket/pillow/coverup/headscarf… a million and one uses. In one scrap of fabric.
- Sunglasses. Always sunglasses.
- Download Maps Me of the place you are going — offline maps, with GPS!
- Scan all of your travel documents and email them to yourself. Make a photocopy and keep them with you, apart from your valuables.
Now you are ready to go. Enjoy the road!