Tomorrow, the world

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Start planning that trip of a lifetime…

Starting to think about your big 2017 trip? Why limit yourself to just two weeks. Step off the treadmill, strap on the backpack and take advantage of an era of cheap air travel and see the world – or at least some if it. There’s a whole world out there – some of it welcoming, some of it hostile – but if you don’t go, you’ll never know.

Travelling not only offers us an opportunity to escape the gloomy winter weather and dreary January commute in Blighty but teaches us as much about ourselves, as it does about different lands and diverse cultures.

Our message? If you’ve got the chance to hit the road and strike out on your own, take it. Trust JAT: going is actually the easy part. The hardest part will be returning home…

 

BEFORE YOU GO

WHERE TO GO AND WHEN
The world is your oyster. You can go wherever you want, whenever you want. That said, certain countries are popular at particular times for good reason. For instance in the darkest depths of a UK winter, chances are you’re looking for somewhere to warm up – in which case say hello to Thailand, India, Vietnam, Mexico, the Caribbean, Argentina, Australia et al. But if your budget is more push bike than Porsche, you’d be better off hitting a hot destination in Asia as opposed to Australasia which is getting pricier by the day. Argentina – once a great value destination – is also becoming increasingly expensive owing to inflation.
Similarly if you can’t cope with hassle (think unscrupulous salesmen, beggars, rickshaw drivers looking to pull some scam or other) or showering with a bucket and using squat toilets, avoid India, China and co and stick to countries with western standards.

MONEY MATTERS
Work out your budget well in advance. Factor in flights, accommodation (will you be content to stay in a hostel every night or will there be occasions when you want to splurge on a single room in a hotel where hot water and fluffy towels come as standard?), travel insurance (most annual travel insurance policies are only valid for trips of up-to 60 days so you’ll need to purchase single trip insurance which isn’t cheap), entry to attractions etc. Decided on your budget? Now up it by 50 per cent. You don’t have to spend it, of course, but if something goes wrong, it’s reassuring to know you have the funds to see you through a sticky situation. Similarly take a credit card. Again you don’t have to use it but it’s good to know that you won’t be caught short should you run out of cash.

DOCUMENTS
Ensure that you have all the necessary visas. The most visited countries no longer require visas for UK citizens but there are exceptions – India, Vietnam and Russia spring to mind – so make sure you do your homework. And allow plenty of time. Case in point? In order to get a Russian visa, the first thing you need is an invitation (also known as a visa support letter). Once you have this, you can apply for the actual visa (which takes around 10 days) at a Russian embassy either by yourself or through an agent. Whichever route you follow, make sure you have enough blank pages in your passport (www.ukpa.gov.uk) and that your passport is up-to-date. (Some countries insist on travellers having a minimum of six months left on their passport). Then photocopy your passport and carry the copy separately from the original document. Having a copy will make life easier in the event that your passport gets lost or stolen.

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INSURANCE
Whatever you do, take out travel insurance – the last thing you think about but the first thing you need if something goes wrong. If you have to cancel your trip, you claim back some of the costs, while if you are unlucky enough to have an accident or unexpectedly fall ill on your holiday, emergency medical cover can help cover you for your hospital costs. However since travel insurance is expensive, only get what you need. Translation? If you know that you won’t be hitting the slopes, then there’s really no need to add winter sports coverage to an insurance policy. Similar if you’re skipping the Americas, leave this region off. Likewise if your luggage and its contents are worth next to nothing, is there any point insuring your backpack? Conversely if you’re travelling with an array of  expensive Apple products – particularly in Argentina where Apple products are banned and therefore at a premium – insure yourself to the hilt!

HEALTH IS WEALTH
Make sure you are up-to-date with your jabs (you can check what you and your travelling companions need at www.masta.org) at least two months before you take the skies, as some injections aren’t effective immediately. This is crucial advice. JAT is always amazed at the amount of meet people we meet on the road who aren’t aware that they’re travelling in a malaria (a potentially fatal disease) risk area. If you are, make sure you take the right antimalarial tablets at the correct time – and that you finish the course.
Another tip is to schedule a visit to the dentist before your travel as dental treatment can be much more expensive overseas.

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SOLO V GROUP TRAVEL
Travelling together can be intense and can either make or break relationships. Group travel promisse fun and friendship but doesn’t always deliver so don’t be daunted by the prospect of solo travel – often you’ll find that you’re only on your own when you choose to be. In the words of the late, great Robin Williams:  “I used to think the worst thing in life is to end up alone. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone.”
If you do decide to go in a group, make sure that all members of the group share similar goals and budgets from the offset.

PACK LIGHT
Take heed of Rick Steves’ words: “Travel like Ghandi, with simple clothes, open eyes and an uncluttered mind.”  Lay everything you’re thinking of packing, out on your bed. Done that? Good. Now half it. Don’t panic something just because you think you might need it. If you genuinely  do find that you’re missing material possessions, panic not: you can probably pick them up abroad for a snip of what you’d pay back home. Same applies to toiletries and sunscreen which are heavy and can leak while in transit. Essentials to pack include a first aid kit containing plasters, Ibruprofen, a re-hydration powder, ear plugs, a good book (budget travel and delays go hand in hand), decent pair of walking shoes, sterilising tablets – so that you can drink water wherever, whenever – and padlock so as to be able to stow your bag away safely.

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ON THE ROAD

BE FLEXIBLE
Leave your Type A behaviour behind and live like a local. It’s a criminal offence (in our books) to visit Thailand and pass up the opportunity to try Pad Thai. Or to visit Mexico and not indulge in Huevos rancheros (a classic, not to mention, delicious Mexican breakfast of tortillas, rice, beans, and eggs smothered in a spicy red sauce) upon rising. Sure you might not like the local delicacies (the Filipino favourite balut – an 18-day-old fertilised duck egg – certainly made us squirm) but how do you know, if you don’t give them a chance?

LEARN (A LITTLE) OF THE LINGO
Try and learn a little of the local language. It’s not always necessary – particularly in places like the UAE and Oman where English is the lingua franca  but will help integrate you into the community. In China, mastering at least some Mandarin is a must if you want to be able to eat and explore with ease. The same goes for Spanish in South America. Don’t worry about pronunciation if – like the JAT team – you’re not a natural linguist. Too many of us panic about pronunciation and fear that we will look like a fool. But, in our experience, most locals will be impressed that you’re making the effort to learn their language – always remember that you are a guest in another country – and forgive you for any pronunciation mishaps. The most important thing is just to get the basics down pat.

WHEN IN ROME
Don’t forget to abide by a country’s code. This may mean covering your head in Muslim countries or conservative regions and tipping more than is custom in Canada and America as, after all,  you’re in someone else’s home. It’s your responsibility to suss out the local etiquette – for instance it’s a punishable offence to drink, or to be under the influence of alcohol, in public in the UAE. By showing respect, you’ll be more readily welcomed by the locals.

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TRAVEL RESPONSIBLY
By this we mean supporting, small locally owned and run hotels, shops and tour guides thereby putting money into local pockets as opposed to impersonal, international chains. On the subject of dosh, don’t get carried away trying to get the best deal. Haggling in markets is a lot of fun but keep in mind that the £5 you’re saving, could feed the vendor’s entire family for a week. Make sure you know what’s happening in the country/city you’re visiting. So, for example, if there’s a water shortage, keep showers to a minimum and reuse water bottles wherever possible.

STAY SAFE
Some destinations are more dangerous than others but the risk of robbery is always rife – regardless of which country or city you’re visiting – so think about carrying a fake wallet containing an expired credit card and a few coins or small notes that that you can hand over (and hopefully fool) a potential robber with. And it goes without saying that the fewer flashy items you wear or carry, the less of a target you’ll be. Speaking of which, don’t overshare on social media. Turns out that – in the age of social media – thiefs are using sites such as Twitter and Instagram to track the movements of potential victims. Reduce the risk of becoming a victim by only posting updates of your trip, once you have moved on from a particular destination. And never reveal details of your accommodation – this is an open invitation to be targeted.

GO WITH THE FLOW
Don’t be a critic: keep in mind – especially in third world countries – that things won’t always go to plan. Flights get cancelled and planes and trains delayed, while buses break down on a daily basis. Just breathe and go with the flow… if you’re determined to bad mouth a place, why bother even boarding that plane in the first place?

TREAT YOURSELF…
Even if you’re on a strict budget, it’s worth splashing the cash and booking a respectable room for when your first touch down in a new town. Not only are you guaranteed a good night’s sleep but you’ll have somewhere safe to head after an exhausting journey. And often you’ll find that the extra say 100,000 Vietnamese dong for a decent rather than dingy room, works out to be as little as £5 extra each night.

….AND YOUR HOSTS
Bargaining can be a lot of fun and, in most places, expected but keep in mind – particularly in poorer countries – that the £3 you’re saving, could feed the vendor’s entire family for a week. No matter how skint you may feel after several months on the road, we’re willing to bet you’re a lot better off than the locals. Retain your sense of perspective – a pound here or there is, at the end of the day, nothing – and stump up with a smile.

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STAY IN TOUCH
Phone home. Or at the very least send an email or WhatsApp message to confirm that yes you are safe (we’re living in troubled, turbulent times) and where you should be. If the Wifi signal where you’re staying is strong enough, Skype video calls or FaceTime are a fabulous way of checking in with worried friends and family back home.

GO SLOW
The downside to travelling? It can be tiring so don’t travel too fast. If you’re always on the move, you’ll feel permanently tired and won’t enjoy your trip. And if you’re lucky enough to be travelling the world, we reckon you’ll want to be wide awake so as to see – and experience – all its wonders…

COMING HOME
You may have left home with a certain amount of fear and trepidation in your heart but the hardest part of your whole trip will be returning. Or in the words of Chinese writer, Lin Yutang: “No one realises how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” Set some money aside for when you get home to help make the readjustment easier. Let’s face it: staying in every night on your own in suburbia will seem ridiculously monotonous after sharing magical moments with new friends and like minded souls in sunny South America.
And be prepared for the fact that you might not ever be able to settle. In which case, follow Jane Austen’s advice (Austin wrote in Northanger Abbey that “If adventures won’t befall a young woman in her own village, she must seek them abroad”) and head overseas to join the growing band of digital nomads making the world their office. Forbes magazine famously defined digital nomads as “individuals who leverage technology to perform their work duties and conduct their lifestyle in a nomadic manner.” 
Translation? In layman terms, digital nomads refers to those you see buried behind MacBooks in cafes across the world, tapping frantically away while simultaneously Face-timing friends and family back home. They’re writers, graphic designers, IT consultants, personal assistants, teachers, hairdressers, small business owners – basically anyone who, thanks to the rise of the digital office, can earn an income just as easily in Laos or Lhasa as they can at home in London or Los Angeles. Read more about this growing group here

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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