I never felt afraid or worried the moment I decided to travel alone. Instead I felt excited because it would be the first time for me to board on a plane, and to roam in a foreign land. Because of this feeling, I was already imagining myself walking through the streets of Singapore, having lunch with a cuisine I never tasted before, and of course having a picture with the national icon Merlion, even though I haven’t booked my flights yet at that moment. But anyway these are the things I made before I had my first-time adventure abroad, which can also be a guide for you.
1. Organizing the itinerary
This will be the list of places you want to visit. Read plenty of guidebooks which can give you suggestions of the best sights, restaurants, bars, and shopping areas. Check out travel blogs to see the actual experiences of tourists that can help you decide if a place is worthy of your trip. You may also research tour packages from various providers so you can estimate what you can visit for a definite amount of time.
As for me, after I have named them all, I organized the list by grouping the landmarks by district or by small areas, so that I would know the nearby sights once I stumble upon a certain place. I even used different font emphasis to order them from the most recommended to the least. So the top sights are in boldface, followed by italicized, and then normal. This is one of the advantages of DIY travel: you have the full control of your itinerary. Anyway, despite having this list, remember that being flexible is still a good idea. Don’t feel obliged to check all of these items. Just go where your feet would take you and enjoy every moment.
2. Computing a rough budget for the whole trip
Once you gathered all the details for your trip, you can already compute the budget. Check out each item online, and find out the cost of their admission fees, if there are any. Normally the prices are also indicated in some travel guidebooks such as Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. Add them up, and that will comprise the sightseeing expenses. Have some time to evaluate the other costs as well, such as travel tax, accommodation expenses, food and transportation allowance, souvenirs, etc. Internet sites such as budgetyourtrip.com can give you an idea on how much you can spend for a day in a certain area, depending on your spending style, either budget, mid-range, or high-end. Take note that this is just an estimate, so it would be safer if you add a percentage to its total, so you will not run out of money if there is an emergency.
3. Save, save, save
Saving money is the hardest part here. A lot of people reason out that traveling is only for the rich. It is not. The only thing that separates the people into the ones who can travel and the ones who cannot is just that they prioritize saving money for the trip rather than spending it for their everyday luxuries in life. Some people just don’t realize that saving their Starbucks expenses for a whole month can take them into another place. My first trip to Singapore was the fruit of my whole year savings that came from my daily school allowance. I was still in college back then. During that time, I controlled myself not to spend anything for the things I didn’t need, and I didn’t make myself tempted to buy unnecessary things. My goal back then was the budget I previously computed, and because I was able to do it, I also believe that you can too.
4. Familiarizing oneself with the country
Before you land on the place you’ve been dreaming for so long, make sure you know how to respect its culture. Know which gestures are courteous, and which ones are rude. Learn how to ride the public transportation, learn their language (or how to say ‘Thank You’ at least), and read a little bit of their history so you will understand more what is the place and the people about, and what makes them unique.
5. Booking for the hotel/hostel
I never thought that hostels exist at that time. But I discovered it when I was searching for a low-budget accommodation. Though I am not much sociable, I took the challenge to sleep in a room full of strangers. There are many ways to book for a hostel. Some require credit card, and some will just take your details and then you can pay there once you arrived at the place. At that time I was using a prepaid card by BPI, which is My ePrepaid card, which also acts like a credit card, but you have to load it first before using it. Once you paid for it, everything will be fine.
6. Keeping a map of the country
This is our bestfriend whenever we go somewhere else we’re not familiar (aside from locals that we can ask). Maps always help us in finding our directions, so make sure you keep one. You can get free city maps in almost all of the airports. I cannot say that I’m good in reading maps, because sometimes I get lost too. I just let myself wander for a while but at the end of the day I can manage to get home safely. Some apps today are useful when going abroad. Google Maps has a function to save offline maps and then one can use it later. By turning on my location services in my iOS device, I can go wherever I want and not get worried.
7. Packing of clothes and accessories
Like having a list for my itinerary, I also did a list of my what-to-brings, to ensure that I don’t forget anything. It really sucks when you’re already away and just remembered you left your camera at home, right? So in this list, you can enumerate which clothes to take, the accessories, gadgets, and important papers. But remember to pack lightly and not to bring unnecessary things so getting away will be much easier.
8. Getting ready
Check all your things at least a day before your actual flight. Double check your bags and essentials, especially the money. Make sure that your baggage does not exceed the allowance. Remember that because it’s your first time going abroad, be extra ready! Have all your papers on hand. Make every detail of your trip organized as you will spend more time in the immigration desk longer than the frequent travelers because you will most likely be interviewed. On my experience, since I was still a student, I was asked by the immigration officer about my studies. He also asked me show him my hostel reservation, roundtrip airline tickets, and even my student ID. Luckily I have them all. It may seem daunting but if you just answer his questions honestly then you shall be permitted to pass.
Since from the start, I have been doing these things. This is my routine whenever I go abroad. Because I’m a little bit of a perfectionist, I always want my trip to be organized. Anyway it is better to be prepared so you will have nothing to worry about. So if you’re planning to start your journey too, I hope this article can help you. Bon voyage!