Preparing for Adventures

Hey, everyone!

Welcome back to adventure month at WatchLizGo!  Last week we talked about why you should have adventures, even small ones.  Every day (okay, most days) I wake up and am just so excited about how much stuff there is to do on this planet.  I’ve never quite been the sort of person who was able to be content sitting in my living room and watching TV. I always have this itch that tells me I need to be going somewhere and doing something, even if that is something as simple as going to a thrift store to look for cozy sweaters.  I mean, seriously, if you’re even remotely interested in something like butterflies or fountain pens or fabric, you can totally get involved up to your eyeballs and branch out in any which way you choose!

ohmygoodnessthewholethoughtjustastoundsme

Okay.  I’m good.

Today we’re going to talk about how to plan large-scale adventures.  I’m talking, go out of your State/Country/Planet adventures (not really your planet, I have no experience being an astronaut).  These sorts of adventures are a little intimidating because they are, quite honestly, a little scary.  Being removed from your comfort zone into a completely unfamiliar location can cause anxiety, I get it, particularly if you’re going to be traveling alone.  There are a lot of details to consider and it gets confusing booking things when you’re working in different time zones, languages and currencies.

But it is 100% possible and very, very rewarding.  My biggest tip: Start small.

I was fortunate growing up in that I had parents who saw the value in traveling and experiencing the world.  Even in their 50’s and 60’s my parents still make it a point to travel outside of the United States at least once a year.  Granted, this is usually on cruises but they enjoy it, it helps them relax and they still get to see a foreign country.  On that note, a cruise is a great way to start if you just want to get to a place outside of your country.  Mexico, the Bahamas or Canada (if you’re in the United States) are fantastic destinations.  The cruise ship company will take care of everything, you basically just need to pack your bags and show up on time.  Oh, and get a passport.

But while cruises are great and all, they don’t really require you to do anything adventurous other than go to a new place.  You’re stuck to the itinerary they’ve assigned their boat and you are limited to the activities that the cruise ship arranges for you.  There really isn’t any thought involved and therefore, you aren’t required to make any hard choices.

So, in my opinion, a cruise is not an adventure.

But I won’t deny that they are a lot of fun.

So lets talk about real adventure.  Adventure that scares you and makes you wonder if you should have just stayed in bed all day.

First, you’re going to need a passport.

If you don’t already have one, start this process early!  Passport applications take awhile to process and the government does not care if you’ve already scheduled a trip.  If you don’t have the application turned in on time, you’re going to be all sorts of messed up.  There are ways to get your application expedited but there is a fee of $60 applied as well as an expedited shipping charge of about $16 and if you need it really fast, like within 30 days, you actually have to go to the department of state passport agency in person.

Interestingly, in the United States, passport applications are found at post offices.  Some post offices will even take your photo.  If the post office you’re going to apply at doesn’t take photos, you can get a passport photo at most CVS and Walgreens locations.  They have the little background for you to stand against and will print the photos out for you while you’re waiting.

Here’s the USPS website where you can learn all about applying for passports.

If you’re from a country other than the U.S. I am interested in knowing how you apply for passports wherever you’re from.  Please comment below and I’ll update this post accordingly!!  Thanks!

One final tip – make sure you have a decent passport photo.  I got my first passport when I was 14 and I looked……crazy.  For lack of a better term.  Really.  I was in a school uniform with a blue hoodie, I had braces and my hair was….bad.  I had to keep that passport for ten years before it finally expired.  Imagine being in your mid 20’s showing the border control agent your terrible passport photo from your teenage years.  I got a lot of strange looks.  Thankfully, my new passport photo is much, much better and I’m not embarrassed to go through border control.

Secondly, you’re going to need a place to go.

This is the most important part out of all of this.  Where do you want to go?  Here are some ideas:

  1. Venice, Italy
  2. Iceland
  3. Amsterdam
  4. Ontario, Canada
  5. London, England
  6. Dublin, Ireland
  7. Paris, France
  8. Austria
  9. Germany
  10. Greece
  11. Australia
  12. Mexico
  13. Brazil
  14. Peru
  15. Switzerland
  16. Thailand
  17. China
  18. Spain

You get the idea.  The list could go on and on and on and on because there are so many amazing places all around the world.

If you’re like me, you probably have a list of places you are already interested in visiting and aren’t particularly interested in visiting some other places.  That’s fine.  This is your trip.

Consider the list of places you really want to visit.  For me, my top three right now are London, Dublin and Paris.  I’d also like to visit Glasgow at some point and Austria during the winter.  I figure I’ll just knock them out one by one as I get vacation time.

So that’s how I choose my destinations.  Where do I want to go the most?  Then I go there.

Don’t overthink this step.  A lot of people sort of get this idea in their head that they’ll only be able to travel outside of their home country once in their lifetime so they better make the right choice or else they’re going to regret it forever.  With the way I’m going to show you how to travel, you’ll be able to visit a new place at least once a year.  And anywhere you go is going to benefit you.  So choose a place you’d like to go and just call it good.  You’ll visit the other places on your list as soon as you can.

Alright.  So you have a passport and a destination, you’re doing great.  Now let’s actually get you there.

Third, you’re going to need plane tickets.

This can be the most expensive part of the whole endeavor.  Plane tickets are not cheap and I’m sure you’re already aware of that.

Fortunately, there are a lot of services out there that will keep you posted with cheap fares from nearby airports.  You go to a website and put in your preferred airport and the destination and they’ll send you emails when prices drop or when a particularly low price has been found.

I’m going to list a few here that you can do some research on, okay?  Disclaimer: I have not used all of these sites so I can’t verify how well they work, how easy the process is or anything like that.  I’m just putting them out here so that you have a place to start.

Scott’s Cheap Flights – My brother actually told me about this one.  I mentioned that I was writing this post and he suggested it.  I had never heard about it before but when I looked at it a little bit it seemed interesting.  You’ll have to have a fairly flexible schedule (which I don’t really have) but the idea seems promising.

ITA Software by Google – This one comes from the r/shoestring travel reddit which I will link below and explain further.  Essentially, this website allows you to search for flights using Google Flights and see what your options are.  You cannot book flights from this website, you can only search for them.

Skiplagged – I’m really interested in this one and will probably be trying them out in the future.  It appears to work a lot like Scott’s Cheap Flights but this one allows you to input dates that you’d like to fly on.

Kayak.com – Up until now, I’ve just used Kayak.com with great success.  I purchased my round trip ticket to London through Kayak and now they keep sending me price alerts for the same flight (apparently the prices are actually going down thank you Kayak, I don’t need to know that).  You can set up an alert for a particular date and location and they’ll let you know if prices start fluctuating so that you can buy your ticket at the optimal time.

If you’re like me, you’ll buy the first available good-looking ticket that gets you where you want to go, when you want to be there.  If you are like my dad, you’ll research everything to death and end up paying $200 for a round-the-world ticket (I exaggerate, but my father does do a lot of research and he does go a lot of places for not very much money).  If you have a firm schedule like I do, you should start looking for tickets three to four months before your actual trip.  If you have a much more flexible schedule, sites like Scott’s or Skiplagged will work pretty well for you since you sometimes have to jump on those cheap flights really quick.

Another trick for finding good airfare is to make sure you search all of the airports around you.  Living near Baltimore I have access to Baltimore-Washington International, Dulles and Regan.  These are three huge airports but Dulles by far usually has the best deals.  If you have good public transportation (yay, Metro!) or really great friends that will drive you there, look into leaving from airports that are further away because you might find cheaper tickets there.

Also, be 100% open to leaving whenever the cheapest airfare is.  There is a reason the term ‘red-eye’ exists.  Often you’ll find the best fares at the weirdest times of night like 2 a.m., 4 a.m., etc.  Yeah, it’s a bit uncomfortable to arrive at the airport at midnight but you’ll usually end up saving a good chunk of money when you don’t fly at premium times.

For my next trip (I’m going to try to do Paris next year) I’m just waiting to find out when I get leave (because it is assigned to us almost a year in advance).  Then I’m going to set up alerts for the airports around me to the airports in Paris and wait until a deal is just too good to say no to.  My only issue is that it has to be on a specific day.  I’ll set this up as soon as I find out when I’m going to go.  Then it’s just a waiting game.

Fourthly, you need a place to stay.

Now, there are several options here.  If you’re lucky enough to have friends who live in the city you’re going to visit, maybe, maybe you can stay with them.  Don’t force them to host you and definitely don’t decide to stay for a month on their dime.  That’s just being a bad guest.  Personally, even if I have friends in a city, I’d rather stay in my own place just because it gives me more autonomy and I’m all about doing my own thing.  But staying with a friend is an option, just make sure you treat them well.

You can book a hotel.  Depending on how much you want to spend, a hotel can get pretty pricey, pretty quickly.  They just do.  Especially if you go for a higher end location or are visiting an expensive city.  If you go the hotel route, be prepared to spend anywhere between $80-$150 a night, and that’s just for a decent hotel.

Personally, I’ve taken to staying in hostels.  You can find so many different types of hostels and they exist in pretty much every major city around the world.  They are designed to be bare bones accommodations for backpackers and budget travelers and you’ll pay as much.  You basically get a bunk, a locker and maybe a few other amenities like a towel or sheets.  HostelWorld.com is the place I generally go to to search for hostels in the cities I want to stay in.  They also have an app that you can use to book your hostel and you can read reviews.  Very, very important!! Hostels will not be as nice as hotels and if you share a room, you can end up with some very random, crappy roommates.  You don’t know who is going to end up in the hostel with you and sometimes bad things can happen.  But they are much, much cheaper than a hotel.  For instance, in London, I’m staying at a great location near everything I want to see and I’m only paying ~$32 per night.

There are options for female only rooms (which is what I choose) and in some hostels you can get single rooms (but you’re going to pay for such luxury).  I like to find hostels that have lockable lockers for my stuff because I have no intention of carrying my backpack around with me everywhere I go and I want at least a little bit of peace of mind.  (On that note, it is important to not take anything that is priceless with you on your adventure and it is also important to have a secondary bag where you are able to carry things that you don’t want stolen from your hostel.)  We’ll talk about packing in another post.  That’s just a whole different horse.

And that’s pretty much it!

We’ve skipped over some things which I’ll talk about in probably next week’s post – figuring out an itinerary, having money to spend while on your trip, packing and staying safe, just to name a few.  The purpose of this week’s post is to just help you realize that planning a trip is not as complicated as everyone makes it out to be.  You literally just choose where you want to go, find the cheapest way to get there and make sure you have a place to stay.  Bam, you’ve planned a trip.  Since those are usually the hardest steps for people, if you can just get over them, the rest of the planning process is a breeze.

If you’re interested in this process and want to talk to other people who are also into budget traveling, you might chance a visit to r/shoestring which is a subreddit for people who are into traveling around the world for very cheap.  They’ve got some great tips there as well as resources for budget travelers.  I visit there quite a lot for good ideas and off the wall destinations that you might not even know about.

If you have any other resources for finding cheap flights, cheap places to stay or other budget travel websites, please leave them in the comments below!  I’ll add them to the post and give you a huge shout out!

If you’re planning a trip and you want to tell everyone about it, leave that in the notes as well!  I like to hear what other people are doing and how your adventures are going!

Thanks for reading!  See y’all next week!

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