I made this document to keep some notes for my future trips, but also in order to share my experience with others interested in undertaking such a trip or something similar.
This does not answer all questions. It gives you the most important information you may need to undertake your trip. I then mention the most important sources of information that I know can help organize and personalize your trip.
Traveling Alone and Travel Safety
"Worried about traveling alone ?" First of all, even if you decide to depart to travel by yourself there are many ways to make yourself not feel alone. Start by traveling to locations that attract a lot of tourists, go to hostels (not to hotels) and signup for group day trips. In hostels you will meet a lot of tourists that are very open to meeting other people and sharing their experience. In the most popular tourist locations there exist many options of tours to signup to and thereby join a group and meet people. By doing this you will meet people all the time and not feel alone. I was very rarely alone during my first big trip. I have now over time become more independent. Regarding safety, go read the comments I made about this on another chapter.
ORGANIZATION BEFORE DEPARTURE
The most important and time consuming things to do before departure are :
1. The Plan / destinations you want to visit
2. Travel Safety
3. When go (weather, etc)
4. Booking the flights (and other things if needed / desired)
5. Get general information about how to get around : Ground Transportation, Where to Stay, Budget, etc
6. Visas if needed
7. Preparing your travel equipment
8. Medical check up and vaccinations
This list is not in the order to undertake it. Most items can potentially affect each other. It is therefore to first get a general idea about all and then go into more detail.
Booking the flights can take time if you do a big trip because you need to have done some research to decide when to be where depending on what you want to see. How much time you should plan for each location, restrictions, weather, events, etc.
Preparing travel equipment appears quick and easy. You get 90% done in not even half a day, but then come little things you need to fine tune.
Most Visas are not too complicated to obtain. Some however are more complicated, so look it up in advance.
BOOKS THAT HELP ORGANIZE
Books and websites such as :
- and “TripAdvisor”
contribute to help with almost all aspects of travel. There exist many sources of information for travel but these are the most well known.
It is a fantastic way of knowing where to go, how to go there, where to stay, etc. Most importantly it is possible to buy books or download them on your mobile application.
For several items, most notably to find a hotel and restaurant there however exist much better solutions on Internet. More information about this further down.
Where : What are you looking for ? Where to get the info ?
It is good to make a bit of a plan to have a general idea of what you want to see and where you want to go.
Books / websites such as Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor and are great ! However, be careful. There is a long list of recommended things to do in them. Lonely Planet was a little frustrating for me. There are so many ideas in them that it is difficult to stay focused on the essential. Even what they call the essential would take a long time to cover and contains some things you will not necessarily be satisfied with. Sometimes they also give little importance to something that might be important to you. LonelyPlanet is the one I most used and it was particularly useful in Africa to find possible contacts that can serve you. There is much less tourism in Africa and so it is more difficult to get information on Internet, etc. The quality of LonelyPlanet books depends on the country / destination. They are not all made by the same author and so the quality can vary.
Getting advice from people is great, but that also, one has to be careful, because we do not all function the same way and have the same interest.
Be very careful about looking at pictures of the places you want to go to ! Many of the sources of pictures focus on what is best and it is sometimes difficult to find pictures that reflect a more realistic view of what you will see. Looking at too many pictures of the best circumstances of where you plan to go can make you be disappointed when you arrive at the destination. Trust me ! I have been there and done that.
Conclusion : There are many ways to get information. None is perfect. We all have to gain experience with this and find a personal way of getting the information. In the end, there is no perfect solution. It is a combination of sources. For me, something is confirmed when I feel that it has been repetitively recommended to me.
IMPORTANT / TRAVEL SAFETY
Look at travel safety before booking your flights and before departure :
UK in English
It is definitely important to get information and be cautious. Get the information, avoid the dangerous zones and avoid the often more dangerous night time (when it's dark). However, one should also relativize certain things. What people say and what is in the news often attempts to scare us from places. Yes, one has to be careful. Yes there are countries to which it is dangerous to go and so should not. There definitely are some countries where locals truly aim at tourists. However in many countries it is not much more dangerous to be than in some of the big cities in Europe or the USA. You most often have to avoid certain zones / parts of the country. In many cases the tourists are not aimed at, the locals are fighting with each other in specific areas. We so often talk negatively about the Middle East in particular. Well, one lady travelled to the Middle East on a bicycle (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Oman, the UAE and Iran) and came to this conclusion : "The Middle East is a risky place, but the risks are primarily political. Beyond the pockets of conflict and terror highlighted daily in the media lies a broader reality: that of warm, compassionate communities living normal, everyday lives." This is true for many areas of the world if you follow the media.
If you are flexible it is better to go when it is not too hot or cold and not daily pouring with rain or snow. I also highly recommend traveling off season to be more flexible and not have to book things in advance and fight for space. I went to some locations where it was obvious that there are times of the year where there are thousands of visitors attending. It was a great pleasure to be there in a small group when there was almost nobody else.
What do you need to book in advance ? In South America and Asia, flights are almost the only thing that needs to be booked in advance. But even there, try to have a flexible solution with which you can at least change dates. There are some exceptions to this. For example if you want to visit Tibet or do special excursions you have to book it weeks in advance. In Africa this is much more complicated. National parks in Africa and excursion such as Mt Kilimanjaro are necessary to study in detail and are often necessary to book at least a few days in advance (in some cases, weeks or months in advance for high season). Going independently by car can make you more independent, but make sure you reserve places to stay in the parks.
Be careful if you go somewhere during high season, but otherwise I personally liked to have the possibility to improvise. I rarely booked a place to stay for more than one night and rarely firmly decided in advance where I was going to go next. Depending on what you see, whom you meet, what you learn, the weather, etc. you feel like going in a different direction or at a different speed.
Very often when making research on Internet, there are items that I get worried about and think I need to book in advance. This rarely turns out to be true. I did however do most of my travel when the economy was slow. Maybe this will be more challenging when the economy is growing again. This is often something that is said on internet in order to make you be afraid and pay the high price. Special transportation is the only item for which this is true based on my experience so far. Flights are more costly if wait too long, and special trips such as going to Tibet or the hike (not the normal excursion) to the top of Machu Pichu, Peru can be inaccessible if wait for last minute.
Lonely Planet often (though not always) gives information about the list of airlines that go to the destinations. Otherwise, I often use applications such as Expedia or Skyscanner to find out what flights are possible, which airlines serve the trip you are interested in doing. They however do not have all airlines (for example, when I used it they did not have AirAsia and few of the airlines in Africa). However, it is nevertheless often possible to use to find out which airlines do the flight. Personally I do not feel comfortable making the reservation with them. I have heard bad words about this. It shows you which airline does the flight and so you can go make your reservation directly with the airline. One item that I am sure that one has to be very careful about if make reservations with Expedia or equivalent is that if you do a trip with several stops, they in some cases offer the trip with more than one airline ! This can be a problem. They do not communicate with each other about luggage, and if your fist flight is late and you miss the second flight you may not be reimbursed. Make sure they are somehow related (with Star Alliance for example, this is not a problem).
For a trip around the world, there are several options of which Star Alliance and One World come to my mind. It is not that one is necessarily better than the other. It is good to try all because depending on where you want to go and the kind of route you want, a different one will be more efficient and cost effective.
For my first trip (around the world) : I used Star Alliance to get the base of my trip. I then booked the little local flights separately depending on how I was feeling and what I wanted to do. For example, I booked flights to spend 2 months in South America and then organized the 3 regional flights separately whenever I knew better the kind of timing I wanted. Where possible, I took the bus, because much cheaper and with a bus it is possible to decide last minute which day you want to go where. Taking the bus also has the advantage of letting you see 10 times more than with a commercial airplane. Finally, I have some amazing souvenirs in buses, having contacts with locals.
Buses and Trains
During my trips in South America and Asia, it was never very complicated and generally possible to book last minute. Worst case, I had to book it 24 hours before. You maybe have to be a bit prudent in some cases during the high season. In Asia there are much more opportunities to take trains that in South America and Africa. In Africa, getting local buses is much more complicated and much less comfortable. I know it is possible to travel independently by bus because I read article and people told me about it. It is just much less available and of much lower quality. One option in Africa is to undertake organized bus trips for tourists. I did a 3 week trip with a tour from Botswana to Tanzania that was well organized. There exist quite a few compagnies that offer organized bus trips in Africa. Some offer the trip from Cape Town to Egypt. It is however a trip that is completely planned in advance from A to Z and that you have to book in advance.
There are locations where renting a car is a fantastic solution. If you can share with 2 or 3 other people it often does not cost more than Scenic tours. However, if you reserve on Internet, be very careful with insurance cost !! Do not make a reservation on Internet if it does not include the Insurance cost. And even if it does… they often hide something, so put some margin.
There exist insurance contracts that make it possible to avoid needing to get the rental insurance. It can be included / part of the medical transportation insurance and is a very worthwhile way of saving a lot.
WHERE TO STAY
Hostels are the best place to stay. In South America and Asia in particular, it is more than amazing ! Hostels receive people that are doing similar trips. Therefore, not only do you meet people that do similar trips and have interesting things to share, in addition many hostels know how to show you around, advise you what to see, offer you tours that are of interest.
Below I share a list of books / websites / mobile applications that help find places to stay.
WEBSITES / MOBILE APPLICATIONS
- Booking.com = the one people most use to find a place to stay
- TripAdvisor = The one I most importantly use to find restaurants
- Airbnb -> Apartments & Rooms for Rent www.airbnb.com
Some of these applications also make it possible to book flights, find good restaurants, etc.
If you are very very tight on the budget and are interested in meeting locals by sharing meals with them and spending nights at their place there exists an application where you can meetup with someone that will invite you to stay at your place for free (or almost for free).
- Couchsurfing.com ‘’Find hosts to stay with in over 100,000 cities and connect with travelers from all over the world’’.
This is a delicate question and very much depends on people.
However, many people do ignore the fact that it is possible to make absolutely amazing experiences at a price that is affordable for the average European or American person. In South America and Asia you can find Hostels or equivalent for 10 US dollars per night. And you are not staying in a horrible place. On the contrary, some are super cool. Yes, in South America you mostly shared the room, but even that can be a lot of fun. In most places in South America and Asia it is possible to feed yourself absolutely decently for 5 to 10 dollars per day. South America is however definitely the more expensive of the two, especially in the southern countries. Africa is paradoxically, by far the most expensive continent. It depends to which country you go and what you do, but it definitely tends to be more costly. The Middle East is expensive also although there are some exceptions such as Iran.
Then comes how you fill your days. How you fill your days can have an enormous impact on your budget. There are activities that are not given at all. However, there are many fantastic activities that do not cost a fortune. During my trips, I regularly rented a bicycle and lived extraordinary days where I saw a lot. There are many accessible locations where there are many things to see at a short distance. There are also many trips that are organized in a way that you share them with a group of people and therefore divide the cost. Some of the most amazing tours I participated in were organized in such a way that we were between 6 and 15 people in a group taken for a 2, 3 or 4 day trip for 25 dollars per day all included (lodging, food, guide, transport, etc.).
Transportation is the most expensive part of a trip, but if you stick to buses, in most parts it is affordable and a great experience. The most expensive part of the whole trip is flights. If you are tight on the budget, the solution is to dedicate a profound commitment to one continent.
Then, you need to add some margin to the budget for the visas, the medical, the equipment you may need to purchase and for possible unexpected.
Make sure you sublet your flat during your absence.
Here is the link to the website of one example. She traveled around the world during one year for 18'000 USD and noted all her costs : Budget Travel Around The World
Quite a few countries require Visas, especially in Africa and Asia.
For the Swiss, this link is good to find out if you need a visa :
Many visas take 3-4 days to obtain but can in some cases be obtained in one day if you pay extra. There are some exceptions however. Some countries are particularly demanding and complicated : Russia and China are very complicated examples, so prepare in advance. Many of the African countries have a quite slow procedure and obtaining the information takes time also.
If you can time wise, I recommend doing it from home before departure. But when doing a long trip it is not always possible. Most Visas are valid 3 months, but there are different ones, this has to be checked. For Asia, Bangkok is a good base to obtain Visas for neighboring countries.
If you cross the border on the road, I recommend that you get more information about the entrance procedure. In Africa for example, many countries easily give the visa at the airport, however if you travel on the road you have to have obtained it before because they cannot make it for you at the border.
Vaccinations and checkup - do not forget to do this !!!
Don’t forget to take a pack of preventive items – this you need to go see a doctor that makes a list for you depending on your destinations and personal needs. This can take time. Do not wait till the last moment !!
Dentist – good to make sure you are fit for the coming months. You do not want to need to go to the dentist when you are in the middle of nowhere and there is no access to someone you trust.
Medical Insurance – Make sure your medical insurance is international so that you are supported even if something happens to you abroad. This generally implies paying a fee for 6 or 12 months.
What to take with you :
VERY IMPORTANT : take printed versions of the documents you may need, but also scan them all and put them on Internet somewhere where you can have access to them from any internet connected computer (I used Dropbox). Include : passport, credit cards, flight plan, reservations, etc. I even uploaded the pictures I took during the trip so that I still had them if my camera and all the memory backups were lost or stolen.
MONEY BELT – This is something amazing ! A belt which you wear beneath your clothes in which you can leave your passport and extra money. You are carrying it and have low risk of loosing.
MONEY BACKUP - I recommend taking several credit cards so that if one does not work you have a backup. I also highly recommend taking a backup of US dollars almost anywhere you go. US dollars work in almost any country and can help if one day you have an issue with credit cards, etc. An other reason to have US dollars with you is that in quite a few countries you can make a very good deal if you directly exchange your dollars in cash. The inflation in some countries (in South America and Africa in particular) is so important that locals are desperate to change their savings into dollars so that they keep value. It is often something unofficial, on the street although in some countries it is completely openly executed. You thereby get a much better deal than if do a withdrawal at the bank.
BACKPACK - I found an amazing backpack ! It also has wheels. 99.9% of the time I was rolling it around, not carrying it on my back. Of course, this depends on the kind of plans one has. If you plan to do a lot of trekking with your bag, then that is not the best option because not very comfortable when carrying on my back.
I also take a second Daypack (small backpack) that served for daytrips and is useful for carrying valuable items when in flights.
CLOTHES - Be careful to not underestimate how cold it can get in certain areas of the world. It is in some of the locations where it is warmest during the day that it also gets coldest at night.
OFFLINE MAP - Map (On iPhone / iPad, Maps OFFLINE => “PocketEarth” or “maps.me”). I personally only used PocketEarth. It is possible to have all the map of a country offline on your mobile phone or other mobile application. Fantastic to have so that you can find yourself with the GPS. With this you can travel in a city you have never been to almost as if you were a local. Just make sure you download the map of the country when you have the Internet and mark the most important locations you want to be able to find (hotel, hostel, restaurant, bust station, train station, etc. I often got dropped off at the bus or train station in a village or city and on my own walked or took local buses, etc to go to my place to stay and new exactly where I was although I had never been there. I often even had to explain to the taxi driver where to go !! It makes things so much easier.
The list :
Important papers (driver's license, vaccinations booklet, copies of passport & health insurance card)
Wallet, bank cards, traveller checks, credit card
Pants (2 pairs) – 1 pair should become a short
Underwear & socks (7 pairs)
T-shirts (x 7)
Ski Equipmen ? (the clothes + glasses)
Swiss army kniffe
Umbrella / poncho
Glasses / contact lenses & lens fluid
Duct tape Ziploc bags
Music (MP3 player)
Camera + Tripod, etc
Computer + Cables & Adapters
Electricity adapter – to plug your electric items anywhere in the world
Lighter / matches
A deck of cards
Guidebook or other source of information
Map (On iPhone / iPad, Maps OFFLINE => “PocketEarth” or “maps.me”)
VPN (Visual Private Network) = application that makes Internet work well in countries such as China and Iran. In Iran I used "ExpressVPN"
Notebook / travel journal & pen
Small medical kit – get personal doctor advice on what you should bring.
Water Disinfection tablets (these are tablets you put in the water to disinfect it).
IN AFRICA (most important there…) : MOUSTIQUAIRE = protection when sleeping
Anti dust mask -> can be useful in deserts and other dusty locations.
Where to make photo albums : I use “Photos” on Apple.
To make Website : I use www.weebly.com