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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How to Plan for Your Next Great Adventure - Part 2 of 2

Read the shorten version of this article on Huffington Post. Continue reading below for the expanded version. 

This is part two of "How to Plan for Your Next Great Adventure."  Part one dealt with figuring out your itinerary and finding the right price.  In this follow up, we'll take a look at other things to consider (travel insurance and unexpected costs) as you prepare for your trip of a lifetime.

First, don't forget your travel insurance.  Depending on how you purchased your tickets, travel insurance may already be included.  If not, buy it.  Speaking from personal experience, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having travel insurance.  In the worst case scenario (death), travel insurance will save your family the financial burden related with bringing you back.  Even in less serious cases (e.g., minor sickness, trip cancellation, etc.) travel insurance will provide you with the peace of mind to enjoy your well earned vacation. Get started at insuremytrip.com.  Make sure to read your policy carefully and understand exactly what's covered and what's not, and what you have to do to make sure you get reimbursed.

Second, let's take a look at some of the unexpected costs you may encounter.  One major source of unexpected wallet drainage is travel visas.  Just because you have your flight tickets, that doesn't mean you're going anywhere.  Check out the State Department's website to find out whether you'll need a visa for the countries on your itinerary, how to get those visas if needed, and how much they cost.  Depending on the country, this process can be lengthy and can be one source of large unexpected costs.  For example, a Brazil tourist visa for an American citizen is $180.  If you do not want to or cannot go to the embassy to obtain the visa, you'll have to fork over another $50 servicing fee.  Even if you don't need a visa to visit a certain country, there may still be entry fees (which may only be applicable if you enter the country through certain modes of transportation).

On a similar note, just because you have a flight out of a country, it doesn't mean you're going anywhere.  Some countries have exit fees that are levied at the airport.  For example, there's a $28 departure tax for leaving Costa Rica.  In Colombia, there's a $38 exit tax, but that's only if you've stayed in the country for at least 60 days.  Some airlines add the entry and exit fees into the prices of their flights so it's something worth double checking.

Another big source of unexpected costs is travel related medicines and vaccines.  For example, it's recommended you get the Yellow Fever vaccine (~$165) if you're heading to the Amazon.  Depending on your itinerary, you may also need vaccines for rabies (~$840), hepatitis A ($120), polio booster (~$95), typhoid (~$120), among others.  Most insurance will not cover travel vaccines (e.g., Yellow Fever).  Even if you're lucky to have an insurance policy that covers travel vaccines, most travel clinics do not take insurance. You'll have to file a claim and potentially pay out your deductible first before getting a penny from your insurance.  In addition to vaccines, you may need medicine for anti-malaria, altitude sickness (if you're heading to high elevations outside of a plane), motion sickness (if you'll be at sea), and diarrhea.  Check out the CDC's travel website for specific information on the countries you'll be visiting.

A third area for consideration as you prepare for your trip revolves around the everlasting question - "What do I pack?"  If you're traveling backpacking style your space will be limited.  But the key isn't necessarily knowing what to pack and what to leave at home.  More importantly, it's packing the right type.  For example, you'll need to pack a towel or two, but taking along a Hotel Collection bath towel is very different from taking along an extreme ultralite (less than three ounces) backpacking towel from Discovery Trekking .  It won't have the same level of comfort or cotton count, but it'll save you weight and space.  The same goes for other items like headlamps, socks, waterproof shell, etc.  ExOfficio makes great light weight, antimicrobial, moisture wicking, durable, quick drying, odor resistant, bug repellent, sun blocking articles of clothing and is worth checking out. 

I've found REI to be an incredible source of information as well - even if you ultimately choose to purchase from another retailer.  From finding the right backpack, loading a backpack properly, fitting the right hiking shoes, to listing out all possible items to pack (regular checklist, ultralite checklist, first aid kit checklist, among others), REI is a great repository of expert information you should leverage.

As always, I'll finish up with the caveat that this is by no means comprehensive, but should serve as a good starting point.  Briefly, a few other items you may want to consider and some resources include:

Ground Transportation - After you've landed, transportation is just as important. Depending on where you're going, taxis won't necessarily be around every corner. Seat61 is an invaluable resource for learning how to travel via train in many regions of the world - e.g., train schedules, how to bypass certain restrictions, etc.  Do a quick Google search for the regions you'll be traveling in to get a general gist of what you need to know.  For example, if you're surface traveling within the European Union,  it may be cost effective to purchase an Eurail ticket. Depending on the pass you select, it'll let you travel to basically any country within the EU without having to make a separate purchase each time - at the full price. Be forewarned, for some routes you'll still have to make an advanced reservation and hand over a small fee to do so. To see if the routes you're planning to take require a reservation, check out SCOTTY.

Lodgings - Some folks may want to wait until they land at the airport to figure out where to stay and some may want to plan ahead. Even for the former, it's a good idea to virtually scout out a few places ahead of time to get a sense of what's to be expected.  I've mostly hunkered down at hostels, and have found many of them to be on par with hotels in terms of service and cleanliness.  You may be sharing a room with 15 other people, but it'll definitely save your budget and give you the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting folks.  Hostels.com and TripAdvisor are two great starting places for finding a reputable hostel.  Another alternative to hostels is couchsurfing, which potentially offers greater opportunities to connect with the local culture.

I'll continue to post other tips, including my own gear and packing list, so stay tune!


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