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  • Writer's pictureRick

Travel Tips: Why is it Necessary to Plan for Trips?

In November 2011, I was in Hoi An Ancient Town, in central part of Vietnam, for a 4-day free and easy trip. It rained heavily on my first day in Hoi An and continued through the night. In the next few days, half the town was submerged in muddy water as high as 2 metres — the locals used row boats to get around. It took 3 days for the water to subside completely but I was already on the way to the airport.

Flooded Hoi An

Before embarking on any journeys, most travellers will do some planning or at least read up some materials on the destinations. The only reason not to plan prior to a trip is when there is no travel timeline, no reservations, no return flight and expecting to spend more money when needed. In most cases, they are not in paid employments.

When on a journey, travellers without travel plans will need good interpersonal skills (especially when there are language barriers), great patience, adaptability to different living environment, and flexibility in handling situations that may crop up, to ensure smooth and adventurous journeys.

I did my longest unplanned trip in October 2012 to January 2013 — flew to Hainan Island, China, with a one-way ticket and worked my way to Taiwan before flying home. The trip was unplanned prior to commencement except for one goal — to reach the paradise called Shangri-la. So, it was just go and deal with things along the way.

On the journey, short-term plans were worked out at each stop by interacting with accommodation staff, fellow travellers and locals. The same process was then repeated at the next stop. Yes, planning was actually done on the trip. Most unplanned travellers I met were in the same shoes as me — quit their jobs to travel around the world. The others? They came to see what they planned to see and went back before their annual leaves ended.

In short, plan your trip if you have limited time and not to miss a return flight home. Even if you are going for a free-&-easy getaway in a place that you had been to several times, you will still need to find out when is the best time to go and whether there are any new developments that may affect you on the next visit.

How to Plan

Planning for a trip usually involves finding information on:

  • where to go?

  • when to go?

  • what to see there?

  • how to get around?

  • when to come back?

  • how much budget is sufficient?

  • etc.

If you are travelling in a small group, the planning process gets complicated when each participant in the group throws in their travel preferences. A travel plan can never satisfy everyone with different travel styles. Compromises have to be reached before embarking on the journey.

If you happen to be in such a group, appoint someone to be the sole planner — preferably you, since you are reading this post — work out a plan that the majority of the group can agree on. Those who do not agree with the plan or cannot really fit in, leave them out of the trip if compromises cannot be achieved. This will reduce most, if not all, disagreements on the trip and spoil the fun.

A major plus point for planning is that you will know each person's travel style during the planning stage instead of on the trip. So, plan ahead and choose your travel companions.

Pre-Planning Checks

Most planners tend not to go more in-depth for information that may affect the trip negatively. For example:

  • Is it during a festive or peak season where it gets overcrowded?

  • Is it during an off-peak season when things are cheap yet it rains all day or during a typhoon season?

  • Have travel alerts been issued for the destination? etc.

Keeping fingers crossed is often the go-lucky attitude — i.e. planners often assume nothing bad can happen on a joyous trip to a decided destination. Few planners make contingency plans in case of undesirable circumstances. Travel disappointments are usually due to inadequate planning — aside from unforeseeable circumstances and natural disasters.

In fact, before putting together a travel plan, there are some pre-planning checks that should be done to decide on a travel destination. If a desired travel destination failed the pre-planning checks, pick another place to avoid possible disappointments.

A successful travel plan depends on many consideration factors, but I will discuss 3 of the more important pre-plan checks that are commonly ignored.

The 3 Pre-Plan Checks

1. Holidays, Festive Seasons & Weekends

Festivals or celebrative holidays in some countries can be unique and attract tourists. Flights and hotels are usually more expensive and fully taken up during these events. If you would like to be there to participate in these events, book early and read up on what these festivals are about (some traditional festivals are actually "celebrated" within the households and not on the streets where travellers can participate).

Do note that locals may be on holidays too and can result in overcrowding in tourist spots, on transports and on the roads.

Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Example 1: During Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai, Thailand, we often see photos of tens of thousands of lanterns in the night sky and those are what attracted tourists to Thailand every year. Only when you are there, then you will see the hundreds of thousands of people crowding the streets.

Example 2: During Chinese New Year periods in China (the holiday can be up to 15 days even though it is officially 2 days on most calendars), the working class will take leaves just before the festive period to head back to their hometowns for reunions. All modes of transportation get fully booked as early as 2 months prior. If you are travelling in China during the CNY period, you are unlikely to get last-minute tickets to anywhere. Also, most facilities will be undermanned or closed for several days, and your options for food, lodgings or getting around will be limited and yet prices doubled or even tripled!

Weekends are also holidays for the locals. Streets, roads and tourist spots will have more people than usual. Don't plan a day-trip to popular spots in secluded areas with narrow service roads on weekends. You are most likely going to be caught in traffic jams for hours. Try to plan rest days and skip tourist spots on weekends. If you are moving from town to town, do it on weekends too, then you can start visiting attractions on weekdays when the locals are mostly at work.

2. Climate

Take my trip to Hoi An in 2011 for example, it was a 4 days free-&-easy getaway in a small town. Seems pretty straightforward, so I booked my flights, got a hotel, and off I went!

If I had drilled deeper for more information on the climate, I would have learned that the northeast monsoon would be over Vietnam in November and bringing heavy rains and flash floods. It is an annual occurrence, not a one-time bad weather. Spending 4 days in the hotel most of the time and not seeing the whole town was not what I had paid and travelled to see. This can happen to you too.

Flooded town of Hoi An, Central Vietnam, November 2011.
Flooded town of Hoi An, Central Vietnam, November 2011.

Checking climate information of a country is not difficult, most weather websites and travel guides do published them — just don't skip reading it. I learned to look for a clue from all my travels: when air tickets and hotels are all on heavy discounts for a particular period, it would most probably be the low travel season as there are fewer travellers, check if it is due to unfavourable climatic conditions.

3. Travel Warnings

Travel warnings / alerts are advices that are issued by government bodies and is up to individuals to heed or ignore it. If you choose to ignore it, you bear the risks and blame no one if things do happen to you.

But, I was talking about omission. If a traveller knows that a travel warning has been issued for a particular place and chooses to go ahead, so be it. What is more worrying is that a majority of travellers do not know what are travel warnings and how they can affect their travels.

Some people (whom I know) actually planned trips to a certain city that got bombed less than 2 weeks prior and the suspects were still at large. They did not read the news, so they are unaware of it, and headed to potential dangers without travel insurance. As a matter of fact, Most people will not protect themselves until they see the dangers, but it will be too late by then. Not that mishaps will definitely happen, but the rationale is to travel safe and with piece of mind before enjoyment.

Do read news regularly to know what is going on around the world or search for travel safety articles related to your travel destination. And, don't go on trips without travel insurance, unless you can afford any unexpected financial losses.

Take the above factors into considerations when planning a trip to minimise disappointments. There are just 3 things to research on.

Travel smart and travel safe!

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