Do you ever feel a trip looming - and realize you've left too much till the end? Do you feel anxious at the last minute - thinking you've forgotten something essential?
No matter how often I travel I get the last-minute crazies so over the years, I've developed a few coping strategies to see me through that final sprint. I'd like to share these with you because the last thing anyone wants is to start a journey filled with worry or stress.
Women on the Road NEWS: Contents for Issue #23
Organizing the Perfect Stress-Free Trip: 10 strategies to avoid the last-minute crazies
Lets assume you've covered the basics: you know where you're going, and you know how to get there. As for the rest...
Make sure your packing checklist is ready well ahead of time
I have a standard travel packing list ready to print for each trip, so there's no running around at the last minute: all I do is pull out the list and pack what's on it. Each trip requires more or less the same basics and my list is flexible enough to accommodate any season. An important point: start early, about two months before a long or distant journey. The list includes such things as visas and passports and international travel vaccinations. Remember, an international travel visa - often required by countries - can take time to obtain.
Back up and copy all your important papers
I have unfortunately lost all my papers before. In fact the Canadian authorities have threatened never to issue me with another passport if I lose one again (scary thought!) Still, things happen when you travel a lot so the best strategy is to carry copies of everything with you. You can do this in one of two ways: either make photocopies and take them along (separately from the original papers, of course) or scan them onto a flash drive and take that along. Make sure you include all phone numbers for credit card cancellations, along with useful emergency information like contacts for consulates and embassies.
Prepare a daily budget for your trip
You'd be surprised how many people actually don't do this! Most people know how much they can spend on their whole trip but many don't have a daily budget. My budgeting system is simple: I use paperclips. I take out money just for one day from my travel money belt and use a paperclip to hold it together. Say I can spend $50 a day. If I only spend $45, the remaining $5 gets added to the next day's spending money. By the end of the month, I'm usually ready for a treat, and I've stayed within budget. Many travelers prefer more sophisticated approaches - keeping track of spending electronically with simple software. It doesn't matter. Whichever way you choose, plan your daily budget before you leave so you won't have any nasty money surprises.
Plan how to keep in touch
If you want your family to know where you are at any given time, you'll have to find a way to stay in touch. As recently as 10 years ago keeping in touch meant reversing the charges on calls from dodgy phone booths and sending the occasional postcard, but these days the Internet makes it easy. Make sure you have a web-based email address so you can access it from anywhere. If you travel with a cell phone you can update your location on Twitter or Facebook. And there are plenty of other ways of keeping in touch. My point? Plan it before you leave and notify your friends and family so they can register with the various services to receive your updates. It'll cut out the guesswork, save you time, and lower your stress since you'll have fewer last-minute decisions to make.
Think about your preferred entertainment
It may seem silly to think of entertainment when your entire trip is basically entertainment but you'll probably need some down time, time to be with yourself, touch base with your memories, or simply reach out to your inner artist. Planning ahead means that when you're in the mood, you'll reach automatically for your source of serenity. Are you an avid reader? Consider taking some audio books, electronic tablets, or 1-2 good books you've been dying to read. (Any more will be too heavy, and you can trade these along the way.) Is it music? You'll need an iPod or MP3 with your best tunes. My particular poison is a shortwave radio - I'm a news junkie and always need to know who is leading the next government in Fiji or the DR Congo. For some women it's a sketch pad and colors, and for others it may be a guitar or harmonica.
Set up friends along the way
It's great to travel solo but it's also nice to get to a new place and already know someone there - even if it's just a friendly voice at the end of the phone - who can show you the ropes or tell you a bit more about your destination than the guidebooks do. Before I travel, I often scour the best travel forums and either post my own ads or look for people from that destination who might be willing to help. One great specialized service is Journeywoman's www.hermail.net, where women can find other women to 'mentor' them as they travel. It may be just a quick chat but even that simple contact can be hugely helpful. I also ask everyone I know for contacts. This has led me to witness a Balinese wedding, stay on a South African plantation, follow gorillas in Africa or have tea atop one of Tokyo's highest buildings, all because I asked for contacts ahead of time.
Organize your first night of travel
Arriving in a strange place with nowhere to go can be stressful, especially if it's your first time traveling solo. If the idea of landing late at night in an unknown city daunts you, reserve that first night. I traveled to Vancouver last month. My flight arrived in the evening and I was taking a ferry to Vancouver Island the next morning, so I reserved a night in a guest house near the harbor. That made life so much easier: I slipped from the airport almost straight to bed (after a ten-hour flight) and was able to sleep those few precious extra minutes before tumbling onto the ferry the next morning.
Combine friendships with a place to stay
If you're a little concerned about being on your own AND need a place to stay, spend a bit of time before you leave checking out Couchsurfing or similar organizations. My friend Lisa Lubin spent more than two years traveling the world this way and wrote a nice blog post about her experiences. I love to travel solo but I also love meeting people wherever I go. Organizing 'sleep-overs' can combine your taste for independent travel with 'meeting the locals' anywhere in the world, a great way to stay serene and keep loneliness at bay.
And speaking of loneliness...
Travel is exciting at first but if you're planning on being on the road months or even years, some parts may be less exciting than others. At some point loneliness will undoubtedly hit, even if only for a day or two - it's just one of those things that happens, pretty much to all of us. Managing travel loneliness is something you can plan for ahead of time - and be prepared to beat if it should rear its ugly head.
Just let it go!
That's right - accept that you're not perfect and let it go. You'll never be able to get it all done to perfection - but by planning properly you should have most things under control. Make the rest part of your adventure: certain things may surprise or stress you, but they will probably feed your travel tales once you get back home.
What's New This Month on Women on the Road, the Website
Your travel essentials should include some natural herbs, excellent for motion sickness, anxiety, muscle pains and headaches.
Travel News From Across the Web
The World's Most Expensive Cities
6 Great Asian Hikes
10 Great Places to View Wildlife
Cambodia's New Dawn - and it's children
The Gypsy's Guide to Ireland
The Galapagos Islands: The True Story
San Miguel de Allende: Beyond Stereotypes
Curacao: The World's Most Diverse Island
Kyrgyzstan: A Day at the Races
For music, art and literature lovers...
11 American Road Trips, 10 Adventure Novels and Paul Theroux
Video: The 20 best travel books of the past century
African Music Safari - Discover a Rich Continent
...and food lovers
Best Foods in the World
25 World Foodie Guide Destinations
Hungry for Fish in Japan?
How to Survive a Chinese Banquet
Tripoli and Spicy Fish
Know your Croatian Food
Food Highlights of Central America
The Land of Invisible Women
Women-Only Commuter Trains in India
Toilets of the World (not very tasteful, but part of the travel experience nonetheless!)
Cause of the Month
A Possible AIDS Vaccine: Breakthrough or Banality?
If you've been near a news source in the past few weeks you've heard about the breakthrough AIDS vaccine trials in Thailand. How important is this?
Not because it will stop AIDS dead in its tracks - we're a long way from that - but because it will refocus some political and financial eyes on HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In this day of short news cycles AIDS was in danger of becoming yesterday's news until this vaccine trial success came along. Now it's back on the front pages.
It's also important because this is the first vaccine trial ever to show any sign of success. This brings hope to researchers and individuals alike, hope that was beginning to fade after years of research failures. And it means that an AIDS vaccine is actually possible - something researchers had begun to doubt.
The vaccine isn't a panacea and it won't end the AIDS epidemic. First, it's only good for the strain of HIV that exists in Southeast Asia, where the epidemic is not nearly as serious as it is in Africa. Second, much more has to be done before a vaccine can be commercialized or widely distributed. Third, it only protects people 31% better than no vaccine at all. Fourth, it's important that no one think this is IT - otherwise the money will dry up because politicians will stamp this problem 'solved'.
AIDS is still killing people. Last year, there were 33 million people living with the disease worldwide. According to UNICEF, a child dies each minute from AIDS.
AIDS must stay on the front burner - lets not let it slip away.
Want to do your bit? Try visiting some of the following groups:
Stop AIDS in Children Campaign
Health Action AIDS
Unite for Children
Next Month in Women on the Road NEWS?
How to keep life simple - and stay on that 'travel cloud' - once you're home from your trip
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Happy travels! Leyla