For the sometimes and frequent traveler alike, there are many kinds of trips. Sometimes we find ourselves with a short period of time and want to make a trip a few hours from home, other times we have saved and planned and built up a lengthy adventure that is sure to take quite a bit of planning. Today’s blog discussion will focus on the latter scenario. The executive team members of the Joys of Traveling have all given their input as we recently prepared, planned and enjoyed a lengthy journey to China. The destination could be any country far from your home and for any great length of time. The point of using our recent experience is to share something real and factual. This is an experience that only makes sense to share if it actually happened and the reader can take these facts and adventures for their true value.
The first considerations one should give to a lengthy trip have to have a basis in one’s own desire. Be sure you are ready and willing to commit lots of time and energy for something you really want to see. Perhaps you did not think of the destination and trip but it was proposed to you. It is important to be realistic in this case as well. Do not just go because friends are going or because they tell you it will be fun. The company of friends can be important but it will not define the whole trip. If you know you are disinterested in the location, irritable on the road, anxious under pressure and have many other negative things to bring to the trip, its best to sit this one out. You can always enjoy your friends at home or negotiate another destination with them. So the desire must be there, for one to really be in the proper mindset to prepare for a lengthy trip. The next step is to be sure that your country or countries of destination are passable with your citizenship. This can range from easy to quite tricky. Easily enough you may not need a visa, be sure and check how long your stay is allowed, even if you don’t need a visa. Then you may need a visa. In this case determine where you need to go for the visa and what is required. The first step should be fairly easy. Don’t assume that you will go straight to the Consulate to have your visa filled out. For those of us headed to China we actually needed to go to a China Visa Center. The government of China in this case has chosen to outsource the visa process to a public office. This in itself merits an upcoming blog post at some point! The process was very quick, efficient and far less stressful than lining up outside a government building for limited hours as happens at many other places. Other countries such as India, Algeria and now Canada are opting for this approach. The best way to cover all your bases is to do extensive reading ahead of time to see what your specific situation will be. This is necessary before any travel plans are made because you might need to apply for the visa a certain amount of time beforehand. Be sure as well to apply for the correct type of visa. Once you have gotten this information down, travel logistics come next. Some people see tips in a linear fashion, some see it as a circular go and return. Know that you have many options. You can simply fly in and out from the same city or plan to fly in to one place and make your way to another. Be aware that some visa applications require you to have already booked some hotels and purchased flights. This is a big risky, but do a fair amount of research and see if people commonly find getting the visa to be easy. If it is a hard visa to achieve you may want to weigh all the risks of making beforehand purchases.
Once you have gotten the visa, made flight plans and lodging bookings you may think everything is ready, but not so fast. Many things still require your attention. These plans are the most basic to arrive sleep, and depart, but there are many more aspects to a day on the road. We find it helpful to print out as much logistical information as possible. So many times we have been on the road, in the middle of trip and thought, how did we forget to explore this ahead of time? If only we had taken just a few moments to search this online and print out even the simplest directory, maps or information. Going through a checklist of logistical info at home can save you hours on the street in a far away country. For instance why not have the contact information of you embassy in that country? Should you need it in an emergency you will have to rely upon local authorities to find it for you. Why not print the weather forecast for the week? This is a huge help in packing the right stuff as well. Information about the best things to see, transportation options from the airport or to the airport are all valuable things to have. Information about scams can also be helpful, so you don’t get ripped off in a cab where you pretty much have to pay since you have no idea where you are. There may be bans on bringing in alcohol, tobacco, currency or even literature that is considered detrimental to the life of the state you are entering. Be sure and check these things ahead of time to avoid an unpleasant airport customs experience. The same goes for leaving a country. Too often we assume that countries have the same stipulations as our own when in fact customs policies vary greatly from one place to another. Growing technology is definitely a useful tool when looking for restaurants, malls, grocery stores, transport, maps, hospitals and all kinds of services. While it is great to have these services at our fingertips, we recommend having printed information as well. There is no telling when your phone might break, your battery run out, or even the possibility if not being able to connect to a network or the internet for whatever reason. While the technology tools are more and more useful, it’s always good to have a backup plan. Be sure and have copies of your passport, visa and other ID’s with you and at home with someone you can call. It’s a good idea to have some accessible in digital format as well, so that you could login to email to retrieve a copy. When going to a foreign land it is not always a valid assumption that others speak an international language. Many cab drivers, locals and people in the service industry will know enough to get by but this is not always the case. It is a great idea to request the hotel to provide directions to and returning from a destination. This can be done at the hotel or even before arrival. This is essential before arriving on a long trip because you will most likely be so tired that you will not want to spend one extra minute in transit or confusion on the way to the hotel.
For lodging it is a good idea always to check ahead of time with the hotel. If you have booked the hotel with coupons, discounts, miles or even paid up front, it is worthwhile to sort out any headaches before you arrive. An exchange of emails or some minutes on the phone are far less stressful at home than in a crowded lobby trying to find records or sort out payment. If for any reason there has been a transaction error one is much more capable of finding a better option to stay ahead of time at home. Finally it is important to realize that no matter how careful we are, no matter how long or far we have traveled, we can never be in complete control of things. We can try but we are only human and some things can’t possibly be foreseen. The benefit of taking good steps in preparation is an advanced foreknowledge of the destination, a mind clear and ready for unexpected happenings and most of all the ability to really experience and enjoy the trip. The worry and confusion that unpreparedness brings is frustrating, more frustrating than normal because there is nowhere to retreat to. Naturally when something goes wrong in our home lives we have something to fall back on, a safe place to go to. On the road no such place exists, you can be stressed and upset and feel frustrated and there is nowhere to turn, it is a feeling of abandonment, out in the open. Thus it pays to be prepared. The benefits of a long haul are as vast as you want them to be. The time if well spend will stick in your mind for years to come. An adventure of some length can really take us away from our day to day thinking. It can transport us to a world that is new and inviting. The trip of great length has the potential to really alter us for the better, to see life and reality from a different angle and inspire us to go the distance and see our world more often. In Plato’s book of the Republic he presents a famous allegory of a cave. There are some people who spend their whole lives in the cave looking at the shadows that the dim light creates. For them this is the world, no other world or explanation exists because the cave is safe and warm and it is home. There are a few who wonder where the dim light comes from and they turn around from the shadows and follow the light. They stumble out into a world lit by sunshine and it is overwhelming at first, but they soon come to see and explore thousands of things because there is a world and light outside the cave. Plato is talking about knowledge here and there is so much in travel that pertains to this allegory as well. Traveling can be the light that leads to untold and unseen worlds, it is the light that can make all the difference, the thing that challenges us to question our comfortable cave of warmth and shadows. It might take sacrifice and hardship to get up and leave our surroundings but the journey to the world of light and colors, the world outside our own is one we will never regret once we have seen it.