This year, I have 3 scheduled trips already, with booked and bought plane tickets:
- Spain and Portugal for our annual European vacation
- Malang, Indonesia – a birthday gift for Arshad; and
- Bali, Indonesia – a group trip that my inner circle booked so I can celebrate my birthday with them in October outside of Manila (ain’t it so posh to say you threw a party for your friends in Bali? Hahaha.)
This list doesn’t include the short trips that we normally make en route to Manila, KL and Singapore for weekends.
Sounds all exciting, doesn’t it? I am excited – super! The thing that worries me and gives me anxiety is the lack of time to research and prepare for the trips in a leisurely way that I want to.
See, I’m a traveler at heart. It’s one of the major reasons why I decided to be an expat since traveling comes with the job. But the job also comes with long hours, 10-12 hours per day on the average, which either leaves me exhausted after a long day or requires me to fit my other activities in a very tight timeline: workout, bank errands, grocery and all the other usual daily grind.
And unlike some of my friends who became successful travel bloggers, I have a full-time job that takes me away from my passion for traveling. Don’t get me wrong, though. I love my job and the career that I have, which is also why I never had the intention of giving it up for other equally important passions. That, and it pays for the trips and the expenses that go along with it!
So although it may sound such a first world problem (though I clearly do not live in one), a traveler at heart with a full-time career has 2 dilemmas:
- Not enough time to plan
- Not enough time for travel itself
For this blog entry, I specifically wanted to write about planning. For me, part of the joy of traveling is in the planning itself! The anticipation of traveling is what keeps me from being a trainwreck despite my crazy work hours as of late.
Here are some ways I do to get around my lack of time to prepare for the trip and to keep myself excited:
1. Prepare way ahead of time. As in way ahead. This is most especially true when you are preparing for travels abroad that will require visa applications. Things you have to note on visa processing and requirements:
- Bank references and bank statements – requests will have SLAs of 2 days to a week.
- Visa appointment – depending on the country, some visa appointments, like for the US or the UK, can take 2-3 weeks to schedule.
- Employment certificate – depends on how fast your company can provide this, but usually a day or two.
- Confirmed flights and hotels – some countries requiring visas will also require that the plane tickets and accommodations have been booked and purchased. You definitely need to sit down on this to compare prices, book and buy.
At the same time, comparing accommodations, researching about restaurants, museums and activities require time. The longer the trip, the longer amount of time is required to prepare for it. For a European or US trip, I give myself 2-3 months to prepare and research, and this is crunch time already. For trips in Asia, a month is usually enough.
2. Prepare to steal moments from your day-to-day routine to do some online research. Busy women like me fantasize about a lazy Saturday morning where we can just sit down, have a cup of coffee while browsing online to research. For most of us, though, ain’t gonna happen. There will always be pressing matters.
Whoever said, though, that there aren’t pockets of time in a day when this can be done? Reality is, we live everyday in a frenzy. If research must be done: beg, borrow or steal some time. In my case, I wake up half an hour in advance in the morning to do this, or I shorten my lunch break, lock myself inside my office and hit Google. If you’re stuck in traffic, thank God for 4G LTE so you can research faster through your mobile phone or tablet.
3. Lists. Lists will save you. Prepare checklists for almost anything and everything related to travel preparations. My personal favorite is to use Evernote and I have a notebook inside categorized as Travel. I have a checklist of requirements needed for a Shengen visa, so everytime that I need to renew or apply all over again, I have my Shengen list as reference.
I also have a comprehensive checklist of items and clothes to bring depending on what kind of trip, where I am going and when. For example, I have a default checklist of summer essentials and what to pack on a beach trip, while I also have a checklist of what to pack for a Europe trip during autumn or winter time. It may sound extremely OCDC, but for seasoned travelers, it helps to have a default checklist to go back to, and seasoned travelers already know that there is a pattern for most kinds of trips, whether for backpacking, beach trip or cross-country.
4. Find a travel buddy who you can share the workload and planning with. Faaaaaaayn, I get away with it because my husband is an efficient travel planner. We make an effort (well, he makes the effort) to sit down and discuss our options: travel dates, whether to book a hotel or use AirBnB, what activities to do, etc.
When traveling with friends, assign the tasks. In my circle, we usually assign tasks depending on what we’re good at. Someone with a huge credit card limit can book the plane tickets, another one can plan the itinerary and someone else can research on which Michelin star restaurants to try. My specific competence, for obvious reasons, is planning trips for Indonesia and Malaysia. At the same time, since I’ve done the rounds for vineyard tours and whiskey flights, so they normally leave these things up to me.
5. Package tours. For the lazy ones, the pragmatists or those who are really running out of time, package tours is always the way to go. Package tours will already have everything: transfers, guided tour, food, detailed itinerary and even prepaid entrance tickets for museums, churches and other places of interest.
The tour package approach, though, is not for people who want to try traveling off the beaten path. This is more for those who prefer organized travel with less risks of uncertainty.
For some, it can be a safe choice, but not as exciting and not as spur-of -the-moment.
6. Digitize and appify. Thank God for Google and all the emerging travel-related apps that can simplify research! They make life less complicated, saves me a lot of time for research and I can store everything on my mobile phone or notebook!
Here are some of my favorite travel apps and sites that I always use for research and planning:
- Skyscanner – to search and compare flights
- Agoda and AirBnB – for accommodation
- TripCanvas – for Indonesia and Thailand places to go to and things to try
- TripAdvisor – for pretty much everything about travel (including reviews)
- Time Out – one of my favorite city guides on art, entertainment, food, drinks, film and even theater. Go figure why I like it!
7. Lastly, find joy in the experience of planning a trip. It’s very simple. What you find pleasure in, you will always make time for. Cliche’ but true: It’s the journey, not the destination. And part of the journey is planning the trip.
To the busy Bellas with wanderlust that never goes away, have fun in planning and traveling. There will always be time for these things for us. Come hell or high water, off we travel!