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Travel Planning Tips/Tricks: Getting Started Part 2

Call me a nerd, but researching is probably my favorite part about travel planning! Not only is it the most important part of the planning process, but I also think it’s really cool to get to know a country before you go there. While I love learning about the culture and attractions in a city, the number one thing I think about when researching a location is the safety. Because I generally travel alone and I am a woman, I need to make sure that I’m not putting myself in danger. After that I like to learn more about the area so that when I arrive I don’t feel completely lost. This way I will be confident that I know how to get around and have ideas of what I want to do once I arrive at my destination. Below is a list of things you should learn about a city before going!

Is it safe?
Before you read too many horror stories online about certain cities, it is important to understand that for the most part, the things you will read are going to be worst-case scenarios. Crime happens everywhere, even in your hometowns, and you shouldn’t let it keep you from visiting a place you really want to see. Just be aware of your surroundings in more dangerous places and try to make safe choices! For that reason, I believe learning how safe your destination is to be the most important part of travel planning. So how do you go about researching safety? There are several easy ways you can find out this information! I usually start with Google and read what people have to say on travel websites (like Bakpak Guide!) and personal blogs. Personal blogs will usually give you the scary stories whereas travel websites and books use statistics and facts to determine a safety rating.

One important thing to learn are the common scams in the area so you can avoid being a victim in one of these schemes, whether they be pickpockets, flower givers, or taxi extortionists, Now it might sound like I am trying to dissuade you from going anywhere unsafe, but that is so untrue! Go anywhere you feel comfortable going and have an amazing time, just be aware of your surrounding environment and make good decisions.

Get to know the Language, Currency, and Cultural Customs
When I was preparing for my solo trip to Europe, I made a point to learn as much about my destinations as possible. In my experience it is so much easier to enjoy a city when you already have a basic idea of where things are, what things are popular to do, and if you know some basic words in the native language... For the words and phrases I don’t remember, I have my handy dandy phrasebook! I strongly believe that immersion is the best way to learn a language, so on my first day in a country, I usually walk around and try to learn. You don’t have to become an expert, but the locals really appreciate it when you try to speak their language.

For example, when I live in Budapest in the summers, I only know ten words, but when I use them instead of English, the locals are nicer to me and are more willing to help me out.

Another good research point is the currency. My biggest problem when I go to a new country, especially ones with extreme inflation issues, is that I spend cash like it is monopoly money. If I don’t take the time to understand the conversion rate before I travel, I most likely never will, so make sure you look into it and maybe pratice converting on the spot before leaving!

Understanding some of the cultural customs is another helpful thing to know before arriving, especially if you are traveling to South America, Africa, or Asia, so you can safely fit in and not offend anyone. If your research on safety reveals there is a problem with women who dress or behave a certain way, make sure you know the customs and try to practice it yourself while you are there to avoid risking your safety.

How close are the cities to one another?
When creating your itinerary it’s a good idea to plan on visiting cities in an order that takes the least amount of time to travel between. You can use Google maps to see how far places are apart, but first consider how you will travel from place to place. If you are renting a car, Google maps will give you a time and distance estimate. But if taking other modes of transport, it may not be that straightfoward. Although there may be a direct driving route, with trains and buses especially you may have travel farther to reach your final destination due to connecting through other places first. The same goes with flying, though it is obviously significantly faster than other modes of transportation.

How will you get from place to place?
I have a love/hate relationship with modes of transportation. Going into further detail about modes of transportation, there are obvious pros and cons. While choosing your transportation style depends completely on what you are comfortable with, here are my thoughts on the three main modes of transportation: planes, trains, and buses

Flying is obviously faster, but can be more expensive and time-consuming. I prefer to fly if I am traveling longer distances, but the cons of flying usually outweigh the pros for me.

For me, price is the main reason I don’t fly. That being said, in Europe, there are low-cost airlines like Ryanair, and Easyjet that are significantly cheaper than the standard airlines. However, with the low-cost comes more hassles such as the use of more obscure, smaller airports even further away from the city center or even from your destination itself. These airlines are also uncomfortable most of the time, and they charge extra to check a bag.

Flying also involves hours waiting in security lines, going through customs if you are flying internationally, and waiting forever to board the plane. And don’t forget the added time and expense of getting transportation from the airports to your accommodation, as most airports are located outside of the city, unlike train stations and bus stops which are generally right in the city center. But for longer distances that may take 24 hours by train, flying is generally a good option.

Trains are my personal favorite way to get around. Train travel is usually cheap, especially if you get a rail pass, offers overnight options that have beds or couchettes so you can get comfortable, or has more comfortable seating than an airplane and it provides a great view of the countryside.

Plus taking the train is much less complicated. You can show up at the train station ten minutes before it leaves and still be fine. I love not having to deal with security (in most train stations), quick boarding times. And trains travel all the way into the city center so getting to your final destination is much easier and you don’t necessarily have to deal with finding another train or cab.

The only downside to taking the train is the longer journey without any in seat entertainment. But for shorter journeys I recommend trains as your first option.

Buses are the cheapest option but stop more frequently and don’t have an overnight option with beds on the long routes. I personally don’t choose the bus for long distances (I hear they aren’t very comfortable), but if you’re on an extreme budget, you can’t beat the price

When is the best time to go?

Students like me can only travel during certain times of the year. But the lucky ones that can travel any time of the year have the option of visiting a city at a more interesting time or even a cheaper, less crowded time. Use your research time to find the best time to visit. This could be the season with the best weather or it could be based on a special event. For example, I prefer to visit when there are festivals or concerts, just so there is something to do,. Search the web for festival listings and see if you can fit a few in! But it’s still fun to visit places when even when nothing is going on!

Make a Final Itinerary

Once you’ve done the research, its time to put together your final itinerary, book flights, trains, and accommodation, which I will cover further in the next article!

Keep an eye out for more travel tips and tricks from Bakpak Girl and for tons of info about backpacking Europe check out Bakpak Dave's Backpacking Europe section!

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