For the last couple of years we have been traveling on our own, without the help of travel agencies. Individual travel for us not only means organizing our trips for ourselves; whenever possible we don’t even make hotel or transportation bookings up front. This kind of travel gives you a huge freedom and enormous flexibility.
If you like a spot, the weather is right and you are having fun: stay as long as you want. If you are disappointed, it is too crowded or boring where you are, or you caught the wrong season you just move on – no obligations.
However, in order to make this flexibility and freedom work, and make your individual travel smooth and enjoyable, there are some things you should take care of before and during your travels:
1. Check visa and passport requirements for your planned destinations in due time
It might not be necessary to have a Visa, but in many countries it is, and it could take some time to gather all required documents. The lead time for getting the visa might also vary from 1 day to several weeks. So let yourself enough time. Some countries, like South Africa, or Namibia even have requirements how many empty pages you need in your passport and the required validity of your passport is also defined in most countries. (In many cases at least +6 months after your planned exit from the given country). You can find detailed information on the website of the foreign ministry of your country, or at the website of the local embassies. A general first information is available on the website: visahq.com.
2. Check out in time what vaccination is needed for your destination
This is very important! Your health is your most important asset, don’t take unnecessary risks by underrating prevention. To get all needed vaccinations can also take a bit of time; for some you have to get up to 3 shots, with a time gap of 1-4 weeks between them. Be aware: some vaccinations could be even mandatory to enter certain countries. (for example: many countries require a yellow fever vaccination certificate if you arrive from risky areas).
3. Do not forget insurance!!!
Although you will hopefully not need it, travel insurance is something you absolutely have to have when on the road. In comparison to your total travel costs it is a fraction, but it can save you from a lot of trouble. It is bad enough if something happens, but if you can at least avoid serious financial consequences, it can save the day in the end.
Pick a travel insurance that is covering your health issues, a stolen or lost luggage, an unforeseen but unavoidable return to home, etc. We are traveling with valuable photo equipment so we even have an insurance to cover damages if something happens to our gadgets.
4. Make a travel plan, but also listen to other travelers and locals
There are endless resources online and offline about destinations wherever you plan to travel. Check out what you are interested in. Even though you don’t want to over plan, it is good to have an idea what options you have during your travels. Also talk to other travelers and local people: great ideas will pop up, and you can always decide what you are willing to skip from your (mental or written) list.
We would not have seen Koh Rong Samloem in Cambodia, was it not for a German couple we met in Vietnam who recommended this small island to us. It turned out to be one of our most fantastic and romantic beach stays during our Asia trip. (you can read about this trip here)
5. Have credit cards/bank cards from at least 2 different banks
When organizing your trip while on the way, you will surely be using your credit card. Before you leave inform your bank which destinations you will be traveling to, otherwise your card might not be working. The second thing to consider is to carry with you credit cards from at least 2 different banks. In certain cases banks can consider some sellers risky, and simply reject your payment to them. If you have a second one from another bank you still have the chance that this will work. This can happen especially if couchsurfing.comare booking flights online from smaller local airlines. Happened to us more than once in Asia.
6. Get a local SIM card to access the Internet
If you organize your trip while on the road, it is essential to have good access to the Internet. You can either have a great package from your provider from home, or, what worked well for us, you can get a local Data SIM card. In many countries the mobile providers have prepaid Tourist packages for a couple of Euros/Dollars which you can get at the airport, or at any mobile company around the main tourist attractions. Most likely you will need your passport for buying the SIM card, though.
7. Have the right accommodation booking app on your mobile phone
To find quickly your accommodation you should have the apps of booking.com, agoda or hotels.com on your mobile device. If you would like to get closer to locals you can use airbnb or couchsurfing. Our favorite is booking.com, but from time to time we use some of the others, depending also on the country we are in.
8. Have a proper flight booking app on your phone
Skyscanner, momondo, ITA Matrix and Kayak are just some of the possibilities. We usually use Skyscanner, where you can filter the best price and the shortest flight times in a very handy way. But I have to say from time to time we also check out the websites or apps of the airlines that these apps offer and find pretty good deals directly from them as well.
9. Make a plan on how you will be traveling locally
Depending on your destination you might want to take a rental car, use public transport or in some countries very reasonable: hire a driver. If you need a car for your entire trip probably the easiest way is to rent it up front, from home. You will surely find a good deal online with one of the rental companies or your automotive club at home. Although in most countries you will also find a car for rent on the spot, just make sure you have (if needed) the right international drivers license from home.
In some countries, it is extremely cheap to hire a driver with a car. In countries where you would not want to drive (we did not dare in some Asian countries) it is the perfect compromise. The staff at your hotel/hostel/B&B will surely be able to help you to find a reliable driver.
If you plan to use public transport research how it works, check if there are apps available you can use.
10. And most importantly: be flexible and open minded
Things might not work out perfectly as you plan them, but try to be flexible on it. We for example had to reschedule our flight to Hanoi, Vietnam, because it turned out on the Bangkok airport, that the validity of our Vietnamese Visa started 2 days later only. Although it was a bit annoying this spontaneous change in our plans resulted in 2 great days in Bangkok, where we could experience among others the crazy turmoil of the Kao San Rd.
If you consider these things you can make your individual travel work, and are prepared to solve the most important issues on your journey. Do you have any other tips? Let us know in the comments if we have missed something! Thanks :)
Amazing tips, Julia! I’m saving your post because I must re-read it!
Happy you like them, Agness! :)
Really great tips! Preparation is always #1. Always, always!
Yes, I agree, but only to an extent that still allows for flexibility ;)
It’s interesting read. Travel planning tips are always useful. Lots of practical down to earth stuff. Thanks for sharing.
Hope we could help a bit :)
love these tips. We do a lot of last minute travel with my husband being a flight attendant so there isn’t always a lot of organization that goes into them. I can tell you we are always flexible though.
I can imagine with last minute travel you must be flexible. Sounds super exciting, though :)
We have always traveled without travel agencies. On one of our recent travels we booked our flights, hired a car and booked the first nights accommodation, then just booked each night on booking.com when we decided where to go, very easy and flexible. We have travel insurance cover all year so it is never a problem.
We love traveling like that!!! This flexibility is just priceless :)
Great tips for traveling, especially checking the Visa requirements of a country!
Yes, that can be tricky sometimes. It could last a couple of weeks to get a Visa to some countries, so if you forget you can experience a bad surprise…
These are great tips for any kind of travel, especially number 10!
Yes, without being open it is very difficult to enjoy it. :)
These are really good tips and I could not agree more with them. I always book it myself and go by your guidelines!
For us it just makes more fun if we organize it ourselves…
I always travel without a travel agency, so I agree completely in all the 10 tips. Specially to buy a travel insurance, you can manage to fix any other problem but do not mess with health, so that should be always on top of everything! Nice post
Couldn´t agree more. We would never leave without an insurance.
great tips. You really now how to start checking the Visa Requirements especially with so many countries having issues with the EU and Brexit with reciprocity…silly kids not sharing their toys!
Love the idea of being totally flexible though! We just did this for several weeks in India where we had no idea where we were going or staying and though it was a wee bit stressful occasionally when you are dealing with a partner, its great to see how easy it can be when you finally relax
The funny thing is we have been traveling for a year now like this, and India was the only place where we did not dare to stick to being so flexible.
We created our own itinerary, but most of it up front and hired a driver for 3 weeks out of the 5…. :D
But I think next time we will be more daring even in India.
I love planning our trips, it’s half the fun! Bit it does require a lot of additional thought. Love the point on Visa’s, I think a lot of travelers forget this point and it is so important! I’m still learning to master the flexible part, but it has led to some of our most memorable days for sure. Great tips!
We are also planning in a way – at least researching and checking what we would like to see for sure. But there is so much you hear and learn on the way – so flexibility always paid off so far for us. :)
It’s always great to have tips when planning a trip. Very useful!
Happy you find them useful :)
Awesome tips! We always tend to travel this way, it gives you so much more freedom. Always listening to other travellers has been great for us too and has helped us find some off the beaten track places that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise!
Absolutely! Other travelers and locals are a great “source”.
And we had also cases when it was great to be able to be flexible, as the weather turned crazy – and we could just take another direction until it became better…
Good tips! I used to use an agency or go on organised trips (which I do like if I’ve got limited time as all the hassle of organising transport etc is taken away). However now I’m much more likely to organise everything myself as my confidence has grown – it’s usually much cheaper!
If you don´t have that much time it probably pays off to take an organized tour sometimes.
But the advantages of flexibility are enormous for us. :)
Plus it is usually cheaper to plan travels yourself. Agencies charge commission rates, so you typically pay more than you normally would. However, some people who don’t travel much like to have the extra help of a professional when planning an extensive international trip.
You are so right about the price. We have asked for some offers from agencies to make a 2-weeks Myanmar roundtrip last year. We ended up organizing it on our own and it cost us approximately one third of the offered prices.
And I also know that many people like the comfort and security of organized travel – there is nothing wrong with that. We have done both in our lives and we prefer going our own way. And I can imagine that for some destinations we would again choose the security… :)
Great tips! We also always travel without travel agencies, but I’m a planning freak, so I do quite enjoy planning everything to the very last detail!
This can also be part of the fun! This way probably you “start your travel” already weeks or months before….
We try to travel like this as much as possible, so these tips are so helpful. Especially number 10 as it’s so easy to forget and stressed about things not working out the way you thought they would!
For us travel is about learning and experiencing new things. So being open is a prerequisit. But sometimes – especially if things don´t work out the way one would like them to work out – it is very difficult to stay open minded – you are right about that. :)