Two out of 6 of my trips have been unorganised (and solo). No travel agent or pre-arranged airport pickups. Just me figuring it out as I go. New York and Zambia (+Zimbabwe and Botswana). In both cases I had a fair amount of comfort about what to expect, which helped… I mean every other movie you watch on TV is shot in New York. And Southern Africa felt familiar by virtue of living in a multi-national country and being from here myself.
The experiences have been far more authentic thanks to Airbnb and Google. Don’t underestimate the advantage you get living with locals. You get the best cheat sheet while traveling. I’ve gotten advise on the best kept secrets, the ones you won’t find on Google. Info on how to travel locally, how to negotiate, where to eat, how to stay safe, and my personal favourite, getting an umbrella hook-up during an unexpected snow fall.
My other favourite thing about unorganised trips is you can still organise some elements of your trip. While in Zambia I found out I could do a day trip to Chobe in Botswana. Yes please *raising hand*. So a tour organiser got me onto their list, I paid a deposit and the next morning I was picked up from my host’s house, driven to the boarder, sailed across the river to the other side and voilà I was in Botswana. Every detail down to what I’d eat for lunch was planned. And while I was in Chobe, the tour around the river and subsequent game drive were planned to the tee. Worked out perfectly given the intricacy involved.
Now if I had to offer tips on how to prepare your own trip :-
- Flights – Probably the most expensive part of your trip, you need to book them in advance. Prices tend to increase the closer you are to your target date. Although I’ve had 1 experience where a better set of flights, with a shorter layover issued a month or 2 after I booked mine. Use flight aggregators like Travelstart and Skyscanner to search for flights but the airline’s website to book. The price is normally slightly inflated with aggregators.
- Accommodation – I’ve only used Airbnb for unorganised trips. I’ve tried/searched other products like Bookings.com but Airbnb has by far been cheaper and well worth the ‘risk’.
- VISA – I find that this is the most uncertain of the tasks. Especially because they keep your Passport for a few days/weeks after you appear at the consulate. And I’ve been quite nervous thinking about whether I’d get my VISA in good time. So to avoid anxiety apply for your VISA in advance. And perhaps before you book flights if it’s possible.
- Travel Insurance – I’m risk averse so travel insurance has always felt practical. There are many different financial services providers for this benefit. It mostly comes standard so it’s easy to compare the benefits and prices you get between providers.
- Currency conversion / Forex – I normally exchange before I leave because I don’t like using debit/credit cards overseas. I always feel like they charge exorbitant commission, plus it’s harder to negotiate prices. This is another thing I tend to leave for the last minute, like during the 3 hours I need to be spending at the airport getting through bagdrop (I normally check-in online), security and boarding. Not the brightest idea.
- Desktop research – Do some research regarding your destination before you leave. Don’t take away all the adventure but it helps to know language, currency, what to look out for, how to negotiate, etc.
What are your tips? What has been your experience?