Independent Travel, “go on you know you want to”

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Well the day is very close when we embark on our month-long trip to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, it’s been some eight months now since we booked our flights to Bangkok, and the journey since that day has been immensely pleasurable, with many hours spent reading guide books, researching the internet, reading the invaluable blog post from people who have had first-hand experience in visiting the countries we are going to. On the journey I have learnt a great deal about their history and culture and the many facts about the various conflicts they have had. Some of the facts I have read about the Vietnam War and Pol Pot regime in Cambodia were very startling indeed.

I diverse, back to the planning. Now anyone who reads my blog will know that I am a great advocate in independent travel, as for me the months as in this case of planning is just as pleasurable as the trip no doubt will be itself, as I feel like I have been on the journey all this time, and no doubt my fellow travellers will agree. Now there are many people who would never attempt to do an independently arranged trip and would be completely out of their comfort zone in doing so. I’ve had people say to me “your brave” or “are you mad” but I’m neither (or maybe I am having served many years as a London firefighter), but have gained this experience over many years and on many trips, but everyone has got to start somewhere, so if anyone reading this post has the slightest interest in I urge you to have a go. Now I am not saying do something like we are embarking on, just something small like a city break in Europe or a country nearby whatever part of the world you live in, having said that our very first independent trip was back in 1993 when we went to California for a month with two small children, we just booked a flight and a car and found the accommodation along the way, we travelled some 2500 miles and had a fantastic time.

So let’s start. First the flights, if you are booking short-haul flights with a budget airline the rule of thumb is to book well in advance as this is when you will find the best deals, this is normally the same case for long haul but this can be a bit more hit and miss on pricing, we booked some eight months before the trip hoping that this would be the best deal but later found out we could have got the flights cheaper if we had left it a while, you win some you lose some as they say. I have also found it pays to go to the various airlines direct as they all offer deals from time to time, so my advice is to take the time to register your details with them, and get on their mailing list and they will email you from time to time with their various offers and promotions. Also whilst on the subject of flights there are numerous web sites and phone apps to help you with the process, like flight search engines like Kayak and Skyscanner also another very good tool to use in conjunction with booking flights which is also available as a phone app is Seat Guru, this will enable you view the various airlines seating plans and help you in choosing the best seats.

Next onto the accommodation, there are many sites available on the web to help you find the right hotel, villa or apartment; it is really all down to your personal preference in which you use, personally I use booking.com, but like I said there are many others. In conjunction with Booking.com another good site to which I use a lot is Trip Advisor, Once I have found the accommodation I am thinking of booking I go onto Trip Advisor and get the low down and reviews on the accommodation I am thinking of booking, which in my experience are pretty accurate on the whole.

Next the legalities and requirements of whichever country you are planning a trip too, like what are the  visa entry requirements for the country you are visiting. My advice on this one is to contact the country concerned embassy direct either via their website or phone for entry advise, the reason I say this there are many third-party companies offering to do this for you but like everything in life nothing is free and there will be an additional charge on top of the normal fees, and it’s quite easy and painless to do it yourself, many of the embassy’s offer an online service as well. If you read one of my previous posts on “Vietnamese visa application” you will see how easy and pain-free it is.

Now onto vaccinations, obviously your first port of call for this is your GP, but a really useful website is FitForTravel which is run by the NHS it was recommended by the nurse at my GP’s practise and is the one that they use.

One last website worth a mention is the Foreign and; Commonwealth office which will give you up to date advice on any countries you may be thinking of visiting.

Once last useful tool I want to mention and which I have used extensively and found invaluable in planning this trip is Pearl Trees, now I will try to explain but if I loose you just visit their site as they will do a far better job than no doubt I will so here goes. First things first is to set up an account which is totally free, then you download the add-on for your web browser in my case I use Firefox but I’m sure it will work with all others, then you start by creating a main pearl, which in my case is Vietnam then when you are doing your research you just add the various things you find to your pearl, I said I would make a hash of explaining, just visit the site and you will see what I mean. Before anyone says you can just use bookmarks, but pearltrees is unique whereby your pearls are available for everyone to see so it’s a great way of sharing information on any given subject. Phew that was tough I was even boring myself.

So like I said at the beginning start off small and work up to a more adventurous trip or jump straight in at the deep end like I did all them years ago and I am sure you will be throughly rewarded by the experience and also save some money in the bargain for your next adventure, let me explain. On browsing the various itinerary’s from the various travel companies offering trips to Vietnam I was amazed at the cost. Typical trip for 11 to 14 days in just Vietnam were ranging from between £2500 to £4000 per person, our month-long trip which include return flights from UK to Bangkok, two internal flights in Vietnam, a flight from Hanoi back to Bangkok, 30 nights accommodation in nice hotels not hostels all for the grand total of approx £4000 for three people give or take a £100, bargain in my book.

So hopefully after reading my post I hope I have wetted your appetite for independent travel, and given you some useful tips along the way. So as always stay safe, keep well and keep travelling. Next stop Bangkok watch this space.

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