Tikal, Guatemala

While you wait for your passport, get back to planning!

  1. Where do you want to go? 
  2. What sort of budget do you need? 
  3. What is the weather like? 
  4. What travel restrictions do you need to consider?

I look at Google Maps (or Earth) and start dreaming! What do you want to see? They pyramids? Waterfalls? What do you want to do? Backpack mountains? Go sledding down a volcano? What type of environments interest you most? Beaches? Jungles? Think about all those places you dreamed about but thought it was unrealistic. Where did that crazy aunt tell you she had her craziest adventures? Where did your grandfather deploy in service to his country?

Once I settle on a region of the world to visit, I think about what is might cost. That also helps determine how long you’ll be there. $2,000 in Central America can mean 2 months or it can mean a week in Europe. It will also help you determine WHEN you can go. Do you need to save up a little more money? What are you going to do when you get there? Are you doing Tours or are you just relaxing? 

El Remate, Guatemala

The seasons and weather can help you determine WHEN you want to go. That’ll help you know how to pack and give you an indication on things you can do. Rainy seasons can be cheap times to go, but can you deal with that? Keep in mind… seasons flipflop south of the equator. Summer in the US is winter down there. 

Covid-19 has definitely forced some changes to travel. You’ll have to check with the State Department to see what Covid-related travel restrictions and Travel Advisories are for each country of the world. Aside from that, they’ll also tell you what entry/exit requirements are necessary. That usually tells you what sort of visa you need. Keep in mind. The US has everywhere listed as, DO NOT GO, or RECONSIDER GOING recommendations right now, due to Covid. And do consider enrolling in the STEP program to get email updates on changes in your area when you are abroad. If you are not vaccinated… well, your scope of travel might be SEVERELY limited.

Las Siete Cascadas, Juayua, El Salvador

I started with Central America for 4 reasons. One, I was invited. Two, it’s cheap. Three, it’s close (to the US), but it feels like you are on the other side of the world. And Four, it was something I promised myself I’d do when I was in the Army after I was deployed to Panama the first time (mid-90’s). I fully, completely, and whole-heartedly recommend starting in Central America! Mainly because of the first three reasons I mentioned, but it’s also much safer than what you might believe AND you (Americans) get a 90-day visa. 

It’s not uncommon to begin travels to Europe. If you have that sort of bank, go get’em. European English speaking countries might make you more comfortable, but they are going to be costly as well. It’s up to you, but I invite you to leave your comfort zone at Baggage Check and come on out and have some fun.

Esteli, Nicaragua

From there, after I knew the region I wanted to travel to, I jumped on Amazon and bought the latest Lonely Planet book on Central America. I could have just as easily got one from the Library, but I knew I’d take this book with me and I needed to make notes in it. I learned so much from this series of books. You’ll learn about the usual BEATEN PATHS that most tourist take, but you’ll also get info on the OFF THE TRAIL spots you can check out, too. The best information from this book series is on requirements to get into the country, places to stay, and things to be wary of. The latest versions are usually up to date with the latest information and details.

Having said that, I haven’t used those books in years! After a while, you can sort of graduate from them and learn on your own by researching the internet. I’ll usually begin with Wikitravel.org and start make book hostels/hotels on Booking.com or AirBnB.com. I might get some more details from Wikipedia.org or a Google search, but next I’m booking my flight, once I have a passport in hand!

Flores, Guatemala

You can use anything you want to book flights. GoogleFlights, Cheap-O Air, Kayak.com… anything. If you have an airline preference, great. Got points, use’em. Otherwise, book your flights based on your budget preference. Most airlines have pros and cons and people will have opinions about their services.

Once you have that passport in hand… Book it! It’s not real until you book that flight and hotel. Once you do that, start shopping! You may not already have a backpack. I love me some REI. I think on one of my trips, I laid out my clothes and everything that I was taking with me and all of it, aside from electronics was from REI. It’s a great company and they’ve earned my loyalty… like proactively, so. 

I usually select cargo pants that convert into shorts, dry fast, and are lightweight, but durable. I have the same criteria for my boots. I may get into more details in another post on packing and what to bring. Pack for your durations, the season, your comfort, and your convenience. 

Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Ten Additional Tips:

Make sure you automatic payments for bills while you are gone.

Let your bank know you are abroad, so they don’t block your cards!

Arrange to suspend mail with the post office.

Make sure you have ample supply of your prescription medication.

Bring an extra pair of glasses in a hard case.

Download books, music, and movies before you go! 

Keep the camera gear simple. DO NOT bring all your lenses. You won’t use them.

Pack some Pepto Bismol and or Alka-Selzer tablets with you.

Drink water from unopened bottles ONLY!

Get an app that converts the local currency.