Travel // Planning a BIG Trip

Travel is so important to me. Traveling, whether to a nearby city or across the world, can open doors to new experiences, people and cultures. It's transformative, and so important to help understand that there are other existences and realities beyond our own. Travel is a privilege and a pleasure, but it can also be a challenge and an experience that affects growth... especially when going somewhere new and so vastly different than what you're used to.

I keep a mental "bucket list" of experiences I want to have and even wrote a "16 Goals for 2016" list. Many items on my mental list and goals list have to do with travel... And I'm so excited to be checking off a major one next week. I'm going to Africa!

I've been before (Morocco in 2009) but never to the southern part of the continent. I'm going with my boyfriend and on this trip we'll be visiting Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. I'm so excited to see this part of the world, meet new people and be exposed to new cultures. However, as exciting as this opportunity is, it has also been a challenge to plan a trip of this magnitude. I've learned some great tips throughout the planning process that I want to share with you all, whether you're daydreaming of far away lands or actively planning an adventure.

Make a Custom Google Travel Map
Custom Google travel maps are a super useful way to plan out a trip. You can create maps for each city you're going to and mark important spots (hotel, restaurants, sights, bars, photo ops) with color coded pins. This keeps everything you want to accomplish in one spot and helps to easily plan out your days by seeing what's close together. The best part is that it's so easy to create. To make your own Google travel map, go to https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/?pli=1, click create a new map, title it, and start inputting your locations using the search bar and clicking 'add to map.' After you add a location you can change the pin color and add notes. The Cape Town map I created is below. Restaurants are purple, vineyards are red and sightseeing spots are green.

Try Planning Yourself
In general I'm someone who likes to do stuff myself and avoids asking for help. I actually love trip planning and am very organized... it's half the fun of traveling for me! However, with Africa I did end up reaching out to several travel agents when planning the more remote portions of our trip. Everyone I spoke to was nice and wanted to help, but I felt like they were pushing their own agendas and only offering the priciest options. I found that with deeper digging, lots of email inquiries and scouring travel forums (more on that below), I was able to plan a trip that is 100% perfect for us. Of course this isn't a blanket suggestion, and if you're planning something obscure or looking for a very custom experience that requires specific knowledge of vendors in an area, going the travel specialist route may be best. Two of my favorite custom travel companies are Trufflepig and Absolute Travel.

Talk to Other Travelers
We started this trip with flights booked from New York to Johannesburg and I panicked a little over how many different options we had.  JoBurg is a major hub that connects on to so many areas. We debating staying in one country and soaking it in, hopping around and seeing as much as possible, doing a safari, focusing on vineyards, etc. With so many options (and not knowing when we would be back) it was hard to make an itinerary. Reading other people's thoughts and experiences was so helpful to settle on our own plan. I spent a lot of time on travel forums, reading trip reports, following other people's planning process and asking my own questions. One of my favorite websites to read other's travel experiences and get itinerary input is Fodor's forums

Our final itinerary is a safari in Botswana, Victoria Falls and Cape Town. Follow along, I can't wait to share more!

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