Don’t Prepare Too Much for Travel

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This morning I was sitting in the library with a pile of guidebooks on Hungary and Budapest, browsing and getting ready for my big move to this new land. I’m starting the important stages of preparation. Preparing to be thrust into a completely unknown language, an unknown culture and a million other unknowns I can never know until I get there!

Hungary Guide Books

It’s always drummed into us how much we should ‘be prepared‘ for everything but when it comes to travel I believe that being over-prepared for a new adventure may be counter-productive.

A large part of preparation for many travellers is reading the guidebooks back to front, learning every written cultural custom and gesture, looking up the best spots to eat recommended by such books, nailing perfect pronunciation of key sayings and creating a ‘absolutely must do’ list of things that 100% have to be done.

Focusing so heavily on learning everything about a new place when not actually in that place can give us a very heavy preconceived idea of what said place is like and I believe can interfere with experiencing it for what it really is. When I say ‘what it really is’, I mean how we perceive and enjoy that place, not how someone else did.

I sometimes think guidebook writers spend 8 months drinking vodka in one bar and then suddenly realise they have to bumble together a book in a month to reach deadline! Information is often subject to heavy debate and sometimes just plain wrong.

One example was reading that wearing shorts on the streets of Cairo was frowned upon. That Egyptian men only wear shorts for sport! So, I didn’t really have any shorts when I arrived only to see the local young men quite happily strutting around in board and cargo shorts. That’s just one of a few examples that taught me to take “customs” that I read prior to arrival with a pinch of salt.

Also having well planned out activities and plans based on recommendations could lose you time for real exploration and the gems you only discover by immersing yourself with local people.

Travel is something that we all individually experience in our own way and following what everyone else tells us we must do and how we must act will bring down the experience a notch.

I’m not advocating a zero preparation approach.

So how do you prepare?

I believe a lot of preparation can be done simply by trawling through the internet and reading experiences from other people such as Wandering Earl and  Don’t Stop Living, two bloggers who have been almost everywhere!

Do read the guidebooks and do digest as much as the info as possible but don’t base your trip around them and be willing to go against their advice. If a local gives you a better alternative or you come across something that looks cool then go for it. If it seems too good to be true of course it may be not what it seems, read down for my thoughts on safety.

Learn the basics of the language but don’t worry about being perfect. Get your words and phrase remembered and have fun with it. If you can do a language exchange with someone before you leave you can learn far more than just language from them and they may give you invaluable advice.

Also as much as I like to be trusting, reading up on any safety warnings and scam alerts is always worth your while. Simple things like taxi scams or bar bill scams are things that in the moment may get you but having some prior knowledge may make you make the right decisions to stay safe. On arrival it’s worth talking to your hostel / hotel about these too as there could be new scams and issues that have just started happening.

Do you have any thoughts / tips to add?

Thanks for reading, I sincerely appreciate it. If you enjoyed the post then please jump in on the conversation and leave a comment below. Also if you are a member of social sites such as Facebook or Twitter then it would be awesome if you could share this post and help get some people headed this way to enrich the conversation.

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I'm a Digital Nomad. I can't get enough of experiencing new places and keeping my lifestyle minimal to ensure I can easily move to my next abode. Maybe one day i'll settle but right now I can't see that happening!


  1. Megan

    June 12, 2013 at 1:54 am

    Good advice! I think there’s definitely a balance to be had – I usually err on the side of not planning anything. Which is awesome in its own right, but does it does lead to missing out on things I would have loved to have done had I known.

    Sidenote: Hooray for moving to Budapest! After visiting last year, its on my short list for places I want to move.

    • Forest Parks

      June 12, 2013 at 10:13 am

      Thanks Megan, do you have any Budapest tips to share? I’m just getting a little history of the city and country down my neck now and getting more excited (of course the history is immensely sad).

      Just striking the right balance that works for us is all we need to do really.

  2. Sam

    June 12, 2013 at 9:34 am

    I agree that reading only guidebooks is not the best idea. Your suggestion of other travel blogs, is, of course, a great idea! It can be difficult to know where to stop, though. I spent a lot of time researching things to see, places to stay and eat and transport options before we went to Patagonia, but I didn’t pay proper attention to the prices of things, and this ended up causing us a lot of grief; we just weren’t prepared for how expensive it would be! But then, travel guides are almost always out of date regarding prices as soon as they’re published, especially in countries with very high inflation, like Argentina!

    • Forest Parks

      June 12, 2013 at 10:16 am

      Hey Sam, pricing is one of the hardest things and I have had it both ways as it depends on who is telling you prices. Someone who can’t go anywhere without staying in a Four Seasons may give you skewed advice and then again the same with someone who is willing to sleep under a bridge to save a hostel cost! Nothing wrong with either choice but just changes the perspectives.

      Prices around the world are crazy right now. I must admit I am a little worried about prices in Hungary.

      I bet Patagonia was awesome no matter what!

  3. Kirsten

    June 15, 2013 at 12:23 am

    “Travel is something that we all individually experience in our own way and following what everyone else tells us we must do and how we must act will bring down the experience a notch.”

    Totally! I tend read endlessly about everything related to wherever I’m planning on going to and I definitely like having an outline of what I want to see & do but I try not to specifically plan anything too concretely.

    • Forest Parks

      July 16, 2013 at 7:36 am

      Absolutely Kirsten, we have to do it our way to get the most :)

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