Alain de Botton might argue otherwise, but I really believe that half the fun of travel is the anticipation. With only four weeks now before I leave on my version of the grand tour, here's how I try to savour the excitement in the build up to a big trip.
Buy a calendar
The first thing I do is get a calendar and circle my departure date. I'm not advocating that you start wishing your life away in a great countdown to take-off, but it is fun to day dream and of course very useful to be aware of how many days or weeks you have until you leave – especially if you are like me and have a million projects you need to finish before you depart!
Make a list
I love lists. There is nothing more self-satisfying than crossing something off a "to do" list. At the moment I’m working with one long running list (though for every item I cross off, I seem to be adding another two or three "to dos"!). A more practical solution is to have several lists – the all important "must do" list (organise passport, visas, tickets), a "things to buy" list (new camera, backpack), a "packing" list (T-shirts, underwear) and a "things to organise at home before you leave" list (redirect mail, cancel subscriptions)... Just think; I could make a list of all my "to do" lists!
Buy a guidebook
OK, yes, so the guidebook author is suggesting that you buy a guidebook. But I'm not just saying this to keep myself in a job - honest! Guidebooks actually offer heaps of good practical information such as when to go and how to get around which helps make travelling easy, and also provide you with a handy, easily digestible snapshot of the country's culture, history and politics. I've actually purchased three guides – the Bradt guide I am updating and two others from competing guidebook companies (it always pays to know what the opposition is up to!). Having said that, I'd never use guidebook like 'the Bible' which is a common mistake many travellers make. In fact, I'd recommend that you read it first, then leave it in the hotel room or at least hidden in your day pack.
Learn the lingo
If you're travelling to a country where you don't know the language, it always pays to learn the basics before you arrive. You never know, you might even be able to put a smile on the face of that surly immigration official with a simple "hello" greeting in the local language. I’m currently trying to wrap my tongue around Swahili. So far all I have managed is: Jambo (the tourist greeting for hello), Habari gani? (how is your journey?) and Karibu (you’re welcome). Though, most of those I picked up from The Lion King!
A great way to absorb yourself in the culture of the country you are about to visit is to rent a video or read a book set there. Not only will you get a better feel for the country, but if you try to locate the places mentioned in the book or movie once you've arrived it will make for a more unusual and unique way to experience the country. Since I'm also taking in Cuba on this trip I've just purchased a copy of The Essential Guide to Earnest Hemingway which features The Snows of Kilimanjaro and A Boatload for Cuba from his 1937 novel To Have and Have Not. Not particularly light reading, but by trying to see the two countries through his eyes will hopefully make for an interesting story.
Read the local papers
The best way to get acquainted with local politics and events is to start reading the local newspaper. Fortunately, with the rise of the Internet this is very easy to do. A quick look on line and you’ll discover that almost every newspaper around the world has their own website – even those in Tanzania such as the Daily News.
Do you agree that half the fun of travel is the anticipation of travel? If so, how do you savour the excitement in the lead up to an overseas trip or holiday?