You have to get ready sooner than you think!
The time and money that people invest in a major trip like an African safari is considerable, and yet I’m continually amazed at how poorly this investment is sometimes treated.
I’ve written before about the importance of keeping the investment whole by additional purchases such as good binoculars and proper clothing and gear; and of the importance of actually reading some of the things the companies send you, as well as learning a bit about the history, society and geography of the areas you’re going to visit.
But perhaps the greatest infraction comes just a few days before this great experience is to begin. It seems like the greater the experience, the more the traveler tries to compact his work and social schedule just before going. And the result is often packing the night before and racing onto the first plane just in the nick of time, dead tired from compounded work the week before.
This is a recipe for catastrophe.
Packing too soon before you’re scheduled to leave is symptomatic of a serious negligence of how much you’ve invested in this “great experience.” It means that you likely won’t have the right clothes or gear, because those are discoveries usually made when packing. You’ll probably discover that the carry-on isn’t considered a carry-on, anymore, and that you won’t get it through London customs. So you’ll end up checking both bags; they’ll then both be delayed, and you’ll end up with one set of clothes for 12 days. Even if you get the bags, you’ll probably have forgotten things like sun screen, so you’ll fry. You’ll have forgotten “little things,” like your digital camera and passport.
Packing for trips is actually an art. There are usually all sorts of restrictions on weight and size of what you can bring, and it’s not something you can expect to do at the last minute.
This trip is “so long” and “so important to you” and you’ve “spent so much money on this” that you’re going to try to make up for the extravagance before you go. You’ll work overtime at the office, clear the calendar by doubling up appointments the week or two before, go on a crash diet so that you don’t have to worry at the buffets, and basically run both your body and your mind down to a puddle.
Not very smart. Your immune system will be so run down that the moment you step onto that virus carrier, you’re doomed. Long airplane rides are as bad as lacerating yourself in a pig farm in Iowa in the summer. Planes are tubes of viruses. If you’re stressed out, tired and in poor physical or psychological condition, you’re going to succumb to colds and flu.
The science is terrifying. A consortium of seven universities has formed a project to filter the anecdotal into real science and the message is clear: the more stressed out you are before your big trip, the more likely you are to get sick on the trip.
No WebMD or collection of medications is going to help the sap who won’t help himself. No fool-hearty sleeping pill or DVT Christmas basket of gingers and amphetamines can replace simple common sense. Plan ahead. Begin your preparation a month before you go.
A MONTH BEFORE
Set aside a quiet hour or so every few days to re-read everything carefully about your trip. You might find something particularly interesting that a good book will enhance… if you have the time to buy the good book before you leave. You might have missed that reference to malaria medication. Maybe you missed the notification that it was going to be very cold, when you presumed it was always going to be hot. Passports, visas, health certificates, airline tickets… all ordered and in a safe place, right?
THREE WEEKS BEFORE
Complete all your household responsibilities: bills to be paid, post office notifications, extra keys, pet arrangements. Check your calendar to make sure you’ve not inadvertently scheduled something during the trip, and that you’re comfortable with what awaits you when you return home. Planning everything so well advance, you’ll now have time to start reading a few of the local newspapers from where you’re going, now on the internet.
TWO WEEKS BEFORE
Critical time, now. The most important thing of all is to check on your upcoming flights… in advance with a little twist. It should be rather simple to check on your actual flights. But note especially for international flying, that daily schedules are not as likely to reflect well how you’ll fly, as weekly schedules. So, for example, if you’re flying from San Francisco to London on a Thursday night, check out how that specific flight on the Thursday this week did. Not how it will do, but how it actually did. On time? Late? Cancelled? This will be a clue as to how easy, or hard, it’s going to be for you. If there’s a problem, call your ticketing agent to discuss the contingencies that apply… This is also the week you pack! Yes, pack! Your suitcase should be zipped up a week before you go, and you should take several days to do it, preferably at a casual time of your day, like after dinner, far from work.. Do it methodically: one night for clothing, one night for gear. With at least one weekend available before you leave, you’ll have time to remedy anything you’ve forgotten.
A WEEK TO GO
If you’ve followed this schedule, you’re ready to go right now if you had to. But this week is critical for not screwing up. If you’ve got a party or special meeting planned, go easy on the hors d’oeuvres. Forget about that third glass of wine. Take it easy. Eat less and drink less, keep yourself well hydrated, exercise a lot and get plenty of sleep. Getting your body limber and lean before that god awful flight will take you through it a lot easier.
POSTPONE THE PARTY
The airport and the plane are the two worst places to party. The temptations are great, to be sure. You’ve finally made it, with your zipped suitcase, and your guidebook and medications, and you’re on time! It’s not over yet, Charlie. Booze it up or eat too much on the plane, and you’re toast for the rest of the trip. So stay business-like, eat as little and drink even less alcohol, all the while keeping yourself massively hydrated.
Now, you’ll be just fine for that week in the Caribbean!