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Part 2
Designing Your Journey

7) Challenges and Limits

8) Resources for Planning and Traveling

9) The Route You Take

10) The Weeks Before you Leave

11) The Budget

12) The Stuff in Your Pack and Why

8—Resources for Planning & Travel

Travel agents, service bureaus, student organizations, U.S. and foreign governments, maps, guidebooks, etc.

You need not plan or travel without assistance -- many offices and organizations can support your trip in a variety of ways. Below, you'll find excerpts and summaries of topics explored in depth in the book.

You'll also find links to a variety of great travel resource websites. These links and others are being assembled in the growing Resources page here at worldawaits.com.

Travel Agents and Services

"You’d visit a doctor if you were sick, you’d see a mechanic if your car was broken. For travel assistance of all kinds, call on a travel agent—in fact, call on several! But just like you might want a specialist to perform brain surgery or fix a Volvo, you’ll want a travel agent who specializes in budget, adventure travel."
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved

Look for terms like "budget", "adventure", "discount tickets", "student", etc., in phone book listings for travel agents. Check out the travel sections of big city Sunday newspapers for agents and discount ticket brokers selling flight packages. If there's a campus nearby, check the student union and area shops for agents specializing in budget travel.

For tickets, hostel and transport passes, student IDs, exchanges, itinerary planning, insurance, and more, work through big organizations like STA (Student Travel), or CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange), and their subsidiary travel agency, Council Travel.

For the best web resource on hostelling, as well as travel news, forums, and discount air fares, visit hostels.com -- you may very well have reached this page via hostels.com to begin with! Visit the Hostelling International site for info and services limited to "official" hostels -- but plan on stays at all sorts of hostels -- the independents and regional groups are often the best!

Web Sources

There are tons of great web resources for travel and destination planning. For now, I'll happily direct you to three great general resources: Yahoo Travel -- which is a terrifically organized link-central to all sorts of resources; Lonely Planet -- for great destination features and general travel chic; and GORP (Great Outdoor Recreation Pages) -- My favorite central site for all things recreational, including good destination/activity features.

Other worthy links include:

  • kasbah.com / The Destination Directory -- A massive link-central
  • Outside On-Line / Active Traveler Directory -- eco-tour and outfitter listings for adventure travel.

Don't forget Hostels.com for all sorts of valuable travel info.

Foreign Government Sources

Go straight to the source for loads of tour and travel info -- especially all the details you need regarding the most recent visa and customs regulations. For embassy addresses and consulate locations, vist the Embassies and Consulates in the US page.

U.S. Government Sources

Several resources are must visits for travelers venturing outside of the most developed nations. For the latest on travel illness and recommended shots, visit the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) site. The U.S. Department of State has Passport Information and up to the minute Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Additional USDS websites that might be of use include:

Maps, Guidebooks, and "Windows"

"It’s amazing how lost you can feel when the printed resources you have at hand don’t cover your location. Guidebooks and maps are essential tools for the world wanderer. Impulsive decisions are great, but you still need to know how to get where you’re going and where to stay once you’ve arrived. Few travelers wander far without books and maps—with good reason."
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved


I'm a map freak. When my belongings were about to be consumed by the Oakland Hills Fire of 1991 and I had time for one armload from my bookshelves, I grabbed my box of maps and gave the rest to the flames.

Carefully consider your purposes before you buy maps -- which can be quite expensive. Browse the racks with care, and compare the offerings of different companies. Michelin, Kummerley & Frey, ITM, and Hallwag make maps I’ve liked. Nelles is important for some parts of the world. Other brands, tourist office maps, government maps, survey sheets, and atlases all have their advantages. I once bought a Michelin atlas of France then removed the pages that I needed for an extended thread through the countryside -- a much cheaper solution than buying the individual maps of the same scale.

"Maps are perhaps more important for threading than for other approaches to travel. The city-hopper can use a rough map to decide that Luxembourg City will follow Dusseldorf and work out the rest with a train schedule and guidebook. The threader taking three days for the same trip will want a map that shows rail lines, back roads, footpaths, historic sites, hostel locations, water sources, refuges, etc. Sometimes having a good map even encourages you to thread! When you see a dotted line that winds past a symbol for megalithic ruins, you’re tempted to hit the trail and see for yourself".
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved


You have to have them. At least, most of us in most circumstances will want guidebooks along to support our efforts. Yet they can be a curse as well as a blessing. As a guidebook writer and user, I can promise you'll find that any guidebook -- even brand new editions -- to be unbalanced, inadequate, mis-prioritized, and just plain wrong some of the time.

The key is never to let the guidebook be the master -- never depend on it like a dog depends on a leash.

"My basic guidebook library includes the following: Europe Through the Back Door by Rick Steves, Asia Through the Back Door by Rick Steves and Bob Effertz, and Let’s Go, Rough, Moon, Real, and Berkeley guides. The best of all—from my perspective, are Lonely Planet guides. Although many different authors contribute to Lonely Planet guides and the style and quality therefore varies, the kind of information I want always seems to be within. I prefer guides with tightly written, understated descriptions that don’t artificially inflate or deflate expectations"
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved

Look also for guides that aren't part of a series, or that are written by renowned experts (like Carl Franz's Mexico guide or Paul Theroux's walking books). You'd think that books written by residents and natives would be the best, though I have often been better satisfied with authors who have a "traveler's eye". Browse, read excerpts from a variety of guides, and pick one that seems to match your goals and travel style -- one that feels right!

The toughest thing about guidebooks is carrying them -- especially if you're doing an extended trip and crossing several borders. In The World Awaits, I detail several schemes for buying & selling, caching, carrying, trading, and shipping the books you'll need. You might also...

"Consider shredding your guidebooks. Unbind your Let’s Go Greece and take only the pages on the Athens, Crete, Araklion, and the Peloponese, since those are the only places you’re going. Thinking of your guidebooks as consumables offers some distinct advantages:

• Pack weight is markedly reduced. Weigh a guidebook some time.

• Pages can be disposed of as they are used. It may be nice to have that guidebook on your shelf for reference and memories when the travel is done, but the lighter your pack, the fonder those memories will be.

• A mailing scheme is easier, cheaper, and more reliable. Letters make it to places better than tamper-tempting parcels. In addition, American Express offices with client mail services will accept and hold letters but not packages (though where a specific office will draw the line between the two is always hard to know).

It would be nice if you could legally photocopy pages from guides that you find in the library. Often, libraries have lots of guides for an area, each with different advantages. Photocopying the sections you want could be cheaper than purchasing the guides themselves, but it is illegal. As a writer, I appreciate the spirit of this particular law."
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved


There's a lot more to the issue of guidebooks than many travelers realize. Carry a guidebook, and you're carrying the print version of a human guide -- a human whose experiences, opinions, and priorities were formed during their own travels. Did the writer hit a restaurant when the best cook had a day off? Did she stay in a hostel just before it changed management and went downhill? Was he robbed in a town so that that he soured on all of its better features? Or is the author using second hand information to fill in the inevitable blanks in his or her personal experience?

Guides are not gods. Guidebooks should never be treated as bibles. Instead, think of all of your print resources as providing windows on the world -- never forgetting that those windows are framed by the dark walls of inattention and bad review.

"A clean, clear window creates the illusion of completeness better than a dirty, opaque one. I once used and enjoyed a guidebook that took me room by room through Florence’s fabulous Uffizi Museum. I was told which works were “important” or “famous,” or considered to be “masterpieces.” Histories and critiques opened my eyes to things I never would have known or discerned. My art appreciation grew by leaps and bounds. What a window!

Ah, but as the guidebook led my eyes to ways of seeing, other ways were bypassed. Paintings that I would have noticed became invisible behind windowless walls. Aspects that might have impressed me were diminished. Other books would have offered different windows and therefore different walls. No book at all and any walls or windows would have come from my mind alone."
Paul Otteson / The World Awaits / All Rights Reserved

I give the topic a richer look in the book. Here, I'll just remind you to keep those books in their place. They are tools of limited use and varying worth.


Are you a tourist or an independent traveler ...or perhaps a bit of both? The tourism industry will take your money and give you apre-packaged, usually okay, sometimes great tourist experience that you can enjoy with few worries. Independents reap the rewards that only personal design and self-responsibility can yield. For a hard look at the issue, take a peek at The World Awaits.

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Continue to Chapter 9
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