As opposed to my trip to Istanbul, (read my Istanbul ride along and wrap up) I had a huge chunk of time to play with and no real destination in mind, other than South or Central America. This being the case, the flight metasearch engine Skyscanner was my biggest friend.
Initially I wanted to hit more than one country; which created a dilemma: How do I travel between all these countries? I could take a bike à la Ryan VanDuzer, or bus, puddle jumper, chicken bus, taxi etc. However, I realized I wasn’t going to have enough time to experience several countries, so I decided to do a week in one country.
- Parameters: I had a wide-open schedule and only Central America as a destination.
- Timeframe: One week.
- Location: After looking at flights and doing some research (below), I finally decided on Nicaragua.
- Reason: Central and S. America are conspicuously blank on my travel map and I need 40 countries to hit my bucket list goals for the year. I chose Nicaragua based on flight prices and partly because Nicaragua seems safer than El Salvador or Honduras.
Research, where to start?
After flights and general wackiness (below), I dug into country profiles, reading what other travel bloggers like Matthew Karsten and Marek Bron had written on Nicaragua and Central America. I wanted to know if there was anything a first-time visitor should worry about when visiting the Isthmo-Colombian region.
Since I was doing all this research, I created a Nicaragua Country Profile of my own – check it out! Closer to my travel date I’ll start watching the weather as well.
Given the broad timeframe I had to work with, I was able to do month-long searches for the best prices using Skycanner. Prices were ridiculous from Denver, but I noticed the majority of the flights to C. America left the US from either Ft. Lauderdale/Miami or Houston, so I broke down my search into two parts: A) Houston to C.Am and B) Denver to Houston. If I could find a cheaper flight originating from Houston, then I could surely find a cheap ticket to Houston from Denver. Bingo! Direct flights from Houston were way cheaper – the majority being on Spirit Air. This required a lot of time spent searching and pairing up flight dates to various countries with flights from Denver to Houston to make sure the connections (and prices) worked. I eventually settled on Nicaragua and purchased half the ticket on United, and half on Frontier by way of eDreams for $20 less than the Frontier site had listed.
Before booking I wanted to know if there were any instability issues. The FCO listed the normal Central/S American warnings: Pick pockets; unlicensed cabs, thievery, etc. State dept had no travel warnings out for Nicaragua… That’s a good sign, so I did a google search to see when the next elections were scheduled – not till 2016. Nice. The approval and groundbreaking of a transcontinental canal which would displace a lot of people and villages is causing demonstrations and unrest. This is compounded by the already unstable ‘democracy’ and anti-government protests going on.
*Post-trip update: I saw no demonstrations or wackiness during the trip.
So before booking, I figured I should make sure there wasn’t anything wacky going on during the week I was looking at. The Google machine led me to the Nicaragua official website which said I would be missing the Battle of San Jacinto by two days and Independence Day by a week.
A quick visit to the State.gov site on Nicaragua listed no visa requirement for stays of less than 90 days, but you do have to purchase a $10 tourist card upon arrival and a $42 departure tax, that may or may not be included in the flight… Interesting.
Also of note: Nicaragua is a country which requires you to have your actual passport on you at all times.
Post-trip update: I flew United and paid no departure tax.
No requirements for Nicaragua; however, the CDC says malaria can be a problem, so I bought some permethrin to spray the clothes I’ll be wearing.
Now is when I go to the guidebook and also visit the Google machine to see what the major attractions are. This is the point where I map out what I want to see, how to get there and how much time I can devote to each locale. Since this is more than a weekend trip I’ll pick two anchor activities and leave the rest of the time for exploring, cafes, fate and whim. If anything requires advanced reservations, now’s the time to do it.
A quick once-over familiarization of Nicaragua based on my Lonely Planet guide to Nicaragua (which had a great map and rankings of the things to see, do and avoid).
Planning pt 2:
I decided on volcano boarding, sea turtle nesting and colonial city exploring, which means I have to figure out transportation back and forth. I looked for a place to stay which offered shuttle services – for instance, a bus from Leon to the beach and back to Grenada. This is where the guide comes in handy as it suggests bus companies, routes, times and prices. Perfect!
Once I’m familiar with the area and the things worth seeing, I’ll pick a hotel that will allow me quick access and serve as home base. This time it looks like a hostel in Léon with a sister site on the beach would be my anchor for a few days, which left me to figure out Managua and Grenada.
Once I’ve reserved a hotel I’ll go through and collect all the contact information I’ll need to have on hand during the trip and get it onto one quick cheat sheet, print it the size of a credit card, then laminate it – or into Evernote for quick reference. I’ve created a PDF template of my Crib Sheet with fill-able fields, feel free to download it here.
Check the weather report and start packing. I like weather underground. Six days = 1 backpack, easy. I’ll also take a spare bag in case I end up doing some shopping. Looks like I’ll be hitting the end of rainy season, which means I’ll be packing extra socks and a solid rain shell.
The only thing left to do is to travel ‘like a boss’!
So this was the process I went through to plan my latest trip, and the process for any trip is basically the same depending on time restrictions, destination choices, etc. Hope you enjoyed the ride along!
How do you plan for a trip?
Am I missing anything… am I OCD????