What do I need to do before booking the first flight of a 5-month backpacking trip?
November 6, 2010 12:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to book a flight from the UK to Bangkok (flying late Feb) to start a backpacking trip. I've got a recently renewed passport and funds for travel. I haven't got a flight back (not using a RTW ticket), travel insurance, VISAs, vaccinations or anything else yet. I want to book the flight so that it's real and happening, but is there anything else I really need to do FIRST?

I'll be going on to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, China and Japan, returning around the start of August. Please set my mind at rest, so I can click Confirm and make it happen. Thanks hive mind.
posted by Kirn to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total)
Best answer: Just do it. Everything else will fall into place. Trust me, I did the same thing last year. Buying the ticket is the hardest (and most expensive) part.
posted by sacrifix at 12:41 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Should be good to go. I would work on getting your vacs soon though. Twinrix (hep a and b) takes a bit of time. Have fun. If you can be in Chiang Mai for Songkran it is a blast.
posted by backwards guitar at 12:51 PM on November 6, 2010

i just got back from a similar trip and we definitely booked our flights first.
posted by nanhey at 1:24 PM on November 6, 2010

The main issue you may run into is the lack of a return ticket. I'd suggest making sure these nations will let you in without a clear means of and deadline for leaving, and what their requirements are for an itinerary and so on.
posted by Rendus at 1:28 PM on November 6, 2010

Take out the travel insurance when you buy the ticket - travel insurance online is cheaper than through an agent and it will cover you in case you need to cancel.

Some vaccinations need to be taken over a three month period so sort them out now as well.
posted by Kerasia at 1:29 PM on November 6, 2010

Get the visas in Bangkok or as you go because some need to be used within a certain amount of time.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 1:38 PM on November 6, 2010

Best answer: Seconding lack of a return ticket.

Before you try to enter Thailand, you should make sure your next flight is booked. Because you will have a hard time getting into Thailand if you can't prove that you have concrete plans to leave the country. Sad but true, but if you are entering a country via an airport, customs officials tend to like to see that you are eventually getting back on a plane to go somewhere else. You might be OK with a flight booked out of, say, Singapore, proving that you are going to be leaving Thailand in order to meet said flight. But you ought to have something lined up.

The only common vaccine I'm aware of which requires a series of vaccinations over three months is Hepatitis B, which to my knowledge is not usually mandatory. Recommended for lots of countries, but you're not going to prove you've had it to get into a country. If you are thinking of visiting sub-saharan Africa during your trip, I'd get a yellow fever vaccine right off, even though you don't need it for Thailand.

Same goes if you know off the bat that you will require advance visas for any countries (India or Russia, for instance). Get the leg work started for that now, so that even if you have to apply for the visa from a far-flung consulate, you at least know what kinds of documentation you'll have to provide.
posted by Sara C. at 7:40 PM on November 6, 2010

Sorry, I totally missed your list of countries. So scratch the yellow fever vaccine, but definitely at least start contemplating the process for getting into China.
posted by Sara C. at 7:45 PM on November 6, 2010

Tell your friends, start the blog / website, and make sure you have all the travel guides!

Oh, and have a great time :)
posted by chrisinseoul at 9:03 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The idea that you need an onward ticket to enter Thailand is completely false. I used to live in Bangkok and have flown in over two dozen times, including earlier this year. Thai customs will never ask you for proof you are leaving.

Cambodian visas are available at Poipet (land border you take from Thailand to Angkor Wat). You can also get it in Bangkok at the embassy itself, or for a small fee, any travel agent on Sukhumvit or around Kao San will take care of it for you. Depending on how long you intend to spend in Cambodia, you can have the agency also procure your Lao visa at the same time. Actually, if you time it right, you can have them grab your Chinese and Vietnamese visas as well. If you intend to travel around Thailand, you can leave your passport with the travel agent (make a photocopy) and pick it up when you return to Bangkok. Don't stress out about giving up your passport to these people, it's what everybody does and I don't know a single person who's ever run into a problem. A shop would be closed down real-quck-like if they ever tried to fuck around.

Your 30-day Indonesian visa is available upon arrival at the airport. One more bit of advice - bring a bunch of head shots for your applications. Some visas require four photos.

You're gonna have a fantastic time!
posted by gman at 6:16 AM on November 7, 2010

Oh yes, and I should also say that not only have I never been asked for proof of onward travel in Thailand, but I've also flown into Bangkok with no return ticket, more often than not. This is very common for backpackers who intend to buy a ticket and fly home from another country on their itinerary. Bangkok is one of the cheapest places in the world to buy one-way tickets i.e. depending on the time of the year, Bangkok-London can be had for $400-450 USD and Bangkok-Calcutta is usually around $130 USD. Biman Bangladesh and Jet Airways are really cheap options to the Subcontinent.

Actually, the only time I've been asked for an onward ticket was once on my way to Bangkok from San Francisco. The agent in San Fran had me sign a document that stated they were not responsible if I was turned away upon arrival in Bangkok.
posted by gman at 6:31 AM on November 7, 2010

The only visas you need in advance, per Wikipedia, are Vietnam and China.

I'd make sure you got your Vietnam visa ahead of time, especially since it seems nearer the start of your itinerary.

I would go to Hong Kong first to get my visa before going to China. Hong Kong is visa-free for UK citizens. Chinese visas are valid for 6 months, so if you get it before you leave, you'll be cutting it close by the time you get to China. I had no problem getting a Chinese visa in Hong Kong through a travel agent; I believe they were in the Star House in Tsim Sha Tsui, but don't quote me on that. Note that going from the mainland to HK is considered an exit for Chinese visa purposes, which burned me (hence my sudden need for a visa). You'll want to stop in Hong Kong for a bit anyways; not only is it fundamentally awesome, but it's a little more anglicized, which you'll probably appreciate as a break at the 2/3 point or so of your adventure. Then dive into the PRC proper.

This is also the point to research any travel gizmos that you'll want, so you can put them on your Xmas list. There are other threads on that, I'm sure, although let me just say that these £15 underwear are a bargain at twice the price.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:31 AM on November 8, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Consider it booked. I'll start looking into VISAs and vaccinations quicksharp.
posted by Kirn at 11:19 AM on November 9, 2010

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