Whilst we'd all like to pretend to be serendipitous, spontaneous and fancy-free travellers, whose only concern is about the next epiphany or life-changing connection, we'd be lying if we said that we at Along Dusty Roads fit the bill.
Nope, we're both the type that enjoys - thrives even - on doing endless amounts of research. It's impossible to know everything or to prepare for every eventuality, and you'll always make some mistakes or get it wrong at some point along the way, but not always flying by the seat of your pants when you're on the road really does help make a difference to ensuring you have a great time away.
There's a distinction in level of research, route planning and preparedness necessary, depending on the length of trip you're taking. For example, on trips of less than a month you should have a pretty firm idea of your itinerary in advance of your arrival, structured around the main activities or sights you simply can't miss, so that you don't waste valuable time when you're actually on your trip working out the hell you actually want to do. Longer trips give you the luxury of time to make last minute changes, stay longer than you anticipated in one place or to just have a vaguer idea of where you need to be at any given time.
However, doing a good level of planning in advance will never be a waste of time.
No matter who you are, how you travel or your budget, we think there are some essential travel tools and resources that will help you plan the best adventure ever.
An adventure that's aligned to your own personal travel philosophy.
In the last five years, we have both used each and every one of these resources whilst travelling, or whilst getting ready for a trip, and are happy to recommend them.
We're big fans of hostels - which have really upped their game in the last decade - as they often offer better value and a more social experience than hotels.
They offer solo travellers the potential for new friendships and future travel buddies and couples budget-friendly private accommodation and without removing the fun factor.
There are a few booking sites out there, but the only one we really utilise is HostelWorld.
Read more: Our beginner's guide to hostels
Another of our favourite options, particularly for short trips or when we just need a break from everyone on a long-term trip, is Airbnb. This excellent site allows you to rent an entire property (or just a room) from a local for, well, as long as you'd like - giving you a ready-made home in every country in the world! And if that's not enough to tempt you, it's often better value than a hotel or hostel as well!
Hotels are, clearly, always going to be an option. Booking.com is one of the most popular search and booking engines, with the ability to cancel your room reservation at no cost (until a certain time period) being a great feature. Other recommended hotel search sites are Agoda and HotelsCombined.
For peace of mind on all of the above, TripAdvisor is a good resource to check; it hosts reviews from previous guests, and gives ratings on location, cleanliness, service etc. Don't take each review as gospel but, if there's a trend amongst a number of different guests, it's normally a good indication if somewhere is worth staying at or avoiding at all costs.
Housesitting was something we only heard about whilst we were half-way through our Latin America trip, but after our first sit, we never looked back. If you're a long-term traveller or very flexible with dates - and you also happen to love animals - then we can't recommend it highly enough!
Similarly, if you love to travel but worry about leaving your pets in kennels, then it's a life-saver. In short, pet owners setting off on their own adventure put up ads and review applications, before selecting someone to stay at their house whilst they're away to look after their animals - it's a win win.
We are both paid-up members of TrustedHousesitters, which is the service we'd recommend.
Read more: Find out more about housesitting and why we love it.
Couchsurfing is something that a lot of travellers, especially independent solo backpackers absolutely swear by. It allows them to meet lots of locals and have some unique experiences whilst securing free accommodation for large chunks of their trip.
It's a strong global community, and although it isn't really for us, we do understand why lots of people love it and it fits so well into their travel philosophy.
What makes any adventure a reality? Clicking 'confirm' on that flight booking.
We can't emphasise enough how important it is that every single traveller purchases adequate travel insurance before each trip - it really could save your life. Yes, the cost of it is a pain and you often won't even have any need for it but, if the worst happens whilst you're on the road in the middle of nowhere, you'll be thankful that you stumped up the cash.
Read more: Find out the key things to look for in any travel insurance policy or read about the time we had to use it in the middle of nowhere in Peru.
Related to the above, we really don't like the mistrust in the backpacking community towards vaccinations and anti-malarials. Too often, those travellers that choose to play Russian Roulette with their lives, glorify that they survived a month in Thailand without contracting malaria or ate soup in Guatemala and never caught typhoid. They were lucky, others may not be so fortunate.
We're not going to go into too much detail here (there's another post coming, we promise), but suffice to say, that we cannot recommend highly enough seeking out an appointment with a travel nurse at least a few weeks before you intend to travel. They will be able to inform you if any injections are required - far better than Crazy Dave from that Facebook group!
ATM withdrawal fees are one of our biggest bugbears, especially when we're on a strict travel budget. However, in the past, it was a small price to pay for the convenience of not having to carry around all our money hidden in a sock.
Thankfully, life has changed a little, and there's a bank that has finally caught up - Monzo.
Read more: Check out this article to discover how we manage our money when we're on the road, and avoid ATM fees and bad commissions, or skip the queue of over 21,000 people waiting for a Monzo card by signing up here for priority access (British residents only).
Apps and Maps
These days, it's more likely for a traveller to be with a smartphone, laptop or tablet than not. And, as we become more connected, we have come to rely (sometimes a little too much) on these devices whilst on our adventures.
Without sounding grouchy (and as bloggers it may sound a little hypocritical) but a really nice part of going somewhere different is the ability to change up your routine and try to disconnect from your social media or reading the news daily.
Nevertheless, there are certain apps which are indispensable whilst travelling anywhere:
XE: Best currency converter out there
Google Maps: The most fantastic thing for people like us who often get lost! Storing your maps 'offline' is also a lifesaver and is something we do for every city or country we visit - read how to do it here.
Google Translate: Because sometimes you will be faced with a situation where you need to be understood - again, you are able to store a phrasebook off-line.
Pocket: Stores articles and guides off-line so that you can access them when you're off on that hike with the unclear directions or you just need some reading material for the long bus journey.
Guidebooks and Blogs
Andrew's a Lonely Planet man, Emily's much more of a Rough Guide sort of girl.
In the age of digital technology and the ability to find a wi-fi connection in the middle of nowhere, we still wouldn't go on any long-term trip without a guidebook. It provides an excellent safety net when you end up somewhere unexpectedly and can't leave the next day, is a fantastic resource for understanding some of the practical details of a city and serves to bring some of the most important information to you directly - handily, a guidebook also never runs out of battery at the most crucial moment!
Our favourite way to research a trip has evolved over the years, with blogs (naturally) and other online resources now forming a core part of how we discover and plan our route somewhere, rather than solely relying on guidebooks. Beginning your discovery with a google search of 'things to do in [this place]' is the best start point and opens up a wealth of information - and as most bloggers will have written more than one article about the place or region on your potential itinerary, you may just find more info on one site than you ever imagined (after all, that's what you guys tell us all the time!).
A big part of our travel philosophy is that we travel independently whenever and wherever possible, instead of taking a tour to guide us through an entire country or place. However, there are some experiences which can only be brought to life by a tour or which aren't possible, accessible or affordable on your own.
Each country has hundreds and hundreds of tour operators but, unfortunately, not all tour companies are created equal and some over-charge by a high margin or offer poor service to travellers. That's why we recommend doing enough research and checking out on-line reviews.
There are several excellent companies out there who bring a lot of the tour options together in one place, which offer a convenient and reliable way of booking. We recommend GetYourGuide, CityDiscovery and Urban Adventures (where you can get 20% off your booking with this code - BGANDREW).
Importantly, we advise all travellers strongly against taking part in tours or experiences centred around animals - swimming with dolphins, tiger sanctuaries, elephant rides - which are cruel and unnecessary industries. To find out more about why we do this, and other ways to travel more ethically, read this post.
A trip is never prepared for until you have stuff that last shoe and rolled that last vest into your backpack, until there is quite simply no more room left. Packing is an art form which we still haven't totally mastered, but we have picked up a lot of tips and tricks along the way.
If you're confused about roll vs. fold, how to make your toiletries not explore or just how many shoes are too many shoes, read this post.
Long-time readers of the site will know that we bloody love a road-trip... almost as much as we love finding a bargain! But seriously, we're not loyal to one rental firm, and will simply go with the one that offers the best value - and that means we need a comparison website.
For us, AutoEurope is by far the best, and our first choice, every time.
And finally, just in case you get to the week before your trip and think you're done - here's ten things to know 48 hours before you leave!
Now, go out there and see the world. You never know, you might just like it.