Researching a year off
You've decided already. You're off into the wide yonder, trading in home comforts for the great open road, ready for adventure. But how do you start planning a year out?
Libraries and bookshops
Guidebooks generally provide you with the kind of background information you need to find your feet, but check out the travel writing section too. A well-written personal account of a journey you plan to take may offer the kind of insight not easily listed under 'Cottages, Gites and Farmhouses'
Trailfinders, STA and other worldwide travel agencies will help you with finding the best flight route. Some have specialist teams dedicated to your chosen exploration area. Go tap into their knowledge.
National Support Groups, Aid Agencies and Embassies
These groups are usually very happy to help. They can provide a range of information from lists of voluntary programmes to tourist brochures and activity information. Embassies are also normally pleased to offer up to date information about visas, political situations etc. Telephone numbers and addresses can be found in the phone book.
There are a number of excellent sites giving a wide range of traveller advice. Lonely Planet run a good site full of tips and tricks for all over the globe whether you are camping in Katmandu, grooving in San Francisco, rowing on Norwegian Fjords or snaking it down the Amazon. Try some travel based cybercafes and bulletin boards - Thorn Tree (Lonely Planet) is an excellent one, where you can either talk to other backpackers online or post questions. You have access to a global pool of people who are interested in the same place - make full use of this resource!
Friends and family
The travel bug is contagious and it is likely someone you know has trodden on your chosen path. Ask about their travels and get personalised accounts of how their trip went.
Research is the anchor of travel planning but DO NOT plan every second of your trip or you'll miss out on unexpected opportunities. Knowing a bit about the culture, geography and even language of an area will not affect your sense of spontaneity, it'll add to it and lead you off the tourist trail and into the "real" country.
Be prepared, so that when you find those temple ruins, or stumble into a local Mountain village's festival, or pick up a restaurant's menu in a squiggle language, you have some understanding. You will feel confident to experiment with new food or activities, ask questions and make contact with local people and find out more about the sights and sounds saturating the environment.
Independent travel is a challenge - which is the reason why it can be so rewarding. You have the opportunity to step out of the normal routine and try new things. Be flexible, open and in the know. Keep this in mind wherever you go, and you'll be on the right track for a Year Out that'll set you up for life.