The other kind of selfie – travel tips for doing it yourself

Read the next installment in our backpacker blogs from a traveler who fired her travel agent & took the planning into her own hands. She shares some good travel tips for easier planning, booking & budget ideas you can use when planning your next holiday. Find out where these travels take her…


Charlotte Hailey Backpacker Blog

Charlotte gets ready for a new kind of selfie…

At first I felt lost.

It was a task that was completely new to me; something I had never done before. Sure, I had traveled before, many times! But it had always been with a group, for a tour, or family holiday, or worse… with work. I had never really ventured out on my own, solo, into the world to explore. To be honest I have never been overseas for longer than a few weeks. So the prospect of spending 6 weeks abroad in the US was both exciting, and daunting. How would I choose where to go, what to do, how to get around, where to stay… the possibilities were endless. So, I went straight to where any sane individual looking to travel the world would go… straight to the Travel Agent.

I walked in tentatively, looked at the empty inviting seats positioned neatly on one side of a desk that was staffed by a young lady. She was dressed in uniform, looking extremely busy chatting away on her telephone headpiece and clicking away at her desktop PC. After a few awkward minutes I finally sat down in front of her, she mouthed ‘won’t be long’ and continued her nattering. We spoke. She asked me where I wanted to go. I said “The US… for around 6 weeks, I am just looking to get some ideas, some prices and options for flights, can you help?”

Travel Agent Window

Where do you go first when you start planing a holiday?


“Well, what cities, what dates, how long at each place, I need details” she replied abruptly. “I really don’t know, I’m… I’m just starting the planning, I have never done this before so…”

“OK, well here let’s just pretend that you were going to…” she continued, rattling off a few of the more popular destinations and punched in some random dates. “So all up you would be looking at around $10K in flights to do those 6 cities” she said as she turned the screen towards me, pointing as if to justify the effort she’d just afforded me. “What…” was my response, I said with a stunned face. I quickly picked up my belongings and scurried to the door. As I left I imagined her smug face glancing over at her colleagues whilst they collectively rolled their eyes; another travel newbie, not worth the hassle for them.

Where to next?

I reached out via social media looking for the good Travel Agents, the ones who cared about getting me the best price, the ones who were patient enough to deal with my inability to decide on the times, the dates, and the order and of course the locations I wished to travel to. I got plenty of names, numbers and recommendations, and I am positive they would have been those great agents, had I ended up contacting them. From that cry for help and public lamentation over the enormity of the task at hand, I received a piece of encouragement and insight that I had not imagined would have changed me quite so much.

“Why don’t you just do it all yourself? It’s so much better, cheaper and to be honest, half the fun of traveling is organizing the trip!”

This struck me; I am a project manager by day so the idea that I was reluctant to manage my own travel project was amusing! I realized, I could do it, and all I needed were the tools to allow me to plan, research, schedule, budget and book. The inevitable chicken and egg moment occurred early on in the planning. I wanted to head to the US and get the best deals on airfares, but I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. I wanted to secure affordable accommodation but wasn’t sure of the dates. I knew what I wanted to experience; I just needed to make it fit the budget.

Venice Beach ocean view

Venice Beach was calling…

My entire motivation for traveling to the US was a Bodybuilding seminar located in Tampa, FL in mid-June. Flying direct to Tampa from Australia was impossible so I figured why not stop over at a few cities beforehand. It was here I was introduced to the first of many online applications/websites that would eventually become my arsenal of organizational tools. The wonder that is, SkyScanner. I simply plugged in ‘Sydney, Australia’ as my origin, and the ‘USA’ as my destination, picked a random date around the time I thought I might travel and, voila! Airfares galore! After tweaking the search parameters I found the beauty of its interface, the ability to view and compare the fares across a range of dates, airlines and destinations, meaning finding the cheapest airfare, with the least layover…easy. Skyscanner became my ‘spinning globe’. I would punch in the departure destination and let it simply inspire me with destinations, all ranked from most affordable to least. My spinning globe had acquired a ‘well-informed, price conscious’ finger to halt it and decide on the location of my next stop across the country. Skyscanner’s first payoff was extremely affordable flights direct to Los Angeles. Los Angeles has always been high on my ‘must see’ list.

Muscle Beach Venice Beach

The famous Muscle Beach

As a Bodybuilding fan, the famed Gold’s Gym was a huge draw card to spend time on the sunny shores of Venice Beach. I imagined myself strolling along the wide boulevards, sunning myself under the clear blue skies, meandering my way down to the sand for a morning swim. I then pictured myself heading to the mecca of Bodybuilding in LA to train, only to be followed up with a bite to eat at the Firehouse restaurant, sampling one of their meals in the summer heat.

I wanted to be right there, in the action.

But where to stay? I did, again what any sane and reasonable person would do. I went to Google…

Samesun Venice Beach iconic "Touch of Venice" mural

Samesun Venice Beach iconic “Touch of Venice” mural


“Best Hostel to stay at in Venice Beach California” and would you believe it, a place by the name of SameSun ranked right up the top of my search. Never one to be swayed by Google rankings, I bookmarked it and continued my search. After much review-spotting on TripAdvisor, Hostel World and countless blogs and travel directories, the same message kept popping up. SameSun Venice Beach, right in the heart of Venice Beach California, was a vibrant, clean, popular and affordable place to stay. I was sold. After checking the website and scouring the locale for proximity, I realized this was where I needed to be. A simple online booking process made it even easier to finalize the details. Excitedly I hit submit and soon after the email confirmation pinged in my inbox, with a lovely staff member by the name of Tricia, even making sure to answer my questions I left on the booking form.

I had done it, my first destination secured! Now, it was back to my spinning globe to plan the next leg of this epic journey.

We hope you find these travel tips helpful in planning your next journey abroad. Check out some of our other backpackers blogs about the best way to spend a day in Vancouver or how to survive a Canadian winter. Are you an aspiring travel writer? Get your stories publish here on our backpackers blogs & you could be staying for free! Find out how to stay for free!