On school camping trips there was always one kid prepared for everything. From their rucksack bulging with emergency medicines right to a cagoule buttoned up to the chin, that kid could emerge from a jungle with barely a smudge on their glasses.
Today that kid is me. I'm the girl in the hostel who can lend everyone painkillers, needle and thread, even a spork. I've been known to ask incredulously: ‘Did you not bring leech-proof socks?’ Slinging a bag over my shoulder and heading for the hills has never been my style; after all, those hills might harbour tick-borne encephalitis.
A small part of me envies travellers who pride themselves on doing no research, those nomads who claim they're backpacking for as many weeks as fate wills. But a larger part wonders if they know the time limit of their travel insurance. No trip of mine is undertaken without military planning.
It extends far beyond bagging cheap tickets and a convenient place to sleep. Because failing to research in advance means spending your precious travel time shopping for gear (whoops, didn't realise it was monsoon season) or gliding obliviously through a destination with no language skills or cultural context when you could have wrapped up the basics with a quick session on Google.
Evening entertainment most richly deserves research, as I recently discovered. If you don't bag Moscow Ballet tickets before you arrive, then like me you may have to swap the Bolshoi for an 'avant-garde dance show' that sounds like a dubstep X Factor. Friends will ask me how I enjoyed the world's finest ballet theatre; I will be forced to reply that, actually, I opted for teens in lycra thumping their pelvises to Russian pop.
Worse still, spontaneous travel often means discovering something amazing about a destination just as you're leaving. For me, that fist-gnawing realisation truly exorcises the romance of off-the-cuff travel. Learning too late that your favourite author lived in the city you're leaving, a band you love is playing there the day after your flight home, or a world wonder was around the corner from your hotel... it's hard to dull the sting of knowing that haphazard planning denied you a great experience.
You don't have to join me at the OCD end of the planning spectrum (seriously, though: pack a spork). But don't be seduced by the world's spontaneous travellers. They want you to believe they're writing short stories on long-distance trains, or conversing meaningfully in yurts; in reality, they're rattling the bolted door of the Hermitage on the day it's being cleaned, or staring sadly at their reflection in the toilet bowl, realising too late that the tap water isn't safe to drink.
So roll up those leech-proof socks with pride and I'll see you in the jungle – just as soon as I've got my vaccines up to date...