Trip preparation is probably one of the dullest parts of international travel. The exciting parts are finally booking that flight, spending endless hours trawling through travel itineraries and pretty Instagram pictures of your destination. And of course, the travel itself.
Getting vaccinations, travel insurance and sorting out logistics are not high up on anybody’s list of fun activities to prepare for a trip.
Then again, clearly they are necessary parts of travelling abroad. You don’t want your travel ruined by contracting Hepatitis, or losing all your stuff with no compensation.
But I’m pretty good at overseas travel, now: all these boring things are second nature. Hopefully you guys can benefit by learning from my mistakes (of which there have been many) and have a stress-free international trip.
Here’s my travel planning checklist: the six things I do before any major trip overseas.
Planning a trip: my essentials checklist
Think about vaccinations
Something you should think about a little way in advance of your overseas travel is the vaccinations you might need. In general, medical advice suggests a visit to the doctor or travel clinic 6-8 weeks in advance of your trip, to talk about which diseases you might require protection against – especially as some of the injections might require a course of jabs over several weeks.
The doctor will also be able to advise of recent outbreaks of disease in your destination country, and this is advice worth having. It’s best to be prepared! The incidence of things like malaria and dengue fever is also worth inquiring about, as it’ll impact on what you pack (i.e. mosquito repellent, maybe a mosquito net).
I’ve pretty much been vaccinated against aaaaall the diseases in the past few years, having travelled to South America, India, Nepal, China, Indonesia, Malaysia… basically all of the places where you might be at risk. And, bonus, I haven’t gotten any diseases!
For legitimate travel medical advice, have a look at one of the following websites:
Look at visas
Trip preparation pro tip: find out about visas before you even book your flight. Some things are set in stone, while others are more fluid. Flight prices may fluctuate, but visa rules generally don’t (OK they do sometimes change, but not often).
Some countries require you to apply for a visa from your home country, or have a sponsor from your destination (like Pakistan). Some have a time restriction – it might take weeks or months for your visa to be approved (like India). And some countries are totally chill about the whole thing, letting you just rock up and get a visa on arrival, for a free 30 or 60 or 90 day stay (like Indonesia and Malaysia).
Look it up, before you book. And one more thing: don’t get sucked in by travel agencies whose links might be in the first few Google results. You can get visas through such organisations, but usually you will pay more for it. Look for a .gov or .org website, or just double check that somewhere on the page there is an official-looking government body mentioned.
To give you an idea of what I mean, this is the East Timor visa page:
and here’s the one for Indonesia:
Book the first night of accommodation
Even though I’ve been to heaps of different countries, and travelled for a significant chunk of my life, I still always book my first night in a new place before I arrive. If you’re in a new and alien environment, and probably exhausted by a cramped long-haul flight (hellooooo budget travel life), the last thing you want is to be wandering around aimlessly looking for a cheap and decent place to stay.
There are many reasons that booking ahead is a sensible way to prepare for travel.
Firstly, it means that you can arrange for safe, reasonably priced transport from the airport to your accommodation. A lot of airports are absolute scam-hubs: don’t leave it to chance. Look it up on Google Maps before you go – there might be public transport options if you’re lucky – or choose a hostel with a free shuttle bus. It’s even worth shelling out for a pre-booked private car if there’s no budget option, because you won’t be used to the language or the currency, and you run a generally higher risk of getting into trouble when you’re a) tired and b) fresh off the (metaphorical) boat.
There’s also the fact that booking things online means you’re able to get the best place for the cheapest price: that’s what search engines (like Booking.com) and review sites (like TripAdvisor) are for. You can figure out which areas are desirable, which places are likely to have bed bugs and cold showers, and whether or not you might accidentally rock up to the biggest party place in town. All these things are good to know in advance (and good to avoid in the case of the latter two points).
This is always true of booking in advance, but especially when you’ve just arrived to a new place.
The dreaded travel insurance
International travellers generally shudder at the thought of sorting out travel insurance. It is a dull, painstaking, and ENTIRELY NECESSARY process.
Let me repeat: PLEASE GET TRAVEL INSURANCE BEFORE YOU TRAVEL.
At the very least, you want the reassurance that if something real bad goes down, you can be repatriated out of there. Like, helicopter-style. And if you need hospital treatment, it’s going to cost you a lot if you aren’t smart about it.
On a smaller, more realistic scale (though I have met people who needed that extreme kind of stuff), you want to know that if your stuff gets lost or stolen, or the airline fucks up, or you’re stranded somewhere through no fault of your own, that you will be able to claim back on it.
I’ve gone through a number of travel insurers in the past, but I most recently used True Traveller (because they allow you to take out a new policy while already travelling, if you are dumb enough to let your old policy expire, oops).
It’s a good idea to get insurance as soon as your plans are definite, because then you are covered if anything gets cancelled before you go.
If you need more help and/or information about choosing travel insurance, check out my earlier article on that fun fun topic.
Learn a few key words and phrases in the local language
This is kind of an optional one, but something I generally like to do before I go to a new country is learn a bit of their language.
It’s sort of a politeness thing (how would you like it if a load of Indonesians descended upon your country and started speaking to you in obnoxiously loud, slow Bahasa Indonesia, expecting to be understood?), but also it can really help make your trip smoother.
Like, if you need to know where the bathroom is.
Or you need to store your luggage somewhere.
Or you want people to like you. Seriously, a little effort goes a long way – in Indonesia, as soon as I could say more than ‘thank you’ people were like WOAH HOW IS YOUR BAHASA SO GOOD?!! It was lovely, if inaccurate.
Before I went to South America, I used Duolingo to learn a bit of Spanish, and that was so helpful for finding my way around and generally surviving the demands of an unfamiliar continent, especially as I never studied Spanish at school. I would really recommend using Duolingo if they offer your target language – cos it’s really fun, too!
I recommend Duolingo on my Tools for Travel page, too, which you can find here!
Sort out some currency, or other ways to pay when you travel
Another thing that is worth looking up and sorting out in advance is, um, that money thing. What currency does your destination use? Are there plenty of ATMs? Will people hate you for trying to pay using larger notes? The Internet is your greatest resource here.
All of these questions and more need to be asked before you go travel. One general tip is to make sure you have multiple ways to pay for things – ideally more than one card (e.g. a credit card and a travel card), and some local currency, and some cash to exchange.
Ordering currency in advance is also quite often the way to make sure you get the best exchange rate, especially if you’re planning to take a lot of cash with you. Check out a comparison website like this page on Money Saving Expert for more information on this.
As for cards, I’ve found the Halifax Clarity credit card great for travel, because it doesn’t charge any fees for being used abroad. Maybe it goes without saying, but I’d recommend linking it to your bank account so it’s automatically paid off at the end of the month – and just keep an eye on your spending, especially when you haven’t quite grasped the currency yet.
Monzo is another popular travel card to use, though they have now clamped down on the unlimited free withdrawals abroad. Still, you can take out up to £200 per 30 days abroad, for free, and it’s a great card to have in the UK because the banking app is so easy to use, and transactions abroad remain free.
This list is of course not exhaustive: there are plenty more bits and pieces of trip preparation you need to sort out before you head off on your travels. But it’s a start!
And that’s the thing: it’s intimidating at first, when you’ve got this big list of to-dos that need to be ticked off. But then you work your way through them, one at a time, and each of them isn’t that challenging in itself, and before you know it you’re boarding a plane to the other side of the world.
Liked this? Pin it!
Disclaimer: some of the links in this post may be affiliate links, which means that I will get a small commission (at no extra cost to you) for the things you may purchase. I only recommend products and services that I actually use!