In the time leading up to your first big trip, the sheer number of things you need to do can seem overwhelming and often things can get lost along the way. Hopefully this checklist will help to make sure nothing gets left out!
1. Book your transport!
OK so this is a really obvious point, but the first step in any trip is booking the travel, and make sure you book it early! This will keep costs down. Only once your dates are decided can you start booking and researching the rest of your trip. Try using a flight comparison website like Skyscanner or Kayak to get the best deal, though weigh up the pros and cons of having a cheap flight with having a comfortable one – is it worth having to change planes twice and sit around in airports for 14 hours just to save an extra £30? It’s also always worth checking out the airline’s website, as sometimes it’s the provider themselves who can give you the best price.
Top tip: some booking websites, particularly flight websites, store cookies which will monitor how often you (and everyone else) search a certain journey, and will make it more expensive accordingly. To prevent this, browse using a private window, and then your search can’t be tracked!
2. Look into visas
For some countries you need to apply quite far in advance to get a visa, and the process is often long, boring and pedantic, especially if it has to be sent off by post. Make sure you check your flight to see whether you have any stopovers, and if so, in which countries. If you have a long layover and you want to get out of the airport, you need to check whether a visa restriction applies to that place as well. In addition to this, if you are going to be driving, check out the post office website (for UK travellers) to see whether you need an international driver’s permit in order to legally be allowed to drive on the roads.
3. Sort out vaccinations
Head to your GP or travel clinic 6-8 weeks in advance to ask about what jabs you need based on your destination. You should make sure that you have at least a vague overview of your route, because the medical advice will depend upon this, and they will only be able to properly advise you if you have this information. In the UK, some vaccines may be available on the NHS (especially if you’re still in full-time education, or are 18 or under), and many courses need to be started well in advance of setting off, often requiring more than one jab.
4. Get insured
Don’t scrimp on the time you take to do this. Many people will just go online and then go for the cheapest option, but actually in the long run this won’t save you money if anything happens and you need to make a claim. Make sure the value up to which they will pay out matches the cost of the items that you are taking with you, and always give serious consideration to paying the excess waiver – because without this, if anything gets lost or stolen, you’ll have to cover some of the cost. Using a website such as comparethemarket can be good to give you a general overview, but be wary of policies which won’t provide adequate cover for your needs. It may be boring, but read the small print!
Need more help with this? Check out my Rookie’s Guide to Travel Insurance for some more in-detail advice!
5. Get your currency
For this it’s worth keeping an eye on the fluctuations of the exchange rate for a little while beforehand to make sure you’re buying at the best time, especially if you are getting a large amount to take with you. It’s usually fairly easy to search out the place with the best exchange rate just by looking online at a comparison site, but be aware that often the best deals come from buying online to pick up in store (so look into it in advance!). I would also always recommend taking a mixture of cash and card, so do a bit of research into what type of card you want to get – whether that’s just a cash card (basically a plastic form of your standard currency, which you can just get from a bureau de change), or a debit card for travel. I have found the Caxton Card very good in the past, but deals do change, so looking at a site like moneysavingexpert can be quite helpful in making this decision. With debit cards there will often be quite a long delivery period, so be sure to look into this early on.
6. Find accommodation
Book a place to stay for at least your first night. (For inspiration on how and where to choose, see How to Pick a Hostel). Often you will need to write down the address of where you’re staying on immigration forms, so it’s also useful to have it written down in a notebook or somewhere else safe. It’s up to you whether you want to have your itinerary all planned out in advance or if you want to be a bit more spontaneous with it, just make sure you’ve got a place to start!
7. Make photocopies of EVERYTHING
Passport, ID, currency cards, insurance documents – you name it, you scan it. You never know when you might need copies of these, and often they are a good substitute for carrying about the original item in places where it might not feel safe to do so. In many countries you will need a photocopy of a passport in order to buy things like SIM cards (and as a further note, in general it’s often useful to memorise, or at least write down, your passport number – you always end up needing it for some formality or other along the way). And make sure you keep the copies in a SEPARATE place from the originals – and then at least if you lose one, you don’t lose the other!
8. Look up embassies
Find out the numbers and addresses of the relevant embassies in the countries you’re going to, and write them down; particularly the contact details. These are always useful to have in case you get into a difficult situation, and you may not always be able to access the internet to get this information if and when you do need it.
9. Check out the FCO advice
Even if it may be enough to make you want never to travel again (often the incidents reported on there are quite the extreme cases), it’s still worth knowing what problems you may face. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office can give you useful information so that you know what to look out for, in terms of past incidents and common scams that you may face.
10. Take a look at the weather
Don’t just assume that because it’s summer in England, it’s going to be summer where you’re going! Even if that is the case, ‘summer’ often means monsoon. This not only links into what you’re going to pack, but it also helps balance out your expectations. If you’re envisioning cloudless blue skies and are confronted with torrential rain when you step off the plane, disappointment is somewhat inevitable. Don’t take that risk!
11. Look up the local language
It always helps to have a few key words and phrases up your sleeve when you first get to a country – apart from anything else, it’s polite to at least have enough knowledge to be able to say things like hello and thank you. This will also help you give a less vulnerable first impression, and should ultimately make you feel a bit more comfortable and confident as well!
12. Go shopping!
Possibly one of my favourite parts of preparing for any trip is shopping for the things you need. Be aware of your budget here – it might be tempting to go to an outdoor shop and kit yourself out with all kinds of fancy (and expensive) gear, but question whether it’s actually necessary! A lot of the time, if you do need specific equipment or clothing, you can borrow it or buy it on the cheap (Aldi is a surprisingly good option for things like hiking gear!). Make sure you don’t leave shopping for stuff until the last minute – there may be some things that you need to buy online (adapters for certain areas of the world is a good example of this), and for this you’ll need to allow for delivery time.
And make sure you don’t leave it too late… (For a bit of a hand, see my Gap Year Guide for How to Pack!)
It can be daunting, preparing for a long trip – but by taking it one by one and checking off each task when you’ve done it, hopefully it will seem a little less intimidating! Good luck!
Preparation is the key to a successful trip! While that may not be a mantra that I have always followed myself, that doesn’t mean it’s not solid advice…