Leaving on a grand journey, eh? It’s in your best interest to get ready for that!
To be clear, this does not imply you should overpack your bags with unnecessary items or schedule every minute of your trip down to the minute when, in reality, you might enjoy a bit more flexibility. It is possible to have too much preparation.
Years of travel have taught me, however, that there are always a few things to do to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey.
Don’t forget the fundamentals
I’m confident you already know this, but just in case…
Don’t forget to bring along:
Your passport obviously!
Your debit or credit cards
If you have one, your driver’s license
Most things you need to pack won’t cause you too much stress. You may always buy it there if you forget something.
However, the aforementioned examples do not fit that description.
Activities like making purchases and traveling internationally are quite important. Put your identification and cash somewhere safe! You may equate them to having superpowers when traveling.
Get rid of everything you don’t need.
Are you spending excessive time poring over packing lists and worrying over what to bring?
If that’s the case, you can be in danger of overpacking.
Many so-called “complete” packing lists include numerous items that you may not actually need. Not all itineraries recommend staying in hotels or hostels. Some are designed for use on road excursions or in the woods.
In all likelihood, only a fraction of the supplies you’ve stocked up on will be used.
Pack as little as possible, even if you’re going on a trip that promises a lot of sightseeing and excitement. When you’re not hauling your luggage like a mule, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the scenery more along the way. You have greater freedom of movement and less trouble getting from one place to another.
If you want to know how to pack efficiently, go no further than my comprehensive guide on traveling light.
If you plan on doing any sort of backpacking, you may want to consider keeping your luggage to a minimum by only bringing a carry-on backpack (of about 40 liters’ capacity). Unless you’re going trekking or mountaineering, there’s no reason to carry around a massive 70-liter technical backpack.
Get a debit card that doesn’t charge you for using ATMs.
Foreign ATMs are a bad thing.
Foreign transaction and currency exchange costs might be quite high. What about the financial institution where you live? In many cases, they participate as well.
Withdrawing money from ATMs overseas shouldn’t cost you a fortune, therefore a debit card with favorable foreign exchange rates and no transaction fees is a must. In this method, you can withdraw funds while traveling overseas with minimal loss. (By the way, even in advanced countries like Japan, cash is still king, so it’s better not to rely only on things like credit cards, contactless payments, or systems like Apple Pay.)
I have used a variety of debit cards throughout the years, but these days my go-to is Wise. Withdrawing the first USD/EUR 200 from your Wise card each month is completely free of charge.
Wise also has cheap currency conversion fees (often because they don’t convert the money at all, but rather instantaneously match supply with demand, which is quite intelligent). Either load up your Wise account ahead of time with foreign currency to take advantage of the best exchange rates, or let Wise handle it automatically for you. You may join Wise without spending a dime.
If your card is lost or stolen, the app will immediately lock it. Whatever bank card you choose to use, the ability to closely monitor things is a significant bonus; I’ve had cards stolen, swiped (i.e. hacked), and have had erroneous transactions through ATMs in underdeveloped countries.
The more options you have for withdrawing funds, the better (not just traveling only with your one current account bank card).
Take out money from ATMs at your destination, but keep in mind that local banks typically charge a fee for every foreign transaction, which can add up quickly if you withdraw a lot of little amounts at once (for example, 20 euros or dollars).
Invest in travel insurance.
As much as the increased cost may hurt, you should always purchase travel insurance before heading abroad.
You may assume that insurance against theft or trip cancellation is the major motivation here, but I see such features more as optional extras. The travel medical and liability coverages are the true key reasons for insurance. The costs associated with dealing with an unexpected emergency while traveling can quickly add up. Don’t forget that domestic health insurance is usually not valid in other countries.
World Nomads is a well-liked travel insurance company because of the wide coverage it provides for extreme sports and other extreme activities. Although, they might be quite costly at times.
These days, my go-to recommendation is Heymondo, which provides short-term, long-term, and annual multi-trip insurance plans. The best travel insurance for you can be found by seeing a comprehensive comparison.
Protect yourself from malaria by being immunized.
Is Belgium on your itinerary? If that’s the case, you’re free to move on.
In Belgium, malaria is extremely unlikely to affect you.
However, things change if your travels take you to Borneo. It is recommended to check with your doctor about getting the necessary immunizations and malaria treatment before traveling to any tropical or undeveloped country. Quite a few nations in South and Southeast Asia and the Americas fall within this category. In addition, several nations, especially those in Latin America, require proof of yellow fever vaccination before allowing entry.
The best course of action is to schedule an appointment with your family physician or general practitioner as soon as possible (like 4-6 weeks).
But don’t stress too much about it. In my experience, first-time international travelers tend to worry excessively about the possibility of contracting a disease; nevertheless, with the exception of a few remote locations, the risk of contracting any illness is rather minimal, and numerous immunizations are available to provide complete protection. Don’t hesitate to jab.
(Update for the pandemic situation: having the full covid vaccination is also highly recommended. This is a good deed in and of itself and will make crossing borders considerably simpler for you and everyone else.
Be familiar with your financial plan.
It may seem apparent, but I’ve known a few stranded tourists who had to wait for family to buy them a plane ticket home or who had to work in a bar to save up enough money to continue their journey. Oops.
It’s preferable to do the research while at home to avoid underestimating your costs.
You don’t need to create a detailed spreadsheet (it’s difficult to foresee all your spending), but it is helpful to have some concept. Always leave a little room in your budget for error to cover any unforeseen costs.
Now I have more than enough money to last me for quite some time, but when I was traveling on a shoestring, I always made sure to save aside a little bit of cash in case of an emergency. You won’t be tempted to spend it all at once and will have a safety net of funds available in case of emergency.
Apply for the necessary visas
Also known as “will you be allowed entry into the country you intend to visit?”
While in many cases visas can be obtained upon arrival in the country of destination, this is not always the case. How difficult it is to travel greatly varies from country to country and citizenship to citizenship.
VisaHQ.com is the best site to use for this purpose. You can apply for a visa at the consulate or embassy that serves your destination, or you can hire VisaHQ to do it for you. In most cases, a different visa is needed if you plan to work overseas, even temporarily, so be sure to plan ahead and apply for the correct one.
Some people incorrectly assume that a Visa credit card is the same thing as a travel visa. Indeed, these are two very distinct entities.
Establish a backup service for safety purposes
So, you’re probably not going to go through with this, and that’s fine.
Eventually, you’ll probably regret your decision.
This may seem tedious, but trust me when I say it needs to be done immediately. I can’t stand to hear another traveler’s tragic tale of having their camera stolen or destroyed. One may always buy a new camera, but one’s photo collection is irreplaceable.
Theft isn’t the only threat to cameras; heat damage, water damage, memory corruption, and accidental deletion are also real possibilities. Don’t be so silly; someone I was traveling with experienced the same thing.
Set up a cloud storage service or other method of regular data backups before you leave. There may already be a backup service installed on your device, in which case you should activate it. You might also use a cloud storage service like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud Drive, or Microsoft’s One Drive.
You can also use an additional storage device, such as a flash drive or external hard drive, to create a manual backup.
Make sure your possessions are safe
It’s smart to have a hidden hoard of cash, credit cards, and other valuables in case of emergencies.
While I can see the convenience of a money pouch for certain people, I find that they add unnecessary bulk and can be a nuisance. In recent years, I’ve taken to carrying some folded money in a small leather pouch that can be attached to a belt. There are also products available that allow you to conceal stuff in an underwear compartment or a sock.
Keep a note of crucial information in case of an emergency
Keep your emergency information, such as home contact information, travel insurance information, and your bank’s toll-free number in case your credit card is lost or stolen, in a safe place. Get the specifics down on paper or send yourself an email.
Get a good photo of your passport and send it to yourself through email or save it elsewhere in the cloud. It’s usually helpful to have this on hand in case tour operators or car rental firms want it.
Get mobile travel apps for your phone.
When you travel, it’s a good idea to have a few specific apps on your phone.
If you just get one navigation app, make it MAPS.ME. When it comes to navigation, its amazing maps much surpass those of Google Maps and Apple Maps, and they can be used even when you’re not online. Many vacationers insist that it is essential.
Learn the language and local customs
Learn some useful phrases in the local language, and find out if there are any interesting cultural practices you should be aware of.
This can prevent embarrassing situations and make your journey much more pleasant. Learning these things before you leave is generally more convenient.
I spent a few weeks learning Spanish on Duolingo before visiting South America, and it came in quite handy when I needed to do things like ask for directions and place an order.
Ensure you have the proper adapters
Plugs and sockets can vary from country to country.
It’s not hard to find a market or electronics store at your destination where you can pick up a cheap converter. Alternatively, you might bring a worldwide multi-outlet travel adapter that will allow you to use any of your electronic devices’ charging ports in any country.
It’s a waste of plastic to keep buying different adaptors for every country; instead, get one that works everywhere (like the one shown below on the right).
Keeping a trip journal
Keeping a journal is a great idea if you plan on traveling for an extended period of time.
If you believe it’s stupid, you should still do it. I did, and I’m quite appreciative.
Longer trips increase the likelihood that important details may be forgotten. Nothing stands out anymore after a while. However, writing down even the most basic of details can aid in later recollection.
Keep note of the things you did each day and the individuals you’d like to remember; there’s no need to write profoundly personal diaries or cringe-worthy poetry or anything. In my experience, this is usually all that’s required to retain the information for use down the road.
Even though you could do it on your phone, I recommend obtaining a physical notebook instead. Here are 5 entertaining approaches to keeping track of your vacations’ memories.