Whether you’re travelling for two weeks or two years, these 10 items should be on your list of things to do before a trip. (For long-term travel you may also want to read Put your home life on auto-pilot.)
1. Research your destination
As soon as you know where you’d like to go, buy a guidebook, mobile app, or search online for information about your destination(s). For most people it’s fun to read about the places they’re about to visit, and it will help you figure out what you want to do over there, and what to pack. This information will also assist you with several of the following tasks.
2. Find out if you need a visa and check your passport expiry date
Depending where you live and where you’re going, you may need to get a visa ahead of time. This process can take several weeks (especially if you have to mail your passport to an embassy or consulate), so don’t leave it until the last minute.
Some countries let you purchase a visa online, or get it upon arrival. In the latter case, you may need to provide passport photos and will probably have to pay a fee in the specified currency. Many countries also require that your passport be valid for at least six months beyond your date of departure from that country. So go dig out your passport and check the expiry date!
Your Foreign Affairs Department website should have information about entry and exit requirements. This site should also contain travel advisories, health warnings, and other essential data. For Canadians, see the government’s country travel advice and advisories page.
Your government’s web site may also offer a free registration service while you’re abroad. This simply means that you tell them where you’ll be and when, and they email you advisories should problems develop in those regions while you’re there.
3. Find out if you need vaccines or malaria tablets
if you’re travelling outside developed countries, it is very likely that you will need some immunizations, malaria tablets or both. Check with a travel doctor for up-to-the-minute information. Most large cities have travel clinics. You can also take a look at the CDC website to get an idea of what you may need.
As a traveller, you should also be up-to-date with your basic vaccinations such as tetanus and polio. Don’t fool around with your health. Some of these vaccines are good for life, and others require boosters every 3 or 10 years.
Malaria tablets should also be taken in certain regions. Your travel doctor will know. Tourists have contracted malaria, and some have died from it, so I tend to trust my travel doctor more than the random traveller who tries to convince me that “I don’t need them here”.
4. Make arrangements for your pets
If you have pets, then you already know that you’ll need someone to take care of them. Most people have a reliable friend or neighbour who will handle that task for short periods. However if nobody is available, or you’re going for an extended period of time and don’t want to put your animal friend in a kennel or cattery, you can use a house and pet-sitting service.
I don’t have pets, but I currently use Trusted Housesitters to house and pet-sit for people going away. I take care of their cats for free in exchange for a place to stay. (I’ve talked about this service in detail in my newsletter over the last couple of months.)
5. Ask someone to pick-up your mail and water your plants
If you have a pet-sitter, then you can ask this person if he/she’s willing to pick up your mail and water your plants as well. If not, a trusted friend or neighbour should be able to accommodate you. This person can take a quick look around your place as well to make sure nothing has gone awry..
6. Book your first accommodation
This is not an absolute requirement, but most people like the peace of mind of knowing they have a room reserved when they first arrive in a new city, tired, jet-lagged, and carrying luggage. Sites like Booking.com and AirBnB let you easily find and book a room online. Or you can email a promising-looking accommodation from your guidebook.
The advantage of the websites is that they provide reviews from past guests, as well as giving you a confirmed reservation without the need to wire money or send your credit card details through unsecured email.
Do this at least a month in advance, especially if you’re looking for budget accommodation, as the best places get booked first. If a site like Booking.com tells you that no room is available for your dates at a specific property, go to the website of that hotel or guesthouse directly and check again.
7. Find out how to get there from the airport
Once your room is booked, use Google Maps (or a paper map if you’re old school) to find out how to get there from the airport, train station, etc. Sure, you could just jump into a taxi, but this is a budget blog to I assume you’ll want to know about the cheaper public transit options as well. 🙂
If you don’t know where you’re going or how to get there, you’ll be at the mercy of unscrupulous taxi drivers, especially in the developing world. If you must take a taxi, look for a taxi counter inside the airport, or by the curb, which sells pre-paid taxi vouchers.
8. Buy medical insurance
Although cancellation insurance is not always desirable or necessary, medical insurance is a whole different matter. Unless you’re clairvoyant and are 100% sure that you will no get sick or hurt during you trip, medical coverage is essential. While getting medication for an infection or minor cut will not ruin you, having to be air-lifted from the middle of a jungle during a multi-day hike might! Even if you stay in cities, being hit by a car could require several days in a hospital and high costs.
If you plan to participate in some more “risky” activities like scuba diving, rock climbing, or skydiving, make sure that your insurance covers those. Medical insurance does not normally cover pre-existing conditions.
The company I like to use here in Canada is TuGo (previously Travel Underwriters). You may already have short-term coverage through your work or a credit card. Check this before purchasing extra insurance. For example, my TD Visa Aeroplan Infinite card provides me with 15 days of free medical insurance without even having to charge my trip to the card.
9. Call your credit card company
To prevent fraud, many credit card companies will lock your card if it is suddenly used in a foreign country. A quick call to the company before your trip, telling them in which countries you will be with approximate dates should solve this issue.
10. Clean your home
It’s always nice to come back to a clean home, but even if you don’t care, you should at least empty your kitchen of any perishable items, and throw out your garbage. You don’t wan’t to come back to a stinky apartment or a house full of vermin.
Keep this list of things to do before a trip handy, and check it every time you travel.
I intend to touch on some of these topics in more detail in the coming weeks, especially things I haven’t covered before such as guidebooks and travel insurance. For more detailed information about organizing trips, presented in complete coherent packages, consider purchasing my e-books.
Note: This post contains affiliate links.