The benefits of international travel are numerous. It is a rewarding and interesting way to spend your time and money. But without preparation, it can be the most stressful thing you can draw upon yourself.
So what’s the key to successful travel preparation? Lists, pure and simple. Learn how to travel like a pro with this pre-travel checklist which details the important things you need to do before travelling abroad.
Check passport. Is your passport in date? You’re going nowhere if your passport is out of date or you may not be admitted into another country if your passport has less than six months to expiry date.
Visa requirements: Is a visa necessary? What restrictions are there in place for your nationality? How long can you stay in the country? These are questions you need to ask even before you’ve purchased your plane ticket.
If you’re travelling for business you may need a specific visa. Check with the country’s embassy/consulate in your locality. Alternatively, your own government’s foreign affairs ministry will be able to advise. I’m Irish so the Irish government’s Department of Foreign Affairs website is my first port of call.
Some countries require you to provide Advance Passenger Information (API) even if you don’t require a visa – Spain springs to mind. For Spain, airlines have always requested this information in advance by email from me.
Make copies of travel documents: Photocopy passport/driving licence and carry these copies in another bag. Upload scanned copies of passport/driving licence to a cloud computing site or email to yourself. Have bank card details & your bank contact number to hand to cancel cards if needs be. Even if your travel plans are stored on a smartphone app have paper copies of booking details as well.
Get travel insurance: For some countries travel insurance with sufficient medical cover is mandatory for a visa. EU/EEA residents travelling within the EU/EEA should apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). The EHIC entitles EU/EEA residents travelling within the EU/EEA to access emergency public medical services in the same manner as residents in the destination country. Application for an EHIC is free and is done via your local public health service. Irish citizens can apply here.
However, medical services in EU countries vary. For example, when I got a respiratory infection in Estonia the EHIC was only accepted in public hospitals and not by local family doctors. Also, the EHIC will not cover medical repatriation.
Register with your own country’s foreign affairs ministry: If there is any unforeseen event such as a natural disaster or an act of terrorism at your destination your government will be in a better position to provide assistance. Irish citizens can register online here.
If your country doesn’t have an embassy or consulate at your destination find out which embassy will help as some countries have reciprocal agreements. The EU Consular Protection Directive entitles EU citizens to seek help from embassies/consulates of any other EU country when travelling outside of the EU in a country where their own government has no embassy or consulate. The European Commission website details this directive.
Leave travel details with family/home contact: Flight details (Airline, airport, flight number, departure & arrival times), other transport details, accommodation details (Name, address, phone number/email address of hotel/host) should all be left with a contact. If you think that’s overkill with the flight details bear in mind that some cities have several airports (London has five). Leave details of travel documents such as passport and driving licence with family/home contact.
Currency: Research the currency in advance and know how much it converts from your own currency. I recommend the XE Currency Converter. If it’s a fluctuating currency it pays to watch the markets. There may be times when buying currency in advance is required. If not, use an ATM machine as soon as you arrive. Some countries have closed currencies so are not available outside of their country (Bosnia-Herzegovina springs to mind).
Register your destination details with your bank: Banks can put blocks on cards if not informed of potential use abroad. Some banks enable this service through their online banking facility.
Medical needs: Are vaccinations and other medical precautions necessary? The medical community in my local area in Ireland refer to the NHS Scotland Fit for Travel website as a vaccination guide. Some vaccinations may require an advance schedule of doses prior to potential exposure.
Some medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, may either be illegal or restricted in some countries. If so, you will need to bring a letter from your doctor listing your prescribed medicines or a copy of a prescription. Bring at least 2 extra days of medication in case of major delays.
Adapter plug: Check the World Standards website to see if your electrical devices are compatible with the destination’s sockets. If not, get an adapter plug.
Learn some of the language of your destination country: Whilst English is becoming increasingly spoken throughout the world learning the courtesy basics will be much appreciated and work wonders in terms of service.
Language resources aimed at children are excellent for beginners. I highly recommend the Teach Yourself series. Night classes are both a successful and sociable way of learning a new language.
Get geographically informed about your destination: Will you be based north or south of the river? Do you have to travel through mountains? In what direction are the various points of reference? If you think such detail is unnecessary then have a read of my Perpignan post on getting lost in that city. Higher altitude destinations are colder at night and coastal areas have higher humidity.
Weather forecast: Check your destination’s weather forecast before you depart. Is inclement weather expected and is it likely to hamper your travel plans? The weather forecast will be vital in deciding the all-important clothing and packing needs.
Get a smartphone: Once considered a luxury, smartphones are now an essential travel resource. Most airline, bus and train companies have apps that you can purchase tickets through, get travel information on, and be informed of delays. Some airlines allow boarding passes to be generated through their app.
Should an unforeseen event arise (natural disaster/terrorism) advice generated by local authorities and news agencies can be accessed easily. I highly recommend Irish citizens to download the Department of Foreign Affairs Travelwise app.
Get socially and culturally informed about your destination: What safety precautions need to be taken? Could there be potential problems for travellers depending on gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs etc? What’s the best way of greeting someone? Are there hand signals you should or shouldn’t use? Does a nod mean yes or no? What is considered appropriate/inappropriate clothing?
The website of your government’s foreign ministry may detail much of this. However, engaging with the country on a cultural level prior to travelling is also useful. Read a book or watch a play/film based in or about the country.
Airline requirements: What is the check-in process for your airline? Do you need to check in online and, if so, what is the time frame for online check in? What are the cabin and hold luggage restrictions? Which terminal does it depart from and arrive into? If it’s your first time flying then I highly recommend having a look at my Tips for First-Time Flyers post.
Inform hotel/host of arrival plans: If you don’t arrive as scheduled at least they can check delays and won’t have reason to berate you.
Commuting to the airport: Book your taxi, train/bus ticket in advance. Driving to the airport? Book your parking online in advance for cheaper rates.
Plan onward travel: How will you get from the airport/train to your accommodation? Familiarise yourself with the public transport system of your destination. Print a colour map if needs be, particularly if arriving into a large city like London or Paris.
Get a book: Finally, beat delay boredom by investing in a good book. In the event of a delay a book will last longer than the battery of your electrical device.
Whilst this may appear to be a lengthy and exhausting pre-travel checklist – there’s a summary below – it’s a general list and may not be sufficient for travellers with specific needs. However, preparation is key to minimising stress and regular travellers have this down to a fine art. Best of luck and bon voyage.