Travel checklist: 10 things to do before you go
Counting down the days before you jet off on your trip? Check these things off your to-do list – then you can just relax and focus on your adventure.
1. Check your passport and apply for visas
First, find your passport! Then make sure you check the expiry date. In general, your passport needs to be valid for at least sixth months after entering a foreign country, so double-check early so you have time to renew it if necessary.
Research what visas (if any) you’ll need for your destination and get your applications in as early as you can. It’s also smart to find out if there are any entry or exit fees for the country you’re going to. Often these are worked into your ticket price, but it’s handy to know if you’ll need cash at the airport.
Bring a colour photocopy of your passport and extra photos with you, just in case you need to apply for visas or get a replacement while you’re away.
2. Get vaccines and travel medications
Visit your GP or a specialised travel doctor to find out if there are any vaccinations you should have before travelling, or if medications like malaria pills are recommended. Try to get to the doctor at least a month or two before you leave, as some vaccinations and medications take a few weeks to become effective.
If you usually take other medications, check your supplies and make sure you have enough to last the duration of your trip. Check with your doctor if there are any laws or regulations about bringing your medication into foreign countries, and bring your prescription with you when you travel.
Pack yourself a little first aid kit, and include any non-prescription medications (like paracetamol and anti-nausea tablets) you think you might need, especially if you’re going somewhere remote or underdeveloped. Even if you’re going to a big city, having a few supplies on hand can save you from searching for a pharmacy late at night, or trying to use charades to explain what you need in a foreign language.
3. Make sure you have travel insurance
From lost luggage and flight delays through to accidents and illness, there are all sorts of hiccups that can interrupt your trip. As well as being inconvenient, these things can get very costly if you don’t have good travel insurance. In particular, medical treatment overseas can be extremely expensive, and it’s important to realise that the Australian government will not cover these costs. Save yourself the risk and choose a comprehensive travel insurance policy to cover you in emergencies, so you can just relax and enjoy your trip.
When you’re researching travel insurance, keep in mind that cheapest is not always best. There are lots of cheap policies available online that unfortunately might not cover you for much when it comes to actually making a claim. Always read through the policy details carefully, make sure you understand the key terms, and ask the provider to clarify anything you’re not sure about.
4. Register your details and organise all your documents
Before you leave, register your travel and contact details with Smart Traveller. This is just a quick precaution so that in an emergency you can be located, and your family can be assured that you’re safe. It’s also smart to write down the addresses and phone numbers of any Australian embassies or consulates in the destinations you’re going to, just in case.
Make copies of all your important documents – passport, tickets, itineraries, reservations, travel insurance policies, credit cards, emergency phone numbers, etc – and file them all in the same place.
A good idea is to scan all your documents and keep them together on your phone, tablet or laptop, stored locally so you can access them without internet connection. Keep printed copies somewhere in your luggage too, and to be extra safe, email or leave another set with family or friends.
5. Think about your luggage
Are you taking a suitcase or a backpack? What kind of day bag will you need? Are you bringing your laptop, hiking equipment, or any special gear that might need extra space or protection? Check your luggage allowance and the carry on limit, and consider if you’ll need to pay for additional weight. You don’t want to be hit with excess fees at the airport – it’s usually significantly cheaper to book in advance.
Start thinking about what to pack in your carry on. Make sure you have all the essentials with you just in case your luggage gets delayed – trust us, you’ll be very grateful to be prepared with cash, basic toiletries, a change of shirt and underwear, electronics chargers and any medications you need.
6. Get cashed up
It’s handy to get some foreign cash out ahead of time so you don’t have to worry about it at the airport (when you really want to speed up the whole immigration-baggage-claim-customs process and just get out of there!) Plus, if you organise your cash early you can lock in the exchange rate. Think about if you want to take a travellers’ card, and get that loaded up with the currencies you need.
It’s also worth doing a little research into which ATMs are the best to use in your destination country, as well as what the tipping expectations are, and typical costs for things like taxis so you know if you’re being ripped off.
Remember to contact your bank and let them know where you’re going and when, so they know to expect foreign charges – otherwise, they might freeze your card.
7. Organise your electronics
Think about all the electronics you’re bringing and what chargers and cables you’ll need – phone, camera, laptop, tablet, etc. Then make sure you’ve got the right adapter for your destination. If you travel a lot or you’re going to multiple countries, it’s smart to get a universal adapter, with pop-out plugs to fit a range of different sockets.
Another thing to consider is the voltage of your electronics, and the strength of the electrical current where you’re going. Some devices and appliances might not be compatible with a higher or lower current (ever tried using your hairdryer in the United States?), so if you want to use them you’ll need to bring a transformer.
A portable charger is also a handy investment – pop it in your day pack so you’re never caught out when you need your phone or camera.
Find out what charges will apply for using your phone overseas, and adjust your settings to turn off data roaming if necessary. You definitely don’t want to be caught out with a surprise bill when you get home – those costs can add up mighty quickly! Getting an international SIM is a good idea if you think you’ll need your phone a lot.
8. Consider your clothing
What’s the weather going to be like? Do a little research and find out the average temperatures for the time of year you’re going, and pay attention to the highs and lows – in some hot locations it can get unexpectedly cold at night, so you’ll want to have a few cardigans packed in with your beach gear.
Think about if you’ll need to buy or borrow any clothes you don’t have. You might need to invest in a warmer winter coat, a pair of hiking shoes, or some cheap cotton t-shirts that you don’t mind getting all sweaty and grubby.
It’s also important to consider the cultural and religious climate when you’re packing your clothes. In many countries for example, shorts and singlet tops can be considered inappropriate or disrespectful. Try to find out what the vibe is, and if you’re not sure, bring at least one more conservative outfit in case. A good tip for ladies is to pack lightweight shawl or sarong – you can easily throw it on over your usual outfit to cover up bare shoulders or knees if you feel you need to.
9. Find out the cultural dos and don’ts
Along with clothing, find out if there are any other cultural considerations you need to be aware of. You don’t want to offend the locals or come across as rude, ignorant or disrespectful – and you definitely don’t want to accidentally do anything that’s against the law, or that makes you more vulnerable to danger.
10. Learn a few phrases in the local language
It’s helpful to learn a few basic phrases to help you communicate with locals. It doesn’t have to be much – even if you just start with hello, how are you and thank you, the locals will appreciate your effort, and it’s a nice gesture that can help you feel connected with the people you meet.
Plus, learning a bit of a new language is a fun way to channel your excitement in the lead up to your trip. Download podcasts or find some audio lessons to get a feel for the pronunciation. Tip: Duolingo is an excellent free app that gets you learning the essentials in just a few minutes a day.