Preparing for an international trip can be stressful, whether you’re a seasoned traveller or it’s your first time overseas. Even the most experienced holiday-makers can forget to do something important, which causes them unnecessary aggravation! In this post, I would like to share some important things to consider before your next trip overseas, in order to make sure you cover all bases and reduce the likelihood of an unpleasant surprise spoiling your trip!
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What kind of holiday do you want?
You may have already chosen a destination (or at least have a country in mind) but you need to consider how much you can realistically do and see within the timeframe you have available and what kind of holiday you’re looking for. Do you want to go somewhere off the beaten track or to visit a buzzing, bustling tourist hot spot? Do you want sun, sea and sand, or mountains, forests & hiking paths? How about a city break with a wide variety of events and entertainment at your fingertips? Would you prefer to use a travel agency or organise everything independently?
What’s your budget? What is the maximum you can spend and the amount you actually want to spend? What level of comfort do you want? Do you want to stay in 5* hotels, mid-range B&Bs or budget hostels? Would you prefer to rent an apartment through a platform like Airbnb? Once you’ve arrived at your destination, what is the best way to travel around? Do you want to rent a car or use public transport?
Thinking about these options from the very start ensures that your preferences are at the forefront of your mind throughout the research and booking process. It can also help to avoid any arguments with other people you may be travelling with, if they have wildly different expectations or desires that you do.
Do your research
If you’re travelling somewhere with a very different culture from your home country, it’s very important to research and respect the local laws and customs. What might be acceptable or even expected in your home country may be rude or taboo in another. Not sure what to research? I suggest dress code, punctuality, hand gestures, greetings, social etiquette, interactions between men and women, tipping culture, restaurant etiquette, how to behave in public and habits like smoking or drinking alcohol. Educate yourself about any small, subtle cultural differences, which are not always well-publicized and could catch you out. This website provides a lot of useful information about global etiquette.
Furthermore, I encourage you to read up on the history of the country you’re visiting, as this will help you understand and appreciate the country’s historic monuments and museums (and enjoy sightseeing even more!). You should also stay up-to-date on the country’s news, just in case any political or economic situations impact your holiday. Lastly, check if there are any major religious, cultural or sporting events on while you’re visiting. These could affect accommodation costs, public transport accessibility and building opening times (such as museums and churches).
More and more of us are trying to fly less and look for alternative modes of transportation, such as trains, buses, coaches, boats and ferries. If you have to fly to your destination, make sure there is at least six months between your passport expiry date and your planned return date. Most airlines will not let you travel with less than six months. For example, if you are flying back home on the 1st of December 2019, your passport must be valid until at least 1st June 2020. In addition, some countries state that you must have more than 1 or 2 blank pages in your passport. If your passport is very full, check with your Embassy if a certain number of empty pages is required for the country you’re visiting.
If you have a stopover, try to find out how large the airport is and how long it usually takes to transfer from one gate to another. As a general rule, I don’t book flights with a stopover time of less than 1hr 30 and if it’s a really large airport (like Frankfurt or Amsterdam Schiphol), I would look for a minimum stopover of 2 hours.
Safety & security
I have fortunately only ever had minor stresses and issues while travelling, rather than anything serious or scary (you can read about some of my travel troubles here!). There are some steps I take before I depart, which give me peace of mind while I’m away and offer protection in case something bad happens. The first is travel insurance. In the past, I didn’t buy travel insurance when travelling around Europe, as I relied on my European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Now that I live outside of the UK, my EHIC is invalid and I have a travel insurance policy through my main healthcare provider. My boyfriend and I are using Big Cat Travel Insurance for our six-month sabbatical because my usual travel insurance only covers holidays of 56 days or less.
Besides purchasing travel insurance, here are some other things you can do:
- Scan copies of your passport, visa and insurance policy and email them to yourself and/or upload onto Google Drive. Make a special ‘holiday’ folder in your emails for all your accommodation and tour confirmation emails. Some people like to have a printed copy of everything, but I store everything electronically (except for one printed copy of my passport’s mugshot page).
- Send your itinerary to a family member, with details of your flight numbers and accommodation. If you are using a travel agency or tour provider, include their contact details as well.
- Before I leave home, I back up all my photos and files, copy them to my computer and then delete the files off my phone (unless they’re needed for the trip!). While I’m travelling, I regularly back up photos onto Google Drive, via email or using this handy little device. That way, if my phone is broken or stolen, it’ll be annoying but I won’t have lost any of my precious photos!
Check if the country you’re visiting has any necessary or suggested vaccinations. Confirm your findings with a doctor or local travel clinic. This website is very useful for seeing which countries have a high or medium risk for malaria, so you can find out whether you need to buy malaria tablets or not. Get a letter from your doctor confirming any vaccinations that you’ve had; some countries require this proof upon entry.
If you take regular medication, pack it in your hand luggage, clearly labelled in its original packaging. Don’t pack it in your checked luggage! For over-the-counter medication, you can remove it from its original cardboard packaging to save space. My mum has a great tip for remembering how often to take medicine – she puts stickers onto packets of over-the-counter medicine (like Ibuprofen and Sudafed), with the daily dosage, what it’s for and whether it should be taken during the day or night.
- If you’re travelling for a long time, ask your doctor to pre-fill your prescriptions in advance.
- If you’re from the EU and are travelling around Europe, make sure your European Health Insurance card is in date.
Don’t assume a visa is not required just because you’re only travelling for a week or two. Check on an official website, such as Gov.UK or Travisa or consult your Embassy. There are so many variables when it comes to visas; where you’re from, where you’re visiting, how long you’re staying for and so on. If a visa is required, submit your application as soon as possible to avoid any last-minute stress.
Check the luggage allowance and overweight baggage fees in advance – avoid nasty surprises at the airport! Many airlines won’t charge you for hand luggage (i.e. a small suitcase/backpack) but will make you pay for checked luggage. I always try and pack as lightly as possible: a 10kg bag is actually more than enough for a week-long holiday if you pack efficiently and don’t bring more than you need. Lugging a heavy bag around with you can become very tedious very quickly!
Make sure that your clothes are suitable for the country you’re visiting. Not just in terms of weather, temperature and the different activities you’ll be doing there, but also in terms of modesty. I found it a bit difficult packing for Morocco, which is one of the most conservative countries I’ve been to, but I felt appropriately dressed through the trip and wore almost everything I took with me.
Have you got the right adapter to charge your electronics? It is quite complicated with different countries using different plugs. I also bring a portable charger which I can use if my batteries are running low.
Buy padlocks for your bags – especially if you are checking a suitcase or travelling overnight on a night bus or train.
Let your bank know when and where you’ll be travelling, so they don’t suspect fraudulent behaviour and block your card while you’re away. Find out if you can withdraw cash for free using your credit or debit card, or if there is a small fee you have to pay per transaction.
Cash remains King in many countries around the world, so I wouldn’t rely too heavily on card payments. If you know you need cash upon arrival (for example, to pay for your transfer from the airport), withdraw cash from an airport cash machine. I usually take a larger sum out (equivalent to 250 euros) so I don’t need to visit an ATM again for a while. I never get cash out at the currency exchange desks at airports – their exchange rates are terrible!
Download an offline version of Google Maps and Maps.me, which you can access without data or WiFi. Additionally, I always have plenty of books on my Amazon Kindle and download some Spotify podcasts and playlists, along with audio books on my Libby app. This way I can be entertained while travelling (or waiting around at airports) without needing WiFi.
Download the apps for the specific airlines you’re using, so you can check-in from your mobile phone and carry an electronic version of your boarding pass. You can take a screenshot of your boarding passes if you’re worried about the app glitching just when you need it.
Ask your mobile phone provider about international plans that you can use. Reduce data roaming costs by using WiFi whenever possible. If you’re going to be staying in the country for a while and want to make local calls (for taxis, restaurant reservations etc), buy a local SIM card on arrival. Before you travel, check that your phone is ‘unlocked’ so a local SIM card can be used.
Decide which neighbourhood you want to stay in by researching the different areas of the city or town you’re visiting. Price is very important for me as a budget traveller, but location is equally important. Before booking a hotel room or Airbnb apartment, check its location on Google Maps. What are the public transport options to/from your accommodation? How close is it to the main tourist attractions? Are there restaurants/cafes/supermarkets within walking distance? Are the reviews generally positive? Do any previous guests mention street noise from nearby clubs or restaurants? Is it a touristy neighbourhood, or a quieter, more residential one?
I use Airbnb the majority of the time, but still research alternatives such as hotel rooms and private hostel rooms on Booking, Expedia and Hostelworld. I’m going to Japan in November and am staying in a mix of Airbnb apartments, hostels and hotels because I took my time to research the best places, in terms of price, location and facilities.
If you want to be very spontaneous, deciding where you go and how long you stay day-by-day, I suggest just booking your accommodation at the beginning and end of your trip, and leaving the rest flexible with lots of wiggle room.
Use websites like Culture Trip and TripAdvisor to gain a good understanding of the city’s main landmarks and attractions. Check out itineraries of local walking tours in the city you’re visiting. By looking at a list of ‘stops’ on the tour route, you can get an idea of how many key sights there are and can plan how many days you want to dedicate to sightseeing.
Create a bucket list and add to it whenever you read or hear about something interesting you can do there. Research excursions and day trips to nearby attractions. When we were in Krakow, we visited Auschwitz and the Salt Mines, which are both well worth a visit (especially the former – such a haunting, humbling experience!).
If you’re travelling to a European country, download some of the free audio guides by Rick Steves. These fantastic audio files can accompany you through a city, providing a free walking tour full of interesting information. Rick Steves has created audio guides for dozens of cities including Paris, London, Berlin, Rome, Lisbon and Madrid.
Food & drink
Translate important phrases that explain any allergies or food intolerance you may have (using Google translate or a dictionary).
Search for restaurant recommendations on blogs, Instagram, Youtube, Facebook groups and travel websites like Lonely Planet and Culture Trip. Better still, read my very detailed blog post about finding great food abroad!
Learn some phrases
Try to learn a few basic phrases in the local language. Knowing how to say ‘Hello, ‘Goodbye’, ‘Please’, ‘Thank you’, ‘Can I have the bill please?’ and ‘How much is this?’ goes a long way. It is polite and considerate, showing that you’ve made the effort to engage with locals in their own language rather than assuming everyone can and will speak English to you. Learning numbers 1-10 (or 1-20) is especially useful when shopping… or haggling!
Duolingo is a great, free language learning app which offers a wide range of languages, including Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Arabic and Italian. I also download an offline version of Google Translate, which has really helped me out in situations when no one around me can speak English.
I hope these tips have been helpful! If you have any more suggestions, please leave them in the comments below.
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow