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You cannot control what happens in life, but you can control how you prepare yourself for unforeseen circumstances. When you travel, there are steps you can take to prevent yourself from falling into unpleasant situations. And if you still find yourself in unpleasant situations, being prepared can make the difference between a completely ruined trip and a little hiccup. If you travel a lot, you’ve probably learnt a lot of tricks through trial and error. But if you’re new to travelling, I’m here to help you. I start this article with important information for all travellers, then I go into details specific for those who travel full time.
Here are my most important tips:
Look into an international credit card
I list this step first because it takes a while to research, apply, get approved, and obtain your credit card. If you will be spending a lot of money in one destination, see if you can find a credit card in that local currency. For example, most Canadian banks offer credit cards in USD for those to travel frequently or live in the US part-time. This saves them from getting charged an exchange rate every time they make a purchase. A credit card will also have insurance against theft, so you don’t have to worry about losing money if your wallet gets stolen.
There are additional benefits to using a credit card over a debit card while abroad. If you forget to let your bank know that you’ll be travelling and they see foreign transactions, you might have your account locked. You don’t want to find yourself at a restaurant with no way of paying for that meal you just ate. You’re unlikely to encounter this issue with a travel credit card. And in addition, a travel credit card will also offer better exchange rates that a debit card.
Check for travel warnings/ advisories
Before you decide on going to any destination, take a look at your government’s website. Just because it’s safe for the citizens of some countries to go to a particular destination, doesn’t mean it’s safe for you. If your country of citizenship is in conflict with another one, your government will advise you on whether it’s safe to travel there or not. If it’s not, don’t risk it! You may get arrested simply because the two governments don’t get along.
On that note, I’d also advise you to take a look at the news and familiarize yourself with that is happening in that country as well as neighbouring countries. Two countries that have been in disagreement for a while may stir up a war overnight. And as we’ve seen in 2020, a small, local outbreak can lead to a global pandemic. Stay in the know so you do not find yourself stuck in an undesirable situation.
Renew your passport
In most cases, when you travel somewhere you passport has to be valid for at least another 6 months from your day of entry into a foreign country. If the expiration date is approaching, you should renew your passport as soon as possible. I’d recommend you do it at least 3 months in advance. One time I renewed my passport it only took one week, and another time it took more that 3 months.
If you need a visa to enter the country you’re planning on visiting, give yourself extra time. I would suggest 5 to 3 months. Sometimes unforeseen issues arise, you may make a small mistake on your application, or your documents could get lost in a pile of other documents. You don’t want to risk missing your trip because your visa didn’t arrive on time.
If you need to renew your passport and obtain a visa, give yourself at least 6 months. Renew your passport first, then apply for the visa. Also prepare yourself financially, as this process will cost you a few hundred dollars (in some cases even more).
Before going on a trip, you should budget at least twice. Once before you decide where to go, and a second time shortly before the trip.
The first budget should include major costs such as visas, entry fess, flights, and accommodation. This budget will give you a general estimate of how much money you’ll need to save up, and how long it will take you to save. Having this general budget and your dream trip in mind will actually motivate you to spend less on non-essentials. If you’d like to read more about saving for travel, take a look at this article about saving money for travel.
The second budget is something you plan shortly before the trip. Based on how much money you have or are comfortable spending, you allocate a budget to transportation, dining, shopping, experiences, and more. This will allow you to prioritize your experiences, and determine which restaurants you can afford to eat at.
Right before your trip, you should research how much it will cost you to travel from the airport/ train station to your accommodation. When you arrive at your destination after travelling for many hours and you’re tired, you’re unable to think clearly, which puts you at risk of getting taken advantage of. Even if you plan on taking public transit, you should research how much taxis cost and have enough money for a taxi ride. And even if you plan on taking a taxi, you should research how much a public transit ticket costs, where to buy it from, and have exact change to purchase one. You never know when unexpected situations arise, and it’s best you budget for them.
Get your meds and vaccines
Some countries require you get specific vaccines before you visit them. Check with your government and the government of that country for specific requirements and recommendations.
If you require prescription medications, make sure to take more than enough medications with you. You never know when you may get delayed (remember the volcanic eruption in Iceland a few years ago?). You should also have your prescription with you because certain medications used in some countries are banned in other countries. Having a prescription can save from being accused of smuggling.
I would also recommend you bring some painkillers, a few bandages, and maybe an ointment just in case. Navigating the healthcare systems in foreign countries can be very confusing. Even when it comes to purchasing non-prescription items. You may not where to go to buy them, the specific item you need might not be available, or you may be in too much pain to be able to think properly or navigate around the city.
Scan important documents
You don’t necessarily need to have a scanner. Simply take pictures with your phone camera, or use a scanning app. Make sure to include all your travel documents: passport (the picture page), driver’s licence, plane/ train tickets, visas, hotel reservations, and important receipts. Depending on the country you plan to visit, you may also include immunization records. If you take medications, also have copies of your prescriptions.
Having copies of important documents will come in handy in the event that you misplace your bag or your wallet gets stolen. Having copies of your IDs on your phone will help you prove your identity to the police, and will be very useful should you need an emergency passport.
If you are an EU citizen, you are very lucky! The EU laws are quite comprehensive when it comes to protecting you. However, if you are not an EU citizen, the airline might cancel your flight WITHOUT any compensation, forcing you to either cancel you trip last minute, or to purchase a new flight ticket. If you don’t want this happening to you, look into getting travel insurance. You may still have to purchase a last-minute flight, but at least you will get your money back for the canceled one. As of now, December 2020, Air Canada still hasn’t issued refunds to those who had their flights cancelled during the spring as a result of the pandemic.
Another insurance you should purchase is health insurance. If you are an EU citizen, travelling to another EU country, you may apply for a European Health Insurance Card. In case you need any emergency treatment, you will pay what the locals pay. However, if you travel with the intention of getting medical treatment, you’re not covered. In addition, what might be free in your country might not be free where you travel. Regardless of your citizenship status, you should consider purchasing an international health insurance. A policy for a short trip will likely cost you less than $100 and save you thousands if anything goes wrong.
Get some local currency
I’d recommend you look into getting some local currency two weeks before your trip. Sometimes exchange centres and banks don’t have the currency you need available and will have to order some. This could take a few days to one week.
Exchange rates at airports or train stations are very poor. In addition, you might get to your destination very late and find exchange centres closed. Have some local currency with you even if you don’t like to carry cash. Remember that in some places taxis only take cash. I’d recommend you have at least enough for a taxi ride into town, and for purchasing something to eat. Once you’re in town, you can exchange more at a bank, or purchase a local pre-paid card.
A few days before your trip, research how you will get from the airport to your accommodation. Look at different alternatives, and write them down. After a day (or more) of travelling you will be too exhausted to think straight, which puts you at risk of getting lost in a foreign city or taken advantage off by cabbies.
You should also research what kind of adapters or transforms you will need to charge your devices. I’d also suggest you research places close to your accommodation where you can grab a meal, since you might be hungry by the time you get there. And if you expect to arrive late in the evening/ night or on a weekend you should also research the opening hours. Since the next day you might still be tired, also have a plan for where you’ll get breakfast. Don’t underestimate how cranky you can get when you’re tired and hungry in a foreign place!
Now that you started making a few plans, download offline maps on your phone. Nothing screams tourist more than a person with baggage starring at a paper map. On the other hand, if you’re looking at your phone, you’re just another busy person. Sometimes thieves will deliberately target tourists over locals because tourists are there for a limited time and it’s unlikely the police will be able to solve their case.
Offline maps will take a bit of space on your phone, but you can delete them after the trip. Otherwise you can use them anytime, anywhere without data. You just need to make sure that your phone has battery.
Make essentials lists
I like to make packing lists a week in advance to make sure I pack everything. It’s important to start making the list a few days before because the more you think about your trip, the more you remember to include essential things. I didn’t do this when I moved to Denmark because I was working a lot the last few days before leaving. As a result I forgot to pack gloves, which are very essential during winter in a Scandinavian country.
Now I make one list for items I can pack in advance, and one list for items I need to pack last minute. This includes my toothbrush, toiletries, contact lens kit, glasses, etc.
I also make lists for things I need to check last minute such as:
- making sure the gas is off
- making sure all lights have been turned off
- double checking door to make sure it is locked
Depending on where you’re travelling to, you may also make a list of essential key phrases in the local language.
I also like to write down (both on paper and in my phone) the address to the hotel I’ll be staying. It comes in handy when asking for directions or telling the taxi driver where to take me.
I like to pack as much as possible at least one day in advance. Even if I travel the next day during the evening and I have half a day for packing, I still like to get it done the day before. I find that it helps me sleep better at night and my travel day goes smoother.
When it comes to packing tips, I’d suggest always having a carryon bag with you. I’ve had a bag delayed once, and it took one WHOLE week for it to arrive to me, even though it left on the next flight. When it comes to the carryon, I would recommend a bag over a suitcase for a couple of reasons. First of all you may not be allowed to board the plane with the suitcase. One time the airline changed the plane last minute and they wouldn’t let me board with my carryon suitcase, but those with bags (even bag bigger than my little suitcase!) were allowed to board with them. Secondly, when you arrive at your destination it is a lot easier to move around with a bag than a suitcase (no matter how small). And thirdly, a person with a bag could be a local going to the gym, but a person with a suitcase always get labeled as a tourist.
Having said that, I recommend you have the following in your carryon:
- all documents and IDs
- toothbrush and important toiletries
- electronic devices and chargers
- underwear and socks
- an oversized shirt for sleeping in
FULL TIME TRAVELLERS
Get rid of possessions
If you plan on travelling for a short while and then returning home, you may put things like furniture in storage. But is it worth it? If you’re gone for even 3 months, the costs of placing your items into storage might cost more that those items are worth. And what if you enjoy travelling and decide to delay your return home?
If you’re travelling for at least 3 months or longer, I suggest you sell everything. Especially furniture. You should start as early as possible to negotiate as much money as you can. You can put the money in a high interest savings account and use it to buy new stuff when you return.
Let your bank know
Sometimes banks will block your account if you use your card abroad without informing them. They do it to prevent theft, but it creates a massive headache for you. Although their security systems are improving and many banks no longer require you inform them, it’s best to do it anyway (just in case).
You may also have to change your address on file. You might have to provide the bank the address of a family member or a PO box. A requirement to have a bank account is that you have an address in the country where that bank operates. Make sure to contact the bank about this issue so you don’t find your account closed.
I would recommend you cancel everything you can. You may think you’ll still want to watch Netflix from time to time while travelling, but the reality is you might not have the time to do so. Can you really justify paying a full subscription if you only watch one show/ movie per month? Besides, you can find lots of things to watch for free on Youtube. But my favourite form of entertainment when I’m travelling is to go outside and observe the locals.
Some subscriptions to consider cancelling:
- music (I always listen to Spotify with ads)
- Amazon prime
- random apps
- meal delivery services
Also cancel you phone plan
Roaming is expensive. My advice to you is to purchase pre-paid sim cards wherever you go. They are inexpensive and available almost everywhere.
Pro tip: you can even use them when you’re at home. In my previous article I wrote about my $50+ monthly savings after switching from a monthly plan to a pre-paid card.
Obtain an international driver’s licence
When you travel full time, you never know in what countries and situations you will find yourself in. Even if you don’t plan to rent a car, there may be unforeseen events such as a workers’ strike or a serious storm. You may find yourself being stuck somewhere with driving being the only option to get out.
If you come from the west, many countries around the world will recognize your license, but not all. To be safe, apply for an international driver’s licence. And if you don’t drive, take the exam and obtain both licenses before you leave. It’s better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them.
- get an international credit card
- check for travel warnings/ advisories
- renew your passport
- obtain visas
- get your meds and vaccines
- scan important documents
- purchase insurance
- get some local currency
- make essentials lists
Full Time Travellers
- get rid of possessions
- let your bank know
- cancel subscriptions
- cancel you phone plan
- obtain an international driver’s licence
These have been my best tips to implement before travelling. Are you an experienced traveller? Do you have any other tips? Let me know in the comments bellow.