Your Ultimate Long-Term Travel Checklist
The impulse to travel is one of the hopeful symptoms of life. - Agnes Repplier
Planning travel is one of my favourite activities. Second only to being on the road itself. I'm not the most travelled person you'll ever get advice from, but I do love to talk about what I know.
I love researching, I love making lists, and I love to cull my possessions to fit in one bag for months on end. As I begin the countdown for my next long-haul trip I was asked to help a friend plan their first open-ended adventure. While at it, I thought I'd expand on the steps I take to prepare for travel. Your planning should begin three months prior to your departure, to get the best prices on long-haul flights and also to leave plenty of time for paperwork and vaccine schedules. Below is a general to-do list to prep to leave the country.
- Passport -
Apply three months before your trip in case of mistakes on your initial application. Your passport needs to be valid for the length of your travel + an additional six months beyond your expected itinerary. All countries definitely will confirm your passport is valid for the six months and you without a doubt will be denied entry if you don't meet this minimum requirement. This rule is for your own protection so if something goes wrong and you're delayed in the country (e.g. you end up in a full-body cast), you can leave once you recover!
- Travel credit card -
You either need to notify your bank that you're leaving the country and give your permission for strange foreign charges to appear on your bill to avoid your cards getting cancelled, or you need to get a travel-specific credit card. As a Commbank member I previously just found it easier to use their travel cards because of the link between my bank accounts. A better option for you may be opening a Citibank Everyday account as they do not charge any additional withdrawal or conversion fees on international ATM's, making it a more affordable option than Commonwealth Bank.
- Travel insurance -
Please save me the coronary and do not leave the country without insurance. Unprepared travellers risking their lives in this way causes me so much anxiety on their behalf. If you miss your flight, have your bag stolen or even if you get hit by a car, you'll regret not having essential travel coverage. When the country of Bangladesh simultaneously shut down forcing me to cancel my visit at the same time that I was struck down with altitude sickness in Nepal, travel insurance reimbursed me 50% of my hastily rebooked flights. Long-distance flights are expensive so you want to be covered for the worst-case scenario, which can be up to $1m in medical and travel fees for very serious accidents.
- Visa's -
While some countries may have on-the-spot application processes or Visa exemptions, it's typical to wait 1-2 weeks for a Visa so applying 3-4 weeks in advance is safest. You can research the costs, Visa lengths and documentation requirements of each individual country with a simple Google search which will often link you straight to the correct page for Aus citizens.
- Register your known travel plans at smartraveller.gov.au, ensuring if there's a national disaster that our government has the best estimate of your location and how to contact you to A) Confirm you're alive, and B) Airlift you the hell outta there! You can also use this website to check for safety recommendations of the countries you're visiting, which is useful if you're heading somewhere a little politically unstable.
- Ensure you have asked your Doctor about any prescriptions you rely on, as consumer safety laws may limit the amount of a script you can fill at a time or countries may take issue with you carrying controlled substances. You may need to shorten your travel plans or carry a Doctor's note attached to your medication to overcome these issues.
- Speak to a travel doctor about any required immunisations for the region you're visiting, my full immunisations cost up to $800 but some of them are lifesaving (people can and do get bitten by monkeys!). Rabies requires three shots a week apart, so take care of this early.
- Pack an unlocked smartphone to ensure you can contact help in every country, and a great idea is programming your personal contacts easily into your phone in case you're in an accident. When I land in a country, I like to research and save their emergency phone numbers as well. I touch on using my smartphone more in my post on safety for a solo female traveller.
Budgeting & Research:
- Monetary conversion -
Checking the currency of your destination country should be an early priority to help you budget and better understand the costs of activities when planning. Keep an eye on this, because if the rate dips you may want to pre-emptively convert some cash before you arrive. Note: Using ATMs and copping the withdrawal fee is always cheaper than using the official currency conversion desks in airport and tourist regions. Those conversion desks are the biggest rip-off you'll face (although I'm guilty of still using them constantly).
- Weather -
The Internet is a wonderful place that allows you to check the average temperatures and rainfall of your location for the week/s you'll be there. Take advantage, pack wisely! I also add the locations I'm visiting in my default Apple weather app so I can check the average temperatures in the lead-up.
- Local events -
Be sure to check for any local events that may derail your plans. Exhibit A: My first visit to India 2013 coincided with the Allahabad Kumbh Mela which only occurs once every 12 years. This slightly altered my travel plans as we had to avoid the Allahabad train station as 120 million people descended upon that location over the time I was there. A little research into large religious events could be very, very helpful for you. (This kind of info can be found in a Lonely Planet guide.)
- Local religion and customs -
Nobody wants to be the gross, obnoxious tourist. There are certain social norms we expect people to obey when visiting Australia, and it goes the other way when you're a visitor in their country too. Many Asian countries require you cover your knees, chest and shoulders. Buddhist temples require you walk counter-clockwise. Some cultures forbid touching others on the head or aiming your feet at holy sites. Others have rules on how men and women can interact. There are many small variations in social customs around the world, and taking a few minutes to brief yourself on these can save yourself the humiliation of mistakenly offending someone.
- Basic phrases -
There are so many language apps available today we no longer need to lug phrasebooks around. This research is easy to do on the plane or bus into a new country. A few words like "hello", "please" and "thank you" can go a long way when it comes to being treated respectfully by the people you interact with.
- Travel blogs -
Generally researching other travel blogs on your destination is the easiest way to learn about what to do and what not to do when there. As a vegan and a woman, I especially spend time looking up others accounts in these countries to see the kinds of issues I may run into finding vegan food or travelling alone.
- TripAdvisor -
One of my favourite things to do is go through TripAdvisor's recommended restaurants and activities and *star* anything I'm interested in for future reference. Then while I'm on the road, I can arrive at a new destination and flick back to the app which has already bookmarked the vegetarian restaurants and free destinations I'd previously decided I'd like to visit. Having this free app on my phone to browse during my downtime takes so much time and effort out of travel! No heavy guidebooks required.
Packing Essentials, regardless of destination:
- A sturdy, high-quality bag. This is where you invest! All airlines list their weight and size restrictions online.
- Comfortable walking shoes.
- An extra set of clothes in your carry-on in case your luggage is lost. On inter-continental flights it could take a long time to reclaim lost luggage.
- A universal adapter or the correct adapter for your destination.
- Bag locks.
- Sandwich bags for your liquids when going through security.
- Basic medicines e.g. electrolytes, painkillers, anti-diarrhoea meds.
- Enough refills of your prescription medications and feminine products (don't assume you'll find your preferred method available).
- Copies of all important documents such as your flight itinerary, travel insurance, and passport.
- Spare cash in your main bag, in case your day bag is stolen.
Before You Go:
- Cancel your subscriptions and pay your bills.
- Double check your insurance covers the value of your belongings.
- Send a copy of your itinerary and important documents to 1-2 friends in case of emergency or you simply lose your own copies. If you lost absolutely all of your possessions, you'd appreciate your mother having a photocopy of your photo ID.
- Book your first hotel so you have somewhere safe to land and recuperate after the gruelling flight.
- If you need, ask them to redirect or hold your mail at auspost.com.au.
- Clean out your fridge.
Truthfully, travel can be hard work. And sometimes things can genuinely go wrong. But a little prep and smart thinking can prepare you for anything from ATM scams, to a snow storm, to a potentially fatal illness (yes all three happened to me). Your readiness for these events can make or break your trip, so you can bounce back and carry on with the time of your life.
Start early, keep a check-list, and don't skimp on the research!