Preparation can make or break a trip.
Whether you’re planning a long weekend at a local beachside spot or a months-long expedition to a remote part of the world, it’s worth being organized.
Benefits can be financial, or practical, but generally speaking – and, arguably, most importantly – they are emotional.
We travel for the thrill of the experience, the joy and happiness that it provides, and keeping everything running smoothly allows the experience to be everything it possibly can be.
So, let’s get started…
Where should I go?
The world is more accessible now than ever before; we are truly spoilt for choice. Cheap airfares and more route options are fantastic news for travelers and holidaymakers, but it makes the initial process of choosing your destination much tougher. Here are a few key considerations (and useful links) to help you whittle down that list:
The weather plays a pivotal role in how much we enjoy a trip, so make sure you pick the right destination for the time of year you plan on traveling. If you’re planning a December vacation and want sunshine, for example, probably best avoid Europe. Equally, if you’re a log fire and hot chocolate kind of person, the Alps in June isn’t a great idea.
For a better idea about global seasons and weather patterns, this simple table from Scribd.com and this destination search tool by thebesttimetovisit.com offer rudimentary help in finding a part of the world that offers the weather you’re after for the time of year you plan to travel.
Unfortunately, most of us have to plan holidays to a budget. Oh to be one of the few! Transport, accommodation and spending money are the key cost areas to consider. Some destinations are expensive to reach, but offer cheap hotels and affordable food once you’re there. Others might be accessible via budget airlines, but pricey once you’re in-country. Here’s an example: A New Yorker heading to LA for a couple of weeks can buy a cheap internal flight, but suffer expensive outlays once in California.
A flight to Indonesia, by contrast, will cost much more, but a lot less cash will be required to cover hotel and spending money costs. Ultimately, don’t be put off by the cost of long-haul flights. Once you’ve got a few destination ideas in your head, go to skyscanner.net to get an idea of airfares. Weigh the results up with the cost of hotels by checking out a few choices on hotelpricescompare.com, and the cost of food courtesy of the food prices section on numbeo.com.
It might sound trivial, but it’s important to think about diet. This is especially important for people with certain allergies, restrictions or preferences. Strict vegetarians, for examples, might struggle in steak-loving Argentina. To get an idea of the diets of different countries, have a look at foodbycountry.com, a great source of typical dishes (and recipes, if you like what you read).
Before you commit to visiting somewhere, make sure it is safe to do so. For US citizens, this means a quick check of the government’s Alerts and Warnings page. No matter how good the weather, how affordable the destination, and how delicious the diet, no trip is worth putting yourself at risk.
What should I do before I travel?
So you booked your holiday. Hurrah, you’ve done the hardest bit! Alas, you don’t get to down organizational tools once airfares and hotels have been paid for – it’s now time for the nitty-gritty. While a lot less fun, it pays to be prepared…
The important bits:
Appointments – visas and vaccinations.
Unless you’ve booked a last-minute trip to somewhere that involves little pre-trip planning (mom’s for Christmas, for example), have a think about whether there’s anything that you’ll need to book an appointment for. Vaccinations and visas are two primary examples, so check to see if you require either for the country you’re visiting, and book an appointment with a doctor or embassy accordingly. For help with both of these, check out this excellent interactive map by US Passports and International Travel.
Do you have enough space in your passport, and enough time until expiry? A number of countries have regulations on both of these things. For example, US visitors to China must have two blank pages in their passport and six months left until expiry. Check as a matter of urgency; sorting a new one can take time. Again, this interactive map by US Passports and International Travel is a superb resource for finding out how much space and time-to-expiry you require.
Contact your bank.
If you’re heading abroad, it’s worth letting your bank know. This is especially necessary for longer trips or holidays to lesser-visited countries. There’s little more frustrating than having your card blocked by your bank on the assumption that it’s been stolen and fraudulently used. Phone calls home to sort the problem are painful, long and often expensive, so have the chat before you leave…
We all picture the perfect holiday before we depart, but things do sometimes go wrong, and it’s worth being prepared for when they do. Insurance can be very specific to the holiday you’re on (extreme sports for example), so make sure you pick one that works for you and covers you for all eventualities. For more info on this, check out the hugely useful travel insurance section of the Money Advice Service website.
The loss of important documents abroad can not only be irritating, but on occasion dangerous. Photocopy everything before you go and keep the bundle of replicas somewhere safe and away from the originals – a separate bag ideally. Some people like to make a second copy and leave these at home with a relative. There’s certainly no harm in doing so. If you don’t have a photocopier, you can always a take a photo with your phone.
Also it might be a good idea to get some travel apps installed on your phone, just so you are fully prepared for anything.
Check out 5 of the best medical emergency apps.
The ‘a little less important’ bits:
Some people love it, others loathe it. Whatever you’re stance, it’s worth getting it right. Ultimately, it’s as much about having the right luggage as it is filling it correctly, so make sure you check out #2 on this list too…
- Clothing – a head to toe assessment. Starting with hats and ending with footwear, methodically run down the body working out exactly what you might need. Make a list, because you may not already own certain things – a wooly hat for skiing, or top-end walking boots for the Inca Trail, for example.
- Non-clothing. It’s easy to assume packing revolves around only clothes. Depending on the type of holiday you’re going on, the real comfort considerations can come from elsewhere. If you’re headed for the big outdoors in a humid environment, a portable mosquito net could be the difference between the trip of a lifetime and living hell. So get a pot of coffee going and think about all eventualities… Oh, and make sure you pack a deck of cards… And sunscreen! To get you started, check out this useful list from STA Travel.
- First aid kit. It’s always worth having a simple first aid kit. The purpose-built options, such as the Travel First Aid Pouch, are better than putting a box together yourself – just from a space-saving point of view if nothing else. You’ll never be more grateful to have an emergency band aid/dressing/eye patch than when you’re far away from home and suddenly need it.
Further reading: How To Pack Like A Pro
Further reading: How To Pack Light
Further reading: What To Wear In Hot Weather
What’s the best luggage for travel?
A decent bag or suitcase can make the world of difference in terms of comfort during transit and usefulness while abroad. Think about what you need and how the bag will be moved around. If you’re off on a 5* holiday where you’ll be transported to and from the hotel by airport transfer, a simple wheeled suitcase will do the trick. If you’re going a little more off-the-beaten-track, then a duffel bag might be more suitable.
And for those off on an expedition, a heavy-duty waterproof rucksack will likely be your best bet. Whatever bag you choose, if it’s heavy, make sure it’s got wheels or comfortable shoulder straps. And whatever you go for, make sure you have at least one easily accessible exterior pocket for those need-them-now items.
How do I Budget?
You’ve done a bit of budgeting already – you’ve already booked your hotel and flights, which means you’ve got a certain amount left for spending. You’ve already looked at day-to-day stuff like food, but make sure you set aside some for unforeseen costs – taxis, excursions, tipping – and factor that into your daily spending. Remember that the spending doesn’t stop when you leave the hotel; some countries apply exit taxes on departure. To find out which ones, have another look at that fantastic interactive map.
Airports vary enormously, from single buildings beside dusty runways to sprawling multi-runway behemoths like London Heathrow. Just like your holiday itself, it’s worth being prepared for your airport time. And try to enjoy it – on a straightforward return journey abroad, you’ll be spending at least four hours inside the departure halls. Why waste them?
Making the most of transit:
Pack the essentials.
Consider these three things: heat, food and entertainment. A lot of airports are pumped with cooled air and get pretty chilly, even if – and, arguably, especially if – it’s 90 degrees outside, so pack a jumper. In smaller airports food can be a problem. This is more often the case for the return leg, so consider this when it comes to leaving and pack some food. Finally, take a book (or a tablet, etc) to see you through those queues and those moments when the lady on the loudspeaker informs you your flight is delayed by several hours.
Be queue savvy.
Most of us travel with plenty of electronics these days, especially phones, tablets and laptops. When you’re packing your hand luggage, make sure these are all easily accessible as you’ll need to remove them for scanning. Dawdling passengers riffling through their things to find a buried iPad is a bugbear of many, so be considerate and plan ahead.
It’s worth checking what lounges are available in the airports you’ll be using. Many are very affordable (particularly when you consider the cost of restaurant food in departure halls) and offer tranquil spaces and free food and drink too. Specialized airport lounge sections on sites like Travel Supermarket offer an idea of the costs of lounges in airports across the world.
How do I travel safely?
Regarding safety, the two main things to look after are yourself (and your kids if they’re with you, of course) and your bags. Ultimately, if anything happens to either of these, it’s probably going to be a less than enjoyable experience. So stay alert.
Aside from the government travel advice that you’ve hopefully already checked ahead of booking your trip, it’s worth doing a little research on the customs, traditions and laws of wherever you’re visiting. This country-by-country guide by Commisceo Global gives a thorough breakdown on cultural nuances, while our favorite interactive map gives a little more information about the safety and security of destinations.
Safety regarding your luggage is two-fold. Firstly, keep it within sight at all times – a stolen bag will ruin your trip, it’s as simple as that, and in some places in the world bag-snatching is a real problem. Secondly, in the terrorized world we currently live, unattended bags are deemed a security threat by authorities. Lose it and you may well find it’s been destroyed before you get it back.
While this really comes under #1, let’s consider it separately. Yes, you’ve had your vaccinations, but make sure there’s nothing else you need to protect yourself against, malaria for example. For more information on what you might be exposed to where, check out the World Health Organization website. And then there’s the slightly more trivial stuff… Do you get seasick? Travel sick? Make sure you pack the necessary tablets.
If you are thinking about hiking on your travels, read these wilderness survival tips before you go!
How to travel solo.
Travelling alone can be a liberating experience, but it’s not for everyone. If you decide to go it alone, there’s plenty to consider before you do. All the usual advice regarding visas and vaccinations, budgeting and packing still applies, of course. But there are a few additional bits.
Share your plans.
The most important thing to do before setting off is to tell someone, or preferably a few people, of your plans. This doesn’t have to be a minute-by-minute breakdown of your trip, rather a rough idea. If you’re able to give the names of hotels or resorts, then do.
Adaptors and mobile charging packs.
Mobile phones allow us to keep in excellent contact these days, so make sure you have the capacity to keep yours charged, either with a mains adaptor (if required) or a portable battery. This is undoubtedly the best way of reassuring relatives back home that you’re safe. And in a world of Wi-Fi and Whatsapp, it need not cost you a fortune either.
A solo traveler’s best friend is often caution. This doesn’t mean giving up on wild once-in-a-lifetime experiences, rather assessing situations and people for what they really are. Stay sharp, be especially careful at nighttime and, if you like partying, don’t get too drunk.
Further Reading: The Best Places To Travel Alone (Voted by 50 Travel Veterans)
Further Reading: Tips For Solo Female Travel
Family holidays offer some of the finest memories we could ever wish for, but they also have the potential to be enormously stressful (for mum and dad at least!). Naturally, all the same general rules apply – visas, vaccinations, etc – so it’s really in the planning and the actual travelling that these holidays differ from solo travelers and couples.
Naturally the age of your kids will affect the size and type of luggage they can carry. If they are particularly young, you’ll likely be carrying most of their gear in your bag, with them pulling a token carry-on behind them likely full of not-so-essential stuff. So, make sure you’ve got something that’s both large enough and that you can manage – something with wheels will make life a lot easier.
Talk about travel.
If it’s your first time aboard as a family, have a talk with your kids about what to expect – and not just the fun stuff. Airport queues, waiting at departure gates and tedious runway delays are unbearable for most adults, so give your kids the heads-up. Reward good behavior and patience. If you really want them to behave, you could always tell them about the ‘Airplane Police’, famous for reprimanding naughty little travelers…
Get to the airport in plenty of time, don’t head for the gate at the last minute and when the plane lands don’t scramble for yours bags. Frantic parents generally don’t result in calm kids. Be organized and methodical during transit – you can cut loose in the pool!
Make sure you pack plenty of entertainment, especially on awkward-length flights (3-6 hours) where in-flight entertainment isn’t provided. Pack a tablet, coloring-in books, favorite toys… The alternative is a bored child in a confined space at 30,000ft.
Pillows and comfy blankets could be a lifesaver if your kid gets tired and irritable. Airplane seats – especially on shorter flights – are not very comfortable, so unless you board prepared, you could have a grouch on your hands. And there’s not even the Airplane police to back you up!
Further Reading: Tips For Travelling With Kids In Europe
For some travelers the decision to visit a particular destination can have deeper considerations than simply what to pack and when to go. We’ve discussed diet already, but for some this topic is a way of life rather than a factor to mull over. Sport and philanthropy can also have an impact on where people want to (or can) visit.
Veganism and travel.
Veganism can be a challenging concept to explain in many places. Good vegan food can be found anywhere on the planet, but getting the message across to a local café chef could be challenging. The best thing to do if you’re strict about your vegan way of life is to learn a few basic sentences in the local language to use once in-country. Check out Google translate for help with this.
You can also do a little research to find a couple of local dishes (even if they are traditional side plates rather than main meals) that don’t contain animal products and learn how to order those. Again, check out foodbycountry.com.
If you’re sports-mad and don’t want to miss out while you’re away from home, think about what destinations can offer you the necessary fix while also giving you a cultural experience. Baseball fans might enjoy a trip to Cuba, for example, while soccer fans would likely love Madrid or Barcelona in Spain. Check out Charts Bin to find out what sports are most popular where.
It’s a noble and rewarding experience giving up holiday time to do charity work or complete a volunteer placement abroad. These are normally longer-term projects, and quite often involve working through an agency or organization. While this is more expensive than planning something yourself, it offers security and infrastructure and your time will likely be better used as a result. Check out Voluntary Services Overseas for some inspiration.
Hotels and B&Bs.
Deciding whether or not to go for a hotel or a B&B will depend on the type of holiday you’re on and the options available to you. A few weeks hiking in the Pyrenees, for example, will offer a great deal in the way of rustic Bed and Breakfasts, but not so much in terms of luxury apartments or 5* hotels. Similarly, a trip to Hong Kong will more likely throw up better hotel options, but fewer homely B&Bs. If you have the option of both, such as in cities like London and Paris, then there are a few things to consider to help you make a decision.
Time spent on site.
If you’re someone who likes to spend a lot of time relaxing at the place you’re staying, a hotel is probably the choice for you. This is particularly true if you’re after some pool time – not many B&Bs have those! Conversely, if you plan on spending most of your time roaming streets or walking the beach, and simply need somewhere to rest your head and wolf down some food before setting off again each morning, then the simpler and generally cheaper B&B is probably the way to go.
The pamper factor.
For those who like to be treated like royalty, have their rooms cleaned every day, enjoy spa treatment and get the concierge to book them taxis, B&Bs just won’t cut it. But if you prefer a more personal experience, often getting to know the owner themselves – which can be excellent for local recommendations – then B&Bs are for you.
Hotels are often located in the prime spots (overlooking the beach, in the centre of town, etc), which is ideal for travelers who want to be at the epicenter of where they are visiting. If you don’t mind a little travel time, then B&Bs located just off the beach or just out of town can often be charming and much more affordable.
Should I be careful about money-changers?
Money-changing scams are the plague of travelers, especially new arrivals. The best thing you can do is change money before you leave home. If you forget, or would simply rather do it in-country, have an idea of the exchange rate before you arrive. Count your money methodically once it’s handed to you, and remember that while scam artists are out there, most are honest people making a living. Be wary, no judgmental.
I’ve lost my passport while abroad. What should I do?
Contact your embassy. Hopefully you will have the details among your important documents (alongside the photocopy of your passport, etc). The embassy staff will tell you what the best plan of action is for the country you are in. For a list of US embassies across the world, check out usembassy.gov.
I’m travelling alone. Should I avoid taxis?
As mentioned earlier, traveling alone is all about being savvy, and travelling in a taxi is something you should be watchful of. This isn’t to say ‘don’t do it’, simply gauge the people and place you are in, time of day/night and where you are travelling to/from. If you’re staying in a hostel with like-minded people, why not see if any of them fancy joining you?
I have a serious illness. Can this impact where I can visit?
Firstly, it’s worth doing a self-assessment. If you have a history of cardiovascular health problems, it’s probably not a great idea to book that mountain trail trip. Be realistic, look after yourself. People can be barred from entering certain countries if they have certain illnesses and diseases, so check ahead of travel. For more on that, have another look at our favorite interactive map.
I don’t want to go home. What should I do?
Ah, the great travelers’ conundrum! Unless you have the finances and freedom to extend your stay, there’s little choice but to head back to the real world. The exciting bit? Now you get to start planning the next one…
Inspirational travel quotes.
1. ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness’ – Mark Twain
2. ‘Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing’ – Helen Keller
3. ‘Not all those who wander are lost’ – JRR Tolkien
4. ‘One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things’ – Henry Miller
5. ‘Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry’ – Jack Kerouac
Further travel reading.
50+ Overseas Travel Tips – Tricks to bag cheap flights, hotels & more
My 55 Best Travel Tips – The Everywhereist
21 Travel Hack Blogs – Blogs That Will Help You Fly Around The World For Free
Planning A Trip To Japan – Must Read Tips You Need To Know Before Going To Japan