The Ultimate Travel Pre-departure Checklist

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The Ultimate Travel Pre-departure Checklist

There can be quite a lot to think about in the lead up to your travels. So, here’s my pre-departure checklist of everything you could be considering before you go. I’ve tried to make it as comprehensive as possible but like I’ve said before, travel is an individual endeavour and we all do things differently. The way you prepare and the order in which you do things will be unique to you. So, though I hope this will be a useful guide for any first time traveller, it doesn’t necessarily have to be followed to a T!

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Months in advance!

Figure out the plan

  • Sounds obvious, but the first thing you need to do is work out where you want to go and what you want to do etc...Here's a post about choosing a destination to help!

Get the money together!

  • Focus on earning and saving money.
  • Create a target for how much money you want to have earned by the time you depart.
  • Get a full or part time job and work your arse off.
  • Keep a record of income and expenditure.
  • Make it a competition with yourself to live as frugally as possible. You’ll be surprised how quickly the money comes!
  • Here's a piece on how to budget and another money related post to help!

Start getting used to a more minimal lifestyle!

  • Through packing and budget constraints, travel will force this upon you. Consequently, in order to prevent a massive shock to the system it can be beneficial to learn what it will be like in advance.
  • Stop buying new things, get rid of/sell anything you don’t need/use, go out less, eat in more...adjust to the lifestyle that travel is likely going to dictate and it’ll help you save and earn for your trip in the process.

Ensure your passport is in date (at least six months to expire after return)

  • Obviously, if it isn’t, apply for a renewal! Annoyingly, this costs money. But it’s better, and significantly cheaper, than finding out too late (like at the airport) and having to miss your flight, cancel accommodation and postpone everything...

Sort out your visa

  • Check the visa requirements for your chosen destination and the length of time you’ll be staying. Then follow the guidelines for how to apply.
  • Visa info is commonly found on Government websites and can sometimes be applied for pretty easily online. Other times you may have to visit the country’s embassy, or wait until you’ve landed in country, where your visa will be purchased and issued there (often at the airport).  

Find and purchase flights

  • There are different theories about how to acquire the cheapest flights. I honestly never know who to listen to.
  • My approach is simple: I’ll scout about online on different price comparison sites until I find the cheapest option.
  • Two tips though: it’s undoubtedly cheaper to buy tickets in advance and if you’re flexible with dates it can have a huge effect on getting discounted tickets.
  • My personal favourite is Skyscanner, but there are loads of others out there. Do a bit of digging to find the best price for you.
  • Ensure you know the best time of year to go to your chosen destination and match flights accordingly. Obviously, flights will be cheaper in off-peak times so buying in wet season, for example, will be far less money, but not ideal if you’re looking for regular sunshine!

Medical considerations

  • You can check the NHS website fitfortravel for up to date information on vaccinations.
  • Visit your GP/pharmacist/travel clinic for a second opinion and/or to get the vaccinations done. Double check re malaria risk.
  • Unfortunately, injections and medication such as malaria tablets can cost a pretty penny. Make sure you include them in your budget and weigh up the options versus the likelihood of illness. Obviously, always consult your GP but if money is tight, the thought of splurging £200 on injections and medication isn’t going to be very appealing. Though I wouldn’t recommend it, I know people who take the risk to save the money and often get away with it.
  • However, remember that medical costs can be vast if you do fall ill in another country, so that short term saving on injections may come back to bite you if something does happen while you’re travelling- especially if you don’t have travel insurance. I would always err on the side of caution!
  • Research common ailments in your destination and purchase over the counter medications from a pharmacy. Travellers can usually guarantee getting diarrhoea at some point, so anti diarrhoeal medication and rehydration powders can be helpful. Anti sickness, allergy and motion sickness tablets (if you get travel sick) can also all come in handy.  
  • Get BASIC first aid stuff together if you choose to pack this (plasters, antiseptic wipes, maybe a bandage, allergy tablets, etc...)
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Weeks in advance!

Purchase a travel guide

  • Even if you’re going to multiple countries, you could buy a guide for the first country you’ll visit and try to exchange it for a guide on your next destination before you leave. Hostels are great for this as most will have a bookshelf full of old (and new!) Lonely Planets, where people have done exactly the same thing!
  • Down side: these guides can be heavy. To save space and weight, you could rip out the pages you won’t need.
  • Have a read, familiarise yourself with the culture, history and attractions. Create a rough idea of what you want to see and do.
  • This will also help you plan what to pack.

Look into country specific particulars and prepare where possible

  • Mosquitos? Buy some good quality mozzy repellent.
  • Draw up a budget for your daily, weekly and monthly spending allowance!
  • Check exchange rates and average living costs (food, transport, accommodation).
  • Look into common scams used on tourists in order to avoid them.

Purchase travel insurance

  • Though not everyone does it, I always purchase travel insurance before a trip. I’m normally not a fan of a ‘just in case’ attitude when it comes to preparing for travel. However, I just have to think about the cost of a hospital stay abroad, which can easily run into hundreds of pounds, and I can justify it here!
  • Do a bit of digging and find a decent offer to match your travel plans (how long you’ll be away plus activities you hope to do such as extreme sports). Take some time to go over what’s included. I try to find one with maximum coverage and minimum excess and ensure there’s 24 hour medical emergency support plus repatriation if needed (i.e. if it’s serious, they’ll pay for your journey home). 

Sort out money/currency (Travel card)

  • Inform your bank that you’re travelling abroad, just so they don’t cancel your card when they see transactions being made in another country.
  • Make enquiries with your bank and/or travel agencies into travel cards. This can be a great way of saving money on transactions and withdrawals while you’re travelling.
  • Get a small amount of currency for the start of your trip. I usually give myself the equivalent of £100, but it’s totally up to you. Have a think about initial costs and see what works for you.

Check with your Network provider that your phone is unlocked

  • If you plan on taking you phone and buying a SIM card in the country you’re visiting, take the time to verify that it’s unlocked before you go. If it isn’t, the new SIMs won’t work.
  • You should be able to get your phone unlocked for a small fee at your Network’s local branch.

Logistical household considerations

  • Mail forwarding: need important mail sent somewhere while you’re away, rather than piling up on your doormat? Set up a mail forwarding service.
  • Bills: it might not pertain to everyone, but for some it’ll be important to pay all bills to cover your time away. Pay in advance where this is relevant.
  • Pets: make arrangements for any pets you have!
  • Inform student finance: if you have a student loan that needs repaying, student finance are pretty keen on knowing if you’re planning on living away for some time. If you’re not going to be in the country, there’s a certain form you need to fill in to let them know. At the very least, give them a call to inform them and see what they have to say.
  • Cancel/suspend subscriptions: no point paying that gym or Netflix subscription needlessly while you’re away (unless you’re taking a laptop...)! Make sure you cancel at the right time so that you won’t be charged the next payment.

Double check flight times and purchase first night’s accommodation

  • Having the first night’s accommodation booked is by no means essential, but I find it simplifies the initial process of arriving in a new place. After the journey you’ll probably be knackered, excited, stressed, bewildered...you name it. Knowing where you’re staying can be helpfully reassuring when nearly everything else is unknown.
  • Arranging accommodation weeks in advance might seem extreme and you can definitely to it later, but doing it early can make a big difference in terms of price!
  • Also, consider the time you’ll land/ get to the country. If it’s going to be a long journey that arrives late at night, it might be worth finding somewhere closer to the airport.

Learn some phrases in the local language

  • In foreign countries where English isn’t the spoken language, it’s always helpful to have these up your sleeve! This is a great way of befriending and making a good impression with locals. Even if it’s just to say ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’, the effort will be appreciated and it will make you feel slightly less like a tourist.
  • Starting on this a few weeks in advance will ensure it’s well and truly in your head for when you arrive.
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Days in advance!

Start packing

  • I always leave this to the last minute and inevitably find I’m missing something, which leads to a mad rush to get it all together. Don’t be like me. Ensure you have everything you need a good few days in advance and if you’re missing any essentials, go and get them!
  • Also, if there are any clothes you want to take that need washing, now’s the time.

Trial pack

  • Now you have everything together you can do a trial run, packing everything into your backpack that you plan to take.
  • Weigh the full bag. Your flight will have certain restrictions on how heavy it can be (usually 20-30kgs). However, with just a backpack as hold luggage, it really shouldn’t be anywhere near that limit! If it is, try hard to get the weight down. Remember, you’re going to be lugging this thing around for however many weeks and months! In terms of comfort, the lighter the better (read my tips on how to pack here and check out these packing related posts from other sites too).

Get all travel documentation together

  • Print out your travel insurance certificate.
  • You could take along your record of vaccinations.
  • Create a record of important contact phone numbers for your reference (friends, family, travel insurance claims phone number, the number of the UK embassy in your chosen country etc...)
  • Visa (sometimes it’s a paper copy you can print at home and have to take with you, others you’ll buy in country).
  • For some visas you’ll need proof of financial status, which has to be shown at the airport when you take off or when you arrive. Check if this applies to you and then find a recent bank statement if so. Remember to blot out any personal confidential information such as bank numbers.
  • Passport (having checked months ago that it’s in date!)
  • Flight E-ticket (there doesn’t seem to be a rule here. The ticket will say take it but sometimes you need them at the airport and sometimes you don’t. I take it just in case).
  • Booking confirmation for first night’s accommodation. If you’ve booked your first night, remember to take a note of the booking reference, or simply print out the confirmation. Or, sometimes they’ll accept the e-version, if it was sent via email.
  • Consider taking another form of ID (e.g. your driver’s license). This can come in handy for nights out, to save carrying your passport around and risk losing it.

Copies of important documents

  • Make copies of the most important documents from the above list.
  • Passport copies are most crucial in case your passport gets lost- for extra safety, print 3 copies: one for home to leave with family/friends, one to hide in your backpack and one for your day bag. That might sound excessive and it probably is. But, the absolute nightmare of losing your passport and having to source a temporary one in another country should be avoided where possible! Having these copies simplifies the process.

Info check: government warnings/ weather/ any other issues

  • Do some due diligence. It’s always a good idea to have an idea of what’s going on (socially, politically, environmentally etc) in your destination country, just so you know what you’re walking into. 99 times out of 100 everything will be fine, but it won’t hurt to get a feel for things anyway and if it means avoiding a political or social issue it could be worthwhile.

Put together an itinerary for someone

  • This is somewhat dependent on you knowing your travel plans: where you’re heading, staying and how you’re getting around etc. I don’t like planning things too much as it leaves room for spontaneity. However, a general idea of your plans can be helpful to leave behind with family just in case something happens to you while away.
  • With a proper itinerary, they’ll know whereabouts you’re meant to be and when so they can report to the authorities if something’s amiss.
  • If you don’t want to plan before you go, calling and messaging home every now and again to let people know where you are and where’s next, could be worth doing.
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24 hours in advance!

Check-in Online

  • Double check flight times...just in case.
  • Check in online (depending on the airline this can usually be done at least 24 hours before the flight).

Sort out your hand luggage

  • Charge your phone and other electronics you want to take.
  • Get together entertainment for the journey (books/magazines...)
  • Check you have passport and any other documentation you need.
  • Ensure toiletries are 100ml or less.

Triple check flight times

  • Just in case.
  • For morning flights set an alarm that’ll ensure you get to the airport on time!

Clean out fridge and cupboards!

  • Get rid of perishables. Nothing worse than coming home to months old milk or rotten fruit and veg. If you can’t eat it, donate it or take it...chuck it!

Ensure your property is safe and secure

  • Shut and lock all doors and windows.
  • Turn off all sockets and lights.
  • Leave keys with someone you trust.

Go and have the best time of your life!

...Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!