HOW I PREPARE FOR AN INTERNATIONAL TRIP
In less than a week I will be boarding a plane (well actually 3 planes) that will take me from Cape Town, South Africa all the way to Grand Rapids, Michigan USA in the course of 34 hours.
After 21 years of doing intense across-the-world treks like this one, I have international travel prep down to a routine. But for those with less travel experience, getting ready for big trips that cross borders or take multiple days to complete can be intimidating. So to ease stress prior to your next jet-setting adventure, here’s step-by-step how I prepare for an international trip.
ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS AT THE RIGHT TIMES
Travelling internationally requires a lot of planning, and I’m not just talking about getting your plane tickets and booking accommodations. I can’t tell you how to prepare for each and every destination, but I can tell you the types of things you should be thinking about no matter where you are headed. Below is a list of questions you should ask yourself at certain points prior to your departure in order to be prepared in advance and enjoy smooth, stress-free travel as your reward.
3 Months Before
Does my destination require a visa? If so, do I need to apply in advance OR can I get it upon arrival?
Do I need any vaccines to legally enter my destination?
1 Month Before
How will I get around during my trip? Should I book any train or bus tickets in advance? Are their taxis? Is there Uber? Should I rent a car?
Will my phone work at my destination?
Do I have any dietary restrictions that I need to request special meals for on my flights?
2 Weeks Before
How will I get from the airport to where I’m staying? Do I need to book a shuttle? Are there taxis?
Will there be ATMs readily available at my destination? If not, how much money should I withdrawal to exchange on arrival?
Will I be able to use my credit card at my destination?
1 Week Before
Is everything still in order with my flights?
Do I have proof of entry requirements (i.e Visas, vaccines) if needed?
If someone is picking me up at the airport when I arrive, do I have a way to contact them?
How do I ask for food that complies with my dietary restriction in the language of my destination?
GATHER THE ABSOLUTE ESSENTIALS
Before I begin packing up, I like to make a pile of the things that I absolutely need to travel, meaning that without these things I may not make it to my destination. This way, the essentials are all accounted for and I can be very deliberate with where I pack each item. Nothing gets left behind.
What are the essentials?
A printed version of any necessary visa paperwork OR A printed page from my destination’s government site that confirms I do not need a visa.
A printed version of any necessary proof of vaccines.
A printed copy of proof of my accommodations.
Emergency Cash (*It’s never a bad idea to travel with some of your own currency in case of emergencies.)
I always travel with the above items. It may seem excessive but I swear by it. I have only needed some of the above things a select few number of times. But each time I remember feeling so incredibly relieved I could pull out a hard copy of whatever the immigration official was asking for, especially when language barriers are involved.
PACK WITH STRATEGY
Through all my years of travelling if there is one thing I can tell you about packing, it’s that the key is to pack light. In fact, rarely do I ever even check a bag. Click here to read more about why I don’t check bags and how I don’t check bags, even for a 3 month trip to Africa.
Here’s my packing strategy:
I make a packing list of everything I want to bring on my trip. I separate the list into items I will put in my backpack and items I will put in my roller bag.
I pull out my empty suitcase and backpack.
I pull out everything on my packing list and examine whether I think it will all fit into my bags (the answer is almost always probably not).
I examine each item that I want to pack and separate them into “Need it,” “Want it,” and “Possibly could Survive Without it” piles.
I pack the most bulky items in the “Need it” and “Want it” piles.
I pack the rest of the items in the “Need it” and Want it” piles.
If I have any more space (I usually do not), I add some items from the “Possibly could Survive Without it” pile. If I have run out of space, I remove one bulky “Want it” item or two small “Want it” items.
Finally, I pack the gathered “Essentials” that I collected in Step Two. I pack them last, always in my backpack, so I can make their placement deliberate and make them easy to access without moving other things out of the way.
CONFIRM, CONFIRM, CONFIRM
When your trip is just a few days away, it’s not a bad idea to keep checking in to make sure everything looks correct with your flights. I even keep an eye on the weather to know whether or not I should expect delays due to rain or snow.
Before I fly anywhere, I make an extra effort to drink a ton of water the day before I leave. I don’t like guzzling the day of travel because I don’t want to be going to airport or airplane bathrooms every hour. But by properly hydrating a day prior you will retain some of that hydration, at least enough to make a difference during the next days you will spend on dry aircrafts.
The nice part about (over) preparing for an international trip is that once it’s actually time to leave, you can let yourself be excited. You can walk into the airport confident and leave the stress behind when you encounter something unexpected because you did everything you could to prepare. Visiting another country can definitely be complicated, so when it’s time for you to go, wouldn’t you rather have sorted out the complications ahead of time?
For the experienced travellers reading this, what do you do differently to prepare? What steps have I missed?