Pre-departure checklist

Before leaving on any major trip, I always run through a pre-departure checklist that I’ve put together over the nearly 25 years I’ve been traveling. Some of the items on the list are fairly obvious, but I include them anyway on the assumption that nothing is too obvious to be overlooked.

I learned this the hard way in college when I went hiking with a friend on the Appalachian Trial in mid-October. I brought everything I could possibly need for our three-day trip. Bug spray, bear whistle, iodine tablets, trail mix, extra batteries, and so on and so on. Everything, that is, except for long pants, which I had washed the night before and left sitting in the dryer.

Other items in the list below are things you might not have thought about. Either because you’re new to travel or because you’ve never run into a situation where it mattered.

In any event, the list is designed to help you prepare thoroughly for your trip and avoid unpleasant surprises when you’re on the road. I hope you find it as valuable as I do.

If you can think of additional items I should include, let me know in the Comments section below and I’ll update this post.

Money

Buy a money belt for around your waist or a money purse that hangs around your neck inside your shirt. And wear it religiously. Getting your wallet and ID stolen is the quickest and easiest way to bring your trip to a crashing halt, so you should do everything humanly possible to avoid it.

Notify your credit card and debit card companies before you leave. Tell them which countries you will be visiting and on which dates you’ll be in each. If you don’t have a fixed itinerary, you can always call and give them the first destination and then call them again while you’re on the road. There’s nothing more frustrating than having your card declined in a foreign country. Especially when you’re short of cash or are in the middle of booking a hotel, flight, or tour.

If you’re not familiar with the currency of the countries you’re going to, write down and carry with you a small cheatsheet reminding you how much $1, $5, $20, and $50 equals in each country. I forgot to do this before heading to Budapest last year and, in an exhausted state at the airport, accidentally withdrew the equivalent of $500 when I thought I was just grabbing $50 to cover a taxi and my first meal.

Passports and Visas

Long before your departure date, double-check your passport to make sure it isn’t going to expire before or during your trip. Note that some countries like Germany require your passport be valid for three months after the date you are scheduled to return home.

Long before your departure date, check if you need a visa for any of the countries you are planning to visit. Only a few countries allow you to obtain a visa on arrival. And some require you to apply for a visa from your country of residence. As with your passport, this is the sort of thing you want to sort out months ahead of time.

Scan your passport and any visas you’ll need and then email them to yourself. If you lose your passport, you’ll be able to prove who you are. You’ll likely also be able to use them to check in to hotels, especially if you have a police or embassy report to back up your story.

Medicines

If you are bringing any sort of medications with you, make sure the countries you are going to have not banned them. For example, the UAE Ministry of Health has a 12-page list of drugs that are not allowed in the country. Some appear in common over-the-counter medicines such as Exedrin Tension Headache tablets, Tylenol Arthritis Pain caplets, and cough syrups. Others are commonly prescribed medications like clonazepam. So check before you travel so you don’t run into trouble before you even leave the airport.

If you’re bringing permitted medications, make sure you’re not bringing more than the maximum amount allowed. Often, this is equal to a 30-day supply, though this varies by country. If you’re going on a long trip, trying to bring medicine for the whole time might get you into trouble. Again, check beforehand so there are no surprises.

Vaccinations

This is something you should look into as soon as you decide where you’re going. The last thing you want to do is find out the night before your trip that you should have gotten vaccinated for yellow fever or malaria. Because the vaccinations you need depend on where you’re coming from and going to, check with the Centers for Disease Control (in the US) or your country’s national health organization for details on which vaccinations you will need.

Prescriptions

Bring copies of the prescriptions for each of the medicines you’ll be carrying. Some countries, such as Thailand, also require extensive information about the drugs. Who prescribed them? What is the patient’s underlying medical condition? What is the dosage? Where does the patient live? And so on. It’s better to gather this information beforehand rather than try to pull it together from inside an airport security room.

Write out and carry with you in your carry-on bag the contact details of your physician. That way, if anything goes wrong you can get in touch with them without delay. And it’s not just things going wrong at the airport. You might forget to repack your medicines or your toiletries might spill on them and ruin them while in transit.

Smartphone Apps

Download all of the smartphone apps you might need during your trip. You can do this while you’re traveling, of course, but why wait? You might discover bargains or opportunities you didn’t even know about beforehand.

When traveling in non-English speaking countries, the Google Translate app is my lifeline. In fact, it’s probably the most valuable app I’ve got on my phone. I use it multiple times a day to figure out signs and menus. To ask for directions. To communicate with sales people and wait staff. And best of all, it’s free. In countries where the language is difficult to pronounce, Google Translate can play the translation for me.

Hotels.com, Orbitz.com, and Airbnb.com are all excellent and easy-to-use apps that I rely on every trip. They allow me to quickly and efficiently book accommodations, flights, and tours. Which is great because it saves me time, money, and stress. Orbitz.com also occasionally provides registered app users with discounts that are unavailable through the company’s website.

TripAdvisor.com is my go-to when I’m looking for food and accommodation in a new city. On one website, you can see just about every dining and sleeping option available in a city. Also, the massive number of people who write reviews on the site helps to minimize the effects of ratings manipulation. In any event, you’re more likely to pick a winner based on reviews rather than from trusting your gut.

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