01. Check your passport for the expiration date. Many countries require 6 months of validity to grant entry, so the effective “deadline” might be sooner than the expiration date in your passport.
02. Check visa requirements. Do you need to get a visa before you leave? ProjectVisa is a good place to start. But you’ll want to check the official information on that country’s embassy website.
03. Print out all your reservations. Plane ticket, hotel/hostel, etc. Even if you booked online, having hard copies to show to the agent at the desk ensures you’ll have minimal problems. An extra step is to take a highlighter or pen with a different-colored ink to mark the reservation/booking/confirmation numbers.
Especially in hostels, I’ve seen backpackers throw temper tantrums because they called or e-mailed the hostel, but their booking wasn’t recorded in the system so the front desk couldn’t help them.
04. Get travel insurance. You want U.S. $1 million or more in coverage for
- “Emergency evacuation,” where you’ll be flown to the nearest good hospital.
- “Emergency repatriation,” if you have to be flown back to your home country. Those services can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. A few hundred dollars for travel insurance is a bargain.
You’ll want to check if they cover sports activities (like scuba diving) and property loss/damage/theft (like your laptop or camera). They might be included, or you might have to pay extra.
Check with your current insurance provider and see if they offer travel coverage or if they have a partner provider who does. For example, if I’m with Blue Cross Blue Shield I can use GeoBlue travel insurance.
World Nomads is popular with backpackers. I like International SOS because they’re more than insurance, they’re a medical provider that runs the hospitals and hires doctors, you won’t have to worry about waiting for claims to get approved before receiving care. Global Rescue is similar. You can also comparison shop on InsureMyTrip.com.
05. Get necessary immunizations and vaccines. Check the Centers for Disease Control destinations list for where you’re going.
06. Notify your bank and credit card companies that you’ll be traveling. With all the identity theft going on, if they see activity outside of your registered address, they might flag your account and even freeze your account. Every bank is different. With some, a phone call is enough. With others, you’ll have to fill out a simple online form.
07. Create a packing list. Save it online, like on Google Drive, Evernote, etc. After each trip, update the list. Remove things you didn’t need or never used. Add things you wished you had brought. It is a big time-saver compared to having to pack from scratch every new trip.
08. Read up on local scams ahead of time. Here’s a list of common scams. You’ll want to research country and city-specific scams though. Nothing ruins a trip like getting scammed or robbed.
Google “[your destination] scams” and 30 minutes of reading could save you money or even save your life.
09. Plan ahead how you’re going to get from the airport you land in to your accommodation. That’s when you’re at your most vulnerable: tired, not thinking clearly, and desperate to get to your room. Guard against this by doing some research ahead of time. Your hotel/hostel’s website will have directions.
You can also go to the airport’s website and click on “Transportation” or “Ground Transportation.” I do this before every trip. If you’re at an airport and need a taxi, whenever possible try to arrange it through a dispatcher person or buy a prepaid fare from a taxi stand or taxi counter, not from taxi drivers or touts who approach you on foot.
In some countries, it’s safer to keep your bags with you in the backseat. Otherwise, corrupt taxi drivers will hold your luggage “hostage” in their trunk until you pay a ransom to get your luggage back.
10. For exchanging money, the worst rates are at airports, hotels, the usual travel spots. Banks are usually better. I prefer to just get cash from ATMs. Visit expat websites and forums to look up threads where they discuss the best places to exchange money.
11. Keep a spare unlocked GSM quad-band cell phone. I buy local SIM cards and phone credit after arrival, then can make local calls. Very useful when you just arrived and can call the hostel/hotel to give directions to the taxi driver in the native language.
Hostels can be hard to find. The private hostels (not Hostelling International affiliated) are often hidden in apartment buildings. If I know I’m going to meet up with a friend at a destination, then it’s a must for me to get a local number to be able to call and text on the fly.
12. Take a photo of the outside of your hotel/hostel (with the sign visible), and of the door to your room. The outside photo is for the taxi driver. The room door photo is for you when you forget what your room number was. Like when you go out and get drunk your first night in country.
13. Grab multiple business cards for your hotel/hostel. Immediately ask when you’re checking in. If you’re in a non-English speaking country, check to make sure the card also has the address written in the local language. If it doesn’t, ask a hotel employee to write it for you.
This is less necessary with smartphones, but I still get business cards anyway to use with taxi drivers. Same with getting printed maps.
14. Look up your phone carrier’s roaming charges before you go. I’ve heard horror stories from friends who took their phone abroad then came back home to phone bills of $1,000+. When I asked at a Verizon store, the employee told me the safe thing to do was to set the phone to “airplane mode” (which shuts off all data) and selectively turn on “Wi Fi” to get Internet. I still worry, so I just leave my regular phone at home and use a second phone when I’m abroad.
15. Get a mobile hotspot (a.k.a. mi-fi) if you really need good Internet and don’t want to rely on potentially flaky public wi-fi.
16. Get a multi-port USB charger if you bring a lot of electronics. You want the ones with the electric plug built-in (better if it folds into the charger), not with a long cable. More portable. If you use Android or compatible devices, check for “Quick Charge” capability for faster charging. The USB charger and a travel adapter should handle everything.
17. Consider getting a VPN (virtual private network) to protect your Internet usage from hackers when using public wi-fi. A lot of them have monthly plans, so you can just carry it for however long you need it, then cancel when you come home. That One Privacy Guy has a massive VPN Comparison Chart. Click to show “All” entries to see the whole list. I would stay away from free VPNs and go for a paid one.
If you move to a country with restricted Internet, you might need to get a VPN anyway to access sites that would otherwise be blocked.
18. Get an external battery (a.k.a. power bank) if you’ll be away from electric outlets for long periods of time. Great for charging when you’re on a plane or stuck in an airport.
19. Wear slip-on shoes. They can help you get through airport security faster. Also good for destinations in Asia that require you to take off your shoes before entering temples, buildings, etc. For example, having to take off and then lace-up my shoes repeatedly in Laos was annoying. Slip-on shoes would have been so much more convenient.
20. Photocopy your passport, drivers license, bank card, ID etc and keep them somewhere safe in your luggage in case you lose everything. While you’re at it, may as well save a digital copy by emailing it to yourself and saving it in a subfolder.
21. Use Google Maps Offline. Download areas you will be visiting. It’s absolutely amazing and works well. You can do this in your Google Maps app. Open the app. Go to the menu and select offline maps. Google translate app. Can be used offline too. Download appropriate languages.
22. If you go to India. Please don’t avoid anything except the public washrooms and non-bottled water. Even remember not to take any ice in a drink unless you made it yourself from bottled water. Avoid all foods that are raw as well since they need to be washed in the water at some point. I know this isn’t a “hack” but it’ll save you from a lot of time deciding which way to face the toilet since you won’t know where it’s coming out from.
23. A trip to Paris wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the world famous Louvre where the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and the Winged Nike reside. Here are a few secret entrances and a map that outlines entrances that cut down on wait time. During my visit, I went through the Porte des Lions and Passage Richelieu. We breezed right through – there was NO line, a quick security scan and we were in.
24. When booking ticket and hotel room, use private browsing(incognito mode). Travel sites often track your visits to their site, and search history of various other similar sites, so without it, you may save some money.
25. Learn key phrases in whatever language is local, “Hello”, “Thank you”, “Please”, “Where is ___?”, “How do i get to ___”, “Do you speak English/(whatever languages you speak)”, “How much does this cost?”