1. Remember the most important items
You probably already did! But just to be sure, don’t go abroad without your passport, bank and credit cards, visas and driving license (if applicable). Your ability to pay for things, move around, and cross borders are paramount, so make sure you store these items in secure places.
It’s also a good idea to bring some emergency cash, just in case. Stash some Euros if travelling in Europe, or preferably US Dollars if travelling anywhere else in the world (as it’s always easy to exchange).
2. Leave stuff you don’t need
Most packing lists on the internet try to be the most ‘complete’ but end up listing all sorts of stuff you might not actually need. Some packing lists on the internet are intended for luxury travel, or for wilderness hiking or camping, and not general travel.
Chances are, you won’t need half the gear you think you’ll need.
Always try to pack as light as you can. Everything becomes so much easier on the road when you’re not travelling like a mule. For an example of how you can pack efficiently, read my ultimate guide to packing light.
3. Get a good backpack
If you’re going on a big trip, now might be the time to invest in a good quality backpack. I usually recommend travelling with a smaller/medium size bag (e.g. around 40 liters) as this gives a lot more flexibility and mobility. Some recommended backpacks.
4. Get your vaccinations and malaria prophylaxis
If you are going to developing countries or to tropical destinations you may need vaccinations or malaria medication. Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required to enter some countries, particularly in Latin America.
5. Get travel insurance
You’ll mainly want this for the medical and liability coverage (but things like theft coverage are nice to have too).
World Nomads is a popular provider of travel insurance specifically for backpackers and round-the-world travellers, offering more flexibility as well as more coverage for adventure activities and sports. You can get a quote with them using the form below. See also: Why it’s wise to get travel insurance.
6. Request any visas you need
A.k.a. “can you actually legally enter the country you’re going to?”.
Often it’s possible to get a visa-on-arrival, but there are many exceptions. It depends on the country you’re going, and where you’re from.
The easiest place to check this is VisaHQ.com. You can get a visa yourself at the appropriate embassy, or you can get VisaHQ to sort this all out for you. If you intend to work abroad at all, this usually requires a different visa (even for temporary work), so make sure you’ve got the right one.
7. Get the right plug adaptor(s)
Different countries use different types of electrical sockets. I like to always pack a universal all-in-one plug adaptor, ensuring you can charge your electronics basically anywhere.
8. Set up a back-up service
I know this is boring to do, but trust me, this is super important!
I’m seriously sick of hearing any more sob stories from travellers who lost all their photos due to theft or accident. A camera can be replaced but your photos can’t, so set up a cloud storage service before you go, or figure out some other way to keep frequent backups of your digital files on the road! Check out Dropbox, Microsoft’s One Drive, Google Drive or iCloud Drive, to name a few.
9. Secure your valuables
Some people swear by a money pouch, but there are many other methods. Read this post: 6 ways to keep your belongings secure.
10. Download travel apps for your phone
If you bring a smartphone, it’s a good idea to load up these useful apps.
11. Research the local customs and language
This can save you a bit of embarrassment and make your trip go a lot smoother. Check if there’s any cultural quirks to be aware of in your destination, and learn some useful phrases in the local language. It’s easier to learn these now than during your travels.
12. Make a record of emergency details
Keep your emergency details somewhere; things like emergency contacts at home, travel insurance details and your bank’s 24-hour helpline number in case of a stolen card. Write this down or e-mail the details to yourself.
Take a good photo or scan of your passport and e-mail it to yourself or store it on a cloud drive.
13. Get yourself a travel diary
Keeping a journal is awesome and something you’ll probably thank yourself for later. Even if you think it’s lame, do it anyway. The longer your trip the more details you are bound to forget.
I have a friend who I travelled with for half a year and he just keeps telling me how much he regrets not having taken at least some basic notes.
14. Prepare a travel soundtrack
Have something good to listen to on those long bus or train journeys! You’ll create some powerful associations with your travel music that you will remember forever. Put together a few good playlists before you leave.
15. Budget properly
I have met a few backpackers who ended up stuck in a place with no money, waiting for family to buy their return ticket or stuck working in a bar to make enough money to head onwards. Oops!
It’s easy to underestimate expenses, so give yourself some margin for error. You don’t need to work out some giant Excel spreadsheet (it’s impossible to budget things out in extreme detail anyway), but it’s a good idea to have some rough estimates of travel cost per day for each country. You can make use of a travel expenses app or just good old pen-and-paper to keep track during your journey.
For step-by-step advice on all of the above (and much more), be sure to get my in-depth trip preparation guide. You’ll learn how to plan properly, manage any unexpected situations, and how to deal with any personal or cultural challenges you might face when travelling.
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