Pre-Travel Checklist: 16 Things You Shouldn’t Forget

January 21, 2016

Travel guides and backpacking checklist

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 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. Set up a VPN

A VPN service will protect your internet connection while you’re abroad (and where you’re often using lots of unprotected public WiFi signals). It will also let you unblock sites that are unavailable in certain countries (like Hulu outside of the US) or make websites think you’re still in your own country.

This won’t be equally important for everyone — but if you’re going to travel for a long while, or if it’s important for you to be online, having a VPN makes everything 10 times easier and more secure.

Read This: Why You Need a VPN & How to Set it Up

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.

Read This: How To Keep A Travel Journal (Even If You’re Not A Writer)

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.

16. 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.

Note: this post contains some affiliate links. I get a small percentage fee of purchases made through them (at no extra cost to you), which helps keep my blog free. More info on this here.


  1. Laidanian Reply November 2, 2018 at 5:11 pm

    Leave the stuff you don’t need is so true, you see some people with 100 pound packs on their back…. they probably end up regretting it

  2. Iain b Reply November 19, 2017 at 10:18 am

    Hi Marek. I’m leaving it a little late before my trip, but which visas would you recommend getting before traveling to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia?. I’m planning on getting a Thai visa asap as I’ll need the multi entry version because I’ll start and end my trip there. Do you think the rest are ok to do on the border?

    Thanks, Iain

  3. Patrick Reply March 6, 2017 at 11:08 am

    What an informative article. Easy to read too and very helpful to first-time backpackers. Thanks!

  4. Dan Elson Reply May 3, 2016 at 6:23 pm

    Really useful tips here. This is EXACTLY what I was trying to find when prepping for my 6 months backpacking trip in 2015!

    Cos i couldn’t find it before I wrote a smiliar post on “What is in my backpack”. Maybe your readers might be more helpful tips on the items that would be useful for backpackers too!


  5. Jon Goodson Reply April 18, 2016 at 9:30 pm

    Hi Marek, I’m currently starting my travel plans hopefully to set off in January, starting Australia new Zealand and then onto Indonesia and up through Asia. I was just wondering what your view on the rabies vaccination and malaria tablets is? I know for certain islands in Indonesia such as bali it isn’t necessary to take them but it is when going across the water to lombok. And the same when travelling up the coast of Vietnam.
    What would your suggestions be for taking them and are they good to purchase while on the road?

    • Marek Reply April 19, 2016 at 9:45 am

      Hey Jon. Many people do travel around SE asia without taking anti-malarials. For much of Southeast Asia the risk is low, and I personally wouldn’t worry too much about malaria prophylaxis unless venturing far off the beaten track (e.g. Borneo, New Guinea, or remote Laos). Places like coastal Vietnam or Lombok have a low malaria risk. It’s something to speak to your health advisor about though.

      Rabies vaccination could be a good idea if you plan to go caving or trekking in remote areas. It can buy you some valuable time to get to a hospital in the very unlikely event. If you happen to be from the US, you probably shouldn’t bother with a rabies vaccination as it’s ridiculously expensive there (I’ve heard of prices upwards of $750 – though I may be wrong on this). My UK health advisor has never advised me to get a rabies shot based on any of my travel plans.

  6. john Reply April 4, 2016 at 8:38 pm

    Take photos of all your credit cards passport numbers etc. e-mail to self. Create folder with trip name. You can also e-mail links to useful websites this way.

  7. Brandon Reply March 11, 2016 at 9:33 pm

    Great idea with the emergency details! I keep a memo in the Evernote App which has all my bank phone numbers, emergency contacts, etc. Good thing with Evernote is you can access your notes while offline.

  8. Carmen Everywhere Reply February 24, 2016 at 6:55 am

    It is great to learn from the post. Great advise to make travelers prepared for the journey. You learn these things on your own through trial and error. But it is better way to learn like this to avoid mistakes.

  9. Rachel Reply February 16, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    I like to be “Ms Prepared” when travelling. This is a great list to help me even more. Love the tips on apps!

  10. Anne Betts Reply January 4, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    Hello Marek. Top notch. I wanted to try my hand at a “how to” post encouraging travellers to create their own customized pre-travel checklists. I went looking for examples readers could use for inspiration and liked yours so much I provided a link in my post. So thank you.

  11. Grant Reply December 12, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    All of these essentials for long term backpacking really start to add up in weight. I try to be as minimalistic as possible. It just seems like no matter what I do my pack keeps getting heavier. What is the ideal pack weight for traveling for an indefinite amount of time without breaking your back while still having everything that you will need?

    • Marek Reply December 13, 2015 at 10:56 am

      Good question, as the ideal packing weight will probably be different for everyone. For me, somewhere around 10kg is my max for a number of reasons (don’t want to carry more than that on my back, fits within carry-on allowances, etc.). There’s a bit more about packing light here:

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