I have a confession to make that most people wouldn’t expect from someone who’s worked in a creative profession for 20+ years: I’m a planner. A serious planner – lots of lists, lots of to-do’s, lots of thinking ahead, whether it’s about my most efficient driving route on a day of errand-running, or a packing list for a 21-day trip to Colombia. And what I’ve learned from all these years of planning, is that if you think about the biggest issues far enough ahead, the rest is a breeze.
Here’s my top 5 plan-ahead items for every trip:
1. Check Your Passport
I’ve always said, with a passport and money, you can go anywhere. So make sure your passport is in good working order, starting with the expiry date. You need to make sure you have a minimum of 6 months left before you need to replace it, and ideally more if you are planning to travel during those last 6 months. Check your passport’s expiry date the minute you start considering travelling anywhere, because that leads me to my next point:
Sometimes even your passport isn’t enough, like when you require a visitor visa to enter certain countries. This process can take a bit of time, depending on how close you are to a consulate, whether you can deliver your documents in person or have to send them by mail, and whether you need to get photographs, legal documents, etc. to support your application. Also, be aware that you may have to surrender your own passport for several weeks to process the visa, which means you can’t leave your own country until you have it back. Not for business trips, not for cross-border shopping trips. Something to keep in mind.
2. Stock Up on Meds and Shots
Depending on where you are going, you may need to get shots, not just for your own peace of mind, but in some cases as a requirement for entry into the country. (i.e. a Yellow Fever innoculation is required by some countries, and getting your shot ‘on the spot’ in that tiny little Zanzibar airport may not be your best option.) Some of these shots require multiple injections (like TwinRix for Hep A and B), and there is a waiting period between shots, so as soon as you know you’re going to be travelling, visit a travel clinic to sort out how you need to prepare and how far in advance.
Let’s face it, we’re all carrying some sort of meds these days, so make sure your prescriptions are filled in plenty of time before departure. Normal refills aren’t a problem, but if you’re going to be going away for a long time, some pharmacies won’t refill your script too far in advance without your doctor’s okay, so you may have to get that organized. You might even want to consider getting a note from your doctor or pharmacy, explaining what the meds are for, just in case anyone questions why you have 4 months of pills, or if you need to replace them while on your trip.
3. Check Your Footwear Inventory
This is one of the most important items on your packing list after your passport, since having the wrong footwear can make your entire trip problematic. After all, no one wants blisters or throbbing feet to ruin that visit to Pompei, and there aren’t any orthotics clinics on the Inca Trail.
Figure out what you are going to be doing on your trip and then do a shoe inventory at home based on those activities, making sure your footwear measures up for comfort and suitability. (i.e. If you are going to be travelling on foot where there might be rough footing, nasty critters of the poisonous or stinging variety, or prickly vegetation, you’re going to want a good closed walking/hiking shoe or boot.) Make sure your footwear fits your trip and if not, get out there early to shop for replacements so that you have plenty of time to try them out before you go. If they aren’t comfortable, you’ll find that out sooner rather than later, and have time to change them. Besides, it’s a great excuse to go shoe shopping!
4. Buy Speciality Items in Advance
It wasn’t too long ago that something as routine as travelling to a different hemisphere or climate could pose a shopping problem, (for instance if you needed a bikini, and all the stores in your part of the world were showing parkas). Now, thanks to online shopping, no matter what your local retail situation, you can find items for any time of the year or any type of travel activity. You can surf the world for that particular gadget for your camera, or that one brand of snorkel that you can only find online.
Just be sure to give yourself enough time to receive your items before you go, so that you’re not watching the mail the day before you leave, hoping that your universal adaptor shows up before your airport taxi does.
5. Carry Plastic and a Backup CardYou’ve got the passport sorted, now the money, or more specifically, the plastic: I don’t care what anyone says, advising your credit card company or bank that you are going to be away doesn’t guarantee that they won’t block your credit card at some point during your travels. Here’s why: the monitoring of your purchase habits is done by a machine, not a person, so once something triggers a red flag on your account, your card is subject to a temporary hold. Which is why I always carry another credit card, (one VISA card, and one MasterCard card), each from different banks.
If you don’t already have a second credit card, apply for one in plenty of time to receive it and activate it before you leave on your trip. It doesn’t have to have a huge credit limit, just enough to cover you on the spot until you can sort out the hold on your first card with your bank.
Now you can sweat the small stuff.
Once you’ve got these plan-ahead items covered, you have plenty of time to sort out the rest of your trip, or decide on the fly which sunglasses to bring, or which museum to visit.
If it were up to me, though, I’d be starting another list!
Jane Canapini is a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada and the North American Travel Journalists Association. She established GrownupTravels.com in 2014 to share information and tips based on personal experience so her readers could get the most out of their travels.