Things to do before traveling
By Phumi Nkosi
Anyone who knows me will tell you how much I love traveling - whether it's a three-hour road trip within my beautiful home country of South Africa or an ultra long-haul, 15 hour flight across the globe. I’m always up for anything adventurous and I love learning new things and meeting new people.
Every trip improves my organizational skills, and I’ve learned over time that it's the little things that we tend to forget. I’ve developed a checklist on my laptop, which I whip out way before I strut into the airline lounge at the airport. I’d rather be over prepared than under prepared. Take a look as it might help you as well!
1. Doctors appointment and vaccinations
Make an appointment with your local doctor well before your departure, especially if you are travelling to another continent or different climate. As some countries require proof of vaccination for things like Yellow Fever, the last thing you want is to be denied entry at the border - or being forced to take a jab at a strange foreign airport. For the most comprehensive and up-to-date medical recommendations, check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, which also lists health advisories by country. In addition, if you routinely take any prescription medication, make sure you have enough to cover the duration of your travels so that you don’t run out while you’re overseas. Finally—and especially if you’re going to any remote regions—it’s wise to pack non-prescription medicines (aspirin, Imodium, etc.) that may not be easy to find at your destination.
2. Travel insurance
I can’t stress enough the importance of travel and medical insurance. You can purchase it at most travel agencies and if you’re covered with medical insurance provider check and double check your policy that it covers you fully whilst abroad. Medex Assist is one company which is reliable and provides coverage for most nationals. Read the fine print and make sure you have the emergency numbers saved. Many major credit cards offer comprehensive coverage for things like delayed or lost luggage, medical coverage and vehicle rental coverage. Some premium cards even offer a service to match you with a doctor who speaks your language wherever you are. While these cards tend to come with high annual fees, for the frequent traveller they can save you hundreds of dollars each year.
Check your passport and apply for any necessary visas. You also want to make sure that your passport is valid for at least six months after entering a foreign country. For extra backup, leave a copy of your passport at home or with someone you trust. Consider making an electronic copy you can store in your email account as well. If you are running out of pages, apply for a new passport or ask your government whether additional pages can be added. Visiting Israel? Make sure you don’t have a transit or visit coming up to an Arab country as that stamp may exclude you from entry! (Israeli border agents can also be asked to stamp a separate piece of paper so that your passport wont be invalidated to visit to Arab countries).
4. Register with your embassy
When you travel your home embassy can be your friend - no make that your best friend during emergencies or in times of turmoil. Registering online will make it easier for your government to contact you and get you to safety.
5. Check exchange rates and carry local cash
Make sure you do your math before you travel to get a sense of the conversion rates. Using a bank or ATM in the country you’re visiting is usually cheaper than exchanging cash. The conversion centers in the airport or around the city tend to charge extortionate rates. You won’t get charged as many fees at the ATM or the bank. Remember that not every place takes credit cards or ATM cards (i.e. Sudan) so the last thing you want to do is to arrive in an unfamiliar place with only a few quid in your wallet. And don’t expect trains or buses to accept credit or debit cards.
6. Credit card or debit card
Make sure your credit card will work in the country you’re visiting. Inform your bank of the countries you plan to visit and also familiarize yourself with the costs involved. European banks have switched almost completely to the more secure chip-and-PIN technology, and fewer businesses abroad are accepting the outdated magnetic-strip cards. Similarly many overseas merchants may not be using terminals that accept your home bank’s debit card - even though it has the Visa or MasterCard logo. Call your bank or credit card provider and ask questions. If your bank has the slightest inkling of fraud while you are travelling they will block or even cancel your card as a security measure. When travelling in high risk places try to resist using an ATM card linked to your main account - criminals in places like Lagos have been known to “escort” tourists to ATM machines and empty out their accounts.
7. Research events and buy tickets for places and events on your bucket list
This just makes life easier. By buying in advance you’ll be able to skip more lines, and find more deals targeted toward you at a cheaper cost. This will help you make sure that you’re not missing the best events going on in the city — fun things like festivals, parties, ceremonies and parks/zoos. I’ve also realized that in these situations tickets tend to be much cheaper when purchased online or even weeks in advance.
8. Check voltage of your electronics
From my own experience I know that nothing is worse than having an adapter and still not being able to use a blow dryer or a straightener because of the voltage. Check the voltage of your electronics and the countries you plan on visiting. There are great websites for this type of research.
9. Pack an extra set of clothes in your carry-on bag
I had a hard lesson on a journey from Johannesburg to Spain - my luggage ended up instead in Germany (thanks XX airline - you know who you are!) I wish I’d packed an extra pair of essentials such as the hot pencil skirt in my carry on luggage. It’s a hassle when you don’t have your belongings with you. Even if the airline give you some cash to carry you it does little good when you’ve landed in Milan in the middle of a Saturday night and you’ve got a brunch date with that hot Italian Stallion early the next day!
10. Checking-in your luggage
Each airline has its own set of guidelines as to how many bags can be checked or carried on for free. Make sure to look up airline’s rules to avoid any surprises at the airport. Many Gulf carriers and Iceland Air, for instance, offer generous baggage allowances above and beyond what the US carriers offer. Your premium credit card or elite airline status may also qualify you for free baggage. Here’s another secret tip: as soon as you suspect your Louis Vitton bag isn't making an appearance on the baggage carousel bolt for the baggage claim office before others on your flight clog the system!
11. Save important telephone numbers
As a precaution, write down important phone numbers or save them somewhere safe. These could be anything from your travel insurance to embassy to that hot ex-boyfriend who is always there to rescue you from trouble. You want to make sure you're covered in every possible angle. If your smartphone is lost or stolen having a backup system could save you plenty of hassle!
12. Register for international roaming
Don’t ruin your holiday by forgetting to switch off your smartphone’s roaming or data roaming capabilities. I know people who have come home to find their cellphone bill more than their flight (for this very reason I also advise my girlfriends not to open a tab at the bar!). As soon as you land get yourself a SIM card and load it up with data as you don’t want to miss posting on your Instagram. In many countries, obtaining a local SIM card is as easy as taking your passport down to the local kiosk. Of course, finding free WiFi hotspots is another excellent way to save data roaming costs! Apps such as WhatsApp, Viber and Skype make communicating with loved ones back home affordable and easy!
13. Download travel apps
I’ve found travel apps are awesome for replacing heavy papers and books. In the days before your departure, instead of trolling through your friend’s Instagram feeds, download maps of your destination. This is very important for unfamiliar destinations: familiarize yourself with the route to the hotel from the airport. In crime-ridden cities like Caracas or Johannesburg the last thing you want is to be taken for an expensive midnight ride by an unscrupulous taxi driver! I even go as far as downloading translator apps if English is not the main language in that country. It’s the little things that make a journey seamless, and besides you will start to learn the language before touchdown!
14. Send your itinerary to close friends and family
In this unpredictable age, I strongly urge you to let your family and close friends have an idea of your whereabouts whilst away. Check-in regularly, especially in an unfamiliar destination, with a close friend or family member.
15. Scan and email documents
Most importantly, have at least one color copy of your passport’s ID page stored somewhere safe and separate from your passport. You should also make copies of any visas that pertain to your current travels. Hotel reservations, train ticket confirmations, and all other travel documents should be copied as well. In this digital age, it is very convenient (and eco-friendly) to only have digital copies of these documents handy. And be sure that these items are saved to your device locally so that you can access them without an Internet connection. Also, if you’re going to store sensitive information (like a scan of your passport) on your phone or in your email inbox, make sure your passwords are strong enough to keep potential intruders out.
16. Obtain an international drivers permit
This is very important. The international road trip of your dreams isn’t going to happen unless you plan correctly. Many jurisdictions demand an international driving permit before you can hit the open road. Similarly, in many countries, car rental companies will not give you a car unless you produce this extra piece of paper. It’s also smart to familiarize yourself with local driving laws wherever you plan to drive.
17. Learn key phrases in the local language and carry a guidebook
Guidebooks usually include maps, key words or phrases, and give you enough detail on certain venues to spare you the pain of buying guidebooks. Download apps before you travel. Avoid roaming charges from your wireless carrier.
Happy savvy traveling!
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