Everything you can prepare for your trip – with helpful printable checklists
In this series we focus on all the technical, pragmatic stuff you should take care of before you start your trip. We tried to keep them as general as possible, but different countries of destination have different processes. Since these things are sometimes overwhelming, you can download and print checklists at the end of the posts to keep track of what you have to do.
The first thing to check, even before applying for your visa, is your passport and its expiry date. Will it be valid until you return to your home country? Is it damaged? Does the photo still comply with your appearance?
Then collect information about visa requirements for the country or countries you want to visit. Check the websites of embassies, trustworthy guidebooks, blogs or forums. Also check back with people from your own country who have been there. Contact bloggers or websites directly and ask them for specific advice for certain countries.
What are the specific requirements? Do you need certain vaccinations? A certain amount of money on your account? A letter of invitation? (Sometimes it must include specific information or be written in a certain format.) How much does it cost?
Sometimes you can get the visa at the airport upon arrival. Check which currency you can pay it with. If you have time, though, doing it in advance is what I’d advise you to do. It saves you time and stress when arriving. If you apply for visa or other documents in advance, make copies before you send out originals.
In addition to the visa, when arriving in Kenya I always had to fill an entry form. Sometimes marking “voluntary work” as the purpose of entry was a bit tricky. It is often easier to tick “tourism”. A tourist visa may not officially allow you to do voluntary work.
In case you want to travel to several countries: What makes more sense? One multiple-entry visa or several single visa for the specific countries? Compare finances, flexibility and conditions. Will you be able to change your plans if you have the single visas fixed in your passport?
Bureaucracy in your country of destination may work differently. If you continue your trip into the neighbouring country, make sure to find out in advance where you can do that and what documents and procedures are required in that case. Not all border crossing places issue a visa.
Carry all documents you can imagine being helpful, especially if they have a government stamp. Consider that translation might be necessary. And remember: It takes time!
For some countries there are commercial visa agencies you can pay to do the work for you. Be a bit careful and trust other travellers who successfully have used them before.
Don’t risk to overstay the expiry date of your visa. Make sure to start the process for the extension a couple of days in advance.
For perfectly relaxed visa planning download and print this free checklist.
If you apply for a visa in advance, you may need to know the time period you will be in the country. I haven’t found a proven strategy for booking cheap flights. But here are some common strategies for cheapest prices:
- The earlier, the better. Start looking for flights even ten months in advance!
- Compare prices.
- Countercheck on the website of the airline you consider flying with. Sometimes booking can be cheaper there than on a platform.
- Are there cheap airlines from the country you want to go to? Sign up for their newsletters. When do they announce sales?
- Set up an alert.
- Fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
- Book at night.
- Check blogs that provide information about error fares and special offers.
- Be flexible with dates and location, if you can.
- Use Privacy Mode or something similar in your browser, in order to avoid cookies and the collection of your data. If the booking platform realises that you are comparing certain flights over and over, they automatically raise the price.
- Consider consulting a travel agent or a special student travel office at your university.
Consider how much time you want to spend in a transfer. Are there special packages to be able to get a refund in case you have to cancel the flight?
How much luggage are you allowed to bring?
What time of the day will you arrive? Is it convenient for someone to pick you or will you have to wait?
Stress free flight booking works well with this free checklist.
It’s advisable to walk everywhere and anytime with a copy or a registered / certified copy of your passport, including the visa. Like that, you can prove your identity if necessary and if you lose it, you still have the original.
Some countries require you to prove certain vaccinations. Make sure to have those.
Leave copies of all important documents, including front and back of any money cards, at home with someone you could get in touch with while abroad.
Scan your documents and save them in your email or the cloud (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.). If you feel comfortable, give someone else access to these files, in case you are not able to access internet. You can also store the documents on a flash drive that you carry.
These documents include:
- international driving license. How to make it international?
- vaccination certificate(s)
- insurance policies, forms to be filled by the doctor in case of sickness, phone number
- PIN / TAN-list for online banking
- emergency number for the bank
- (certified) copies of everything
- any additional documents for special cases: research permit, disability certificate, student pass, invitation from the host, …
- contact addresses and phone numbers of your host, friend, organisation etc.at the destination
- passport photos
Some embassies offer registration of their country people in the new destination. If you want, you can let them know that you are in the country, provide them with your address and local phone number.
In case you have donated blood before, you may have a passport-like document showing your blood group. It is a good idea to carry that as well.
Store these things flat, stable and waterproof.
We had a couple of our certificates laminated, because they went through so many hands that they started to get small cracks.
Empower somebody who remains at home to be your legal representative with a letter of attorney, in case something needs to be signed, collected etc.
Don’t fear to forget anything. This printable list is complete.
Money and banking
Collect information about the currency in your country. Maybe you can get information from your bank about what is best for your trip.
Check whether your cards are valid long enough.
Not everywhere can you pay with credit cards. Are there ATMs around?
Schedule or pay all necessary expenditures in advance, for example rent, and cancel all subscriptions for the time you will not be around.
Some countries have cultural specifics when it comes to money. In D.R. Congo, for example, people would accept US dollars, but only in specific contexts and only if they looked like freshly printed and were not folded. In Kenya, the best place to change Euros was in the casinos in town because they had the best rates, not the exchange bureaus.
Should you get the foreign currency ahead of time or just change upon arrival? How much is necessary, for example, for visa and transport from the airport?
The best advisors for these cases have proven to be travel websites, guidebooks and especially people who have travelled there.
Yes, we also have a printable checklist for your travel finances. Right here.
Did we miss something? What is your biggest piece of advice? Let us know in the comments below!