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Everyone travels at some point or another. Either on business, on vacation or just to visit family. But most, whether they travel frequently or infrequently, do not take adequately prepare for travel. When you are traveling, there are a lot of things that can very easily go wrong and turn what should be a nice holiday, or a quick trip overseas, into a nightmare. This is why I prepare for travel, to avoid things that can go wrong, and to be prepared to handle things from losing baggage, pickpockets, and illness.
As a prepper, I find comfort in knowing that I am prepared for things that could or will go wrong in my everyday routines. This doesn’t mean just end-of-the-world preparations, but also practical everyday preparedness. Part of that preparedness means I try to be as best prepared for whatever could happen when I travel, so that should something go wrong, I am at least prepared to minimize its impact, or stop it from happening at all.
Travel prepping isn’t just about being safe when you arrive, it is about effective planning and prior preparation. Doing some of these things may seem like common sense to you, or just plain outright logical, but for many, they are things that seem more like menial tasks, rather than actual preparations. So let’s take a look at the 19 things you should be doing to prepare for the next time you travel.
So you have your bag packed, toothbrush; check, sunglasses; check, boarding ticket; check. But what have you forgotten? Did you cancel your newspaper subscription so that thieves don’t see a pile of newspapers at your door? Do you have your emergency contact information written down? Do you have a photocopy of your passport?
When we travel, we’re under stress. There’s flight connections, time restraints, unfamiliar environments, and top of all of that, we’re just plain excited or nervous about our journey and destination. If you are about to travel, and feel like you might have lost your mind when you need to prepare for travel, bookmark this list so that you can come back to it, and check off the things that you have done, and think about the ones you have forgotten.
This is one of the most common things you will see people do and by all means, they should. It’s exciting to travel and it is nice to share that excitement with your friends and family, so a share on social media can be justified, right? Wrong.
Here’s why posting your pre-travel pictures on social media is a terrible idea. Take a look at your local airport on Instagram and you will see pictures posted by many who are going on holidays or vacation. You will have a date and they may even post a date when they return. Using a little bit of social media ingenuity and you can probably work out where they live just by looking at the photos they have posted. Done. You now know that this lovely couple will be holidaying on a beach in another country for two weeks. This is a ripe opportunity for any thieves to break into the house without any stress or pressure. All of that information that led thieves to your house was publicly available information.
Instead of sharing your travel news on a publicly available source, tell your close friends and family in person. Make a list of people that you should tell. One of them is obviously your boss at work, as well as family, but also try to find a trustworthy neighbor that can keep an eye out on the house for you.
Remember that trustworthy neighbor? Or even family or a friend? Tell them you will bring them back a souvenir from your travels if they can clear out your mailbox a few times each week. Why? Put yourself in the shoes of a thief. Take a drive down your street and it is pretty easy to tell who is on holidays just by the wads of mail sticking out of the letterbox, or the newspapers piled up at the front door.
Don’t let yourself be the target of opportunistic neighborhood thieves.
Not enough people do this, yet when they need it the most they kick themselves for not doing it. Write down a list of emergency contact information (not on your phone). Don’t rely on working Wi-Fi or a phone connection when you arrive at the passport check-in office and you’re being questioned about why you didn’t have that new visa that was introduced last month. Having a list of emergency numbers is also helpful to provide to staff as a way to say ‘can you call my embassy’, or ‘here’s the company I booked my ticket through’.
Those emergency numbers would be from stakeholders relevant to your travels, such as emergency contacts back home, tour and travel company contact information, contact information for your consulate back at home, and the consulate office number in the country you are going to. Things such as email addresses and other important information should be kept on this list. It might be a little bit of paper that takes five minutes to write up, but it might also be your winning ticket to get you out of a very sticky situation.
When I fly, I can probably say 99% of the time my check-in baggage always makes the destination and is in my hands pretty quick. But if you are anything of a regular flyer, you will know that in such a big system of travel and baggage, there’s a chance your baggage can go missing very easily.
I prepare for this by always keeping my most important stuff in my carry on bag. Yes, going through security is a bit harder because I have to pull out everything, but if my checked-in baggage was to ever be lost, I would not lose a night of sleep over it. Some things to consider when you prepare to travel with a carry-on bag is another change of clothes, a small bag of travel-sized toiletries, a travel-kit with medicine in such as sanitary wipes, paracetamol, ibuprofen and whatever prescriptions you have.
Have a strong self-bought tag for your checked-in luggage, this would be a fastened leather tag or something durable with your name and contact number on it. In case the airline tag goes missing from your bag, they may be able to run your details through a system and identify you as the owner.
And when you are all packed and ready to go on your trip, take a picture of your carry-on bag and your check-in bag. For most baggage workers, the first question you will likely get is ‘describe what the bag looks like’. Present your picture and you have saved yourself a thousand words.
This is very important, especially if you plan to use your credit card overseas or withdraw money from a bank. Some credit agencies will be pretty quick to put a block on your card if your account was suddenly accessed in Japan and had been used for the past five years in the US. Some banks even have an option on their mobile apps or online login that allow you to notify the bank of your travels and dates. Use this feature, it’s there for a reason.
I have had this experience during a stopover where a card I used was suddenly labeled as ‘stolen’. This was due to the credit card’s auto-detect service. When you get that block and you are overseas, it can be a nightmare trying to get it restored, especially if you are in a country where the timezone is different, you don’t have a phone card because you are caught in a layover in an international terminal and the WiFi connection is limited. Take the prepared path and call up in advance.
When we think about the topic how to prepare to travel, most of the common questions center around how to ensure you don’t lose your baggage that you have checked on. I have spoken to people that work in baggage handling that have raised some relevant points of advice to ensure you don’t lose your baggage, and that if you do, make it much easier to get back.
These points will help you significantly in the nightmare situation that your baggage ever gets lost.
Don’t expect another country to have the same adapter port as you. For the US, almost all other countries use a different wall socket so charging your phone is going to be quite difficult. Here is a source online that you can use to check what type of wall adapter plug you need for which specific country.
However, if you find you are traveling quite frequently, you might benefit more from getting a universal travel adapter. These items are great as they cover more than 150 countries and are changeable depending on where you are traveling to. The other benefit is that they are only a fraction more expensive than the price you would pay for a country-specific adapter. One that I use is the Iron-M which has not failed me in my travels as of yet.
When you are coming from the US, or another westernized country you will probably have noticed already that there are fewer wall points than what we have at home. When you are traveling, take a power board from the home with you. This lets you charge up your laptop, phone, and camera at once, rather than having to ration power.
One of the worst possible scenarios that can happen to you while you are overseas is to have your passport stolen. Not only are you left without a passport, but you have been robbed of potentially harmful private information that can be used online, in conjunction with other data available to you. For many pickpocketers, the passport is a golden ticket, but so is money, phones, and anything else they can get their hands on.
If you are going to an area that has pickpockets, get yourself one of those travel wallets that hang around the neck. Venture 4th is a popular brand of travel wallet. When you are wearing it, make sure that you keep the zippers and opening side facing in towards the chest. This significantly decreases any remote chances a pickpocket has of accessing the goods they are scoping you for, and if the notice you have one, they are likely to leave you alone altogether as you are not worth the trouble.
Stopping pickpocketers and thieves works in two ways. First, you should be aware of your surroundings and situationally aware of what is going on around you. This means you shouldn’t be lost in the screen of your phone or staring down at the camera to see that great picture you just took. This would be an ideal time for a thief to strike as you are concentrating on something else. Using those anti-theft pouches is great, but if you are carrying a backpack as well and you feel you are in an area where thieves may be scoping their next target, wear your jacket with your backpack underneath. This gives you more of a chance to look around and enjoy the experience of traveling and stops thieves from entering pockets or zippers in the top of your bag.
As an alternative DIY option, I have heard of people safety pinning small ziplock bags to the insides of their underwear to travel with. It seems like overkill, I know, but there are circumstances where this might be highly appropriate.
Of course, you can’t travel with knives or guns to keep you safe. This is out of laws of both airlines, and other countries, but there are some measures you can take depending on your circumstances and where you travel to.
A friend of mine traveled to India and was supposed to meet with friends after staying a few nights in Delhi. The two most important items she used were a rubber door stop to stop intruders trying to get into her room at night, and a fake wedding ring to stop the advancements of strangers.
I have met travelers that also carry a dummy wallet which has saved their lives on more than one occasion. Inside the dummy wallet they might have kept an expired gift card and a note saying “have fun” or something of the sort. Most thieves, if they do strike with the opportunity to rob you, will not open the wallet up on the spot, but instead, wait until they get to a safe place before finding whatever surprise you leave in there for them.
Most people that are going to travel have a smartphone, I certainly do, but while it is nice to enjoy your travels, you also need a sense of direction and often that gets lost when you’re stuck without reception or WiFi. If you have a smartphone, you probably have Google Maps on it, if you don’t, get it. Google Maps has a feature that allows you to download and store maps on your phone so that you can use them just as well as you would if you had a functioning internet connection. Because of the phone’s GPS system (which still operated even without a phone connection), you can see where you are and where you have to go. It won’t give you a ’50m then turn left’ reading, but it will give you a much better sense of direction and awareness of what is around you when you are in unfamiliar territory.
I found when I was traveling through Asia, communicating the name of a hotel just didn’t work verbally. However great I thought my pronunciation was, it was never what was right and always confused taxi drivers. When it came to Uber, it seemed like they all still wanted confirmation of where you needed to go, which led to the same issue. Showing pictures, on the other hand, helps a lot more. So when you first arrive at your hotel, take a photo of the name on the front, and a business card (I sometimes used my hotel card when the phone was out of battery to show them where I needed to go).
Taking pictures of everything helps a lot. Take photos of your luggage (in case it ever gets lost), your room (for any claims by the hotel of damage), any vehicle you hire (scooters and motorbike hire centers are big for this).
Remember how I mentioned you should carry the things you need the most in your carry-on luggage? That also includes bathroom and comfort items. I like to keep a small plastic box or clip seal sandwich bag with all of my stuff in it. The reason why I keep a clear one is so that when airport security wants to look inside, I don’t have to open the thing and empty it out, instead they can visibly search it.
You can carry a small hand sanitizer with you on planes, I highly recommend this stuff, as well as sanitary wipes, as it lets you take the extra precaution by keeping bacteria off your hands and face when traveling. Especially when you get that person next to you that’s coughing and spluttering everywhere. Carrying hand sanitizer and sanitary wipes can also help for those toilets that you might come across that have limited cleansing products or none at all. This is especially pertinent if you are traveling to Asian countries.
I keep a travel-sized pack of bathroom essentials in this kit, such as toothpaste, toothbrush, nail clippers, dental floss, suncream, band-aids, ear plugs (some cities can be very noisy when you’re recovering from jetlag), throat lozenges, and some pills for headaches. It doesn’t have to be a huge bag of stuff. Just enough to get you by for the travel period, and any commutes or day trips you decide to do. Of course, all of this should be purchasable in the country you are going to, so should you need more you can easily restock there.
Sadly, a lot of the countries I have been to this is something that will land most travelers in jail, questioned by the police, or warned by locals. If you have purchased a ticket to a holiday destination, it doesn’t hurt to do a little bit of research about the customs and laws of that place.
Heed attention to any local laws that may conflict with ones at home. You can find these on most embassy sites in that country. For instance, the US Embassy will have an office in that country, so head on over to their site and read about any possible warnings, laws, and customs that you might need to know about.
While in most cases it may be overkill, there are certain things you should and shouldn’t do in another country. This might be wearing something over your head and covering your body if you are female in a Middle-East destination, or covering your body (males and females) when visiting Buddhist temples in Southeast Asian countries. Doing this in advance will also give you time to think about what you might need to take in advance, rather than having to buy emergency clothing.
Are you traveling to a country where the US dollar or the Euro is a lot stronger? Perhaps you might be going to India, or a very poor country in Southeast Asia. While it might seem like common sense, it might be a good idea to look at the clothes you have packed and think about how much you are displaying (in terms of wealth). Don’t wear excessive jewelry or flashy clothes as it just labels you as a walking cash machine ready to be robbed.
Sure, if you are going to places that might cater for that, then pack a nice outfit, but also keep in mind that having an alternative, more plain outfit might provide less temptation to local thieves. Even though you might stand out as a tourist try to be the grey man.
If you have one, you will have remembered how many times people have asked to use it. For me, I have two, one specifically for myself, and one for a backup or in case someone desperately needs to use mine. I find it nice to be charitable to fellow travelers that need to charge their phone, but at the same time, I wish to god that they would learn and buy their own.
I can remember a point in time when power banks were expensive. But right now, as I have just bought a new one, I found it was the price of four coffees. So it’s no excuse – get a power bank. And if you think you don’t need it when you travel because you ‘don’t need your phone’ – you’re wrong. Try communicating with your driver where your hotel is, or where that certain restaurant is, or what the time is. You need your phone when you travel, so get a backup battery.
A lot of countries in the world will not accept a passport and entry to that country if you have less than six months until your passport expires. This could cause a lot of stress at the arrivals gate if border control won’t let you through on your three-day beach holiday just because you have five months left on your passport. Make sure it is valid and with plenty of time left.
If you have a choice of travel insurance, you should be opting for the US$1 million or more in coverage for emergency evacuation and emergency repatriation (they fly you back home). Make sure you get sports activities covered and that you are covered for property loss, damage, and theft and ensure you have the correct amount of days that you are away for in your policy coverage. Sometimes these things might not be covered, and yet they are the most likely things to happen.
When you get your travel insurance, print out what you are and are not covered for, and make sure you have the page that has your registration details such as your plan name, number, and receipt number on it. Keep this in your carry-on luggage.
Depending on where you travel to, you might be to get vaccinations or immunizations before you leave. However, this should be organized by your doctor early on, in case you need multiple stages of immunizations. Some countries require certain vaccinations that need to be delivered over the course of a month before you can leave, so make sure you organize this early on.
You can find out what you might need for your destination by viewing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control destinations list.
If you are going to a country where the tap water is not safe to drink, or if there are streetfood concerns, you might want to ask your local doctor for some generic antibiotics. This is an emergency antibiotic that you can use for those ‘just in case’ circumstances such as a UTI or any other issues. Make sure you take your vaccination books with you in your carry-on luggage.
This is the one trip you can plan, your first ride from the airport to your hotel. Most hotels will offer a shuttle or service that comes with your booking or for a small amount extra. This is worth the effort as when you arrive you are probably going to be tired, unaware of the transfer rate and faced with a wall of desperate taxi drivers.
Another point to this is security. Some countries will have taxi drivers that will overcharge you, and they’re experienced at it too. Most people pay as they are tired from their flight. However, if you don’t, your luggage will be held ransom in the boot of the taxi until you pay.
Enjoy your travels. You have worked hard to get to the point where you deserve a holiday or vacation. Or perhaps you are traveling for work. Whatever the cause, stress can be magnified significantly in another country when things go wrong. With a little bit of prior planning, preparation, and some common sense, you can minimize the risks of travel by doing these things.
I prepare for travel because of the horror stories I have heard by many that have traveled before me and still happen this day and age that could, for the most part, have been avoided. Don’t be one of those travel horror stories.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and I would relish any opportunity to hear more tips in the comment section below, as would any other readers of The Prepping Guide, so go ahead and leave your travel prepping tips in the section below.