Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I am an absolute fiend for lists. I make them for everything: what books I want to buy, film I’ve watched of a particular genre, what I need to accomplish at work that day, and most importantly: what clothes to pack on a holiday. I find it nearly impossible to pack well if I don’t have a list to follow, so I always have to write one, even if it’s just for a few days!
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Of course, overseas travel is an absolute boon for list-writers such as myself. There’s so much to organise in different time frames that a plan is essential! Well, at least for me it is. Many of my friends don’t book their accommodation until a week before they leave, which I could never ever do, but then again not everyone is as scarily organised as I am.
As I am heading over to Italy for a month in a couple of weeks (a huge deal considering how far away it is from Australia) I figured that it could make for a somewhat informative read if I wrote my ‘to do’ list here – after all, there have to be people out there who compulsively write lists too, right? Even if you don’t, it’s always good to have a point of reference for what you need to do before travelling, as there are something things that really are absolutely essential.
First of all, I’m writing this list from the position of an Australian citizen. While many things here are applicable to most countries, things like visas will need to be checked for your home country. I’m also writing this list from the standpoint of someone who generally buys their plane tickets about eight months prior to leaving the country, so that’s the timeframe I’m working with here.
Six Months Before Travel
Plan your itinerary: do research about what will be happening when you’re on holiday, what the weather will be like, if you’ll be there during school holidays, how long it will take to travel between locations. This will be the framework of your itinerary, which can be more finely-tuned closer to the date.
Make a budget: this should probably have had a bit of thought put into it before buying your plane ticket, but now is the time to start saving! Work out how much you’ll need, and then add a bit more. Overestimating is always a good idea.
Five Months Before Travel
Start looking into accommodation: if you’re traveling in a peak time, it is absolutely essential to organise your accommodation as soon as you can. Where you stay can often make a good holiday great (or terrible). Staying in a central location, close to transport and plenty of food options, as well as free WiFi are all right up the top of my list of must-haves, and if I don’t want to compromise it’s crucial to sort out accommodation early. Spend time reading about places on sites like Trip Advisor, which will give you a really thorough idea of what to expect. I’ve stayed at some pretty incredible places thanks to Trip Advisor reviews, so if you have the time I really recommend doing your research.
Language practice: download Duolingo and start practicing! You don’t have to be an expert, but just learning a few key phrases makes such a difference. If nothing else, learn how to say “I’m sorry, I don’t speak [language]”, “Do you speak English?” and basic greetings to get by.
Three Months Before Travel
Buy tickets: whether this is for transport, museums, festivals or sport, make sure you’ve bought your tickets well in advance to avoid any disappointment. Things like a Eurail or Japan Rail Pass can only be purchased from your country of origin, so it’s good to have these purchased with a decent amount of time before you leave. Also, look into concerts or other events that will likely sell out. It’s so much easier to organise this when you’re still at home – believe me, finding a printer to print your tickets overseas is not something I’d recommend.
Two Months Before Travel
Buy insurance: please, never ever ever EVER travel without travel insurance. As the saying goes, if you can afford to travel, you can afford travel insurance. I know it seems like a bit of waste of money sometimes, but, believe me, it is so worth it. Please, if you will, picture this scene: it is 2011, and you have just booked accommodation for your two-week holiday to Japan. In a couple of hours’ time, you are browsing Twitter. Your newsfeed starts to explode with notifications about a Tsunami on the coast of Japan, causing unimaginable devastation throughout the country. The Australian government issues a warning to reconsider your need to travel to central Japan (i.e. Tokyo). Yes, this literally happened to me. I didn’t end up cancelling my holiday, but if I had bought my flights for a couple of months earlier, I would have had to.
But wait, it gets better! Two days before my flight from Melbourne – Cairns – Tokyo, there was a volcanic ash cloud that made its way from Chile over the lower part of Australia. All flights departing and arriving from Melbourne airport were cancelled. My flight was at 6am on a Monday, and at 10pm on Sunday there were still no flights departing Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport. I have never been more stressed out in my life, as if my flight to Cairns was delayed, I would miss my flight to Tokyo. Through some miracle, my flight on Monday was the first to leave Melbourne in several days, and I made it to Tokyo as planned. What I’m getting at here is that no one can predict when natural disasters will occur, so don’t risk it. Insurance will also cover you if anything is stolen, so it’s definitely worth the investment.
List time: write a list of EVERYTHING you are taking with you. Clothes, electronics, shampoo; whatever it is, write it down! This will not only make packing a whole lot easier, but if you take this list with you and refer to it when you’re moving around you won’t lose anything.
Photocopy all of the things: get physical and digital copies of your passport, insurance, and other forms of ID
Buy travel things: yes they’re boring, but purchasing items such as electrical adaptors, earbuds, and toiletries should always be done before departing. It’s hideously annoying buying things like toothpaste while you’re traveling, so save yourself the hassle and do it before you go
Currency: this is the time to change your savings into whatever currency you need. Keep an eye on the exchange rate so you can work out the best time to purchase – if you’re buying enough currency, the savings can be pretty significant. For shorter holidays (under a month) I usually just take cash, but have a credit card for backup.
Last-minute research: look into what your day-to-day itinerary might look like. Are there any amazing restaurants you want to check out? An art gallery that is only open on Wednesday? It’s good to get a bit of an idea around what you’d specifically like to do and see so you don’t have to waste time planning it out when you’re there!
What’s your most important tip when planning a holiday?