You've dreamed about it and now your great adventure is now becoming a reality. There is much to do before departure day and good trip preparation is a key to successful budget travel. It means you can leave home without worry and get off to the best possible start. The best way of ensuring you have everything correctly in place is a travel checklist.
In my book Travel Unravelled I have a total of seven lists covering the months, weeks and days before departure. I use these lists to guide and remind me of everything I need to do right up to when I walk out the door. Let’s examine some of the vital parts of these lists:
Passport and Visas
It probably goes without saying that a passport is the single most important item you will pack for your trip. Take great care of it and ensure you carry a copy of the photo page in case of loss or theft. Be aware that some countries won’t allow you to enter if your passport will expire in less than six months. Always get up-to-date information on visa requirements and research the best options for obtaining one. Sometimes it’s fine at the border but often it’s better done in advance.
Wherever you place this on your travel checklist, ensure that it is ticked off before you leave! Whether you are a first-time traveller or more experienced, the consequences of going without travel insurance can be financially disastrous. Shop around for the best deals but always make certain you have plenty of cover for medical situations, hospital expenses and liability incurred for injury or accidental damage. Be aware of your policy excess and claiming procedure.
Since my first trip abroad, I’ve always been a big advocate of using a travel guidebook of some description. They are very useful for planning but become invaluable to you on the road. Don’t feel you have to rush out and buy an expensive new book; most of my travel has been done comfortably with used books. Lonely Planet is the original and remains the most popular guidebook but there are other good options. Choose what you feel best suits you and what you’ll be doing.
Before you leave, you need a good supply of money and more importantly, a way to access it. Cash is king. Always carry some cash in the local currency and in some countries the US dollar is accepted. An ATM card is the most popular way to access further funds overseas. Check with your bank about fee structures and other dedicated travel options they have. Traveller’s cheques are becoming outdated now but are safe and still useful in some parts of the world.
Choosing a travel backpack will be one of your most important purchases. There are a wide variety of styles and sizes which can be confusing for the uninitiated. I have more information on backpack choices that detail the most important considerations of size, capacity, style and comfort. Make your choice according to your body size, destination, climate and trip activities. Hiking or colder weather mean more space is required for sleeping bag and warm clothing.
It’s always a vital question of what to take and equally importantly, what to leave behind. Although there are plenty of travel packing lists that claim to be universal, the truth is there is no single definitive list. What you should take depends on your destination, climate, activities and personal preferences. You can use my recommended Packing Lists but whatever you use as a reference, there is one enduring golden rule: travel light. If you feel you ‘may’ need it then leave it at home because you probably won’t.
I have written a further article on the The Importantance of Travelling Light.
Although relatively light, clothing can be bulky (rolling can be better than folding when packing) so take the minimum but make it reasonably good quality. Make clothing adaptable and fit as many purposes as possible. Your destination climate is the most important consideration when choosing clothing. Another important factor is having clothing that is quick to dry after being washed so always leave your jeans at home.
Most budget travel involves a lot of walking so good shoes are vital. They need to be comfortable (worn in before you leave), durable and suited to the weather. Shoes are heavy and bulky so limit yourself to one pair and some sandals or thongs. A popular choice in tropical climates is a hybrid shoe that is well vented and often used for water sports such as rafting.
Whether or not to take a sleeping bag is an interesting and well debated travel question. In fact, I have written a complete article about the Great Sleeping Bag Debate. The question has a number of considerations, with the main ones being your location, season and trip activities. Personally, I always like knowing my summer weight sleeping bag is in the bottom of my backpack. For shorter trips in warm climates remember there is always the option of carrying a silk sleeping bag liner instead.
Cameras vary in their size, price and quality so the best advice I can give here is look for the best features within your budget and always shop around. For most travellers and trips the compact, automated ‘point and shoot’ models are quite adequate. The two most important specifications are the (optical) zoom capacity and the megapixels. Take good care of your camera, keep the batteries charged and have sufficient memory available.
There are a wide range of opinions about the effectiveness and importance of shots. The bottom line is that everyone must do what they believe is best. Some advice I always like to offer is only get the immunisations that are essential for your travel. Don’t allow anyone to cajole you into receiving a ‘package’. Education is the key. Investigating the subject first will allow you to make a well informed decision on your best options.
It may not seem vitally important now, but backpacking for an extended period of time is physically demanding. An optimal experience requires good health and at least a reasonable level of fitness. The exact level depends largely on your planned activities. Think about the nature of your trip and ensure that your fitness on departure day matches your ambitions.