You have been living in America or Canada your whole life. You decide it’s time to adventure past your borders. You have mostly flown domestic or done a border hop to the US or Canada. Because the borders and cooperation between countries was fairly easy for years, you never took much notice of what it really requires to travel beyond. You’d be surprised at how many people forget they need a passport until about 6 weeks before travel, if not a few weeks. I have met people where I have asked how fun their passport pictures have turned out after they told me about their trip. I got the deer in headlights look. If you are lucky enough to live in a very large American or Canadian city with embassies from most countries available to you to stand and line and wait hours, you can wait physically in line for help with this. If not, you have to go to a passport center and wait some weeks, up to two months to get your passport. Then you need to figure out what visas are required for what countries. And if you will need to get shots for disease prevention. That cheap flight that attracted to you visit somewhere exotic suddenly becomes very complicated.
Americans have been traveling abroad more in the last few years. The economy is still not great, but many more people seem to be venturing out. But now we have countries, including our own, tightening borders and placing restrictions on travel. And face it, Americans tend to over do most things. Packing or not packing right is no exception. Then there comes the keeping track of how you travel.
I travel with a folder filled with many things. I may be an electronics nerd, and I use a lot of travel apps, but I know that things happen with electronics, that you will not have WiFi on the plane and sometimes having a hard copy to prove you paid in advance for a tour just feels a little more secure. It also helps organizing yourself if you have planned a crazy itinerary that isn’t all included in say a travel site like Booking.com.
I also have a digital folder in Google Docs and may do one in Dropbox as well just in case. I also have a folder with my professional CV and such. Yep, being a teacher means looking for the next year’s classroom while on vacation sometimes. Sigh.
The hard copy file though is my talisman. It shouldn’t be, maybe it’s better to think of it as a touchstone. I have printed copies of itineraries, booking confirmations, the list I started of gyms and other facilities. Oh, and the gym routine for the month copy so if I can get to a gym I can keep up with my plan. I know, you are on vacation, but I think of travel as a serious adventure and training and keeping fit helps you get through the marathon. Plus if the bathroom facilities in your accommodation are lacking, you have a backup shower. Also if you book in advance for theatre and comedy shows like I am doing for Galway’s Arts Festival and the Fringe Festival, having a hard copy of receipts may be a good idea. I do keep lists on my smartphone as well, but if the battery dies I am out of luck.
What to keep in this folder? Well, flight details are good. Yes, you should join the online website of your flight providers, not just rely on digital access when you need it. This way you can do things like make sure you have seats, because JustFly can only do so much with that on some participating airlines. It may say you have a reserved seat of choice, but when you get there it’s another story.
Any prepayments for tours. Yes, tours abound when you are traveling. You may book a tour or two from the city you are in. Many of them do not have cash facilities for when you get there and you will need to book online. Having a printout with a ticket is still the thing on many tours, they don’t all have online ticketing where you can download to your smartphone’s wallet app. And since many tour companies have very similar names in certain regions, it’s a good idea to have a hard copy with name print out and any tour meetup instructions. See, paper is really good for notes. Note that because tourist season is insane, it is best if you can book tours a month out, so retain your receipt. Many good tours get booked solid.
Notes on Your Smartphone
Yes, they all have a note app. You could also get Google Docs app to just play it safe. You should have a travel folder online as a backup and a document about your trip with notes, dates, etc. Travel can be overwhelming. I know for a fact that Fringe Festival is going to be massive and cramping 3 days of it is a marathon. Having a diary doc will work if you don’t have a travel journal. I have to do this since I blog. I will of course write bits in my hard copy journal while visiting sites and museums for notes. But constantly using your device in a heavy data city will rack up your minutes. Paper is cheaper.
Six or More Months Out
Shop for plane tickets. Great sales happen during end of year holidays. Shop even earlier and tickets will be less than half. Do research on visas.
Start booking rooms and reading reviews. You can change them later, but if you are going during high season, festival season in Europe and mean your fav city is already booked solid, you may have to stay in a neighboring town.
Two Months Out
Passport, Visas applied for 3 months out hopefully. Check embassy websites to see the requirements for the country you are coming from. Many countries are now revising their visa requirements.
Cases-Research luggage sizing allowed on all flights. European flights are restricted more than US flights and many of the newer small planes have very little overhead space.
Get laptops and electronics cases, sleeves suitable for travel. TSA is moving towards all electronics packed in the hold.
Packing: Pack everything you would need for a mini vacation in the carryon in case luggage gets misplaced. Get trackable luggage tags. They have a online app that you can use to track luggage with and you can upload pictures of luggage and contents in case they get misplaced in travels. This supposedly helps if your tags get separated from bags. Take enough clothing and plan to wear some items several times. Baggage allowances are less than domestic US or Canadian flights allow.