Why even seasoned travellers need a travel checklist

Co-author: Michelle Norton

Thinking of taking a long trip overseas? There’s a lot to do before you go. Canstar has prepared a travel checklist of things you need to do before getting on the plane.

With New Zealand currently in the thick of winter, escaping to the inviting warmth of a European summer can sound pretty appealing.

But overseas travel isn’t something you can just get up and do – it requires a lot of planning and organisation, unless you want to risk it going horribly wrong. The sheer amount of preparation can exhaust most people, and the list of things to do can seem endless.

So, Canstar breaks it down into some essential to-do activities:

What do I need to tick off before going overseas?

travel debit cards better than cash

Aside from the smaller things, there are some crucial tasks you need to perform before you leave, and completing these tasks ahead of time will greatly alleviate your stress levels. In this travel checklist, Canstar has narrowed them down to a few things you need to do before you go overseas:

  1. Check your passport is still current, and apply for a visa.
  2. Get travel insurance.
  3. Get a travel money card, travel debit card, or travel credit card.
  4. Create an itinerary.
  5. Budget for your trip and start saving.
  6. Know the current climate of your destination.
  7. Research your destination.
  8. Make copies of important documents.
  9. Set up international roaming on your mobile phone.
  10. Get a health check and vaccinations before you go.
  11. Tie up loose ends.
  12. Pack.

Check your passport is current and apply for a visa

Your passport is absolutely essential to travel; you can’t go overseas without one. Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months before entering another country, and many travel guides recommend it being valid for 6 months after arriving back home too, to ensure that you don’t get stuck overseas.

Many countries also require a visa for entry. New Zealand has an agreement with Australia, so you only need a passport to travel there. But always check whether the country you’re travelling to requires you to have a visa.

You’ll need to apply for a visa more than a month in advance of your trip if you can, since it often requires posting away your passport and waiting for it and the visa to be returned by post.

It’s vital to think about what you’d like to do during your trip, when you’re applying for a visa. If you’re applying for a tourist or holiday visa, that’s all you will legally be allowed to do in that country – no working for your keep along the way.

Get travel insurance

There’s a common phrase in the travel industry: “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” This might seem a tad drastic. But travel insurance is extremely important to have, wherever you go, because it covers you for out-of-pocket expenses in the event of emergencies, giving you some much-needed peace of mind.

Find out why you need travel insurance and what it covers, or get straight to comparing travel insurance policies on the Canstar website.

Compare travel insurance

Get a travel money, debit or credit card

Travel cards, in their various forms, are an appealing way to carry currency overseas. The cards offer easy and secure access to your money, without requiring you to carry around wads of cash.

With travel cards, you can convert your money into several different currencies, instead of just one, like you would with cash.

Travel cards are also designed to have fewer currency conversion fees and international transaction fees than your standard credit card or debit card.

On the other hand, it can be extremely costly to withdraw from an overseas ATM using a travel credit card, with a cash advance fee and interest applying. So, travel credit cards are also worth considering.

Compare travel money cards

Compare travel credit cards

Create an itinerary

It’s hard to create a budget for your trip and start saving money for it (the next step) until you’ve decided how you’ll get there, what you’ll be doing, and where you’ll be staying the night along the way.

Do you need a rental car at any point during your trip? It’s cheapest to book this ahead of time.

If you are hiring a rental car, find out whether the country you’re visiting requires you to have an international driver’s licence. Some countries, such as Australia, have an agreement with New Zealand so that you can use your normal New Zealand driver’s licence over there.

Budget for your trip and start saving

Pay for your flights at the start of your travel budgeting

Unless you’re someone who loves numbers, budgeting for your trip isn’t something that you’re going to enjoy, but it is a necessary step. Not having a budget can leave you short of money halfway through your trip, which can lead to some embarrassing, even scary, situations. To avoid being stuck in a foreign country without cash, do a simple budget.

Start with the big things first: plane tickets, accommodation, and insurance. These will take the biggest chunk out of your bank account, so it’s important to know how much you’ll need straight away.

You might not even be able to afford the trip yet, until you spend a while saving up for it! Some people rely on credit cards to afford big overseas trips. But this is not a sensible strategy because you can easily over-spend, and the interest charges add up quickly if you’re away for a while. Avoid a budget blow-out by planning ahead.

Pro tip: Need some budget accommodation options? Try the house sitter or pet sitter websites in that country. You might find someone who is willing to give you cheap accommodation, if you stay for a few days and take care of their dog, so they can go travelling themselves! Other good options include Airbnb, which now operates in many countries.

After doing this, work out a rough estimate of your daily expenses. Calculate approximately how much you’ll spend on food, snacks, drinks, and transport. Then, add a little bit of extra cash in, so you have wiggle room for optional extras. You never know what you might end up doing, so budget in a little extra cash for any unplanned museum tickets or tour bus trips.

However much you think you’ll need for your trip, add in more. Saving money, any way you can, will help you meet your budget goals, allowing you to have a bit more fun while travelling. So while counting down the days, always ask yourself: do I need to buy lunch today or, would I rather put that towards sampling the local fare while travelling?

How to create a budget and stick to it

Know the current climate of your destination

One of the biggest mistakes people make when packing, is underestimating (or over-estimating) the weather. Obviously, if it’s winter over there at the moment then pack warm clothes, but don’t pack only one type of clothing – layers are always a winner.

Temperatures can vary, and a summer in Japan or Russia isn’t the same as a summer in New Zealand. If it comes down to it, you can always buy the right clothes while over there – if you’ve budgeted for unexpected extras, that is!

You will need to do your research on where you’re going to be sure about this, which brings us to our next point.

Research your destinations

Research any cultural differences in your travel destination

The current climate doesn’t only refer to the weather. Political landscapes are constantly changing across the globe, and a country that was safe one year might not be safe the next.

Even if you’re going to a historically safe country like Japan or Fiji, there are countless cultural and political differences between these countries and New Zealand. If you aren’t aware of these basic cultural differences, it will take you longer to adjust to the contrasts between home and your travel destination, sometimes known as, “culture shock”. Studying up on how to modestly to dress in certain countries, for example, will help minimise some stress while travelling.

Good sources for travel research include sites such as  Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor.

Make copies of your important documents

After making sure that they’re up-to-date, make several photocopies of your passport, visa, travel insurance policy, and driver’s license, and keep them in several places. Ideally, you want to keep:

  • One copy with you
  • One copy at home
  • One copy online in the cloud (e.g. Dropbox, Google Drive, or similar file-sharing services) in case you lose the physical copies
  • One copy with your loved ones

These documents are your ride home or your hospital budget, so losing them can be catastrophic. Leaving copies in several places, and with people you trust, will always ensure that you have a backup.

Set up international roaming on your mobile phone

Be careful of roaming charges while travelling

This is potentially one of the biggest money savers of all, but it is one that catches out a lot of people. Data is extremely expensive when roaming overseas using a New Zealand carrier; there are horror stories on the internet of people returning home to find phone bills of more than $10,000, all because they didn’t set up international roaming.

International roaming or global roaming is when you use your mobile phone on an overseas network while still being charged by your current service provider. Without setting up international roaming with your service provider or buying a travel sim, you can be charged $2-3/Mb.

Get a health check and any vaccinations you need

Travel can be difficult on the health of even the fittest among us, so getting a check-up from your doctor beforehand is a wise thing to do. Some countries can forbid certain medications so, if you require regular doses of a prescription, go to your doctor to get a ‘proof of medical authorisation’ letter or script so you can take your meds with you.

Travelling to certain countries can bring specific health risks of their own. Some countries require immunisation shots for diseases, such as polio, malaria, and yellow fever. The last thing that you want while travelling overseas is to get stuck in a foreign country with an illness.

You should book an appointment to get the vaccinations you need as soon as you decide on your itinerary. Some common vaccinations require multiple shots spread out over a series of weeks, or they may not take effect immediately, so a lot of health professionals recommend seeing them at least 4-6 weeks before setting off.

It may also be a good idea to pack a simple medical kit, especially if you’re travelling somewhere that has poor medical infrastructure. You never know when this might come in handy.

Without travel insurance, you could end up forking out tens of thousands of dollars for treatment in a foreign hospital.

Tie up loose ends

Chances are, if you’re travelling from New Zealand, you’ll have planned at least a week or two vacation. So what do you need to do before departing for foreign shores?

First off, tell your bank. Failing to do this can cause complications, mainly that they can freeze your credit cards or debit cards if they notice international transactions they didn’t expect. Unfreezing your cards can be a hassle, so giving them a heads-up via online banking, the mobile banking app, or even a quick phone call can easily prevent this issue.

In addition to contacting your bank, here are just a few of the other loose ends you might have to take care of:

  • Find someone to look after your pets.
  • Inform your place of employment of your planned holiday with exact dates.
  • Put a hold on your mail so that thieves don’t know you’re not at home.
  • Download useful apps for your smartphone.
  • Cancel your gym membership if your overseas trip is a long one.
  • Suspend your health insurance, if your overseas trip is a long one.
  • Inform your landlord or real estate agent.

Pack what you really need

Canstar has a number of travel packing checklists, so you can take exactly what you need for a trip to certain destinations. For example, you should always find out whether you need to pack power adaptors or power converters for the country you are visiting.

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