Friday 10: Things to Do before You Leave

Ahh, the pre-travel to-do list. All those unglamorous--yet important--tasks that we often forget or put off until the very last minute. Getting them done can set you up for an easy, stress-free trip. So today's Friday 10 is a quick list of things I do to prepare for a trip. 

 #1 Clean 

Go through your wallet, purse, and travel bags. If you're like me, you've managed to collect unnecessary junk over time. A map from your last trip. A single piece of gum that's harder than a rock. A little pile of receipts. Business cards I need to toss or file. A small packet of peanut butter (I actually found this in my purse the other day). Take everything out and only put back what you need. 

#2 Get some cash 

I always get enough foreign cash to make it through my first day or two abroad and enough domestic cash for the day I leave and the day I come home. This amount should cover transportation (if you are paying in cash) and any incidentals you might encounter until you know you can find an ATM or bank.

Ultimately, it's important to make sure you're traveling with enough cash to cover your needs but not so much that you'd be devastated if you lost it. Depending in your comfort-level, look into getting a money belt or anti-theft purse. Travel Fashion Girl reviews a couple of different options here.  

I also like to make a little exchange cheat sheet before I go. I look up the exchange rate a day or two before I leave and use excel to create a little table that I print and "laminate" with some packing tape. It won't be perfectly accurate, but it comes in handy in stores and markets when you want a quick estimate. 

Yes, I scanned cheat sheet from last year. Yes, I am a pack-rat sometimes. I put Euros on the back for our Paris half of the trip. Worked like a charm. 

Yes, I scanned cheat sheet from last year. Yes, I am a pack-rat sometimes. I put Euros on the back for our Paris half of the trip. Worked like a charm. 

For renters: A damage deposit will probably be due upon arrival. I often ask if a bankers cheque is ok. I don't like traveling with that much cash and the nice thing about a banker's cheque is that it can be made out to a specific person. When we are leaving, the owner or manager gives me the cheque back and I can easily deposit it back into my account when I get home. I haven't had a problem so far (fingers crossed!). 

#3 COntact your bank/card companies

It's a good idea to let your bank and credit card companies know that you will be traveling abroad. A quick phone call or visit to your online account can reduce the risk of being flagged for fraud and having your card(s) denied. 

While you are at it, make sure you know how to use your credit card and debit cards abroad. Find out what your daily cash limits and what your bank's fees are. Sometimes, if you are lucky, ATM rates will be reduced if your bank has an agreement with another bank in your destination country. Banks in the Global ATM Alliance, for example, waive the international access fee. If that's the case, write down the bank name and try to find a few nearby, so you're not scrambling when you get there. 

You are probably also limited to a certain network like Plus, Interlink, Cirrus or Maestro. You should see this on the back of your card. Look for reputable banks and ATMs that have this symbol when you need to get cash.

These are just some important points to start with. As always, be smart with your money and your cards. Use trustworthy banks and ATMs. Don't travel with a lot of cash. Know that you're more protected using your credit card than your debit card. Do some reading on how to be safe with your money while traveling. Here's one article from Nomadic Matt about avoiding paying bank fees. And here's a bunch of money tips from Rick Steves.

#4 Get travel insurance 

I know it might seem like a waste of money at first, but I always get travel and trip cancellation insurance. I just don't want to risk it. Last time, S and I just bought Air Canada's option when we purchased our tickets. It was easy, affordable, and gave us peace of mind. I've also used Blue Cross for health insurance only.

I've heard good things about aggregators like Insure My Trip or Squaremouth. Shop around. Again, do your research and make sure you're getting what you need from a reputable company.

Also be sure to check your own insurance plan first, since it might have a travel option. 

#5 Plan your airport transportation

How are you getting to the airport and back home? What about when you land? Are you booking a shuttle or airport limo? Just taking a taxi? Where do you find the taxis? How much does a trip into town generally cost? Do you have cash for that? What are the tipping customs? 

A little bit of planning can save you so much hassle. Last year, when we went to London and Paris, I booked Parker Car Service after figuring out the London taxis were going to cost as much, if not more. It was a fantastic choice! Our driver was incredibly friendly, he gave us some advice and ideas about what to do and see. He even called our hotel, told them we were coming, and asked if our room was ready. When they told him it wasn't, he informed them that they had about an hour and suggested they should get one read for our arrival because we had just taken a long flight. Guess what? They did. We felt pretty special. 

#6 Stock up on important medications

Make sure you have the prescriptions you need, but also make sure you have important basics that you might not be able to find abroad. Three bigs ones for me are:

  • Cold medicine
  • Immodium (which I carry on me at all times)
  • Benadryl

At some point in my travels those three medications have been the difference between being miserable and having a good trip despite being sick. 

#7 Download, Copy, Print

Get your papers in order. I like to make a copy of my important documents (like my cards and passport) to give to a family member in a sealed envelope. I know it's safe and easily accessible just in case something happens and I need that information.

I print off my tickets, itinerary, and plans. I also print any important emails, maps or directions, and maybe a list of sites to see or restaurants I might want to try. I put all of this in order from the start of the trip to the end and put it a handy folder. When I get to the airport, my departure tickets are the first thing I see and my tickets home are at the back. As I go through the trip, I put whatever I've used to the back so whatever's next is always on top. It just makes it easy for me to stay organized. 

I also download any ebooks or apps while I still have a reliable internet connection.

#8 Plan your packing

Keep an eye on the weather starting a few weeks out and start writing out a packing list. I'm planning on creating my own list, but I've been using the Packing Pro (iTunes link) app lately. It's fairly comprehensive and I find it easy to make changes so it fits individual trips and needs. 

#9 Verify your reservations

Go through your reservations and confirmations and make sure all of your ducks are in a row. Check-in online whenever you can. Make sure you know where you're going, when you're going, and how you're getting there. 

As I said in #7, I like to print this stuff, put it in order, and throw it all into a single folder so everything's together. 

If you don't want to lug all of that paper with you, TripIt is also a great way to keep everything together. I just use the free version and use the app on my phone because it's easy to refer to at any time. I can just forward my reservations to a personalized TripIt email address or allow TripIt to grab them from my inbox automatically. It also makes it easy to share your whole itinerary via email. 

#10 Prep your devices

Charge everything your taking and make sure you have the correct (and enough) adapters and/or converters for the country you will be in. 

Are you taking your phone? Do you need an international calling and data plan? Or are you going to get a cheap one there? 

Make sure your camera is all set to go. Do you have enough batteries? Do you have enough space on your cards? Backups? Lenses? A carrying case? 

Are you taking a computer? iPad? eBook? Lay everything you need/want out and ensure you have the necessary accessories, covers, batteries, etc. before you go. It can be hard, if not impossible, to find things that will work with North American electronics abroad. LIke most things, it's just easier to be prepared.

That's it for this Friday 10. Hopefully it's a good start to getting prepped for your next trip. Is there anything you do differently? Let me know in the comments!

Happy weekend! We're planning on heading out to a pumpkin patch this weekend if the weather holds up. I'm pretty excited for roaming around a field looking for the prettiest pumpkin with some hot apple cider!