So you’re contemplating taking a trip? It’s a big decision to make. I hope that you will make the right choice 😉 You know that you can get tons of amazing memories that will stay with you forever and perhaps you’ll also learn a thing or two. Well, most things about taking a trip are accompanied by exciting thoughts, that’s for sure. However, before you go, there will be quite a few less thrilling things of practical nature to sort out. The good news is that you can deal with quite a lot of them in advance. And that’s exactly what the following piece is all about: the pre-trip preparations for a backpacker or any traveller of sorts.
Why bother preparing anything in advance?
If your trip is longer than just a normal few weeks holidays, I would personally advise you to get few things sorted well in advance. Why? Well, before you finally take that flight you’ve been waiting for, there will be so many loose ends you’ll need to tighten up. I mean that you might need to rent your apartment/room, sort out your utility bills, finalise all the work/study stuff, not to mention all the demanding leaving dos you’ll have to go through 😉
You might even fall in love just before you leave 🙂 Who knows? One way or another, one thing is certain: your last few weeks at home will be rather intense. So if you want to take it easy during the final period before your trip, please consider addressing some of the things listed below. Some of the following advice could also come in handy during your trip, as you’ll see, although I hope that some of them will serve as prevention only. I’m sure you’ll see which ones I mean in particular 😉
Pre-trip preparations for a traveller
Medical & Dental
It’s always a good idea to get a general MOT of your body as well as a dental check before your leave to avoid any surprises you could have prevented. I can tell you a story about a 50-minute tooth extraction in Vientiane, Laos and the consequent 12 months of dental trouble that followed but I’m sure that it’s not why you’re reading this piece…
Insurance is one of those things you pay for while hoping you won’t need it but at the same, you don’t want to end up paying huge medical bills if you get injured or ill. I personally took the rather flexible Truetraveller but World Nomads appears to be popular either.
Well, vaccines are a rather trending subject right now, aren’t they? But I’m obviously not talking about the bloody Covid-19 jabs. I’m sure that you remember Dengue or Yellow Fever, Hepatitis and so on. Some of you might ask if you need any of this. Well, there are various compulsory shots some countries require upon your entry, which you can read about here in more detail.
But are there any other shots you should take? It depends where you’re about to travel as well as what you’re planning to do there. The private vaccination clinics will want to sell you a lot of vaccines, they’ll also try to sell you anti-Malaria tablets and so on. I don’t want to accuse them of greed, perhaps some of them really do care about your wellbeing. I’ve personally read quite a lot about this subject and talked to few specialists before deciding what jabs to considered essential for my travels.
If you want to deploy a minimalist approach like me, I’d say that except for the compulsory shots, Hep A+B, and typhoid should cover you, in most cases. Well, if you’re for instance about to work with animals or trek in the remote jungle, rabies could be also useful. However, rather than the Internet, I’d say that your GP should be able to advise you on this thing. Speaking for myself, I’d say that protecting yourself is a good idea. Think of it as it is something one should not underestimate as it could potentially ruin your vacation.
Please note that some of those vaccinations come in multiple applications with significant breaks, like 3 months or more, in between so you need to think about them in advance. It’s also advised not to get multiple shots against different diseases at the same time ‘cos your immune system has its limits. As I said above, talk to your GP at least a few months ahead so you don’t have to get over-doped up right before the trip itself. In case you were interested, read more about international travel and health here on WHO’s website.
Think about various camping ground spots that get often booked out and for that reason need to be sorted out well in advance, such as for Torres del Paine. Also, excuse me for stating the obvious, but please make sure that your passport won’t expire in the middle of your trip unless you like the waiting rooms in embassies a lot 😉 I’d also take few photocopies of it with you, in case the original gets stolen, lost or wet… Then there are things like visas or invitation letters, which you should check with your gov pages what are the entry requirements for your desired destinations.
Furthermore, if you travel without a return flight, look into the onward tickets issue because you might not be allowed to board the plane as many countries require you to have such a thing. To be honest, airlines check it more frequently than the customs officers because they would have to fly you back at their expense, in case you were asked for it by a customs officer and failed to produce one. To deal with it, you can either book a flight out and cancel it after you enter the country or you can have someone doing it for you for a little fee. I’ve used bestonwardticket.com and it is a reliable service. I wasn’t however asked once to produce it…
Depending on where you’re about to travel to, you might also want to consider getting your international driving license in case you were planning to drive there. To be honest, I’ve used it only once and it still didn’t spare me bribing the Vietnamese cop (for the false accusation of me breaking the speed limit on a bike that could not even reach the speed I was accused of 🙂 ) but I don’t want to judge this document’s importance based on one incident in a country where foreigners bribing officials plays a role in the local economy folklore.
It’s worth checking if your bank or, in fact, any bank in your country has a good deal with their colleagues in your desired destination when it comes to ATM charges. During the long trip, those can go rather high and I personally can’t think of many stupid ways of how to spend your money. Btw, think of taking at least two cards with you, in case you lose one so unless you already have two cards, get that sorted as well 😉 More about ATM charges as well as few other tips, such as safety, public transport and so on are listed at the bottom of this piece.
Another, seemingly obvious thing is to double-check that your bank cards won’t expire during your trip. It happened to me in Mexico and when I’ve imagined waiting for a debit card in one place for god knows how long, knowing that the postcards I’ve sent from Argentina 6 months prior to this thing were still not delivered yet to their European destinations, without a guarantee that the package would even reach me… I’m sure you know where I’m getting with this…*
Think about reading some information about local customs and culture as it might be very different to yours, so you don’t come across as some rude and disrespectful arsehole, often even without even knowing what you’ve done. For instance, I gently stroke the hair of a kid (as you do) upon my first visit to Thailand, where such gesture is not taken the same way as in Europe. Within seconds, I’ve had quite a few angry people around me, which freaked me out for many reasons.
It turned out that the head of a person as well as of a statue is regarded as the most important part of the body. As a result, it is considered rude and disrespectful to touch a stranger’s head. Sometimes it could be something as innocent as that. Or finger pointing at someone. Or having your bare feet higher up, not having your shoulders covered upon entering a temple and so on…
Well, this one is a rather broad subject. Some people seem to take it easy and go with the flow, others OCD over plan and then there are many subgroups in between those two. Personally, I’ve grown rather fond of reading about potential destinations. My itinerary came to life by simply marking the locations I’ve found most exciting as “want to go” places in Google maps. Having quite a few pointers on the map then determined my route, plus it was also practical. Right now, I’m in the process of adding the Google maps option into the destination-based articles on this site so you’d be just “a click away” from knowing about places you’re reading about.
To be honest, the most important items for any traveller are pretty much those you always check before leaving any place: your passport, your valet, shades and your phone. And paper tissues, they can sometimes become the very most important item of all 😉 The rest of the things that you will need are obviously some clothes, hygiene products, a medical kit, a towel and some other gear, depending on the nature and length of your trip. In case you were interested, here you can find the rather OCD complete list of gear I took with me for my 8 month trip in Latin America.
- 6+months: Talk to your GP about vaccinations and scheduling the full-body MOT; consider whether it’s possible to take a sabbatical leave or you need to quit your job
- 6 months: start thinking about your route, even just by reading few articles and daydreaming about the places you could visit 😉
- 5 months: Look into possible bookings of places that get sometimes booked up, such as the above-mentioned camping spots in Torres del Paine and so on
- 4 months: check possible obstacles, such as entry/visa applications/regulations/requirements, return tickets and so on against your rough or precise itinerary
- 3 months ahead: make sure your passport is valid; sort out the international driving licence, if needed; make sure your credit card won’t expire during your trip and get a spare one if you don’t have it already
- 2 months ahead: get your teeth checked out; make sure that your normal everyday obligatory payments and commitments are paused/cancelled or taken care of; make sure that you have all the gear, find someone to stay in your place, unless you can afford to pay the rent while you’re away
- 1 month ahead: get your flight; pick a travel insurance company, get through the leaving dos 🙂
Some practical info about travelling in Latin Americas
Most of the current material on this website is about travelling in Latin Americas and here are few potentially useful practical tips regarding that region. I hope you’ll find some of the advice listed here useful 😉
- Budget: in case you were interested, here‘s an article listing the country-by-country basic expenses for a traveller in Latin America
- Safety: Few safety tips on how to secure your valuables, what to watch out for and more could be found here
- Transport: Information, safety and some other practical advice regarding public transport in Latin America can be found here
- ATM withdrawal charges: Some practical info, including the list of free-of-charge ATMs in Latin America, can be found here
- Border fees: To find out how much will you have to pay to enter or exit certain countries in Latin America, please click here
- Pre-trip preparations: Few things you can do ahead of time before you’ll become frantically busy prior to your departure are listed here
- Packing list: What to take with you for an extended trip as well as some security tips could be found here
- Cheap Flights: few tips on how to score a cheap/er flight, better seat on a plane, where to get a nap at a particular airport and so on
Locations covered on Quaint Planet
Santiago de Chile ► Valparaíso ► Santiago de Chile ►Punta Arenas – Ushuaia – Punta Arenas ► Puerto Natales – Torres del Paine – Puerto Natales ► El Calafate (Perito Moreno Glacier, Arg) ► El Chaltén (Los Glaciares National Park) ► Chile Chico (Ch) – Puerto Rio Tranquillo (Marble Caves) ► Coyhaique – Puyuhuapi – (Carretera Austral) ► Puerto Chacabuco – Quellón/Castro ► Puerto Varas – San Carlos de Bariloche (Arg) ► Buenos Aires ► Colonia (Ur) ► Montevideo ► Punta del Diablo – Cabo Polonio ► Montevideo ► Salto ► Concordia (Arg) ► Puerto Iguazú (Iguazú Falls) ► Salta ► San Salvador de Jujuy ► Tilcara ► San Pedro de Atacama (Ch) ► Uyuni Salt Flats Tour (Bol) ► Uyuni ► Sucre – La Paz (Death Road Tour) ► Copacabana (Lake Titicaca) – Isla del Sol – Copacabana ► Cusco (Per) ► Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu) ► Cusco ► Lima ► Máncora – Montañita (Ecu) ► Puerto López ► Quito ► Ipiales (Col) – Pasto ► Tatacoa Desert ► Bogotá ► Medellín ► Villa de Lleyva ► Santa Marta – Cartagena – Rincón del Mar Necoclí ► Capurganá ► Puerto Obaldía (Pan) ► Panama City ► Las Lajas ► Cerro Punta ► David ► Bocas del Torro ► San José (Costa Rica) ► San Juan del Sur (Nic) – Ometepe ► Granada ► Managua – El Rama – Bluefields – Corn Islans ► Léon ► El Tunco (El Salvador) ► La Antigua Guatemala – Lake Atitlán ► Lanquín (Semuc Champey) – Flores (Tikal) ► Belize City ► Bacalar – Tulum – Playa del Carmen – Mérida – Valladolid – Cancún ✈️ .
* In case you were curious how I’ve dealt with the bank card expiration, there isn’t any fun story connected to that. To be honest, I’ve decided to use the last few days of my old card to book my flight back and withdraw a lot of cash. Needles to say, I wasn’t happy to cut down on my trip, while carrying an extended amount of cash wasn’t exactly a security issue bonus neither. Not to mention that many things suddenly became rather uneasy to deal with cash only. Booking a hostel? Nope. Getting an online ticket? Nope. There was a lot of bloody nope as you can imagine…