You’ve bought a ticket to somewhere awesome, and you either have an idea of what you’ll be doing there or you’ll figure out details once you arrive (both of which are fine ways to travel). Now what?
- Get your bank details sorted. Don’t be like me and wait until a week before a trip to Peru to transfer funds to a new bank account. You’ll pay some not-so-fun fees. Find a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. (There are lots out there; don’t throw your money away on fees when you don’t have to! I have a card from Capital One that I like.) And I highly recommend Charles Schwab for a checking account. No minimum balance, and the best part is no foreign transaction fees OR ATM fees, ever. Any fees a bank adds when you withdraw cash will be refunded to your debit account (in a pretty timely manner).
- Make copies of your IDs in case anything happens to yours. I like to make copies of my passport and driver’s license and leave one back home with someone, one copy stashed in a safe spot with me, and I store a copy of the photos on my phone as a backup. You could also email them to yourself, use dropbox, google drive, etc. Just make sure shared settings are on “private”.
- Pack half of what you think you need. Seriously. The best advice I read the first time I really tried to pack light was to take everything you’ve laid out and cut it in half. At home, you might wear different, creative outfits every day, but when you’re traveling, no one cares if you wear the same few shirts for months (as long as you wash them). I’ll also pack a few items I’ve been wanting to clear out of my closet anyway, and then can I donate them while abroad before I head home.
- On that note, all items of clothing you pack should be match-able. This way, you never have to think about what your outfit options are, and you can make a lot of combinations before you have access to laundry. If you don’t think you’ll wear something more than once, don’t bring it. The same goes for accessories. Anything you bring should match most–if not all–of what you pack.
- You can find a balance between dressed up and disheveled. Enjoy being out of your typical work environment and leave most makeup and hair care products behind. I went to Africa for 5 weeks with a 1-inch remainder of an eyeliner pencil and a comb. Just think, you’ll probably be wearing sunglasses in most of your pictures, anyway. 😎
- Pack extra lightweight, multipurpose bags. I always bring a few plastic bags, ziplock bags in various sizes, and one or two other bags (tote bags or reusable shopping bags) that weigh nothing but can be used for everyday use, or as my “personal item” when flying if I can’t fit everything into my purse.
- Make everything you bring as light and compact as possible. Your back will thank you, and you’ll appreciate the extra space if you pick up souvenirs and other things along the way. I might be extreme, but to save space, I take meds out of boxes and cut off excess packaging, and put pills in the smallest bottles I have.
- Wear your heaviest outfit on the plane. (More space in your bag + lighter bag.) Roll your clothes to be the most efficient.
- Be ready to blend. The biggest giveaway of being an obvious tourist is tennis shoes. Just… no. Leave flashy jewelry behind unless you want to be a walking target. You can still dress like yourself, but be aware of what the social climate is. (For example, churches in Italy won’t let you in if your shoulders and knees aren’t covered.) Make sure to do your research on the dress code for places you plan to visit.
- Lastly, download helpful apps ahead of time, while you have reliable internet access. Just don’t forget to download extra content before you leave–a mistake I’ve made many times. Here are some of my favorite apps, recommended by travel friends over time:
- maps.me (Download city maps for offline use, with offline directions. This app saved me on one rainy, lost night in Amsterdam.)
- xe (Download currency information so you can do exchange rate calculations offline.)
- google translate (Download languages for translating AND hover your phone camera over text to translate on your screen. Magic.)
- whatsapp, Facebook messenger, and Skype (I recommend all of these because of their texting/messaging/calling/videochatting capabilities, and because depending on where you are, some apps may work better than others. Whatsapp is a favorite of mine because it imports all your phone contacts so you can text and call for free, anywhere in the world where there’s internet.)
Coming soon, the final installment of Making Traveling a Reality: Part 3, Once You’re There (while I finish last-minute things before New Zealand and try not get an ulcer from what’s happening in the U.S.).