Pretravel Planning – 25 Top Tips for a Stress-free Vacation
In my last blog post, 5 Reasons Why Travel Planning is Important, I wrote about how planning helps you to consider your budget, think about priorities, allocate time for attractions and the “must see”. I know how important it is to plan the “must see” attractions before hand because of my own experience in Amsterdam.
My weekend break in Amsterdam was the one time where no checklist was used. Although it turned out to be an amazing weekend, and you can read about Amsterdam in a Nutshell – 18 experiences in 48 hours here, I missed out on one of the most important tourist sights – Anne Frank’s House. Tickets for Anne Frank’s House sold out weeks before I arrived and I was on the waiting list for the limited tickets released each morning. I was disappointed but it did not overshadow the rest of my experiences. Amsterdam is a place I can return to as it is only a little over 4-hours journey on the Eurostar and I will embed Anne Frank’s House into my itinerary.
I had mentioned that I like “lists”! My travel planning consists of a pretravel, travel and post-travel checklists. So, in this post, I shall share with you what considerations goes into my pretravel checklist. Some of my suggestions may be obvious but I like to include them so that I do not miss it – which is the whole point of having a plan, or a checklist, right? There may be some that I have missed which you may think of. You can add it to the list, and you may want to write and let me know too, so I could update mine.
You can use this Checklist in all situations, scenarios, whether you are family, couple or solo travellers and adapt it to suit. The checklist is useful for overseas travel. Please remember that these are suggestions only and not absolute.
There is a link at the end of the post for you to download the checklist.
A pretravel checklist is important because it embodies all the necessary steps that needs to be taken before your vacation to ensure you have a stress-free time. The last thing you need is a bad experience because you have forgotten to obtain the appropriate visa, or you left your passports! So, here goes…
25 Top Tips for a stress-free vacation
1. Determine a budget & a buffer
Travel involves money and this is a sensitive subject. However, it is an important one. It is best to decide at the outset how much a vacation will cost, put thoughts to paper and see the numbers. Once you have the figures, you can then shop for best deals on airlines, accommodation and an itinerary of activities.
Numbers on paper and shopping for best deals may give you a good idea of your travel budget. However, from my experiences, a vacation sometimes had taken me beyond my budget. This had mainly been due to unexpected expenses and additional costs to what was budgeted for. There were occasions when I added an additional sightseeing trip to my itinerary, a theatre show or treat ourselves to a lovely dinner in a local cultural setting which we did not previously think of. Sometimes, it can be the costs of transportation from one place to another. For all of these additional expenses, I embed a buffer in my budget.
A budget buffer is the extra cash you set aside for the unexpected expenses whilst on holiday. I suggest a buffer of 30% of total travel expenses minus the cost of flights to be ideal. These are funds which you should have immediate access to if need be. Of course, if you can afford more, all the better 😊
2. Determine an emergency fund
An emergency fund is not to be confused with a budget buffer. The emergency fund is solely set aside for unforeseen dilemmas beyond your control when you are travelling. It is difficult to come up with a figure here because every situation is different and calls for personal judgement. However, as a guide I would suggest 30% of total travel expenses plus cost of flights. I include the cost of flights because I need a cushion if situations were such that I may need to get out of the country, or get alternate flights due to strike actions etc.
Decide on your travel destination, whether it is a City break, an adventure in the mountains or sandy beaches and blue skies. It is also important to decide if travel involves one destination or multiple destinations. The place and type of holiday is important as it directly correlates with your budget.
This is also a perfect opportunity to think of your activities and how your itinerary is going to be.
As a guide, I have to come to use Get Your Guide who are competitively priced and one of the trusted source offering thousands of sightseeing tours, attractions and transfers in destinations worldwide. You can also find theatre and show tickets and city passes to suit.
Click on the link below and find out what you can do on your vacation. If you cannot find what you are looking for, don’t give up. Please get in touch with me via email: email@example.com and we can figure something out.
It is important to decide on the duration of your vacation because this will dictate how much of the destination you are able to see, how much money you will be needing, what it will cost for the sightseeing trips which you may want to include in your vacation and how many meals you will need to pay for etc.
5. Book your flights/trains
Look-out for early birds offer or worldwide sale by airlines. Usually early January/April or May will fetch you a good price.
Utilise comparative sites such as Skyscanner for flights. Sometimes, you can get a good deal directly with some airlines.
6. Getting around when at destination
Think about transportation and the system. Will you be using the local transport, or will you be walking most of the time? Familiarise yourself with the system and check reviews to see what tourists have to say about your chosen destination.
Consider the following when deciding on accommodations:
i) When travelling with kids, look for family-friendly sites.
- Often, you can find adjoining rooms or large rooms where you can have a baby-cot or an additional bed. You can also have twin-beds at no extra cost.
- Search also on what kids-club activities are available on-site. Sometimes these activities club are included in your stay but most times it is not. I have used them liberally when my kids were young to break the day so they can have time with other kids of their age. This also meant that I can have a bit of me-time while they were having fun in a safe environment.
- You can look-up recommended best family hotels in the world 2019 by CNTraveller here.
- You can look-up the 10 best family resorts in UK 2019 by TripAdvisor here.
ii) Complimentary shuttle service.
Investigate if the hotel offers complimentary shuttle service from the airport to the hotel and/or other sightseeing sights. Places like Orlando comes to mind. We also had a shuttle service when we were in Niagara Falls, from the hotel to the restaurant. It is worth checking.
With a boom in pet ownership and if you are one of them, you may want to travel with your fur-babies. If you do, you may want to check for pet-friendly accommodations. Click on the links below to find out more on the best pet-friendly accommodations, 2019, offered by skycop and CNN Travel.
- CNN Travel
Always go for breakfast included! Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and when I am travelling, I always make sure I have a good and a healthy start. This is a good habit to get into because your day may be filled with activities and you may only have time for a sandwich or a bag of crisps before your next meal in the evening.
Most hotels offer a great selection for breakfast – lots of fruits in addition to continental breakfast. Some hotels may offer more, for example their local breakfast in addition to continental or English breakfast.
I would have a quick browse through their menu, just to be aware of the choices, pricing and whether it meets any dietary requirements I may have.
8. Type of accommodation
The type of accommodation you choose must meet your needs. Starting early on your search, say before the peak season, will give you greater choices both in the types of accommodation and its prices. Early search helps in securing better deals. Sometimes, it is a challenge to find a property that is 100% suited and to have a certain degree of comfort that you want. As for me, I need that little luxury when I travel. I am quite relentless at what I want, so I persevere to get the closest to suit. I use various search engines to compare availability and prices but over the years, I have come to rely on booking dot com.
booking.com is a travel search engine for accommodations, that offers you a choice of hotels, homes and apartments and B&B’s in 120,000 destinations worldwide – instant confirmation and no cancellation fees. With such a vast choice, I am certain you will find accommodation to suit your needs, whether you are a solo traveller, couples or family. There is something to suit every budget. You could do a search below and discover what comes up.
For the most part, the world is a safe place to be. We cannot control everything, no matter how well planned we are because things do happen, and these are sometimes out of our control. At this stage of pretravel plans, I suggest that you check whether the country you are travelling to is safe in relation to its political climate. No-one wants to be caught out!
There are several websites and travel blogs that provide comprehensive travel safety advise which you can check. Below you will find two links, one from the US Bureau of Consular Affairs and the other from UK Government offering most up-to-date travel advise. There is information on which countries are safe to travel to, what to do in situations if you are caught-out and how to stay safe.
You may want to check these when making travel plans.
- The US Bureau of Consular Affairs click the link below.
- The UK Government click the link below.
- Valid passports with at least 6 months left to expiration.
- Visa requirements – if travelling to multiple countries, obtaining a valid visa to each of the country before you travel.
- If you are travelling to the USA, you will need ESTA
ESTA – Electronic System for Travel Authorisation
ESTA is a mandatory travel authorisation which you need if you are visiting the US either by Sea or Air for under 90 days. Your visit can be for either tourism, business or just visiting friends and family. Most importantly to be aware is that you need ESTA even if you are in transit. Most travellers are caught out by this because we assume that travelling VIA may not require an entry authorisation, but we do!
ESTA is available only for travellers whose nationality is derived from countries covered under the Visa Waiver Program.
You can read more on ESTA by clicking the link below.
Failure to obtain an ESTA can lead to denial of entry at the border and a large fine. You are advised to apply as soon as possible.
I have a personal experience in this respect where I was not allowed to board my flight in Tokyo bound for US, which is a whole blog post itself. I will write on this soon.
However, in other instances, I obtained my ESTA within 72 hours, but apply as soon as you know of your travel plans and don’t leave it till the last minute.
*Have a look at the country’s respective immigration website for information
Depending on the countries you are travelling to; you may require vaccinations against:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Japanese encephalitis
- Meningococcal meningitis
- Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)
Please check your country’s National Health website for more information.
12. Travel insurance
Ensure you are fully covered for the duration of your journey including valuables and equipment. Check whether your home insurance covers your equipment such as your camera.
13. Inform bank/credit card companies
You need to inform the bank and the credit card company that you are travelling abroad and the country you are travelling to.
This is to ensure that the use of your card abroad is not viewed as suspicious. If viewed as suspicious, there is the possibility that your card will be blocked. You will not be able to use it until the ‘block’ is lifted which can only happen when you get in touch with the Fraud Team of the respective financial institutions. You would not want this stress, I am sure. So, inform your bank/credit card company. It only takes a phone call.
Additionally, you may wish to consider using a cash card, top up as and when you need to. Especially so if you are travelling to remote places and you do not want to risk losing cash or your credit cards. Losing your credit cards runs the risk of it being misused by the thieves.
14. Foreign currencies
Foreign currencies – it is always good to carry some local currency in cash with you. Keep a look-out on the exchange rates and buy them at a rate when it is favourable to you, even if this means a couple of months before the actual travel date.
It is advised not to use your bank card to withdraw cash at a foreign ATM because you will incur charges for the transactions. In some countries such as China, major credit cards may not be accepted. Only local credit cards are accepted. Best to check before you go.
15. What to pack?
I am not the best person to advise on what to pack!
I shall share with you the following famous quote of Susan Heller which has helped me of late. I say, of late because I was the sort who would take a suitcase for a weekend getaway instead of a hand luggage – why, because I prepare for the various weather, different shoes etc. I am better now, much, much better 😊.
These are the wise words of Susan Heller:
“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money”
16. Enable mobile roaming
I don’t think this is applicable very much these days and would depend on your carrier and the price plan you have. However, just to be certain, ensure mobile roaming is enabled so that you will be able to use your mobile phone when abroad.
Something you may want to consider when you are travelling for a longer period and unfamiliar countries is to rent a portable mobile wifi device. I found this to be incredibly useful during my stay in Japan
17. Cancel regular deliveries
This is something that can be easily overlooked – regular deliveries! For example, regular fresh milk delivery. Also, these days, regular grocery orders from local large grocery stores such as Asda/Walmart are more popular. Be sure to cancel these.
18. Mail delivery
Depending on how long you are away, and if you are away for several weeks, you may want to consider diverting your mail to a P.O. Box. This is helpful to ensure all your mail is in one place, safe and secure and not clogging up your letter box.
19. Security of your home
Security of your home while you are away on vacation is paramount. You do not want to return to a home that has been ransacked or burgled. A reliable security system in place will give you peace of mind. Alternatively, consider arranging for a trusted person to look into your house every so often while you are away.
20. Emergency contacts at destination
Ensure you have the phone numbers of your embassy in the country that you are travelling to. You will need this in the event of emergencies
21. Emergency contacts at home
Ensure you have the contact details of family or friends at home whom you can contact in the event of an emergency.
22. Hand-luggage restrictions
Hand luggage is the bag you carry through security and keep with you all through your journey. So, please carry only the minimum and what you absolutely need.
Ensure you are fully aware of your hand luggage restrictions.
- Only One piece of hand luggage. Most airlines allow passengers to carry a handbag too. It is best to check with your airline to make sure.
- The hand luggage must not exceed 56cm x 45cm x 25cm.
- Your hand luggage must not contain any prohibited items, and these are listed below:
- Flammable liquids and solids
- Oxidisers such as bleaching powders
- Organic peroxides
- Tear gas devices or any gas cylinders
- Infectious substances such as live virus materials
- Wet-cell car batteries
- Instruments containing mercury – however, thermometers with mercury are permitted in hold luggage (but not hand luggage) only, if they are carried in a protective case
- Instruments containing magnets
- Toy/replica guns (metal or plastic)
- Non-safety matches
- Firelighters, lighter fuel, paints or thinners
- Poisons, arsenic, cyanide or weedkiller
- Radioactive materials, acids, corrosives, alkalis or caustic soda
- Creosote, quicklime or oiled paper
- Vehicle fuel system parts which have contained fuel
- Party poppers
You may only carry small amounts of liquids, gels, creams and pastes. These must be in containers marked 100ml or less. These should be placed into one transparent re-sealable bag, measuring 20cm x 20cm which will be screened separately at security.
I would add a comment made by Roz Zito of Not Yet Decrepit Traveler (https://www.notyetdecrepittraveller.net/home-page) of her experiences when travelling:
This is a great list of things to check before travelling, Georgina! I agree that it really pays to do your homework. I would add to the prohibited list for hand baggage water or any liquid over 100 ml, scissors and penknives. I always read the airline information with great care and pack to the ‘weakest link’, i.e. the airline leg of your journey with the least size and weights or both hold and hand baggage. I also recommend checking if you are staying in an airport hotel for a stopover whether you will be allowed to pick up your hold baggage. In most middle-eastern countries you are not. Your hold baggage has to be checked through to your final destination and you need to pack all your needs for an overnight stay into your hand baggage.R. Zito
UK readers, please click link below:
Ensure all your bags, both hold luggage and hand luggage are identified with suitable Name tags. You are advised to have your name and contact details. This is important so that the luggage can be traced back to you if it goes missing.
[Hope for the best but always be prepared for the worst]
24. Combination locks/suitcase padlocks
Ensure your hold luggage is secured with either combination locks or suitcase padlocks. You will want to have everything you packed at home to be there for you when you arrive at your destination.
25. DON’T FORGET YOUR PASSPORT
You know what it means if you do!
In a nutshell
Well, as you can see, my list is comprehensive. 25 considerations may seem a lot but believe me, it is worth it. It is worth doing all the research, the prep and the mental calculations before you board your flight so that your vacation is stress-free. Even if you face certain challenges while on holiday, you will be in a good place to resolve it.
Click the link below for a one-page user-friendly version of the Pretravel Checklist.
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Originally a Malaysian, Georgina has lived in London for most of her adult life which is her home. This gives her an unparalleled advantage of London life as a local expert. Her adventures had given her the opportunity to live in Japan and the USA also. Georgina is the owner and business strategist behind MyTimelessFootsteps.com. Her goal is to encourage mature adventurers to be happy at home and abroad. Her travel guides and inspiring travel articles are aimed at encouraging you to embrace this beautiful world and to live life on your terms.
Updated: September 2019