Travel is always an eye-opening and meaningful experience. I am also a big proponent of having faith in strangers and only having wonderful serendipitous moments to share on the road, hoping for no bad experiences. But, as much as it’s fun and exciting, it can also be nerve-wrecking. It is important to have all the details ironed out so that you don’t run into any unexpected issues. I was once almost denied entry to the Philippines because my passport’s six month validity started on the day I was leaving from the country.
I decided to put together a list of 10 tips to prepare for long-haul trips with considerations of what can go wrong and how to avoid it.
1. Background checks
This may sound a bit CSI-ey (and I love CSI!), but if you are joining a group of people you don’t know on your travels, it might be worth running a background check. I have previously written about ways to meet people on the road, and having used some of them myself, and admittedly loving the unplanned coincidences of life, I have also been at times slightly worried about the risk of meeting complete strangers in places where safety is a concern. Whether you are deciding to go on a trip with a stranger you met on travBuddy or online, you can search for vital information about them by using a reputable background check service provider. A pretty nifty online service.
2. Advise your bank about your travel
Make time and coordinate with your bank before your trip. Inform them about your scheduled travel so that when you use your credit card overseas, the bank won’t assume it’s being used by somebody else or your identity has been stolen. This has indeed happened to me a few times. The funniest situation (not at the time!) happened in Paris when, after surviving an hour long motorbike ride in the rain in Uganda and boarding three planes through Nairobi, Amsterdam and finally Paris, I went to buy new clothes to replace the completely filthy ones I was wearing at the Gallerie La Fayette, only to find out my credit card was declined. The card provider had assumed my card had been stolen since I had made purchases in Kampala, Nairobi and Amsterdam in the previous 24h.
3. Avoid using your credit cards in internet cafes
In planning trips, we often use the internet to book cheap plane tickets, hotel rooms, and tour packages. Be safe in using public networks especially if the sites you visit will require personal information such as your credit card details, home address, and even your email address. Instead, try to do all the research online and then book on your phone. Most online travel companies today have handy apps for this with easy user friendly mobile experiences.
4. Get a travel insurance
Before you leave, get yourself travel insurance that will protect you and take care of all your medical needs. Of course, you’ll be doing a lot of strenuous and physically challenging activities while traveling that can sometimes affect your health. Being insured will take away your worries about any health emergencies. You might think that this is just an additional cost for the trip, but it’s better to be secure than have to deal with it later. After I broke my arm in South Africa by falling off a leisurely horse ride and needing to be operated on, I have understood the real need and value of insurance. I would have had quite a heart attack if I had to pay for the $20,000 bill.
5. Produce photocopies of important documents
Your passport, IDs, visa, and even travel itineraries should be photocopied before leaving your home country. Keep a copy in every bag you have so that you’ll have an extra copy ready to use during emergencies. This can also be an alternative for situations when you’ll be asked to provide documents regarding your trip. Believe it or not, I am regularly asked to provide the itineraries and bookings in a lot of airport and sometimes, like in India, you have to show it before you can even enter the building. If you don’t have data while traveling, you may not be able to access this, so apart from adding it to your relevant other mobile apps, a physical copy is an easy and cheap back up.
6. Make your plans known
Let your family and close friends know the whole itinerary of your trip. Since you’ll be away for quite some time, spare them the trouble of having to worry about you. Give a detailed list of the things that you’re going to do and the places you’re planning to visit. This makes it easy for them to contact you if an emergency occurs or to locate you should you go missing or should anything happen. Some airlines already ask for a next of kin to contact in case of emergencies but if anything happens to you while on a solo trip, it could take your family some time to find out. Having a small card visible in your wallet with your personal emergency contact details is also a good idea.
7. List down emergency contacts
Prior to your flight, make a list of all your emergency contacts and keep it with you at all times. This comes in handy if you get tangled up in an emergency. It will also be great if you know the emergency contact of your home country’s embassy in the place you’re visiting in case you lose your passport.
Registering with the embassy is a good idea if you are staying in a country for a certain duration. They can help keep you updated on events and happenings and you can network a bit with fellow countrymen and women. As I have spent significant amount of time in countries where safety is a concern, registering with the embassy is a must in case emergency evacuation is required. And if nothing else, embassies in such locations are a great place to meet people as they often organise parties for the members and expats. I have attended more than one fun party at the American Embassy in Khartoum.
8. Invest in a sturdy travel bag
A sturdy travel bag is a great investment for your long-distance trip, as it won’t easily give in to wear and tear while you go from place to place. This can also save you money from constantly buying a new bag to replace the worn-out one. I am a huge fan of Tumi. My trusty carry on lasted me ten years of weekly travel, impressive and well worth each dollar, even if they are not cheap.
9. Beware of local scams
Especially if it’s your first time to visit a particular destination, research about the common tourist scams in that place. This can help you prepare for the worst and plan on how to keep yourself safe at all times. Google searches on the topic will bring out relevant results.
10. Know the laws and regulations
Make sure that you also know the basic rules and regulations in the place you are traveling to. Several countries are strict when it comes to even little things like chewing gum in Singapore. You don’t want to offend anyone or violate any rules. Drug abuse also carries the death penalty in many countries, including Singapore, so what may be legal in California or even Thailand, could land you in jail or worse elsewhere.
The above may seem like a lot of preparation and you may think that some of the points are not required, but even if I like going on unplanned trips and prefer not to have a schedule or bookings, I have been in enough situations over the last 12 years to know that it is always best to be safe than sorry.
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