Planning a trip is about more than just making hotel and plane reservations. Even a getaway that lasts only a week or two requires some real planning, and longer ones require even more. So it’s worth spending a little time learning about how to plan a trip. There are a lot of details to think about, especially if you’re going to be gone for a while.
The task is even more complex for us travelling boomers: health becomes an issue as we get older, and so does safety. I recently came across a graphic from the people at Three Ships covering the basic health issues for boomer travel. It has lots of hints and some useful links — even one that shows the most dangerous vacations pastimes. You can find the graphic here: Health & Safety Travel Checklist. (Note: Canada’s provincial health programs do cover some health expenses when you’re out of the country, but buying travel health insurance is always a good idea.)
Of course, there are a lot of other things to think about besides health and safety, from having the right documents to taking care of things at home while you’re gone. After years of circling the globe, I’ve come up with my own “to do” list that I check off whenever I’m getting ready to travel. I call it: How to plan a trip, in 10 easy steps.
First, check your passport
Many countries require your passport to be valid for six months after your arrival. So I’m always careful to check the expiry date if I’ve had my passport for a while — if it’s expired, I may not be going at all. It’s a good idea to make some photocopies of your passport, so you won’t have to carry the original everywhere. As well, a few countries — like Russia, India and a lot of African nations — still require visas (you’ll find detailed information in this post). Travel agents should tell you if you need one, but check anyway, especially if you’re booking online.
Choose your clothes
This can be one of the trickiest lessons in learning how to plan a trip. Some people won’t leave home without their complete wardrobe. But unless you like overtipping bell hops, you’re better off choosing your clothes strategically and travelling light. For city travel, dark pants and some mix-and-match tops are the best plan. For beach destinations, shorts and loose-fitting tops or some sun dresses will do the job. If you’re travelling in shoulder season, the weather can be iffy, so my advice is to take something warm — it gets cold even in hot places. Some layers and waterproof outerwear will keep you warm. Of course, good walking shoes are essential: I recommend bringing an extra pair.
Find a house-sitter
Home insurance policies require you to have someone look in on your place every day or two if you’re going to be absent. So even if you’re only gone a week, you need to have someone check on your home a few times while you’re away. If you’re taking a longer trip, this can be tricky, especially if your friends and family don’t live nearby. So start early, and be prepared to pay someone, if necessary.
Get some resource people
Now you’ve got someone to look in on your place. But what do they do if they find something wrong – a furnace breakdown, a burst pipe, a break-in? Make a list of numbers for them to call if an emergency does crop up; otherwise your check-in may not do much good. And of course, give them a phone number, e-mail address or some other way to get hold of you in case something happens.
Pay the bills
You don’t want to come home to a bunch of missed-payment notices and nasty penalties. So you need to tend to the bills that will come due while you’re gone. I have most of my bills on automatic payment plans, but my credit card bill has caught me out a couple of times. So I usually pay it off before I leave, and check if anything else is due. I’ve also signed up for online banking, which lets me keep an eye on my finances and pay some of my bills online if I do forget.
Protect your investments
The stock markets can do funny things while you’re not watching — as I’ve learned painfully in the past. Now I enter stop-loss orders for some of my more vulnerable investments, so they’ll be sold automatically if they start to slide. Then, I monitor my investments while I’m on the road by checking my brokerage account online. Last year I sold a stock sitting in a café in Quito while the markets were taking a dive.
Have multiple money sources
These days it’s possible to travel using just credit and debit cards. But it’s a good idea to have more than one card, in case the one you bring is rejected: think about getting a second card if you don’t have one. As well, not every place will accept cards, especially in smaller towns and poorer countries. So it’s a good idea to hit the ground with enough cash to hold you for at least a day or two; then you can look for a bank or an ATM. I get some local currency before I go – but not too much, since I can usually get a better exchange rate in my destination.
Stop the papers
It’s easy to forget, but this is important if you don’t want to have a pile of newspapers collecting on your doorstep, telling everyone you’re away. One of my newspaper subscriptions is now digital, so I can read the paper on the road. But the other is still the traditional paper copy, so it needs to be stopped. Remember to phone a few days before you go. Most papers have a cut-off date, and if you miss it, the paper may arrive for a day or two after you’re gone. That’s another reason to have someone check on your home — they can pick up any flyers that accumulate, too.
Check your devices
Make sure your cellphones, tablets, laptops and any other digital devices you bring along are working properly, and that you have all the needed cables and chargers. (Check this twice, so you don’t have a mishap like the one I encountered in Ecuador.) An electrical converter may be necessary, as well, and if you have several devices, a power bar can be a handy thing to have. I also spend some time checking my cameras, and making sure I have multiple memory cards and USB drives to back up my photos. An extra battery is always a good idea, too.
Bring your passwords
This is a critical detail. I take along a comprehensive list of all the passwords I need for my online subscriptions, financial accounts and anything else I might want to use on the road. The list includes verification clues, which can be important: some services require you to verify your identity if you try to log in from a foreign location. Don’t forget the e-mail addresses and phone numbers of your key contacts. And put it all on paper, too, in case your electronics fail.
So that’s my primer on how to plan a trip, in 10 easy steps. Hopefully it brought up an issue or two you hadn’t thought of before; then again, there might be things on your list that I hadn’t thought of. If so, leave a comment so everyone can benefit — we travellers have to give each other a helping hand.
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