No matter how well you prepare for a trip it is inevitable that things will go wrong or not as planned probably about half the time. Some of these are unavoidable and out of your control, like weather and other natural causes and others may have been able to be avoided. Regardless, you will find ten tips, in no particular order, from us below of essential items tips to consider that may make a situation a little less stressful when things don’t go to plan. It should be said that most of these tips have been learnt from our own travel experiences and mistakes.
1. A litre ziplock bag filled with essential toiletry items.
This one has certainly been learnt from experience when flights have not gone to plan. Whether a flight is delayed or cancelled it can mean that your trip can be completely thrown out and you may even find yourself stranded in an airport overnight or travelling for a lot longer than you originally expected. My worst experience of this was the winter I decided to travel to India and Nepal. Unfortunately at the same time Mother Nature decided Europe should have a major dumping of snow, causing delays across Europe. I had decided to do an organised tour before going off by myself. Due to all of the delays it took me 3 days to get to Nepal, I slept in 2 airports, had no shower or change of clothes. To add to the adventure my bag got lost because all three of my flights had been rescheduled so many times. Hence I didn’t have my backpack for the two weeks of the tour, had to buy clothes in Nepal (not any easy feat due to the lack of western clothes available in Katmandu and the generally small stature of Nepalese women) and use an airline issued care pack that consisted of the bare minimum toiletries. Needless to say, after that trip I always make sure I have my allowed one litre ziplock bag of toiletries in my hand luggage, even when travelling in good conditions or to western countries. If nothing else, you have some items to freshen up after sitting on a plane for hours so you don’t look and feel like a complete zombie when you land.
2. A small first aid kit
This does not need to be big at all but is good for keeping all sorts of goodies like headache tablets to band aids to cold and flu remedies to rehydration powders. A small basic first aid kit is inexpensive and can be a life saver when you get hit with the dreaded Bali (insert any country) Bellie. To learn more about what is in our first aid kit have a look at our previous post here.
3. Some US dollars
US dollars are accepted in most countries if you don’t have the local currency. This can be useful if you encounter unexpected “costs” at immigration or if you find yourself stranded in an intermediary airport due to flight delays. We normally don’t change our money to the local currency until we arrive and are able to find an ATM, due to these normally giving you the best exchange rates, so we find it good to have at least some cash that is second best to the local coin. When I arrived in Vietnam recently I found myself having to pay an extra 50US dollars for my visa. I naively thought that I had the visa covered when I paid an exorbitant amount of money to a company that organises visas (apparently the best way to do it for Vietnam), but that is another story, see tip 7 :-).
4. Some passport sized photos
These can be very useful when you encounter unexpected entry requirements when you arrive somewhere. You may have known that you needed a visa to enter but then arrive to find that you also need a passport sized photo for your visa. It doesn’t cost much to get a set of photos taken and to keep them with your passport, they won’t get used very often. Also useful if your passport gets stolen or lost, thankfully this has not happened to us yet (touch wood), or if you need an emergency passport because you didn’t realise that your passport is going to run out while overseas (ok I’ll admit that this has happened to me once).
5. A lock
This is good for locking your backpack or suitcase or to put on your locker if you are sharing a room with strangers. However, we have recently noticed that if we don’t lock our bags they are more likely to get checked. Go figure…
6. A change of clothing
This goes hand in hand with the first point. Now to be honest we probably don’t pack an extra set of clothing when travelling to western countries as it is much easier to buy something in our size in these places. However, we do pack an extra set of clothes when travelling on long flights, again, it can help you feel a little more human when you land so you are ready to explore as soon as you step off the plane. We also pack an extra set of clothes, even if it is an extra t-shirt and a clean pair of underwear, when travelling to the more developing countries.
7. Visa if appropriate
Ok confession time. This essential item hurts to write about because we have learnt not once but twice about checking if you actually need a visa for a country, slow learners we know. This may sound basic and like a rookie error to make but in both cases situations changed that caused us problems.
The first scenario was when our flight path changed when going to Peru. Now admittedly we were given plenty of notice about this change but for us it didn’t seem to make much difference, the departure time had barely changed. Anyway, to cut a long story short, our new flight went through the US. We found out when we got to the airport that you still need a visa even if you are only transitting through the US. We maddly went to the internet centre at the Munich airport and applied for our ESTA, which is meant to be applied for 24 hours before departure. In the end it all worked out but the stress could have been avoided. Why you need a visa to transit in a country still baffles me but I won’t get started on that.
The second visa fiasco was when I went to Vietnam. I was probably a little over prepared for this trip and had booked flights well in advance. To my credit I had checked the visa situation at the time of booking, my mistake was not checking about the visa close to when I left. It turns out that in that time the visa requirements had changed from being able to get it on arrival to having to obtain it in advance. Again, I did not find this until I got to the airport and they would only check me in as far as Bangkok. Off I went to the internet centre in Munich airport once again and applied for a visa, made a desperate call to the organising company, as this is meant to be the most efficient method of obtaining a visa for Vietnam, paid a ridiculous amount of money and got on the plane without actually knowing if I had the letter of introduction that was needed to be granted a visa on arrival. Well of course things turned out in the end after much tears and many phone calls to David who was still in Munich but the whole thing could have been avoided and a lot less stressful with a quick internet check a few weeks before leaving.
We would also recommend that if you have to apply for a visa in advance to allow yourself plenty of time to do this no matter what sort of turnaround time frame they give you. We have seen friends desperately checking their mailboxes for their passports days before they are meant to leave. Things can go wrong that are out of your control, like postal strikes. The best you can do is be as prepared as possible and keep a cool head when things don’t work out perfectly because they won’t always. I always find these travel mishaps make the best travel stories :-).
8. A book
This is of course self explanatory. Useful to help pass the time on the flight or if you are stranded in an airport. We like to read books about the country we are visiting, regardless of whether they are fiction or biographical. We find it helps set the scene, teaches you a lot about the country and gives you a sense of what to expect and ideas of places to visit. Visit our inspirations page to see some recommendations. Of course a kindle or iPad is also an alternative, they both allow you to carry multiple books though you do have to worry about keeping them charged.
9. Toilet paper or wipes
Again, self explanatory. Particularly useful in developing countries where toilet paper may not always be provided or if you are in the middle of nowhere and there are not any toilets when mother nature calls. However, this goes for any trip to any country, even western countries, there are some pretty grotty public toilets around.
10. Torch or head lamp
This is particularly good if you are staying in a dorm and need to get up in the middle of the night. You may have some pretty peeved room mates if you turn the dorm light on. These days most smartphones have torch apps which can also be useful for reading when everyone else has gone to bed. As dorky as they look, we would recommend a headlamp as they are much more practical when using toilets that don’t have lights, regardless of the time of day. Of course if you are camping also very handy to stick on your head when eating dinner around the camp fire.
Do you have essential items that you always pack? Just hit the ‘Leave a Comment’ link at the top of the page and let us know! We’d love to hear from you.
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Great recommendations. I always find it very useful to pack an adaptor (hope That’s the right word in English) to be able to charge electronic devices like my phone. And also a printed list with important adresses and phone Numbers.
Thanks Kristina. Excellent suggestions as well. An adapter is also on our packing list, especially one of the universal adapters that can be used anywhere. I also carry a little address book, especially since these days I don’t know anyone’s phone number :-).
I absolutely agree with your comments on universal adaptors and list of important contacts – both have saved my life quite a few times! What I consider the most important preparation item prior to travelling is number 7 tip: rigorous investigation of the local visa requirements. I learned my lesson (or so I believe at least!) recently while enroute to Maputo, Mozambique travelling form Istanbul via Doha & Johannesburg. From my basic research on transit visas I concluded I don’t need one. Even the Qatar Airways staff let me travel to Doha, after 1.5 hours of trying to understand ambiguous wording of the South African immigration regulations. Only after arriving to Doha Airport, receiving a message from my team members that they were refused to board their flight to Johannesburg because they don’t have a transit visa and spending another 2 hours with the Qatar Airways office there, I was told non-EU nationals who are travelling to the neighbouring countries to South Africa NEED a transit visa… The situation caused a lot of stress, panic attacks, tears without mentioning wasting significant amount of money that could have been spent in a charitable way! At the end of the day I was able to re-route my flight through Nairobi, Kenya and arrived to Maputo all safe and sound. Thank God the rest of my trip went smoothly and I enjoyed it so much that I forgot about this awful incident 🙂