During my travels, I’ve realized that preparation is key. Some of lucky one’s can travel at a seconds notice but for us others, we need a game plan. With this in mind I’ve compiled a list of my top things to do before a trip. Hopefully some of these will be of some use and save you the hassles that I’ve been through.
Now I won’t be covering things like finding a kennel for your pet or ensuring that you’ve switched off your oven, etc. I’m just going to assume that you’ve covered all your bases and are ready to travel. These tips are rather things that will aid you on your actual trip. If you’re already travelling, some can be done at your current hostel/hotel.
Top Things to do Before a Trip
1. Check What Bands are Playing
I took a trip to Paris in 2016 and on my day of departure I realized that one of my favorite bands, Birdeatsbaby, was playing that day. I was absolutely gutted! Once you have a general idea of where you’ll be staying and for how long, check to see what bands will be playing in those cities around those dates. You may even find yourself changing your itinerary to see a few acts along the way.
I use Songkick and BandsInTown to track my favorite artists. I use two apps because some smaller bands are only registered on one and not the other. For most well-known bands, you should be fine with either. Smaller bands may also skip posting tours online completely and opt to inform their fans via their official website or Facebook page. So be sure to keep your eyes peeled.
2. Check What Festivals are On (Art/Film/Music)
I could have included this with the bands section but I want to make sure that everyone reads this. Check what festivals are on! Most European cities have incredible festivals running throughout the year. I use Everfest to track down what’s happening around the world. Electro, jazz, heavy metal – there’s a festival for everyone. And if you’re into the arts, there’s plenty of options available for you as well. You’ll kick yourself if you miss out on an opportunity like this.
3. Google Maps (Offline Areas) + GPS
I get lost A LOT! Due to this Google Maps has become my best friend. If you travel a lot, chances are that you won’t have mobile data available at all times. In order to find each of my hostels while I travel, I follow a few simple steps. You should have Google Maps already installed on your phone. You’ll want to search for a city you’ll be visiting and wait for it to load. Next, click on the menu and choose “Offline areas”. At the top, you’ll find an option called “Select Your Own Area”. Choose this option and you’ll be able to download an offline version of that city.
This helpful in many ways. Firstly, whenever I leave a hostel to go exploring I always add a destination on my map. Once you leave the hostel and disconnect from the wifi, Google Maps in unable to update street names along the way. However, if you’ve downloaded the map to your phone, you’ll have all the street names readily available.
Secondly, when trying to get back home I can simply put on my GPS and visually retrace my steps back to the hostel. I won’t have a set route lined out for me without data but I can easily spot my hostel on the map and navigate myself. Getting home safely after a big day/night out is very important.
4. Power Bank / Extra Phone Battery
I don’t think I’ll need to say much about this at all. I managed to survive my last 7 week holiday without one but I’ll be damned if I ever do that again. For the most part, you’ll have time to charge your phone in the morning and evening at each hostel. However, when taking a ferry for example and travelling for 19+ hours without a cabin, a mobile power bank is a necessity. It’s also nice to head out and take as many pictures as you’d like without worrying about saving battery power to GPS yourself home at night.
You can find an assortment of power bank options available here.
5. Google Translate
My other good travel companion is Google Translate. Now, of course, you’ve used it before and you probably have the app installed already. If not, install it! I’ve learned that it’s important to know certain polite words when traveling. The basics, of course, being – “hello“, “one“, “beer“, “please“, “thank you” and “goodbye“.
When traveling to multiple countries, you’ll find yourself mixing languages and speaking broken French while on a Spanish beach. Google Translate allows you to download language files locally to your phone, so you’ll be able to do your translations on-the-fly and not worry about memorizing phrases beforehand.
An even more handy feature pops up if you press the icon that looks like a camera. This will bring up an instant text translator. Simply hover your phone above a menu (in a foreign language) and it’ll translate it directly on your screen. This feature only works if you have the language file for that language already downloaded to your phone.
The voice option is also pretty cool. It allows instant voice translation between languages. However, this option only works when connected to Wifi or mobile data…
6. Notify your Bank that You are Traveling!
Running out of cash when traveling isn’t a big deal when you’ve got debit/credit cards with you. Having your cards declined while exploring Europe is downright terrifying! Ensure that you’ve contacted your bank and they are aware of your travel plans. Many times you are able to simply fill out your itinerary on their online banking website without having to speak to anyone at all. Make this step and important part of your international travel checklist to avoid issues later.
7. Always Have Local Currency on You
While we’re on the topic of money and banks, it’s a good idea to have some local cash you. I’ve encountered many hostels that don’t accept cards. I usually grab some cash from a cash machine as soon as I arrive in a new country. This will save you the hassle of backtracking to find cash when you’d rather be passing out in your current hostel. Markets and many small stores won’t accept any form of payment besides cash either. I avoid currency exchange places like the plague and prefer to simply withdraw from an ATM. With banks I know exactly how bad I’m getting screwed – while with currency exchange places I’m never quite sure.
If you absolutely have to exchange money, I’d recommend using Transferwise. It’s an online only service and you’ll get your first transfer free through this link up to £500. They give the best exchange rates but the catch is you normally have to wait a couple days for the money to clear. So if you’re in a rush, you’re better off using a Western Union.
8. Plan Your First Day
You have your tickets and hostel booked and you’re out the door ready for an adventure. You know that whatever happens you’ll be able to handle it. Well that’s all well and good but you’re forgetting about one little thing – JETLAG!
If you’re traveling long distance, make sure you know the check-in time of your hostel. There’s nothing worse than turning up to place and having to sit endless hours waiting for a bed to climb into. You might expect yourself to chill out in a coffee shop and serenely wait for time to fly by until it’s time to check-in. But you weren’t expecting to have a crying baby next to you, or turbulence for most of the flight… Try to arrange your schedule to be at the hostel at/after check-in time and save yourself a lot of hassle. This may be one of top things to do before a trip if you have bad jetlag as I do.
I bumped into some US travelers while sleeping in an Italian train station one night (a story for another day…) and they couldn’t remember the name of the hotel they were planning to go to the next day. Their phones and computer had died and they were stranded in a train station with me for the night disconnected from technology. I tried my best to search for hotels in the area they going to in the morning but there were way too many.
So my next tip is – for your first destination – have everything on paper. Have all your reservation info, transport directions and emergency contact numbers printed out. If you are in a jam, you can always use a telephone booth (do these still exist?) or borrow a phone from another traveler (not as uncommon as you think).
9. Do Research on Local Transportation
Every country has their own system of local transportation that is well-known to locals but foreign to everyone else. When in London, you’ll need an oyster card to survive (and mind the gap). In Vienna, make sure you remember to validate your paper ticket before getting on any buses or trains. In Paris, if you buy a Navigo Découverte weekly pass in the middle of the week, it’ll still on be valid until the Sunday. And in Brașov, taxis are so cheap, you should just avoid buses altogether. Just ensure that you have an app or phone number to order your taxis with.
In most cities I try avoid these issues completely. My personal preference is to find hostels with good reviews that are relatively close to whichever station I’m arriving at. This is considerably easier when traveling by train. In many cities like Barcelona, Rome, Budapest and Prague – I did not take any form of public or private transport. This saved me a great deal of cash.
10. Get a Local Sim
Depending on how long you plan on traveling, obtaining a local sim can be a great way to save some cash. If you’re traveling within Europe, you can purchase a sim beforehand that will come preloaded with call minutes and mobile data. When you’re lost, tired and hungry, being able to do a quick Google search for your next hostel will feel amazing! While living in France I used LeFrenchMobile but data costs became expensive when traveling Europe. Now I use OneSimCard for international phone coverage.
Top Things to do Before a Trip – International Travel Checklist
And that about wraps things up. Of course there are an endless number of things that you could do to prepare but these are things that have made my travels considerably easier. Keep your costs low and your energy high and you’ll be just fine.
Safe Travels! 🙂