Get Cleared for Takeoff with my Top Five Pre-Travel Prep Tips
Earlier this week I was preparing for my first vacation since September of 2019 and while I was PUMPED, I realized I was also out of practice!
Between traveling for work, visiting friends and family, and our occasional vacations, I was a veritable packing pro before COVID. I could generally have a week's worth of gear organized, folded, and zipped up in twenty minutes or less.
This time around it was more like: three hours, two bags, and one exhausted woman later….
There is a bright side to having to re-learn old tricks. See, slowing down my process allowed me to reflect on my prepper-packing routines that had become so habitual for me that I almost stopped noticing them. As someone who has built a career on planning for worst-case scenarios, that way of thinking informs everything I do, including vacation planning. That's not to say that I live in fear of all that can go wrong, quite the opposite, actually.
Applying my emergency preparedness skillset to all areas of my life allows me to move through new or uncertain situations with more confidence and less stress. This way of thinking allows me to consider risks differently, anticipate problems before they start, and devise creative solutions. In the travel context, my ready-steady approach has also saved my butt more times than I can count!
The good news is, you don't have to start a new career to develop these skills! Anyone can learn to integrate preparedness into their daily lives and I'm here to help you do just that. Let's start with planning for your next trip!
A handful of super simple (and often obvious) travel habits are central to my "plan now, play later" approach for a happy holiday. So, before you start loading up your roll-aboard, consider these tips to ensure smooth sailing (flying, driving, or train-ing) during your next journey.
First, know before you go.
Before you selected your vacation destination I am sure you did some research. What is this place like? What is there to do there? Where can I stay? Etc. But taking that assessment a few steps further will upgrade you from informed to in charge. Make sure you're aware of:
As the pandemic persists, this part of the travel equation has become more complicated and continues to evolve almost daily. It’s imperative to check the requirements and restrictions applicable to your destination early and often as they are subject to change. If you are traveling internationally, take careful note of the type of test required (beyond rapid or PCR test some countries even specify what collection methods are acceptable). PCR test results take at least 1-2 days so determining what you need at least a week ahead of your trip will eliminate the potential panic of not being able to get your results in time.
Make sure you are also aware of the latest quarantine requirements for international travelers. Proof of vaccination may be required in addition to negative test results in some locations. See the Docs and Dollars section for more thoughts about paper proof you might consider bringing with you.
2. Seasonal Storms
Right now, we find ourselves in peak hurricane season for the Atlantic, monsoon season in Arizona, and wildfire season in the Western U.S. Across Asia it is also monsoon/typhoon season. That said, if I were writing this in December, I would be talking to you about winter storms and blizzards. To secure your best chance of uninterrupted travel plans, educate yourself on the seasonal weather of your destination. Consider whether it is a region impacted by seasonal storms or other natural hazards during the time you are looking to travel. In doing this research, identify the peak of storm season for that region and do your best to avoid it. Alternatively, if you must travel during peak storm season for a destination be sure to book flexible travel and/or purchase travel insurance.
While nature is unpredictable and certain disasters—like earthquakes and pandemics—can occur anytime, there are general timeframes associated with several natural disasters according to where you are in the world. The table below outlines seasonal associations for some of the most prevalent natural disasters:
3. Critical Contacts
When traveling abroad, make sure you know the number to call in case of an emergency. In many parts of the world, you can reach emergency services by calling or 9-1-1 (the Americas) or 1-1-2 (Europe and parts of Asia). Check out this list of emergency numbers for countries all over the world to confirm the emergency number for your destination.
In many instances, your cellphone will allow you to make an emergency call even if you are not connected to your carrier’s network. It’s always a good idea to confirm this capability as well as the details of your coverage abroad with your carrier before you leave.
Second, your to-go go-bag.
This is by far one of the things I most often thank my past self for packing. My to-go go-bag is something that I pack and leave packed, so I don’t have to go through the process before every trip. This traveling treasure should contain things that will: (a) help keep you and your travel-buddies safe and healthy; (b) help you manage and mitigate incidents if they do occur, and (c) help you avoid certain incidents and emergencies altogether.
Because this kit should address things that might constitute emergencies for you personally, there’s a good chance the contents of yours will differ from mine. For example, if you or someone you are traveling with has severe food allergies, you might be sure to keep an EpiPen in your kit. Similarly, if there is something that is uniquely critical to your well-being, like a certain essential oil that you require to get to sleep, that should also be in your go-bag.
There are, however, a few key essentials that should be included in any good-to-go go-bag:
Basic first aid supplies;
Medications you frequently require (consider ordinary ailments like headaches; upset stomach; or seasonal allergies)
Hydrocortisone/other anti-itch ointment for skin irritation or rash;
Contact solution/eye-drops if you wear glasses;
Hand Sanitizer/disinfecting wipes;
Bug stuff (preventative and after-bite);
Chargers/backup battery pack;
Some emergency cash;
Backup identification; and
Protein bar(s) or another small non-perishable emergency food.
If you feel stumped about what else you might require in your go-bag to-go ask yourself these two questions:
A. What type of incident/impact would make it difficult or impossible for me to enjoy my vacation? and
B. Is there anything I can pack/have with me that would alleviate those impacts and enable me to continue enjoying my trip, despite that incident occurring, or that might allow me to prevent the incident altogether?
Pro Tip: One more thing about your traveling go-bag…as soon as you get home, be sure to restore/replenish any of the supplies you may have used during your trip.
Third, docs and dollars (or applicable currency).
Some of this is addressed above, but this one is important enough that it deserves its own section. When traveling internationally, obviously, you will require your passport; however, for any travel today, I recommend keeping the following in
Duplicates: A paper copy of your passport and/or alternate form of ID packed separately from your original passport and wallet.
COVID copies: Proof of vaccination and proof of negative results (if applicable).
Itinerary/Info: Either paper copy or picture of your trip itinerary that you can access without Wi-fi, which includes contact info for accommodations and/or travel arrangements.
Insurance: Ensure you have proof of any insurance you carry that might be needed, health, car, dental, etc. Along these lines, it's also a good idea to understand what your benefits cover (especially overseas) and to add supplemental coverage where there may be gaps, think rental car insurance and travel insurance.
Emergency Funds: I always have emergency cash stowed in a few locations, but I also pack a credit/debit card separate from my wallet, in case it is lost or stolen.
Fourth, carry-on so you can carry on
If you have ever been left stranded far from home without any of your belongings, you probably already adhere to this one. Whenever possible, travel light enough to carry your bags with you during air travel. Not only does this approach ensure that your bags will arrive at your destination with you, traveling light allows you to move quickly and easily to wherever it is you’re going.
For those instances when carrying on is out of the question, be sure to at least pack your essentials into a carry-on bag that you can keep with you. Consider including your go-bag kit, your critical documents, and the things that will make your life livable for a couple days should your bag not arrive as expected.
Personally, when traveling to beach destinations, I always include the above essentials, a toothbrush, my sunglasses, and a bathing suit in my carry-on. This way, even if my luggage decides to move on island time, I can carry on with enjoying my trip.
Keep in mind that you may not be able to access a cellular network or wi-fi when you first arrive, so don’t depend on Waze or Google Maps to get you where you need to go. It’s not a bad idea to map out the route from your arrival point to your accommodations and have it saved on your phone or on paper.
I can already hear my adventurers out there booing this one: “it’s about the journey, not the destination.” Sure, sure. But not so much when you are in a place where you can’t speak the language, it’s dark, your train pulled into the not-the-best part of town, and you just want to sleep after a long journey. If you just can't bring yourself to map it out, at least be sure to have the address and contact information for your accommodations so you can call for directions and/or ask someone for help in finding your way.
I know this might feel like a lot to think about, but I promise you this layer of planning beforehand pays dividends on the backend. For most of us, our trips have become infrequent and even more precious than usual. Isn't it worth doing everything possible to avoid the emergencies you CAN prevent?
Here's to victorious vacations for all of us!
For more on getting ready, check out last Friday Five entry