691st post: How to prepare to travel abroad

Having travel abroad myself, I have went through the trouble of preparing for my travels. I have seen and heard of people who don't travel just because of the fear of the unknown, or not understanding the situation behind horror stories they may have heard, or while they are just about to travel, they have forgotten something important at the last minute. This guide assumes that you are not using an agent to help you or have anything that requires your attention while you are away that can't be done while travelling.

This list is sorted according to how important you need to get things done, with the most important first.
  1. Get a passport
    1. This is the most important document you would need to travel. Some countries have agreements to let citizens of one country into another with just an ID, but you will need a passport for all others.
    2. If you already have a passport, make sure it isn't expired, or a few months close to the expiry date. The exact number of months varies by country, but it is generally 6 months at most.
      1. If you are getting a visa (see below) for the long-term, like work or study, you might also want to take note if they require your passport's validity covers the length of the visa that can be in years.
  2. Determine your destination
    1. You might also want to check if the weather or political situation there is suitable too.
  3. Check if your destination requires a visa
    1. Some countries requires citizens of certain countries to obtain a visa before entering the country, including a tourist visa. Even with that, which port of entry you would enter with may have different rules, or particular visas that could only be obtained there, or even the total amount of visa-free period you would be given.
      1. China, for example, have separate immigration laws for Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and China itself only allows a handful number of citizens of countries in visa-free. If you are transiting through China to another country, take note that transit visa would only be given at the Shanghai airports (Hongqiao and Pudong).
      2. Visa-free periods varies from 14 days to 6 months, and some have the additional requirement of not having spent more than more than a certain number of days in a year.
    2. For those entering for reasons besides short-term visit, you might also need to prepare additional paperwork to give to the customs officer.
  4. Check if you can take leave from work, and for how long.
    1. This would determine how long the trip would be and, indirectly, the flight you would book.
    2. You might want to reserve some days off should there be something.
    3. To maximise the amount of total days of your trip while using little of your leave days, take days off at on the work days before and/or after your days off. (I say "days off" instead of public holidays or weekends as it wouldn't be correct for people who work on those days.)
  5. Reserve flight
    1. Book flights before booking the hotel (or check both without booking) as some airlines do not fly every day, or are fully booked. For the budget concious, different flights on different times/days to the same destination may have different flight fares, even within the same airline.
    2. To avoid disappointment of encountering full flights or not being able to sit together with your travel companion, make sure you book your flight months in advance.
    3. Flights with stopovers are likely to cost less than a direct flight, but waiting times between flights add up to your total travelling time.
    4. You might want to take note of the local time of departing and arrival locations. The airport may have public transport, but if your flight arrives after hours (or too close to the last train), or departs at a time that is practically impossible for you to catch, that would mean spending hours at the airport. Do you want that?
      1. Ideally, you should plan to be able to reach the hotel within a few hours of when the check-in hours are (usually in the afternoon), even if they allow you to check in up until their offices close for the day.
      2. Depending on the flight, timezone and travelling time, you might not have an option to change this.
  6. Reserve Hotel
    1. You can book a hotel before the flight, but in my opinion, flights should be handled first as they are trickier get on, where availability and costs varies greatly. You would be limited to the flights available and may be forced to take the more expensive flights when the cheap ones are unavailable.
    2. Check the reviews from reliable sources, and beware of fake comments and ratings that artificially make a bad hotel look good when it is not. Some groups may use names of different hotels but use the same images.
      1. For places like Hong Kong, where property prices are expensive, they might do this to have rooms in other places that are likely to be different units within the same building.
    3. Some "hotel rooms" are actually a bed in a shared dormitory with a number of other people, and facilities shared with other people. If you are lucky, they may have enough facilities so you don't have to wait for another person to get done with their turn. Unless otherwise mentioned, assume they are mixed-gender dorms, though female dorms are available. This is among the cheapest option to have a decent place to stay in.
    4. Some places are what it is called "bed & breakfast" (BNB), where it is basically like someone's place to sleep at.
  7. Exchange money
    1. It may seem funny for me to list this after reserving flight and hotel, but chances are you would have paid for those via credit/debit card, where they would be converted automatically, or you would pay for the stay at the hotel itself.
    2. It is best if you would exchange money in your home country, and withdraw the cash to exchange for at where there aren't suspicious people around. If the currency you want to change to isn't offered by the money changer, change to the USD first and change again at that country.
      1. If, for whatever political reason the country has against the US, you might want to change to another currency like the Euro instead.
    3. While you can use your credit/debit or ATM card abroad, you would want to have some local currency on you, and in case there is a problem with your cards.
      1. While some shops and hotels accept your currency, the exchange rates may not be favourable, and you would possibly receive change in the local currency.
    4. If you are transiting through another country, it is recommended you change some money for the currency of there too, though there could be ATMs that you can use.
    5. Keep in mind that exchange rates at the airport money changer may not be favourable than elsewhere, though the ATMs there might offer the same rates as anywhere in the country, which may be better.
      1. Note that not all ATMs accept foreign cards. If they do accept it, the rates and fees by one bank might be less favourable than an other bank.
      2. If the bank you are with have branches at the country you are visiting, withdraw with that bank before using another bank as you should not be charged for withdrawal.
      3. In countries like Japan, most ATMs operate only during business hours, so make sure you have enough cash to last through the night and weekends. Foreign banks and those at Seven Eleven are the notable exceptions.
  8. Pack your bags
    1. Don't pack too much, unnecessary things especially.
      1. If unsure, or if it is something that can be bought at the destination country that wouldn't be needed while travelling, do not pack it in.
    2. Don't pack what isn't allowed through the airport or the country.
      1. This includes liquid-based toiletries above a certain total capacity.
    3. If staying for several days, just pack a few clothes and wash it at the hotel instead of bringing clothes that covers the whole period: it would make your bag heavy, and take up space.
  9. Check and recheck your flight info.
    1. Airports, airlines, or destination country require that you check-in 45 minutes to 2 hours before the departure time. Make sure you are already at the airport when they open if you don't want to rush, which means that you should start departing a lot earlier than that.
  10. Bring your stuff along, and check-in on time
    1. You wouldn't want to forget everything you have prepared and miss the flight, would you?


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