After Booking

  1. Check visa requirements and get visas -   I use Travcour where they offer the country I need. They're really helpful and efficient. Allow plenty of time to do this. Estimated times given by embassies are usually minimum times and some countries require attendance at the embassy. See Planning Your Solo Trip
  2. Book airline extras such as such as extra leg room seats - travel companies don't always mention optional extras when booking. Some airlines even offer free accommodation on overnight transit flights.
  3. Check there is good insurance cover in place for the entire journey. Countries or areas of countries not FCO advised will require specialist insurance.
  4. Check vaccination requirements - take your record card to the nurse at your local clinic if necessary
  5. Check malaria recommendations - check websites such as Fit for Travel destinations for malaria requirements
  6. Check personal medication supplies - order in supplies of personal medication/supplements. Make sure you keep the prescriptions alongside for any painkillers/narcotics etc. - some countries are very strict on this
  7. Download books and manuals to phone and Kindle - fiction and non-fiction - see what's recommended in relation to the countries I'm visiting, guidebooks, camera manuals.
  8. Sadly, books are much too heavy and bulky to carry far. But I have taken second-hand books and left them in libraries or given them away."
  9. Looking after my flat - confirm arrangements with Airbnb managers or make sure a friend/neighbour will check while I'm away.
  10. Check mobile phone contract - Consider buying a cheap handset so you can purchase local SIMS - usually much better value. Europe is usually roam free now. Vodafone currently offer one of the best deals otherwise - 77 countries on roam free if you take their red plan and a lot of others on £6 a day
  11. Check electricity plugs/sockets in destinations – order the correct adaptor or buy a universal one. I like a universal one as they have USB charging slots too. Very easy.

The Week Before

  • Order currency - compare rates online - local shops are usually better than big chains. Check whether the country you're travelling to has ATMs that are likely to be in working order, so you don't have to take too much cash. ATMs are usually the cheapest places to get your cash – and you usually get better rates when you're abroad, than when in the UK.
  • Tell your bank/credit cards providers that you are travelling abroad.  Europe is usually considered to be non notifiable these days but in other countries your card might get blocked if you don't. And that's not much fun.
  • Make travel to airport arrangements - book train/coach/ taxi/car parking. My view is that a taxi fare costs about the same amount as an osteopath’s bill.
  • Turn off or set Voicemail on your mobile phone. It's much more complicated to do this when you're abroad. PIN numbers are required.  I don't take ordinary voice calls on my mobile when I'm abroad because of the cost. I find free Wi-Fi (where possible) and use WhatsApp
  • Confirm Airbnb/home care arrangements – just to make sure!
  • Charge batteries for cameras and book reader

The Day Before

  • Check in online - ASAP- to avoid those middle seats if you haven't been able to reserve a seat in advance
  • Finish packing - use the checklist. It's amazing what I forget to put in sometimes. And you can't always get what you need when you travel. Decide what your own personal essentials are and put them in your carry-on bags.
  • Buy some travel food if you don't like airline meals: - maybe some non-perishable snacks/sweets for the rest of the journey. Remember fresh food is often not allowed as an import.
  • Confirm travel to airport arrangements - good firms will have done this for you already.

Hot weather’s always my preference. Tropical beaches, warm seas, T shirts and flip flops. So, in theory you should be able to pack less. But clothes may get (let’s face it and say sweaty) in the heat. So you will probably want to get changed quite often. Paradise always has a sting in its tail. Steer clear of materials containing nylon or Lycra. These will cling to you and exacerbate the problem. Loose cotton or linen are better. Cotton underwear is definitely best. Do I need to explain?

Or adventure travel shops sell synthetic tops and trousers made of fabrics designed to wick the sweat away. These are incredibly lightweight and wash and dry really quickly too. Jeans are generally best avoided in hot countries. Even if they are Lycra free they are heavy and tend to cling. They're really uncomfortable if they get wet and muddy and so can be a nightmare in the jungle.

You will want long sleeved shirts and long trousers to wear in the evenings (or in the jungle during the day). And check the fabric carefully. I know to my cost that mosquitoes can bite through cheesecloth, as it has such a loose weave.

Tuck in a couple of thin sweaters, so you can layer up if it gets cold at night or you venture up to higher elevations. A nice cotton sundress (think LBD) can double up for sightseeing and evenings if you take a little inexpensive bling.

Plain white or black flip flops work well for both too, especially if you pay more for the ones with cushioned soles. Or tuck in some lightweight espadrilles. I wear well-designed walking sandals like Teva for longer hikes. Long grass or jungle demands trainers or walking boots. Don't leave your feet exposed when you don't know what's lurking there.

Then there's all my snorkelling gear. That's me above in Bonaire, with my trusty Olympus Tough underwater camera. Here are some of the travel extras I take for comfort in hot climes in addition to (or instead of) the basic list in the post How to Pack:

  • Sun hat, (please not a reversed baseball cap)
  •  Mask in protective box – to make sure it’s a good fit - and you can’t always hire these anyway. (There are mixed reviews on those new full face masks. Some folk love them. A few say they're dangerous.)
  •  Snorkel - as with mask. It's a question of fit and hygiene.
  •  Fins - in front pocket of case
  • Swim goggles – in protective case
  • Beach shoes – to wear walking and in the water to make sure I don’t step on anything nasty
  • Rash vest – sun and jelly fish protection whilst in the water
  • Very thin whole body skinsuit - to protect from jellyfish
  • Microfibre towel - Takes up very little space
  • Sarong (beach cover up and spare towel). Can also double up as head covering in places of worship
  • Light rain jacket/cagoule and/or collapsible umbrella
  • Mosquito repellent - I try not to use DEET unless they're very bad. Incognito smells nice.
  • In room mosquito deterrent/room refresher. Again Incognito is a good one.
  • Seasick tablets
  • Lightweight beach bag or tote
  • Waterproof bag (dry sack) for boat trips. I love this bright pink - really cheerful and really practical. it doubles as a backpack. But there are other colours too.
  • Underwater camera. I spent ages researching this. The Go-Pro is thought to be best for video and the Olympus Tough for stills. And I take stills. Earlier underwater camera models all leaked - well they did for me. This one doesn't.
  • Cameras don't usually float. So some sort of wrist or arm tether is essential. This floating hand strap works well.

The key here to dressing in cold weather is to layer up, as you can literally go from freezing (and well below) ,outside to super warm inside centrally heated chalets. I'm less keen than most on getting cold. Take items you can peel off to keep you at a comfortable temperature. Layers trap air which is the best insulator. Merino wool and cashmere are thin and warm. Start with a good thermal vest and build up with fleeces/ high neck sweaters. Salopette trousers will keep the small of the back warm and help prevent snow getting in. A waterproof/snowproof jacket is essential.

An assortment of jackets/gilets fleece tops and ski trousers/salopettes takes up a lot of suitcase space. You could take the view that other people will only see your outer layer and buy only one set of thermals and undergarments that are bacteria resistant and wear those every day (or wash them at night). Clear compression bags are really helpful to reduce bulk when packing gilets/cagoules/jackets etc. You could also wear some of your bulkiest items onto the plane and sit on them.

And here’s some of the extra gear I take for comfort in cold climes and/or skiing in addition to (or instead of ) the basic list in the post How to Pack:

  • Thermal underwear. Merino wool or cashmere is the best
  • Ski goggles - work for dog sleighs too
  • Hotties - reusable or disposable pouches to heat hands and feet
  • Hot water bottle
  • Extreme weather mittens and gloves - Goretex
  • A fleecy lined hat that covers your ears
  • A stretchy snood - to keep your neck warm. Can be pulled up to meet the balaclava or to replace it. Also doubles as a face mask.
  • Sun tan lotion for your face. The sun can really burn on the snow.

I’m not in the business of telling anyone how many pairs of knickers to pack or what sort of dress to wear. I’m not great at packing light, even after all these years. I have one friend who only ever travels with a daypack - a few toiletries, shorts, a tracksuit, two tee shirts and two sets of underwear. This is great for convenience when looking after your gear. But I like my comforts and I’ve discovered that some items are very handy to have while you’re travelling. I don’t take too many clothes. You can usually get them washed - at a price. And if you don’t mind them coming back a little battered and shrunk. It’s my toiletries that weigh the most – see Toiletries tips

I like my life to be as easy as possible. So, it’s essential to get a case that’s really lightweight. Four wheels for easy rolling and no strain on the back. Which rules out holdall type cases. These are harder to pack neatly and to find stuff in. I like to know where every item is - when you have a lot of gear you don’t want to have to take all of it out when you just need one thing. Especially if it’s a different lodging every night. So, I use packing cubes. They make best use of all the space and you can colour code them. Tops in one, trousers in another, dresses in a third and so on. If I’m in the same place for a little while and I want to unpack it’s easy to remove the cubes and stack them in the room. Plastic cuboids for toiletries and medical kits too. If I’m taking bulky gilets or coats I use compression bags so they take up less space.

This is what’s in my case:

  • Clothes in cubes - see above
  • Toiletries - see separate post
  • Medication and first aid kit - See separate post
  • Spare pens – the perishers get lost too easily
  • Passport copy – yes as well as the spare ones in my trolley - better safe than sorry
  • Extra purse/wallet – an additional place for currency or storing in hotel safes
  • Packing pouches - waterproof bags with lock tops for smaller items – underwear, swimwear, socks, shoes – different sizes and colours
  • Jewellery bag – with cheap jewellery I don't mind losing. Chains get tangled very easily, so wrap in Clingfilm
  • Laundry bag – drawstring – for dirty clothes
  • Lightweight/collapsible daypack – for day trips out walking or the beach when the trolley is too cumbersome
  • Umbrella - small collapsible
  • Spare sunglasses - I'm expert at losing sunglasses
  • Spare padlocks and light chain for securing your day pack and/or your suitcase in the room or to something immoveable if you have to leave it unattended (see Money Matters)
  • Duct tape - for repairs - especially suitcase tears
  • Swim goggles - in protective container
  • Sleeping bag liner - for dodgy looking beds
  • Cutlery –- for picnics and in room dining
  • Water bottle – with purifier
  • Travel ball/roller – to exercise my back and muscles if I get problems
  • Swiss army knife - it looks the part, but I've never found anything to use it for...

My on the Plane Travel Essentials

I always use a lightweight trolley bag with a laptop pocket to save my back. A backpack can be heavy to keep lifting and off at all those security checks and duty free shops. (A small collapsible day bag goes in my big case.) Get one with four wheels - it’s much easier to manoeuvre and you push, not pull). It obviously needs to hold what I need for my journey. But more importantly, this is the place for anything valuable or essential. My case has been lost for several days all too many times. Here is my list:

  • Travel documents - in the front packet of my trolley for easy access in an A4 clear plastic wallet: spare photos for visas if necessary, insurance policy details, itinerary, copies of visas and e-visas, several copies of passport. Spare wallet for receipts and other documents.
  • Camera – My trusty Nikon SLR with NIKKOR 18-300 lens. This works best for travelling as changing lenses is a nightmare in dusty conditions or to take a photo quickly. In a decent carry case for protection. Mine is Osprey, light, looks good, cheap and easy to carry
  • Underwater camera if necessary - Olympus Tough T6 - it has the best reviews - in a hard case.
  • A universal electric plug adapter. Much easier than taking different ones for different countries. And this has 4 USB ports too, so you only need take the diffeent leads.
  • Chargers - Phone (spare) camera battery, kindle, store in an Osprey waterproof pouch or drawstring bag
  • Spare camera batteries for both cameras - At least 4, even though they last a long time. Just to make sure-sometimes there is no electricity for charging - in small zip up pouch
  • Camera cards
  • Camera cleaning gear – Lens cleaner, brush, cloths.
  • Lightweight camera tripod/Gorillapod
  • External Flash if necessary
  • Laptop - Acer lightweight laptop in protective case (Pofoko) in front pocket of bag
  • Drawstring cloth use on the plane bag -  items I need while I'm flying so I can take them to my seat: Rescue Remedy, (for turbulence), melatonin to help me sleep, (not available in the UK - buy almost anywhere else), inflatable travel pillow, eye mask, ear plugs, toothbrush and tiny travel toothpaste. (Collected from previous flights – sometimes but not always -provided on long haul.)
  • Bose noise cancelling headphones - brilliant for cutting out aircraft noise.
  • Small screwdriver - mainly for sunglasses!
  • Essential medication and malaria pills
  • Spare underwear
  • Pocket tissues
  • Wet wipes
  • Hand gel
  • Make up bag (liquids in liquid bag)
  • Small liquids in a bag (moisturiser, make up, contact lens solutions)
  • Spare liquids bags - 20 cm x 20 cm zip lock bags for liquids for security checks

Travel Toiletries

Sometimes it's hard to know what will be available where you're going. Some places can be surprising. But even if they have the things I need they’re often prohibitively expensive in far flung places. Toiletries, because so much is in liquid form can be impractical to carry and weighty. So, I take some of my favourite things and have learned from experience what works and what doesn’t. Pack in a transparent plastic cuboid bag - easy to see what's where. Fits easily into a case. Here are my suggestions:Suntan cream

  • Sensitive teeth toothpaste - rub some on your gums or teeth with your finger if you get any problems
  • TePes - in a little plastic case - for flossing
  • Deodorant - Solid doesn't leak
  • Shampoo - hotels don’t always have shampoo and what they have is sometimes not very nice. But this is weighty. In a plastic bag in case it leaks – those flip tops can be tricky
  • Conditioner - as for shampoo
  • Soap - a little tablet in a small case. Not all hotels supply it
  • Face moisturiser – in a pump or tube weighs less than a circular container. With sun block.
  • Night cream - in a pump or tube weighs less than a circular container
  • Body moisturiser/oil – a few hotels provide but not many off the beaten track. Weight is the big problem. If you decide to take some, get a good one that will go further.
  • Face cleanser
  • Contact lens cases
  • Contact lens solutions
  • Travel razor
  • Comb/brush

Travel First Aid

Travel brings its fair share of challenges in the form of accidents, bugs and bites. Over the years I've built up a kit of remedies and preventatives that serve me well on most occasions. and I've had a few accidents and incidents along the way!

Pack in a transparent plastic cuboid bag - easy to see what's where. Fits easily into a case. Here are my suggestions:

  • Antihistamine cream - for insect bites
  • In room mosquito deterrent /room refresher - again Incognito are good
  • Insect repellent/spray - a non DDT one like Incognito where possible
  • Travel sickness pills - especially if boats are involved
  • Rescue Remedy - in case things get stressful!
  • Plasters and blister cushions
  • Imodium - for days you have to travel with diarrhoea and there's no easy toilet access
  • Oral re-hydration sachets - essential for sickness and/or diarrhoea
  • Painkillers
  • 4 Head roll on stick for headaches
  • Heat patches for aches and pains- nice on the back for longhaul sleeping
  • First Defence nasal spray to try and prevent colds/bugs after plane travel
  • Aloe vera gel - for sunburn and general moisturisation
  • Infected eye cream in case of styes or other problems
  • Tea tree oil - an excellent antiseptic
  • Cranberry tablets - in case of cystitis
  • Melatonin - great for jet lag. Not available in the UK - buy almost anywhere else!
  • Turmeric/curcumin capsules - an anti inflammatory/ natural antibiotic
  • Anti malarials if necessary
  • Probiotics - for preventing stomach upsets. increase the dose if actually struck down. I've recently discovered Megaporebiotic. Expensive but really good and worth the money. Biokult is also good.
  • Indigestion tablets
  • Ear plugs

What Sort of Bag?

When you’re trying to manage a load of gear at airports and such like an easily accessible shoulder bag is a must. You don’t have to carry it, but you can open it easily to access your documents. An adjustable strap is helpful, so that it can go across my shoulder when I’m out walking. It’s more comfortable and less easy to grab and steal.

I’ve had my blue Tumi bag for years. It’s got lots of pockets to organise all my stuff – there’s even a key fob. And it’s really robust. I’ve even put it in the washing machine- though I’m not recommending you try that.

What Travel Essentials Do I Carry Inside My Bag?

  • Passport – in plastic wallet to keep it clean and protected. These are so thin they usually survive scanners too without having to be taken off
  • Yellow fever certificate - if required – tucked in passport wallet
  • E – ticket copies. Some airlines (and security officials) insist on seeing them.
  • Insurance Contact details- usually supplied as a press out or cut out card
  • Visas (if separate documents)
  • European Health Insurance Card (this has been accepted in countries outside Europe on occasion)
  • Currency - if I have a lot of different currencies I use separate pouches (as supplied by the exchange shops), plastic envelope wallets or spare purses.
  • Phone with USB charger lead (and small plug depending on destination) - there’s usually access on the plane, at airports and on buses
  • Ear Buds - for when headphones are too bulky or for quick listening/access
  • E- reader – sometimes allowed on when a phone isn’t. (Airline rules vary considerably- most allow phones on flight mode but not all. No phones allowed on in planes in China at any time.)
  • Pens - For filling in immigration and hotel check in forms - bring several as they frequently go AWOL
  • Sunglasses – for easy access when arriving at sunny airports

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