Thursday, February 10, 2011

Preparing for your Journey

The whole joy of traveling actually begins with the preparation of the journey itself. Here are some tips that may help:
  • Research- Prepare months ahead of your journey with reading and researching about the place. Knowledge is power, the more you know the better it will be. It is an effective way to minimize your risks when traveling.
  • Visa- Check if you need visa and apply for it as soon as you get all the documents ready. Do not make any assumption, check with the countries’ embassies for latest information. Who knows, your country may have fought with the country you are visiting and visa free visits have been withdrawn :)
  • Passport – Check your passport and be sure that you have more than 6 months on the last day of your journey. Most countries require that your passport has at least 6 months validity from the expiry date.
  • Documents – I scan my passport and all important documents. The original documents are in my hand luggage and a set of photocopies in my checked-in luggage. I leave one set with my family at home and I have back up copies in my emails. I have a small note book that contained important address and telephone numbers of my country’s embassies, local bank, insurance company, credit card office, hotels, airline, airport and other contacts. Even if I have all these information on my mobile, a traditional note book is still worth it as back up.
  • Itinerary – From experience there is always a ‘pop quiz’ at the immigration counter.  To speed up the process, I carry with me my itinerary, return flight ticket and other documents to present it to the immigration officer.
  • Communication – There are several modes of communication to keep in touch with family and friends at home. Buying the SIM card of the country you are visiting is much cheaper than using your home country’s SIM card. Get registered with SKYPE and that can be a huge saving on phone bills.
  • Vaccination – Check with your doctor and the official country’s website if you are required to have certain vaccination upon entering the country. 
  • Medication – Always carry your own medication. Everything you need for fever, cough, diarrhea, constipation and other regular medication you are taking. I always carry with me heat rub, knee guard and ankle guard. They are essential when I do hiking and lots of walking
  • International Driving License – Even if you don’t plan to drive, at least one of you (if traveling in a group) must carry a valid international driving license. Although most countries do accept visitor’s home country license, it is their prerogative to ask for international license or a translated version of your license (in the case of Malaysian license).
  • Travel Insurance – This is very important and don’t rest your case on fate! In some countries the medical expenses can be so exorbitant that it will dig deep into your pocket. In cases where you will be doing risky activities do check if you can be covered for related injuries. You may end up not using the insurance but you are doing yourself a great favor if something happened. 
  • Packing – Pack smart and light. I always see people repacking their luggage at airport as instructed by the airlines counter staff because of excess baggage. Check your weight limit and never exceed in order to travel with a peace of mind. I usually bring old clothes that I want to dispose :) Think of all your disposable items; carry, disposed and probably replaced with some new ones along the way. Bring some simple food like biscuits and sachet of coffee or chocolate drinks just in case you arrived late in a city or town.
  • Currency – Carry some USD/ Euros/ GBP. These currencies are acceptable almost everywhere. Some countries’ currencies are not traded outside the country -be prudent when changing them. In Morocco and Turkey, I changed my Euro and GBP in small quantities and replenished when needed. The Moroccan Dinar and Turkish Lira for example are not traded outside the country so you wouldn’t want to end up having ample stock just before leaving the country. Even the duty free shops in Moroccan airport do not accept Moroccan Dinars.
  • Banks- Previously I would notify my bank that I’m not in the country to allow me to do foreign transactions. These days I could just do it at the ATM machine and key-in the period I’ll be outside the country to enable foreign transaction. This is a procedure that ensures security but each country may have different procedures. You need to check with your bank. Remember in some countries, credit card doesn't help.
  • Camera – A quality camera is essential. It is an investment that you will never regret. Carry enough batteries (even if they are rechargeable), memory card, USB, cleaning kit and others necessary gadgets. On my desert trekking in Morocco, a huge ziplock is important to protect my camera from the fine sand and dust in the desert.
  • Lap Top – It all depends on your preference. My trips are usually no longer than 15 days, so it is much convenient to use the cybercafés. Anyway in remote areas and deserts, the temporary detachment from modern gadgets can be a rewarding experience of life in solitude :) Try it!

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