And welcome to guide 2 of our travel planning series, the ultimate guide to the travel essentials. If you are new here, check out our Travel planning series summary showing you all the guides in this series.
When planning your trip exciting thoughts may take over. The sun, the sea, not having to cook tea. Picking your destination and your fancy accommodations. It is highly unlikely that insurances, emergency contact details, and vaccinations make it on your list. With this post, we hope to turn these essentials, possibly an overwhelming and unenjoyable part of travel planning, into a simple and easy checklist.
What we have covered
- Essentials checklist
- Safety and security
- Travel Insurance
- European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
- Visas/entry requirements
- Local laws and customs
- Money safety
- Serendipitous tip
A lot of what we talk about in this post we have learned the hard and expensive way, hopefully, so you do not have to. A few points in this post are specific to the UK but they can be used to guide you wherever you call home. All the links we have included are from sources that we use and highly recommend. They are reliable, up to date, and in our view awesome.
So here we go, let us help you by covering all the important travel essentials so you can be as safe as possible when you travel.!
We have created a free travel essentials checklist that you can download. This will help as you can check off your essentials as you plan your trip.
You might need to pay for some vaccines or tablets, so it could be worth budgeting for this in your total travel costs. Although some people do, we do not buy vaccines or medication abroad. It may sometimes work out a little cheaper, but we have the motto that it is safer to buy before you fly. Vaccinations should never be missed off your travel essentials checklist.
If you use any medication regularly you may need to visit your GP for a health check-up before you travel. Make sure you have enough medication for your trip and extra in case of delays. Check with your airline on where it can be stored, in your carry on, checked baggage, or both.
Some medications, while legal at home, may not be at your chosen destination. At the very least there may be some restrictions. It is therefore worth a quick check before you book. Ask your GP if your medication contains any “controlled drugs”. Travel Health Pro provides another great guide for more information on medicines and travel essentials. And for further information from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on traveling with medicine containing a controlled drug, see here.
Health risks and outbreaks
A quick check on your destination for any health risks or outbreaks is worth your time. As some countries may have travel restrictions or bans in place. Search your chosen destination on Travel Health Pro and the FCO, any current risks will be listed.
In the unfortunate event that you need medical assistance knowing about your destination’s health care can be useful. Find out where the nearest hospital is to your accommodation, how to get there and how long it takes. Some countries may have less developed health care systems. In this case, you may need to travel to another country for assistance. And finally, make a note of all the emergency numbers before you leave.
The sun and the increase in alcohol that we may indulge in while away, can cause us to become dehydrated. So, we need to drink even more water than usual. The NHS Eatwell Guide recommends we drink 1.2 liters (6 to 8 glasses) per day. This should be increased while abroad, because of the sun, and maybe the cocktails. This is a must on our essentials list.
Food and water safety
Make sure the water you are drinking to stay hydrated is safe to consume. Unfortunately, we have learned this the hard way a few times. Check your destinations food and water hygiene and if in doubt drink bottled* and stay clear of ice, and sadly ice cream.
Hot drinks made with boiled water should be ok. Extra caution should be used brushing your teeth, again use bottled/filtered. The same goes for food. When eating check if the food is prepared using tap water, if so, make sure it is cooked thoroughly, if not maybe do not risk it. For more information see Fit for Travels food and water precautions.
*For other more environmentally friendly options maybe consider a filtered water bottle.
In the unfortunate event that you do get ill to consider not traveling at all. Whether that is to your destination or when returning home. Not only for yourself but for others as there is a high chance you can infect others. Make sure you have a comprehensive travel insurance policy, so your trip is covered if you do get ill.
Some simple steps can be taken to lower the chances of you getting ill. Washing your hands regularly can help keep you safe, particularly after using the toilet, sneezing, coughing, and before eating any food. Carrying a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you can provide a way of keeping your hands clean if there are no washing facilities available. Good hand hygiene is the best way to keep you, your family, and others from getting ill. So, stay safe and wash those hands. See the NHS handwashing guide here.
DIY first aid kits
This should always be on your essentials list. Just like at home the odd plaster or paracetamol may come in handy. Buying the kit before you travel means that you do not have to try and find supplies while away. The NHS has a great basic travel health kit list for you to use. Just remember to pack any liquids from your kit, such as sunscreen, in your checked luggage. We have lost a few bottles this way. Failing that check out the range of first aid kits available on the Red Cross store.
Safety and security
999, 911, or 995? In the UK we use 999 to contact all emergency services. However, some countries such as Norway have separate numbers (110 for fire, 112 for police, and 113 for an ambulance, in case you were curious). Make a note of all emergency numbers for your destination before you leave.
Write down the numbers of your nearest and dearest. If you lose your phone and need to contact someone from home having them to hand will be useful.
It is worth knowing where your local embassy building is. If you find yourself in a sticky situation being able to contact them can help. They will have information that could assist you with travel-related issues. These could range from falling victim of a crime to more serious situations such as your imprisonment. They can contact a family member on your behalf and offer you legal advice. Although some countries may not have an embassy at your destination, or at all, it is still worth putting it on your essentials list. For British citizens see a full list here.
This one might seem odd to be on an essentials list. But unfortunately, crime is present in every country in the world. Select your destination on the FCO website and follow the advice given. In the unfortunate event of you falling victim to a crime, you can get advice by contacting the FCO, see here.
We always take a few steps of precaution to reduce our risk when travelling such as:
- Wear a money belt under your top
- Carry small amounts of currency
- Take various forms of payment
- Store passports in a safe place when not in use
- Have photocopies of all travel documents and insurances
- Keep valuables out of sight
- Use padlocks for your luggage
These are some simple steps to help protect you and your belongings.
If you are going to be driving abroad, you will need to do the following
- Take your driving license and make sure it is valid
- See if you need an international driving permit (IDP)
- Make sure you are aware of the driving rules and laws
- Make sure your insurance is valid and check what you are covered for
See the FCO for a step by step guide when driving abroad whether in your own vehicle or a hire car.
Sharing your travel plans
Other than to rub in the fact you are going away, giving family and friends every single detail of your upcoming trip could prove useful. Giving them copies of your insurance and itinerary details could help if you are unable to access them while abroad. Another tip is to give them your phones IMEI number so they can locate or block your device if there is a problem. So, brag away, just make sure they are taking note.
We recommend signing up for email subscriptions from the FCO and Travel Health Pro. Through these, you will get an email each time a countries profile is updated, keeping you in the loop. You can also check out their Twitter and Facebook pages for updates.
Things to consider
This one definitely belongs in the essentials. You need travel insurance for every trip and every duration, even if your trip is short and in your home country. The risk does not outweigh the cost and you will only burn a hole in your own pocket.
We know this because we have experienced the benefits of travel insurance and it has saved us thousands of pounds over our trips. From canceled holidays and medical treatment to missed flights and accommodation costs. Can you put a price on peace of mind if anything were to go wrong? Travel insurance is always needed and always goes on our essentials list. And from as little as £10 it is a no brainer.
Before we even book our trip and are in the budgeting stage, we do a quick check on travel insurance to get an idea of costs. Then, as soon as we have booked our trip, we buy the insurance to cover it. That way if anything happens before we leave, we are covered from the day of buying the insurance.
There are so many types of insurance plans it can be a little overwhelming. Think about the type of cover you need. Will it be single, multi/annual, or even a backpacking trip? You will also need to know the country you are visiting, state if you are visiting more than one. Cover the trip for the entire duration from the day you leave home to the day you return. And make sure all members of your party are covered.
Activities and holiday type
You will need to state if you are going on a cruise, a business trip, or a winter sporting holiday. If you are planning on doing any extreme sports or activities while on holiday you may not be covered. For example, using quad bikes, bungee jumping, and skydiving are usually not covered in a standard policy. Check the terms and conditions (T&C’s) of your policy first as you may need to get additional cover.
You will need to mention any current or previous illnesses for yourself and your travel party. Just be 100% honest with all the questions asked. It may save you a little bit of money withholding certain information, but it can cost you in the long run if you need to make a claim. This is even if you make a claim for something that seems unrelated to a pre-existing illness. Premiums could be increased, the policy could be canceled, or the claim could be refused, meaning you would not be covered. Honesty really is the best policy.
Before you purchase insurance read the terms and conditions and make sure you are happy with the policy. Take note of the baggage, medical, cancellation, and cash limits, and check the single item and valuables cover as you may need to purchase additional insurance.
For example, if you had a mobile phone worth £500 and the single item limit was £300 you would not be covered for the full value of that item. However, many travel insurance companies exclude mobile phones from coverage. This is something you will need to check. If it is not included in your plan but you want the cover you can buy insurance for gadgets separately.
Check the insurance excesses, both compulsory and voluntary. These are payments you make if claiming on the policy. Usually, you need to pay a compulsory excess, but you may be able to set the voluntary excess to £0. This may increase your initial cost slightly, but you will then pay out less on any claims made. Check these amounts and make sure you are happy with them before you purchase the policy.
We tend to purchase the highest level of cover if there is an option to do so. This may be stated as Standard/Premium or Ruby/Diamond. Often, it is not much more expensive but can be worth it for the additional cover like an increase in cover limits. Just check this is something you want or need, otherwise, it may not be worth the extra cost. For more information on travel insurance check out this guide from the FCO.
Before you start your search, it is worth a quick check with your credit card company as you may have travel insurance included with them. From there we find insurance comparison sites great as we can quickly compare policies to get the best deal. Our go-to is Compare the Market. This can come with the benefit of meerkat 2 for 1 movies and meals with the purchase of a qualifying product, winner! Our next step is to go on sites like TopCashback to check for any current insurance deals and cashback offers. You may also find offers through your retail loyalty cards.
If you find a policy on a comparison site, it may be cheaper to go directly to that provider. This could be worth a quick phone call. The same goes for cashback sites. Sometimes there might be a great cashback deal, but the premium could be more expensive as a result. It would then be better value to book through the comparison site or direct than it would be getting the cashback deal.
Store your documents
Once you have purchased travel insurance download the documents. We send them to our emails, cloud storage like Dropbox or Google Drive, and our family or friends so they can access them for us if we cannot. Also, download them to your device in case Wi-Fi is not available and you cannot get onto your email.
European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
We have had to use an EHIC and we highly recommend them when traveling within the EU and to Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, or Switzerland. Each member of your family will need their card. They are free and easy to apply for and enable you to get medical treatment for free or at a reduced cost. Therefore, you will still need to get travel insurance for your trip. Apply for a free EHIC via the NHS here.
What you need to know
A passport is one of the most important travel documents and essentials on your travels. It is issued by your government and confirms your identity and nationality for travel abroad. You will most likely be denied travel without a valid passport. British governmental advice is to not book any travel abroad until you have a valid passport.
How to apply/renew
You can save £9.50 by applying or renewing online but it can be done by paper form from the post office if preferred. Renewal should be done 6 months before the expiration date as some countries may deny you entry if not. Prices vary from £49 to £95 depending on your age and the type of passport needed. For a full cost, breakdown visit the FCO. It usually takes 6 weeks to get your first UK passport and 3 weeks for a renewal. For an additional cost, you can get your passport quicker by using the 1-week fast track service. See here for online passport applications or renewals from the FCO.
Make copies of your passport and keep them safe. There are several ways to do this, paper copies, downloading to your mobile device, storing online, and giving to a trusted family member or friend. If you lose your passport or its stolen you must cancel it as soon as possible. To report a lost or stolen passport visit the FCO here.
Along with your passport, you may need other travel documents such as a visa. Entry requirements range from country to country. Once you know where you are going check your destination in the FCO foreign travel advice. It provides the entry requirements for each country and advice on what documents you may need and how to get them.
Local laws and customs
Take a bit of time to find out about the customs, attitudes, and even the dress code of the country you are visiting. The classic “treat others as you wish to be treated” has never been as true when visiting other countries.
Obey local laws. A law that seems minor to you may come with severe penalties if broken, and jail conditions can be a lot worse than at home. The FCO can provide further information on the country you are visiting. Check them and respect them.
Also, what about learning the language, even if it is just, hello, goodbye, please and thank you. With only 42% of Brits learning the basics before travel it has never been as easy, or as fun to do so. You can try with the various apps available such as Duolingo.
How much cash you want to carry is a matter of preference. But it is good to know how much your travel insurance covers as this will vary with each policy and provider. Taking steps to keep it protected such as using a travel wallet under your top, accessing it securely, and keeping any extra locked away somewhere secure, will help to keep you and your cash safe.
If using cards do not let anyone, such as a waiter or waitress, walk away with your card. And take a few forms of payment with you so you have multiple ways to access your money: these can be in the form of cash, credit cards, and debit cards.
Before you book check the weather at your chosen destination for the time you are planning on visiting. Booking a beach holiday during the rainy season may not turn out to be the trip you were hoping for. Although we cannot control the weather it may be better to book outside of any extreme weather seasons. If you do decide to travel during such seasons make sure your travel insurance covers extreme weather.
Also, check the local weather while there and consider downloading a weather app. If you are visiting somewhere and hope to see a natural phenomenon such as the Northern Lights, you can now use specific websites and apps to track them. We used the Icelandic Met Office site when in Iceland and were lucky enough to see an amazing light show from the Aurora Borealis.
Make a meeting point or 2 with your travel party. It is “old school” but works. We are lucky to have mobile phones, but we cannot always rely on these particularly while abroad. If you are traveling alone you could do something similar online, have regular check-in points with people either at home or at your accommodation. Just keep people up to date regularly on your location.
So, the essentials, do not have to be boring. Ok, maybe they are still not the most exciting part of your travel planning, but they might be one of the most important. Now that you are armed with the info from this guide you can easily prepare for all the essentials. This will not only give you peace of mind but will help keep you safe. The next steps in the series are: how to create the ultimate budgeting and savings plan for your travel.
For all our guides in the series see our Travel planning series summary.
Thank you for reading
We hope you have found it valuable. Our site and its content are for you, our readers, and as such your comments are welcomed and appreciated. If you have any suggestions for future topics and content, please do share them with us.
#Travel with Serendipity