**This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of BMO Insurance. However, as always, all opinions are my own
One of the things I get asked the most about is tips for first-time travellers, especially first-time solo travellers. If I’m being honest, I could talk your ear off with suggestions and advice but, at the end of the day, everyone develops their own routines and checks that work best for them. That being said, my pre-trip checklist includes a few things that I think are important for every traveller; no matter the destination or your travel style. This is my pre-trip checklist and the 6 travel essentials I don’t leave home without.
1) Booked Accommodation (and Directions!) for the First Night
The more I travel, the less concerned I become with planning everything in advance. However, one thing I will always have set is (at minimum) my first night of accommodation booked with clear directions on how to get there. I know some people that wait until they arrive, only to find that their first couple of preferences are fully booked up so they have to wander a new, foreign city with their luggage, jetlagged, just trying to find a place to sleep. Which, as someone who can’t sleep on planes and gets lost really easily, honestly sounds like my personal version of hell. I get wanting to be adventurous, but there’s also a lot to be said for being a smart traveller. Part of being smart includes having a place to stay when you arrive.
2) Copies of Important Travel Documents
I’ve been lucky in that I have never had my passport stolen, however, I’ve come across my fair share of travellers who sadly have been the victim of passport theft. It’s a scary situation to be in, and having a hard copy tucked somewhere safe in your backpack, or even a digital copy on your phone or computer, can really come in handy.
Another thing I like to have a second copy of are tickets; plane tickets, train tickets, tour tickets; anything that I have paid for and booked in advance. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to use my e-ticket for a flight and accidentally sent it into internet limbo while digging through my bag for my passport. I’ll check my deleted, junk, normal inbox and it’s somehow nowhere to be found. It’s pretty embarrassing and while the airline staff are usually understanding and come to my rescue, that’s not always the case. When I was coming home from my Viking River Cruise before Christmas, the Air Lufthansa rep told me that if I couldn’t find my booking number, I’d have to book another ticket.
I’m all about being paperless when possible, but my experience has shown me that sometimes, a backup paper ticket can really be a lifesaver. Or, at least, a bank account saver.
3) Travel Insurance
If you only listen to one point on my pre-trip checklist, make sure it’s this one. Trust me when I say, you do NOT want to ever leave home without medical travel insurance. After all, I know from experience.
If you are a regular on this blog, then you probably remember my travel insurance nightmare; that time I got a pretty severe lung infection after staying in a mouldy hostel dorm in Bosnia. An unexpected visit to the doctor, then a hospital for x-rays, the result being that I needed 9 antibiotics a day. It was awful, and while I was covered at the time, it just proved the importance of travel insurance.
Travel insurance isn’t an extra precaution, it’s a necessity. As an avid traveller, I know this and refuse to leave home without it. Plus, with so many options it’s an easy travel essential to tick off your pre-trip checklist.
BMO Insurance offers annual medical travel insurance with coverage for multiple trips for up to 10 days, or 23 days at just $49 and $92 respectively for those between the ages of 18 – 49. Even if you’re between the ages of 50 – 59 it’ll cost you just $59 or $111 for 10 and 23 days of continuous coverage.
With annual plans, not only is it easier than having to worry about purchasing medical insurance before every individual trip, but it also ends up being a cheaper option as annual plans often cost less than 2 individual policies. This is a great choice for travellers like me who travel several times throughout the year.
4) Knowledge of Tourist Visas (And How to Get One If Required)
As a Canadian citizen, I’m pretty lucky in my ability to travel, however, there are a few places where I need a tourist visa. The majority of places I have been to so far including Thailand, Laos, and even Egypt, I’ve been able to get the visa upon arrival. Vietnam however, was a different story; I needed to be approved ahead of time. Thankfully I knew this ahead of time, but not everyone remembers to check.
When I was in Hong Kong I met a fellow traveller who told me she was headed to Vietnam. I’d been the month before and was sharing my tips and information when I decided to ask her about the visa (I got mine through the Canadian embassy and it was pretty pricey). However, instead of a conversation about discussing costs, she just looked at me blankly. She never realized she needed one. She then had to spend the following few days organizing getting a visa for Vietnam rather than seeing and exploring Hong Kong. A waste of time (especially since Hong Kong is amazing). It worked out in the end, but it was a silly thing to happen and could have been easily avoided with a bit of advance research and planning.
Tip: Canadian citizens can check this website for information on visa requirements for all countries and more.
5) Some Handy Travel Apps
There are a million and one travel app lists out there, so I’m not going to really get into it (especially since I don’t use many). That being said, I have two apps that I honestly can’t live without.
The first is maps.me. It’s an offline map app that saves my sanity everywhere I go. I’m geographically challenged (I got lost in my home city earlier this year, that was awkward) so I tend to rely heavily on maps when I travel, especially since I like to walk as much as possible. Maps.me offers maps for pretty much everywhere that you can download ahead of time and use while on the streets; no wifi required. When you’re done- just delete it and download a new one for your next destination.
*Tip: Don’t wait until you get to your destination. Make downloading your maps part of your pre-trip checklist because you need a good and strong wifi connection to download it. I’ve had problems getting them downloaded in airports and hostels/hotels.
My second must-have app is a currency converter. Personally, I use XE currency, but there are a couple to choose from. Math is not my biggest strength and while I can do the basics when I get to destinations like Indonesia, Hungary, or Iceland where their currencies are in thousands and millions I get so thrown off. It’s much easier (and less panic-inducing) for me to pull out my phone and type in a couple of numbers to get the conversion. Like maps.me, XE currency can be used offline- it may not be exact since it does need wifi to update, but it’s close enough to give you an idea of how much you are actually spending.
6) Local Currency
If you asked me a year ago about how much local currency to buy before you leave, I would have told you not to bother. Fact is, when it comes to currency exchange, withdrawing from a local ATM in the country you are travelling to will give you a better rate than any currency conversion kiosk. Plus, all airports have ATMS, right?
Well, my own ‘advice’ backfired on me in Egypt when none of the ATMs in the airport would accept my bank card and I was left having to withdraw a cash advance on my credit card (the interest rates on this are horrendous, don’t ever do it unless it’s an emergency). Not only did I have to pay more, but it also caused quite a bit of panic and stress.
For this reason, I am now a huge advocate for getting a little bit of local currency ahead of time. The ATMs at your destination will still offer the best rate, so I wouldn’t take out everything you need before you go, but having at least enough to get you to your accommodation and buy a meal is a good security blanket.
Getting ready for your first trip, or your first solo trip can be a bit stressful and daunting. But if you follow these tips on my pre-trip checklist, you will definitely have your bases covered.