Vacation Guide to Good Holiday Preparation
The Layout of this Page
I have arranged this guide in the form of a time-table. Of course this can only a generalised schedule, because the time required for specific tasks will depend on many things including the nature of the vacation you're going on, the level of bureaucracy in your home country and also in the destination country, Internet access (it's probably quicker to do many of these things online), the efficiency of your postal service, and how close you are to the airport of departure.
But always err on the side of giving yourself more time, not less, in order to get things done.
NB: All my articles are best read on desktops and laptops
This article is the third in a trilogy which is devoted to the subject of holiday preparation. The first two concentrate on luggage and packing advice, and a checklist of things to take with you. This one will detail all the other things to consider before you go away - things which, if they are forgotten, may very easily ruin a holiday experience. After all, when you're lying on a palm-fringed beach soaking up the tropical sun, do you really want to be thinking:
'did I turn the bathroom light off just before leaving for the airport?'
Please feel free to quote limited text from this article, on condition that an active link back to this page is included
At Least One Month Before You Go
- Generally it is a good idea to book early for the best deals. Maybe 6 months ahead. This gives you plenty of time to shop around, to plan and to organise. It enables you to choose the best time of year to fly, and the best airline to fly by, hotels in the right location and right price range, and the ideal tour package. Of course if you're free to hop on a plane at the last minute, you might be able to get a great last minute deal, but for most people this isn't practical, and it can lead to rushed and bad decisions. It's your choice.
- Check your passport is up to date. Bear in mind it's usually advised to have a passport that's valid for at least six months after your projected date of return. Normally in the UK a passport can be obtained within 3 or 4 weeks, but this is not guaranteed. You can get a passport at much shorter notice using a fast track service, but of course this will cost considerably more.
- Ensure your vaccinations are up to date. If not, find out what is required. This may depend not only on the destination country, but also the precise locality and type of accommodation you will be using - advised inoculations or medicines may cause side effects and are not always necessary. For instance in many countries where malaria is endemic, the disease may only be a problem in one small wilderness area hundreds of kilometres from your resort. Having said that, the last thing you want is to go down with some serious illness or fever while you are on holiday, so find out the facts, and maybe then arrange a visit to a health centre. Drug regimes may need to be started some weeks before you travel for maximum effectiveness.
- Check if you need a visa. Usually visas can be obtained in only a week or two, but this will depend on the country you are coming from and the country you're going to, as well as the duration of your stay there. Find out the length of time required for you to get your visa well in advance of travel.
Two to Four Weeks Before You Go
- Make sure you have travel insurance. This can be arranged at the last moment, but you may as well give yourself time to shop around for the best deals. You can always date the start of insurance from just before your departure date if you wish, though this may seriously backfire if the holiday has to be cancelled for any reason (see the next point).
- Just pray your holiday idyll doesn't make the international news headlines in the weeks before you leave! Bombings, floodings, plagues and military coups are not really good tourist attractions to experience. If any doubts arise in the weeks before you travel, check out your relevant Government website for travel advice and if necessary, find out how your insurance is affected if you have to cancel your trip.
- Make sure you have suitable travel bags. This is covered in my first web page in this series, Vacation Guide to Effective Holiday Packing.
- Having decided on your destination, you now want to plan your holiday, and the best way to do this is online. Now if you just want to spend every day on the beach or by the pool, and every night in a night-club, maybe you don't need to plan very much, but even so you might be able to search out an idyllic deserted beach unknown to most visitors, or a livelier, or cheaper, or safer nightclub in another part of town. If you want to explore, you may find local tours, places of historic interest, the finest restaurants, nearby theme parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, or great local travel deals, or just some words of wisdom from travellers who have already made the mistakes so that you don't have to.
- Check out your checklist! If you haven't already done so, make yourself a list of things to take (see my Vacation Checklist for an example of such a list). Do this early so you'll know what you need to buy in the weeks before you leave.
- Having sorted out what you need to buy, start buying!
- Check out the electricity supply at your destination - the most common plug type (2-pin flat or round 3-pin etc) and voltages (110V / 230V etc). You may need to buy plug adaptors for your equipment to work.
- If you live in the European Union, order a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This free card will give you reduced or free hospital care in many European countries. In the UK, it should take one to three weeks to process.
One to Two Weeks Before You Go
- Arrange for someone to look after the pets or water the plants. If someone is also trustworthy enough and willing to do things like open / close the curtains, remove piled up mail from the doormat, and generally make the house looked lived in, then so much the better.
- Speaking of mail piling up on the mat, your mail delivery company may provide a service whereby for a small fee they hold your mail back until your return. But do definitely stop the newspapers or milk, or other deliveries you would normally expect.
- You may want to inform your bank card company of your destination. Some banks, for reasons of card fraud security, will stop transactions which originate in foreign countries, unless they know the transaction is bona fide.
- Get foreign cash or travellers cheques. Cash may of course be collectible at your home airport, but however you get it, make sure you do have some in your pocket when you arrive at your destination to pay for taxis, a meal etc.
- Photocopy your documents. In my first page in this series, concerned with holiday packing, I emphasise the value of taking photocopies of important documents. Alternatively put copies on a web based e-mail account.
- If you're going to hire a car, think about the country you're going to be driving in. How easy will it be to get help if you break down? Do you know the local rules of the road? You don't want to have an accident because you didn't know whether you or that 30 ton truck had right of way. (Of course If you're taking your own car, now is the time to check that out - the tyres, the oil etc. Make sure you've got tools, maps, and all other essentials for a driving holiday.) You don't want to be stranded in a foreign country where you don't speak the lingo.
Relevant Travel Advice Guides
Two Days to One Week Before You Go
- If you're planning on driving to the airport, it will probably be cheaper to pre-book your car parking at the airport, so do this some days before you depart. However you intend getting there, you may want to organise your travel - and know how long the journey to the airport will take - well in advance.
- Check out cell phone information. Make sure your phone can be used in the country you're visiting, and make sure you have not placed international call barring on the phone. Make sure also you know the costs of using your phone abroad.
- Write out and take with you a list of phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and the number to call to cancel your bank cards in the event of theft or loss.
- Leave an itinerary of your holiday with someone (just in case you need to be contacted). Include phone numbers or e-mail addresses for hotels where you will be staying. This may also help you to avoid some costly phone calls home.
- If you have any special needs, (disabled passengers etc) check with your airline or tour operator well in advance. A vegetarian meal on the plane may be requested 24 hours before departure. (If you have special needs, you may also be requested to check-in early).
- Get fresh batteries for anything that requires them.
- It's getting close now, so begin to assemble on a table, or a bed, all the things you want to take, and tick them off on your checklist.
One Day Before You Go
- Put an ID into your suitcase. Not your home address, but an e-mail address, or a hotel destination, or at least your own home airport. That way, if your luggage gets lost, you may one day be reunited with it.
- Throw out perishable food from the refrigerator. You don't want to come back to smelly curdled milk, out-of-date meat or moldy fruit.
- If no one is going to do so while you are away, water the house plants or garden plants for the last time.
- Set automatic timers to switch on some lights in the house in the evening. This will help make the house look inhabited and may deter burglars.
- Turn down the thermostat heating or air conditioning in the house.
The Big Day!
- If it is to be an early departure, get everything sorted well in advance and get a good night's sleep - If the first day is a real nightmare of panic and sleep deprivation, it may not auger well for the rest of the trip (or for anybody you're travelling with.)
- For peace of mind make a quick tour of the house (or a long tour if you're neurotic like me!) Make sure all the lights are off, the gas cooker's off, the taps are turned off, the doors are locked.
- If you're travelling a big distance to the airport, leave early to allow for traffic jams etc, and get there in plenty of time to allow for your check-in and Customs.
- Unless you're with friends who are seeing you off, check in as soon as you arrive at the airport and go through to departures because that's where most of the shops and restaurants are.
- Relax! If there's something you've not done, it's too late to worry, so just enjoy the flight (does anyone ever really enjoy a long-haul flight?) Enjoy the vacation, and don't worry about the problems you've left behind until you return. Did you turn that light off? Relax! Have a good holiday!
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