So you've finally done it, after what seems like a lifetime of looking, deliberating, and planning, you've booked your trip – and aren't you chuffed with yourself? Too right! So now you're definitely going you can relax, right? Hmm, wait a minute, when was the last time you actually saw your passport? Do you know if you need any vaccinations before you go? Do you even own a backpack? Doing your pre-holiday prep will ensure everything is in order before you fly, and will leave you free to enjoy your trip without the headache of having to sort out any mishaps while you're in a foreign country.
Before you panic, check out our handy post-booking checklist to make sure you've got everything sorted before you jet off...
1. Check your passport
First and foremost you won't be going anywhere without your passport. So, once you've spent three hours turning the house upside down for it, only to find it in a really obvious place (like the fridge), you might want to check the rules of entry to the country you're travelling to to ensure your passport meets their requirements – i.e. having at least six months' validity remaining on your planned return date, making sure you have enough blank pages to accommodate immigration stamps, and checking to see whether or not you need a scanable epassport. The most reliable place to find this information and the direct links to the relavant embassy's official website (there are a few bogus ones out there so be careful) is the government's FCO website for travel advice. This is also a good opportunity to double-check all your booking details – you don't want to find out your name is spelled incorrectly on your ticket when you get to the airport...
2. Book flights
So you've booked an amazing itinerary to all sorts of far flung and exotic places but how are you going to get there and back? Unless you've got lots of time on your hands and plan to drive or take a boat, you'll want to get some flights sorted! Make sure you check through the information in your online account as some of our programmes have specific arrival and departure times - you don't want to find that you're arriving too late on the first day and missing out on some great activities or an important welcome meeting. Our dedicated partners, Real Flights, are here to help you find the perfect flights for your trip. They work closely with us so know all about the specific arrival and departure times and can even help you to book seats next to someone else on your trip (should you be lucky enough to find someone on the same flight!). The team can put your perfect flights on hold allowing you to look around elsewhere or make other travel arrangements without risking the prices increasing in the meantime! Ask them for a quote here.
3. Apply for your visa
Depending on your country of residence and the country you're travelling to, visa requirements can vary wildly, so it's worth looking up conditions of travel on the high commission website for the country you're visiting well in advance. You might not need to apply for a visa at all, and instead be offered a form to complete during your flight or on arrival to your destination, but some countries require a full visa application, complete with supporting paperwork, which can take time to process, so the sooner you know what you're doing and when, the better – don't leave it until the last minute. Again, the best place to find this information is on the government's FCO website.
4. Get travel insurance
We simply can't stress to you how important travel insurance is. Of course, everything will hopefully go smoothly with no hiccups, and all you'll be concentrating on while you're out there having the time of your life is, well, being out there having the time of your life. But accidents and mishaps happen more often than we care to think about, so better safe than sorry. Provided you get your insurance soon enough, you'll also be covered for cancellations, as well as lost luggage and a whole heap of other travel-related issues. At Real Gap Experience, we have partnered with Endsleigh Insurance to provide policies specifically tailored to our programmes, check out the details here.
5. Pay your GP a visit
You've probably heard us saying that we can't offer medical advice – that's because we didn't go to med school, but your GP did and they know your medical history so will be able to best advise you on vaccinations and medication you need to have prior to or during your trip. Be sure to book an appointment with them as soon as possible as some vaccinations need to be administered weeks ahead of travel – and be sure to tell them exactly where you're going and what activities you'll be taking part in (farm work, animal care etc.). Depending on how long you're going to be away for, you might also need an early prescription for regular medication – so make sure you've got everything you need. The NHS fit for travel website is very useful to get an idea of what you may need but its important to visit your GP in person too!
6. Make a packing list
This may sound like an obvious one, or even an unnecessary one to some, but a packing list is an essential part of pre-trip prep and shouldn't be overlooked. We provide you with a suggested packing list for all of our trips - you'll be able to find it in your online account once you've booked. However, everyone is different so take some time to sit down and really think about what you need to bring with you – starting with essential items only, then expand your list to include things you'd like to bring with you in order of priority. If you can pack your bag in the same order, you'll know that all your essentials have been packed first and if you really can't squeeze in those last few bits, they weren't top of your list anyway, so you shouldn't mind leaving them behind. Try and think as practically as possible and do your research – if you can buy bulky items (like towels) cheaply enough at your destination, do. And don't forget to put a change of clothes and swimming gear (or anything you'll desperately need on your first couple of days) in your hand luggage, if you can. Suitcases have a mind of their own sometimes, so if yours goes walkabouts at least you'll be able to take a dip while you're waiting to be reunited.
7. Change up money
It's not the best idea to take wads of cash with you on your travels – pre-loaded cards like the Caxton FX and low interest credit cards are by far the safest way to access money whilst abroad (don't forget to tell your bank), but it's always worth having a bit of cash on you in case you can't get to an ATM for a couple of days. Work out what you expect to spend on average each day and take the equivalent of a few days' worth in cash. Remember to check the best outlets for exchange rates and arrange to change your money up at least a week before you go. Don't forget that some currencies won't be readily available in the UK, so check to see whether it's worth bringing another currency with you – US dollars are often more widely accepted than sterling.
8. Print out important info
Prints, copies, scans – yes, they're important! Print copies of your booking confirmation, any details with the address you'll be staying at, and contact details for the tour leader or person that should be meeting you from the airport. Carry a couple of scans of your passport (a clear scan of the photo page) and put one in your main luggage and one in your hand luggage (separate to your passport) and make sure you carry one of the copies, rather than your actual passport, around with you whenever you're out and about in case you ever need to provide proof of identity. Better still, scan of all of your travel documents and email them to yourself - that way, you'll always be able to access them wherever you are as long as you can access the internet and print more copies if necessary. Never hand your passport to someone asking you for proof of identity on the street – you should keep it somewhere safe at your accommodation so you don't need to carry it around with you.
Finally, once you've made sure all the above is covered, make sure you tell everyone you know about your travel plans and remind them on a daily basis just how fantastic it's going to be. Start telling people at least three months before you go – you could even provide a useful holiday countdown for them. It won't annoy anyone in the slightest...