I’m in between a very last-minute person and a control-freak.
I like to plan plan plan, and despite all I often reach the very last minute to be really ready.
Thus in occasion of the preparation to my so-long-desired (and just ended) journey to Japan, I’ve prepared a very straightforward list of things that need to be settled before departure. I’ve included what I normally plan at multiple stages of the journey: well in advance, somewhere before departure, the day of departure, there, and after coming back.
This list was initially for personal use, but I thought it might be interesting also for other people that are traveling to places other than their own homecountry for work or leisure.
Therefore I’ve tried to make it more general than what applies to Japan specifically.
At the bottom you’ll also find a checklist that is free to download to prepare your next journey.
Well in advance (~6 months)
- Validity of your passport
Bureaucratic procedures to renew the passport can be very long, especially when living in country that is different from the one of origin. Make sure your passport is valid at least for the whole duration of your trip (longer validity is in most cases advised – if not needed).
If your passport validity will expire soon, check what the procedure is at the embassy of your home country in the country where you live. In the Netherlands, most of the embassies are located in Den Haag and are open during normal working time. Be sure to have the passport well in advance – often document numbers are needed for reservations!
Check online whether the country of destination requires short/long-stay permits. In most cases short-stay VISA can be arranged online by Europeans, but it’s good to know well in advance, to have the time to handle more complex procedures.
Again, in the Netherlands you’ll probably have to visit Den Haag to have this procedure settled
When visiting exotic countries you are sometimes required to take extra vaccinations/preventive medications. This has been the case for us when we visited India two years ago.
In the Netherlands there are specific centers that handle travel-related health precautions (we have used Reisprik, but you can find multiple options online by Googling reis prik)
Through their websites you can check online what the suggested/compulsory treatments are based on the regions (not only country) you’re going to visit and on the duration of your stay.
In case you’re advised to take a vaccination, you can make an appointment with them.
You can then go directly to the center to discuss the possibilities and hear their suggestions. Be sure to have all the information about your vaccinations at hand.
(NB. vaccination price was not included in the basic insurance package at that time, but it was included in more expensive ones. Thus consider also an upgrade of your insurance if you plan to travel next year!)
- Book means of transport
Plane, but also trains are sometimes cheaper when booked in advance and car rentals can be really subject to availability.
Book well in advance the in- and out-bound flights, while you can manage smaller internal movements later on.
Some tourist-friendly passes are also available in some cases – and they’ll need reservations in time (e.g. Japan rail pass)
Why would it ever happen to me? But in case it happens…
Health insurance conditions may vary when traveling outside the country where you live.
In the Netherlands for example, it depends on the insurance you have, but for example in my case it does cover the expenses for treatment abroad up to the amount that it would cover in the Netherlands.
If you want more, you can get additional travel insurances.
I know there are insurances that cover more and less. Thus check – at least to be aware.
My approach is always extremely conservative and protective against any odds.
During our ‘longer journeys’ (to India and Japan), we have in both cases chosen to have the insurance with the flight ticket (we have taken KLM flights in both cases, that are coupled with Allianz) that provides some extra care abroad or cancellation refund in case of serious problems.
Somewhere before departure (~0.5-2 months in advance)
- Plan the sightseeing
Check travel guides and websites/blogs about your destination.
Focus on your main interests and make a list of what you’d like to do and see, with a priority ranking (e.g. H: must see, L: additions if time allows or on the route of other points)
Be sure to include few indoor activities – extremely valuable in case of bad whether.
With this I normally sketch a first (very tentative) plan of the journey.
- Book accommodation
When I have a little grip on the city and the sightseeing and station/metro and bus stops, I start booking hotels accordingly.
I know there are travelers that use the last minute strategy and make reservations on the spot, also based on the activities of the day.
This causes to me extra stress, thus I prefer to have the accommodations arranged before departure. I normally try to have reservations with free cancellations in order to feel flexible (changes,
Consider downloading a local app when they provide more information (or in a more flexible way) than websites.
For example Google translate has shown to have complementary features in the app that does not have in the website.
- Special items
I never start packing much in advance (not to say I normally wait the very last minute for it!), but I often take notes on what I’ll need to bring with me when it pops to my mind.
I also make sure to have special items that will be needed for the travel
– Medicines that I want to have for my journey (include basic paracetamol and plasters)
– Plug adapters for the country I am going to visit (I personally have a universal adapter that solves this point)
Recently I’ve also found out voltage and frequency of electricity network can change, thus is better to check it, together with the accepted voltage and frequency of the devices you intend to bring with you
– Special clothes (e.g. very special weather or cultural restrictions or mosquito bites or comfortable shoes to be tested before)
- Internet connection or sim cards
Nowadays is mostly common to get access to open networks in big cities. But in case you visit remote places or less developed countries, you may encounter connection shortage.
In India we have chosen to be connection free, and I didn’t regret the choice (it has been a real holiday – completely outside the reality).
There we had an organized tour, thus the connection was definitely not needed.
In Japan we have rented a portable WiFi to be able to connect everywhere at any time – this way we could independently find our way, check last info, make reservations, get suggestions from Tripadvisor etc.
- Payment methods
When the currency in the country of destination is different, we normally try to have a versatile approach – in the sense that we prepare in various ways
– Extend the geographical validity of the bank pass
Our bank is normally set to work in Europe. When we leave to other continents we must activate it – country and period specific
– Extend the geographical validity and maximum of the credit card
I do rarely use my credit card in Europe, and my maximum is set to the minimum. When I prepare to travel abroad I set the maximum allowance higher, because Mastercard is normally much more accepted than Maestro outside Europe.
Again, this is only for the duration of the journey, and is arranged with the customer service of the bank
– Change some cash (in the Netherlands there is GWK Travelex that provides this service, but you can also change it at one of the airports, where it may be more convenient)
– Check the banks abroad that offer better deals for withdrawals to foreigners
– Check the commissions to take money or pay directly in order to make careful choices (when possible)
Check restrictions cabin and check in luggage, pieces of luggage, dimensions, weight etc.
No batteries in the check in luggage
No more-than-100ml-liquids in the hand luggage
It is also important to check what the country of destination does not allow to carry (e.g. fruit and vegetable, meat)
The day of departure
- Travel tickets
- Charged phone (+powerbank)
- Water supplies
- Check weather forecast and adjust accordingly the plan you made in advance
- Consider taking a day/multiple days/week pass for public transport
After coming back
- Reset limits credit card/bank account unless automatically adjusted
- Reset validity pass outside the country you live in (if not automatic)
- Vaccinations (recall is sometimes needed to extend the validity of your treatment)