Wednesday, July 30, 2014

10 Things You Should Do Before You Travel Overseas

If you read here regularly, you will know I have been yearning to get back to France since we were last there in 2007. Well it's finally happening and as our departure date looms, it's about now that I turn my mind to all the things I have to do before taking an extended holiday.  Before I can sit back into my tiny seat in cattle class on the plane and order a cup of tea, or something a little stronger, it feels like there is a marathon of preparations to be completed.  Writing this list has really helped crystalise just what is involved and if I have excluded anything, please let me know in the comments.  I have already put this question out there on Facebook and some of those tips from you lovely readers, are credited here.  Some of the tips were more about what to pack and I will do a post about that, as our departure gets closer.

Here are some of the things I will be doing before we leave home:

1.Security Around the House

We have organised house sitters whilst we are away, but if you leave the house unattended:

Redirect mail to another address, or ask Australia Post to hold it for you.

Cancel the newspapers, or ask a neighbour to collect them and any junk mail, so as not to give burglars any indication you are not there.

Ask the neighbour to put out your bin and bring it in, the first week you are away, so you don't come back to a smelly cesspit of garbage in your bin upon your return.

Give details of your itinerary to a family member, trusted neighbour, or friend on    how you can be contacted in case of emergency.

Also tell the neighbour how your family can be contacted if they need to make any decisions about how to treat any emergency at your house, whilst you are away.

2. Luggage

We will be travelling by plane, car and train on our trip, so we will all need backpacks and suitcases with handles and wheels. I will also be getting luggage straps to put around the bags, if any of the zips fail. Those straps came in handy last time when we were staying in an apartment in Paris and our then 4 year old, would have easily slipped through the holes in the balcony balustrade, had we not tied them off with those luggage straps. Of course I freaked when I saw the balcony on the apartment, but by then, there was not much I could do about it, other than never open the windows, which in a Paris summer is not possible. As you can see it still wasn't great, but at least he could only get through if he tried with that strap in place and happily, he was never a climber.

FYI, suitcases larger then 85cm long, are not permitted on Eurostar trains.

We are renting a small 5 door car, so we cannot take too many large suitcases, as they will not fit in the boot.

I buy small padlocks for each suitcase and paint each lock and matching key with it's own individual nail polish colour.  This saves fumbling around for the right key, when you are in a hurry.

I have also bought a special hand bag for the trip.  Last time I bought the Hedgren brand.  This time it's Fib Australia.  They both have heaps of zip up compartments.  For this trip, I bought the Fib with the ipad compartment.

I also like the long sturdy strap on both brands of handbag, as I always cross the hand bag strap across my body, so it cannot easily be ripped from my shoulder.

I carry all the passports,  as the last time Mr Beach House had charge of his, he lost it, when it slipped out of his jacket pocket on the plane.  We spent a very stressful half an hour retracing our steps to find it.  Luckily the cleaners had it for him, when he returned to the plane.

3. Important Documents

Photocopy all the passports, credit cards, vaccination cards, travel insurance, visas, drivers licence and other important docs you need for all the people in your travelling party. Thanks for this tip from Michelle at Jungle Jarrah Blog

Last time Mr Beach House and I both got international drivers licences and they were never asked for in France.  They can be sourced via the NRMA in New South Wales, ($39 each) who seem to say you need them for driving in any foreign country, which was not our experience in France 2007, but thing may have changed, so I may get them again. Your advice would be very much appreciated here.  

We are also taking a copy of our marriage certificate, as I never changed my surname and some of the conservative European countries find that very odd.  That fact could particularly affect my ability to drive our hire car, as a spouse.

Leave a copy of all important documents with your trusted friend or family member and also take a copy of them with you overseas.  Some readers have said that they scan a copy of the important documents onto their computer and email them to themselves, or store them in The Cloud, so they can be retrieved on any device if needed.

Remember to put the documents in a different place in your luggage, to where you keep the original, so the chances of the lot being stolen together is minimized. Perhaps in a locked suitcase or another piece of hand luggage that is always well guarded.

Leave a key to your house with a trusted friend or neighbour, so if any documents required to replace passports etc they can be easily sourced.

If you have copies of passport photos left over, put them in your wallet, as they may come in handy.

I will also make sure my mum has a copy of our latest wills too.

4. Who to Tell When and Where you are Travelling

With all the potential problems that can occur internationally, registering your travel plans with the Australian Government agency Smart Traveller is a must. It allows you to gain more rapid access to consular assistance if you strike trouble, such as terrorism, arrest or God forbid, the need to repatriate the body of a loved one. They also provide travel advice on various hotspots.

Your registration form can be securely submitted and is sent to the relevant consulates where you are travelling, so you can be more quickly contacted in case of a crisis.

You can subscribe to emails from Smart Traveller, advising of changes to travel advice too. Thanks to Julie from Off to the Park Blog  for posting this tip Facebook page.

It is also advisable to let your credit card providers know where you are going, so they don't cancel your card as a security measure.

5. Organise a Small First Aide Kit 

Nail scissors, band aides, antiseptic cream, some chap sticks, tweezers, sterile wipes, a syringe and some Panadol can solve a myriad  of dramas very quickly, if only I remember to take them when I travel. Teresa from the Sellable Home kindly added to my Facebook page to take toilet paper and a packet of baby wipes for freshening up, when there is no easy access to fresh clean water.

6. Charging Your Devices

Get your power adapters sorted before you go, says Susan from Graphically Designing. Most major department stores have a good travel section, were you can buy power adapters.  Some people take a power board, so they can charge more than one device at once, but I am not sure if that's the way to go.

Overloading a power board is a fire risk and as many countries do not have laws making smoke alarms compulsory in commercial accommodation, I won't be doing that.  Also your accommodation provider would not be pleased if you blew out the power, by over loading the power board.

If you are travelling on a direct flight to the UK or the US (as of July 2014) you must be able to 'power on' your devices for security reasons, so they can be security checked.  Apparently there are now bombs that can be made to fit into mobile phones.  So make sure they are charged up and able to be turned on, or they will not be permitted on the plane.  This seems incredibly harsh and there is no information on what will happen to the devices if they are not permitted on the plane. This means if your flight to the UK starts in Dubai, don't use all the charge up on the plane between Sydney and Dubai. More info here.

I contacted the British embassy in Canberra for clarification on this matter  and here is their comprehensive response:

"Hi Carolyn

I’ve spoken to colleagues about this and I can confirm that the situation is indeed as described on the Smartraveller site and on your blog. I appreciate this is probably unwelcome news but I can assure you that such restrictions are not put in place lightly. You can find out more about why the current restrictions were put in place here.

On a more positive note, it is my understanding that when passing through security at UK airports there are chargers available for staff to check that electronic devices are functional. While the UK government is not responsible for security at hub airports such as Dubai, your airline might be able to advise you whether this is the case there too. They may also be able to tell you whether your children’s devices can be recharged onboard the aircraft or in the terminal building at Dubai.

If they are unable to provide any reassurance on that front then I’m afraid the best advice would be to not use the devices on the Sydney-Dubai leg to ensure that they have enough charge to be checked when passing through security in Dubai.

That said, the restrictions have been in place since early July and your enquiry is the first we have had regarding this issue, which – given the volume of travellers heading to the UK from Australia via that route – hopefully suggests that this has not proved to be an insurmountable problem for other families."

Here's an article from the Guardian, which discusses the issue and why this security measure has been put in place.

6. Mobile Phones and Email

Make sure your phone company has given you the codes to unlock your phone in the event that you want to use a local sim, when you get to your destination.  Apparently until you have a 'foreign' sim in the phone, it cannot be unlocked.  God knows why? But there you go.

Check with phone company what international data packs they offer.  I think I will do a whole post about using mobile OS, because from my research it can be a big pain in the ass and really the companies just have to try harder.  Basically even after some big changes to data roaming billing, they are still ripping us all off.

Also arrange for global access to email with your provider. Or work out how to access your emails via your providers website, which is a lot easier and cheaper.

7. Keeping Kids Happy on the Long Haul Plane Journey

We are the sort of family who doesn't do stop overs. I am not a big shopper and my husband loathes the whole exercise.  You would only need to glance through his wardrobe to see he rarely engages in that activity. So we do the whole trip to Europe in one hit.  Of course it is not that enjoyable, but we feel we just want to get there.  Also it's only once each way, that we have to collect baggage and do all the other horrible stuff involved with travelling through airports.

Get your devices loaded up with kiddo apps, so they can play them offline on the plane.  Make sure you have security software on your phone or ipad though, so no virus' get through to your device piggy backing on the back of the app.  But consider the advice in point 6 about being able to 'power on' your devices for direct flights into the UK and US.  

I also take earphones for the devices, in attempt not to have to listen to the sound of the games as well.

Book kids meals for the plane well in advance on both your forward and return journey. Also ask for any kids activity packs available from the airline, to be ordered for your journey.

Buy some activity books and small gifts for the kids to give them at intervals on the plane.  Don't give everything to them at once.  If you have time,  perhaps wrap them up, so it prolongs the excitement factor.
Take a few snacks too such as little sultana packs.  So that you can distract them if they are hungry and the in flight menu is not available at that time they decided the whole world must stop, so they can be fed.

Pack a basic change of clothes for all in your party in your hand luggage, in case your luggage goes missing, or there are major in flight spillages or up chucks. Also some plastic bags to carry any soiled clothing.

In terms of cribs on the plane. most planes have a limited number of those, so if you have a baby, make sure you book that well in advance.

8. Organising Foreign Currency

Unless you have a credit balance in your credit card, cash withdrawn will incur interest rates the minute your draw it out,  so organise some cash for each country you plan to travel in. Obviously there is a security risk with cash. If you are going to take some cash,  at least divide it between you, so it doesn't all get stolen, if one bag goes.

I find the banks give the best rates on foreign exchange, but if you are going to get it at the bank, order it well in advance as many suburban branches need to order foreign currency in.

Also load up a cash passport card, available at Australia Post and Flight Centre (the card costs $50 before you load any cash). Beware some cash passport type cards charge $2- $4 each time you make a cash withdrawal. You can just put $AUD on these cash passport type cards and then nominate the currencies you want to use.  Remember whatever you do, there are fees involved and the banks are usually well in front.

Here's a great grab from the ABCs "The Check Out" about travel cards. and the benefits and pitfalls.

9. Get A London Pass or City Equivalent

One way to overcome needing too much cash, is to get a London Pass or similar card for your city of choice.  It can represent great value and means you have already paid the entry fee to many of the monuments you want to visit before you travel.  The London Pass  allows access to 60 plus monuments, museums and palaces in London. There are also some queue jumping options, using the pass. There is an option to add all your public transport travel for London zones 1-6.  Remember kids under 11 years old travel FOC on all public transport in London.  The pass also comes with a comprehensive free travel guide, so if you get the pass sent out before leaving, (which takes 15 business days for international freight) you can start planning your trip, so can you hit the ground running, as soon as you get there.

10. Make Day Tour Bookings well in Advance if Travelling in High Season, even if you have a City Pass.

Some of the city monuments included in the London Pass/City Pass still require you to make tour booking even if you have the city pass.

One of the main reasons for our trip to France, is to look at the D day landing beaches.  I started looking to book a one day tour for September about 3 months ago, so we can get a good feel for the battlefields before we do our own thing and I really really struggled to find any availability.  To avoid disappointment book early.

I hope this list of tips has helped you in some small way.  I would be very pleased if you would add anything in the comments that I have forgotten.  It would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance.

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  1. Great post! I'm travelling to France next year so am eager to read of your upcoming adventures. A couple of extra tips to add A) documentation - rather than carrying multiple hard copies, I scan mine and either send to my email account or to my Evernote. (Evernote is awesome by the way, for travel planning) If you are travelling to anywhere with ubiquitous internet access you will always be able to access a copy and you lighten your load a little! B) regarding chargers, try to find one that converts to a usb charger - you will sometimes be able to plug into the usb port just to keep your device topped up. In airports I always look out for plugs in the walls as well - which is why you should carry a universal adaptor in your carry on.

  2. Scanning the docs is a great idea, especially if you need to send them on to somewhere at a later point.

    And yes to the charger with a convertible USB plug. I always look out for airport plugs as well.

    Thanks Jeannine

  3. Jay over on Facebook also added the following fabulous travel tips.

    "A great list. We travel in 2 weeks for a month with 2 kids and some of these I hadn't thought of. A couple of things I'd add to the list are: Store electronic copies of your documents in your email account (or else where in the cloud). Chewy lollies for the plane to help with ear problems on take off and landing (I am trying the travel ear plugs for my youngest as he always suffers when landing). Eye spray and paw paw cream in the first aid kit (eye sprays are better than drops for kids as you just spray on closed eyes). A few garbage bags. Great to line a back pack on a rainy day. Can be used as a make shift poncho. Can sit on when ground is wet or muddy. And can also be used for rubbish. These few things can help alot"

    Thanks Jay all fantastic ideas.

  4. Thanks for sharing such bright ideas, cheers.

  5. Awesome tips and thanks for including me!
    You have made me want to pack a suitcase and head off on a holiday somewhere ... anywhere!!

  6. You sound completely organised and I can't wait to hear all about your trip. Good luck with that long-haul trip at the back of the plane. I don't do stopovers either as I just want to get the travelling part over with as quickly as possible xx

  7. Fabulous travel tips Carolyn. You've prompted me to make a 'to do' list. Blessings ♥

  8. We are travelling to the UK to see my brother next year. Fantastic tips Carolyn xx

  9. Awesome list for someone travelling OS. The mind boggles with all that there is to know. I am going to email this to my sister, she is about to go to the UK.

  10. Fantastic tips for those travelling OS. My sister is going to the UK in a couple of days, I think she should read this :) xx

  11. You've listed some great things here to think about before you travel a really concise list.
    I've got some packing lists on my blog if you are interested
    I find with foreign currency to just buy a small amount here in small denominations (you often need small notes straight away for bus/train fares and tipping). I find we usually get a better rate overseas.
    My last bit of advice take note of your bag brand and put a name label on it just in case your bag goes missing on the flights (which happens to at least 1 or 2 bags a flight.


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