PLANNING IN ADVANCE AND RESEARCHING LOCAL CUSTOMS: My travel checklist

The other day I wrote about how I find that having a standard travel routine helps make travel planning easier.

So I decided to write my list of the things I do for my trips – but of course depending on the trip you may not need to spend much time on these things.

1. Travel-related activities to do before you even know where you’re going:

These are best-practice things that you will want to have in place at all times.

  • Ensure your passport is valid and renew it 6 months before the expiry date
  • Save a photo of your passport to your email so that you can always retrieve it
  • Always have valid multi-trip travel insurance
  • Get a credit card that doesn’t charge extra for using abroad

2. Planning a trip:

When you decide where you’re going and start planning a trip, these are the key things you will want to do:

  • Book flights (inform of special meal requirements)
  • Book time off from work
  • Research and plan itinerary
  • Book accommodation
  • Book any activities/excursions (inform of special meal requirements)
  • Book any local transportation (buses, trains) or research what the options are

3. Get the paperwork sorted:

These things are boring but crucial to do.

  • Check visa requirements (and apply for visa if needed)
  • Check if any vaccinations/anti-malarials/other health-related preparation is advised
  • Buy local currency if you can (or research how to buy it in country) and check if credit cards are widely accepted

3. Do your local research

  • Use Google maps and download offline maps of the places you are visiting
  • Add local spots you want to visit to Google Maps
  • Check Happy Cow for vegetarian and vegan options
  • Make reservations and check opening times to any restaurant, show or attraction you won’t want to miss
  • Check if tap water is safe to drink
  • Research the local tipping etiquette
  • Check the local weather forecast
  • Check the local dress code (not required for most trips!)
  • Read about local security measures (not required for most trips!)
  • Check if your mobile will work and what the charges may be

4. Pack

I use my ultimate packing list.

5. Final preparations

  • Check in as early as possible and print or download the boarding pass
  • Print any essential paperwork (vouchers you may need, instructions to give to a driver at the airport)
  • Research transportation from the airport
  • Sometimes hotels/tour operators/Airbnb hosts ask you to confirm your arrival in advance, so keep them informed

6. Unpack

I always unpack as soon as I’m back home, this is how I know I’ve fully arrived!

What are your tips on preparing for a trip?

BUS HOPPING AROUND KOSOVO, ALBANIA AND MACEDONIA: How to do it

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ITINERARY PLANNING:

We visited Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania over eight days, meaning that we only had one or two days in each place. This was enough to see the highlights, but it also meant lots of travelling around.

TRANSPORT:

It’s tricky to find information about buses online, but TripAdvisor forums had the best information.

Bus tickets can’t be booked in advance online, but we had no problem getting them on the day. Distances are short, but trips often take longer than expected because of the hilly terrain. Drivers can be mavericks – overtaking dangerously on a turn is commonplace.

Taxis are also available and not super expensive, although we didn’t use them.

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MONEY:

Everything was significantly cheaper than in the UK – even in popular places you never pay more than 10€ for a meal including drinks.

Kosovo uses the Euro, Macedonia has the Denar and Albania uses the Lek. Lek and Denars can only be exchanged in the country, but we had no issues with that.

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FOOD:

We did some research in advance, but it was easy enough to find veggie options and ask for vegan versions by removing some ingredients. Most people speak English enough to understand simple instructions like ‘no cheese’.

Yummy salads are available everywhere, as are pizzas. Portions are always generous. Fruit and veg are usually very fresh and delicious – as is the local wine.

Drinks aren’t always listed on the menu, but most places will serve the usual drinks (including plenty of coffee options).

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2017 TRAVELLING: The year in review

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It’s not every year that I get to travel for six months, so 2017 was full of adventures!

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  • In April we went flower-spotting in chilly Amsterdam;
  • Later in April we followed the steps of Indiana Jones in an eventful Egyptian journey;
  • In May we were lucky with the weather in artsy Oslo;

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  • In June I went to my friend’s fun wedding in photogenic Croatia;
  • In July I started my globetrotting eating the best food in India;
  • In August I followed the footsteps of Cezanne in Provence;

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  • In September we continued our little tradition of visiting the Biennale in Venice;
  • Later that month I train-hopped across some of my favourite places in Eastern Europe;
  • In October I had way too much fun getting lost in translation in Japan;

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  • In November I ate all the cakes in Greece;
  • In December I finished the year in style biking around beautiful Myanmar.

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I only have one trip planned for 2018 so far, but it’s a good one – so here’s to another year of exploring!

2016 TRAVELLING: The year in review

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This was another wonderful year full of travel and adventure!

  • Our first trip of the year was a lazy weekend in chilly Luxembourg;
  • In March we indulged in cheap fancy hotels in beautiful Malta – pure luxury!;
  • In April we spent a rainy weekend bar hopping in Cardiff;
  • I spent a sunny weekend sipping amazing cocktails with my friend in Milan;
  • We flew into Helsinki then took the ferry over to medieval Tallinn, where we had the best vegan lunch and spent hours losing ourselves in all the little alleyways;

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  • In June we spent a week watching football and exploring new corners of Paris – it was such a great time!;
  • In July I visited friends in Cumbria – so British and so scenic!;
  • We had a little break in our travels to get married, then we hopped on a plane for a cultural break in Pisa;
  • In November we had the trip of a lifetime spending our honeymoon in the Galapagos – who knew I would love swimming with sharks?;
  • We ended the year eating delicious food in one of my favourite places: Marrakech is always amazing!

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I can’t wait to see what adventures 2017 will bring!

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THE BORING SIDE OF TRAVELLING: Surviving long waits at the airport

I’m sure some people love wandering around duty free shops while they wait for their flights. I’m not one of them. And because I always get to the airport very early, I tend to wait around a lot.

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Here’s what you can do to make it better:

  1. Play a game: take a deck of cards or some other game with you and those extra hours will fly by. But remember: keep it small (as you’ll have to carry it around) and keep it simple (no one wants to focus really hard when they’re jet-lagged and half-asleep). Bananagrams, anyone?
  2. Make travel plans: this is the ideal time to finalise your itinerary. Open up that travel guide and get planning! And if you’re returning for a trip, you’re probably already missing your holiday, so check out the departure boards for unusual destinations and start dreaming of your next trip!
  3. Eat and drink: this one is a bit tricky, as some airports don’t really have that much to offer on that department. But when a good bar/restaurant is available, you should definitely check it out while you wait. It’s definitely better than waiting for stale airplane food.

Make the best of your travels!

TRAVELLING WITH A PURPOSE: Planning an artistic scape

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Sometimes it’s nice to go somewhere for a reason. I’m massively into art, so I’m always happy to travel to see a great exhibition. Here are my tips on travelling to see art:

Where to go:

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If you’re not sure where to go, a good starting point is focusing on the big European capitals. This way you’re almost guaranteed to find a great museum or exhibition to visit. And of course you will also get to enjoy everything else the city has to offer!

London, Paris and Rome are all perfect for a cultural break!

Major museums:

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Another easy choice is to visit famous museums. Of course the Louvre has a crowd of tourists around the Monalisa, but just across the hall you can see four other Leonardos side-by-side (by the way, this is the only place in the world you get to see this) and there will be much less people around there. Last year I went to Amsterdam to visit the newly-renovated Rijksmuseum and it was absolutely amazing!

Major museums are perfect to see masterpieces by famous artists: wandering around room after room of great art can be a lesson in art history in itself!

Great Exhibitions:

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Another great thing to do is finding specific exhibitions to visit. The Venice Biennale is completely mind-blowing, or you can check out what’s happening in the world at Time Out and take your pick.

But make sure to book in advance: popular exhibitions may sell out. Virtually all museums and galleries have easy options for booking online, and often you don’t have to wait in a queue if you already have your ticket!

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Go get inspired!

THERE’S A WHOLE WORLD OUT THERE: How I choose where to go

A couple of years ago, my boyfriend and I decided we wanted to visit every European country. The plan was to go somewhere every month until we’ve seen it all.

Two years later and we’ve had some amazing times: we saw the northern lights in Iceland, discovered Ljubljana is really nice, had a fabulous time in Prague, and much more!

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So far I’ve been to 24 European countries (there are around 50 depending on how you count it, but we use this list here). But we also spend a lot of time going back to places we love, or travelling further afield, outside of Europe.

I read a lot about travelling, and inevitably I add more and more places to my wishlist. I also change my mind about where I want to go: somehow I’m really keen on going to Japan at the moment, but the country didn’t really interest me before!

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But mostly I’m always happy to hop on a plane (or a train!) and go somewhere for the weekend. I’m in no rush to tick every country off my list – I’m in it for the journey!