Countdown to a happy holiday
TWELVE WEEKS OUT
Check the expiry on your passport as far in advance as possible. Some countries require at least six months’ validity on your passport and some insist on a specific number of empty pages. If your passport doesn’t fulfil the specified criteria, the airline will not let you board. If you do need to renew your passport, get this process started as soon as possible in case of delays.
Find out early on whether you need to apply in advance for visas and what this involves — it can be a lengthy and bureaucratic process, depending on your destination. Note some destinations (such as China) will not allow you to apply more than three months in advance of your departure. Contact the relevant embassy via the Government’s Smart Traveller site, smarttraveller.gov.au.
It’s advisable to buy travel insurance as soon as possible after you purchase your flights so you’ll be covered up to and including the time you’re away. Read the fine print carefully to ensure it suits your needs.
Give a thought to how you’ll access money while you’re away. If you do decide to get a new credit or debit card that’s more travel-friendly than your existing one, you’ll need a little time up your sleeve. Some travellers pre-purchase foreign currency (usually with travel-money cards) well in advance to take advantage of good exchange rates.
At least eight weeks in advance of your trip, make an appointment to see your GP to discuss potential health risks such as malaria, altitude sickness and deep-vein thrombosis, as well as any vaccinations you might need. A yellow- fever vaccination is an entry requirement to some African and South American countries, while specific vaccinations may be recommended for certain countries. The Smart Traveller site has country-specific health warnings.
While you’re at the doctor, ensure you have prescriptions for any medications you’ll need while you’re away. When travelling with prescription medicines for personal use, it’s recommended you leave the medication in its original packaging and carry a letter from your doctor stating the name of the medicine, how much you’re taking and that it’s for personal use. The Customs and Border Protection Service has more information at customs.gov.au/knowbeforeyougo. If you are carrying large quantities of what some countries categorise as restricted or banned medicines, you may need to send your doctor's letter in advance to the relevant embassy, which will issue a document permitting you to carry them.
If you wear glasses (particularly if you have a complicated prescription), make sure you have a spare pair, or arrange to get one. It’s not worth spending all that money to visit other countries if lost or damaged glasses mean you can’t see them.
If you’re planning a long trip and don’t want to leave your home empty, this is the time to find a house-sitter. If you have pets, arrangements for their care should also be made well in advance. Your vet may offer boarding facilities, or be able to recommend a kennel or cattery, or you can find a dog minder through websites such as findadogminder.com.au or madpaws.com.au, which function as a sort of Airbnb for pets, allowing you to browse pet sitters in your area to find a suitable match.
If you are leaving your home unoccupied, check that locks and security screens are in working order.
Assuming you’ve booked your flights, hotels and any major tours, now is the time to book any special extras: reservations for restaurants you don’t want to miss out on, pre-purchased tickets for popular museums and bookings for day tours that might fill up. But don’t feel you need to have everything set in stone — it’s always worth leaving room for spontaneity.
Check your luggage allowance for all the flights you’ll be taking. If you’ve booked internal flights with budget airlines, be aware their luggage allowances may be less generous than the major international carriers. If need be, consider pre-booking extra luggage as it will be cheaper now than at the airport.
Retrieve your suitcase from storage and check it’s in good condition. If not, start looking for sales and special offers to buy a new one. Look for lightweight, high-quality materials, with reinforcement around the zipper and seams. Components such as wheels, zippers and telescoping handles should be sturdy as they will be the most likely to break. And keep an eye out for unusual colours that will make your case easier to spot on the luggage carousel.
While thinking about your suitcase, check you have locks and that they work. A padlock with a combination is preferable to one with a key and, if you’re travelling through the US, you’ll need one that’s approved by the Transportation Security Administration in case the authorities need to search your case (see tsa.gov). If you prefer cable ties through the zipper loops, make sure you have enough.
To get you thinking about what you’ll need to pack, place your case open somewhere out of the way so you can start throwing things in there as they come to mind. As you think of items you’ll need to take, or things to do before you leave, write them down so you don’t forget.
Consider any special items you might need to buy — cold-weather gear for a snow holiday, for example — to give you time to shop around for a good price and order seasonal items that may not be readily available here. (Anyone who has tried to buy a warm coat for a European winter holiday during the Australian summer will see the value in this.) Other items, such as hiking boots, may need to be broken in before you go.
If you’re planning to buy a new camera for your holiday, don’t leave it to the last moment. Give yourself time to shop around, to familiarise yourself with its settings and — as unappealing as this sounds — read the instruction manual. It’s worth taking the manual on your trip, too, or downloading a digital version for your phone or tablet. If you’re bringing your existing camera, check in advance that you have enough memory cards for the length of your trip, along with a spare battery and a working charger.
Apply for an international driver’s licence through the RAC, if you’ll need one. This is a pretty quick and easy process, and costs $36.50 plus postage. See rac.com.au/travel/international- driving-licence.
Get serious about packing. Go through your itinerary to see what kinds of activities you’ll be doing. Look up the long-range forecast to get a feel for the weather. Sort everything you’ve thrown into your case over the past few weeks into three piles: things you definitely need, things you might need and things you can do without. You can leave everything in the third pile behind, along with most of the second pile. This process will also alert you to things you will need but have left out, and to any last-minute purchases that need to be made: don’t forget essentials such as power adaptors and earplugs.
An overflowing mailbox is a no-no from a security point of view, so ask someone to collect your mail in your absence. Having your mail held at your local post office is relatively inexpensive; you can apply online at auspost.com.au a minimum of three business days in advance. Similarly, newspaper deliveries should be suspended while you’re away. The West Australian allows subscribers to suspend home delivery for up to three months at a time. See subscriber.thewest.com.au/hold for details.
If you haven’t organised a house- sitter, ask a family member, friend or trusted neighbour to check in on your house, put your rubbish bins in and out, and clear junk mail from the mailbox. Depending on water restrictions, check your reticulation is working and set it correctly to ensure you won’t return to a garden full of dead plants. If you’ll be away for a while, arrange for the lawn to be mowed in your absence.
Let your bank know you’ll be overseas, otherwise your international spending might raise a red flag with its fraud-detection department, leading to your card being frozen. If you won’t be contactable on your usual number while away, ensure your bank has a way to reach you in case it needs to query any transactions. Don’t forget to note down your bank’s overseas contact number in case you need to report your card stolen or compromised — it’s very important to do this as quickly as possible.
Make copies of your important travel documents, including flight itineraries, hotel reservations and the photo page of your passport: one for yourself to keep separately from the originals and one to leave with someone at home. You may also wish to store backup copies on your computer, tablet or phone but it’s still worth having a hard copy in case your device goes astray.
Put together a medical kit. Don’t go overboard — you can always top up at a local pharmacy — but if you feel unwell you’ll be glad you brought the basics, chosen according to your destination (diarrhoea medication and rehydration sachets for Bali, for example), what you’ll be doing there (bandaids for lots of walking) and the kind of ailments you tend to be susceptible to. Don’t forget insect repellent for warmer destinations, particularly malarial zones.
If you want to be able to use your mobile phone overseas, ensure you’ve activated global roaming. Check with your carrier regarding charges while you’re away, as calls and texts while you’re overseas almost certainly won’t be covered by your plan and may be very expensive. Ask your phone company about any roaming packages it offers. To avoid big bills, it’s best to disable your voicemail and switch off cellular data on your smart phone before you depart — consult your phone company if you don’t know how to do this — and avoid making or receiving phone calls while you’re out of the country.
If you’re going to be in the same country for a while, you might look into buying a travel SIM card before you depart or a local SIM on arrival — either way you’ll need an “unlocked” phone that will work at your destination, or a dual-SIM handset (such as the Samsung Galaxy Duos).
Online check-in for flights usually opens 24 hours before departure but some airlines allow you to choose seats in advance, particularly on long-haul routes. Log into the airline’s website to check.
Plan your trip to the airport. Aside from getting a lift, options include taxis or private car services, or driving your car and leaving it in long-term parking, which can be pre-booked online at the Perth Airport website. If you don’t have too much luggage and aren’t in a rush, you can also take the 37 or 40 bus from the Esplanade Bus Port in the city to terminals three and four.
Consider how you’ll get to your accommodation on arrival. Do you need to book a transfer, or research public-transport options, or are you happy to catch a cab? If the latter, ensure you have your hotel’s name and address easily accessible.
Pack your carry-on bag. Having less in your hand luggage means less to lug to the airport and through security. But some things — medicines, cameras and electronics — tend to be better off in your carry-on. If you’re catching an international flight, restrictions on liquids, gels and aerosols in your hand luggage apply: all must be in containers of 100ml or less, in a transparent resealable plastic bag (such as a sandwich bag), the four sides of which add up to no more than 80cm (eg 20x20cm). Pack laptops and liquids so they’re easily accessible when going through customs. And note that lithium-ion batteries, such a rechargeable camera batteries, should be transported in your carry-on. See travelsecure.infrastructure.gov.au and dangerousgoodsapp.casa.gov.au.
Back up smart phones and tablets. Download any apps you'll want while you’re away, along with any music, podcasts, TV shows and movies to keep you entertained on the journey.
Check in online, confirm your seats and print out your boarding passes.
Clean out your fridge. You can save electricity while you’re away by ensuring appliances aren’t on stand-by and by unplugging your television, laptop and other devices.
Unless I have a very early flight, I don’t usually finish packing until the day of departure. Place heavy items such as toiletries and shoes at the bottom of the case near the wheels to help it stay balanced. Secure a brightly coloured ribbon to the outside of your case and slip your name and contact details into one of the front pockets in case it goes astray and gets parted from its tag. Once packed, lock your case.
Wear comfortable layers in breathable fabrics for the flight. If you’re taking a bulky jacket, you can pop this on over the top to save space in your suitcase. Dress with an eye on clearing security with minimum fuss — go for slip-on shoes and avoid jewellery or a belt.
Perth Airport is continuing to undergo considerable change and a number of airlines, such as Virgin Australia, currently operate from more than one terminal. Be sure to check your terminal before you set off — see perthairport.com.au.
Before you leave home, check all doors and windows have been key locked and set timers to switch lights on and off at times that match your usual patterns of activity to help give the impression of being at home. Be cautious about broadcasting your travels on social media, particularly if your accounts can be viewed by people you don’t know.
As a general rule, aim to arrive at the airport at least two hours before your flight departs — but it’s worth checking with your airline, as this may vary.
Don’t forget to switch off cellular data on your smart phone before boarding. While you’re away, seek out free wi-fi at cafes, public libraries and museums — or McDonald’s at a pinch — to check emails, keep in touch and do on-the-go research.
12 WEEKS: This is the time to take care of all of the important bits and pieces which could seriously derail your trip if left to the last minute. Check the expiry on your passport and whether you’ll need any visas. Shop around for travel insurance and give some thought to how you’ll access your money while you’re overseas.
8 WEEKS: Health and home are the watchwords at this stage. See your doctor, stock up on your prescription medications and get a spare pair of glasses. Ensure your house and pets will be safe and well taken care of in your absence.
4 WEEKS: Packing’s the name of the game here, so start thinking about what you’ll be taking with you. You still have plenty of time to shop around to buy a new suitcase, if needed, as well as specialty items such as cold-weather gear, hiking boots or a new camera.
1 WEEK: This is when you should start tying up the loose ends ahead of your departure. Sort out your phone and banking, pack a medical kit. Find someone to collect your mail, and back up important documents.
DAY BEFORE: Think about what you’ll need during your journey: pack your carry-on bag, download any entertainment you’ll want for the flight, and check in online
to confirm your seat and obtain your boarding pass.
ON THE DAY: You’re nearly away — but make sure everything’s in order at home and finish off your packing before heading off to the airport with plenty of time to drop off your bags before your flight.
© The West Australian
More Travel news: thewest/travel.com.au