I love travelling, every now and then I have the privilege to be able to travel abroad for a longer period. In my case that usually has been about a month. And things go horribly wrong. On the one hand it means I learn something on the other hand it means things like burning 700 Euros for no other reason than being utterly stupid. Therefore I compiled this compact post about how to do things right from the beginning.

Do you even prepare bro?

Preparing a trip is something I’d rather avoid doing, it’s just not any fun. I once was asked by a guy on the street if he could crash my couch. As it turned out he was travelling without anything. No money, no plan, not even a backpack. He was basically homeless, just with a drive to explore the world, which made all the difference. All he had was his T-shirt, pants, shoes and most importantly: His willingness to leave his comfort zone. He’d been doing it for years successfully. So of course I’d let him crash my couch. But since me and you aren’t that badass, unlike this inspiring fella, we need some preparation before taking off. Still he is living proof, how far you can get with literally nothing. So next time you get anxious about something, think of the guy that by default arrives with prospects of sleeping under the bridge but still manages to find a home to sleep (admittedly not always) and to enjoy his travels.

Booking flights

Just don’t be a no-show for your outbound flight assuming you can just book a later one separately. Most airlines cheapest tickets don’t allow this and your return trip gets automatically cancelled. As a result I burned 700 Euros for buying new plane tickets. Therefore always check with the airline about cancellation/rebooking and no-show conditions because plane tickets are not sensible. Also make sure that you have check-in luggage included if you have multi destination flights. Consider buying that slightly more expensive ticket with a cancellation option if you aren’t one hundred percent sure about the travel date.

Preparing for the worst case before your trip

What are the bad things that can happen to you while travelling. Things where you’d go: “I’m so fucked! I’m so fucked! God, I am so fucked!”. You could get robbed, you could end up in a situation where every store is already closed and you’re starving. You could loose all your cash, you could loose your credit card. All these scenarios can reasonably happen and some I experienced myself. Therefore it is smart to prepare beforehand to at least mitigate some of the fallback of getting yourself in a messy situation.

  1. Bring a food ration that’s enough for 3 days, I highly recommend very compact powder food, e.g. Jimmy Joy. Tastes good and can really save your ass.
  2. Bring enough cash to survive for 3 days, even if it’s just in your own currency. You can change it at an money exchange.
  3. Get information on how to report a lost credit card to your bank. If you know the phone number: If you can’t call them how can you do it with just internet?
  4. Find out what options you have if you lost your credit card. Does your bank provide you emergency cash and credit card? If not you should switch your bank. I can fully recommend DKB-Visa.
  5. Get a VoIP-number so you can make cheap phone calls to your bank or travel-insurance or other important institutions at your home country without going bankrupt. I recommend Satellite, you’ll get 100 minutes for free!
  6. Make sure you have a travel insurance and that they cover the country your visiting. If not it’s no more than 10 Euros a year so you don’t have to worry about getting sick or injured abroad.
  7. Check if you should get special vaccinations for your destination. Sometimes your regular insurance will cover the costs.
  8. To prevent getting lost if you need to catch the last bus or to return your rented snow board gear, make sure to have offline maps and enough battery or as a backup a paper map.

My breakfast, lunch and dinner after loosing my credit card.

I lost my credit card before arriving in Tokyo. This was all the cash I had arriving at my hotel. All in all it was just enough to buy tickets from the airport to the hotel and the next Western Union branch next day after organizing emergency cash. I could not even afford a bottle of water.

Emergency cash provided by Visa same day after calling them over VoIP.

Emergency credit card provided by Visa two days after calling them, it was directly sent to my hotel.

Keeping things so you can quickly access them

Packing my bag inevitably led to chaos. Imagine the following scenario: Your on the train, you need to look up your next connection. Your phones battery is close to dying a painless but consequential death. You open your backpack and you hectically sort through the clutter. You’re getting stressed, your body emits stress hormones and as a result you die 5 years earlier than without this stress.

Here is the solution, use see-through bags you can get on Amazon. I sort everything in categories. E.g. important travel documents (passport, plane tickets), hygiene, plane utensils (sleeping mask, ear plugs) etc. This way you can quick access everything you need in seconds. It costs some preparation time to think of useful categories for the trip and sorting everything, but you will access any item in a matter of seconds without thinking.

With the bags I could easily access everything, here you can see my medication and my computer accessory bag.

There's even a bag for more bags. Just in case.

Be ready for exploring

Obviously you don’t want to carry around a giant backpack all the time, therefore just bring a smaller daypack with you. Make sure that it will neatly fit in your backpack, just like the sweet Russian Matryoshka dolls. If I board a plane I will keep the daypack separately with some items like laptop and e-reader. If I know I’ll have to transfer a lot, for example a bus ride and a connecting train afterwards, I’ll put everything inside the big backpack to ensure that I’ll only have to worry about one bag and I’ll have both hands free anytime.

I proudly present: Bagpackception

Backpack protection

For backpacks that you want to check-in just buy a backpack protection. A very simple one from Tatonka I can recommend is this one. It’s very cheap, just eight Euros, and effective. This simple plastic bag is very sturdy and kept my backpack protected on five flights without any signs of deterioration. You should keep zip ties with you because the attached rope to tie the bag isn’t sufficient at all.

At the airport it takes no more than two minutes to put your backpack inside the cover.

And correctly ziptied at the top even this very cheap protection cover does it's job well.

Boarding like a pro

Personally I usually try to avoid long waiting times at the airport. That’s why I arrive at the gate later than most passengers. From this I realized that if you board the plane as last passenger you can just choose among all free seats. Now on long flights I’ll always be the last person boarding. If you’re lucky you’ll get the empty seat row you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. So board the plane as the last person and choose where you sit freely. Sure you can’t just sit in business class, just because there’s a free seat.

TL;DR: Use your brains before making your life harder than necessary. Unlike at home whilst travelling there aren’t as many established structures you can rely on.