Disclaimer: The information shared here is subject to change. The following information regarding COVID restrictions is accurate to the best of our knowledge when publishing this article.
I never believed in planning for anything in life. It was always impromptu, just going with the flow. My first international solo trip was to Europe; I did a lot of preparation for the trip. There was so much work to be done, like booking your flights in advance; your visa work involves a lot of documentation. It was a realization that you can’t do international travel without proper planning. I still travel without much planning in India but now can’t afford to travel internationally. So here is a checklist I want to share with you if you are traveling abroad.
Let’s explore International Travel essentials in stages.
1 4-6 months to travel:
- Booking your Air flight: This will be the most significant expense in your journey. You need to book your flight in advance. Book a flight with a cancellation option, it may cost more, but it will give you peace of mind. When you book your flight in advance, you won't even realize that you have spent a considerable amount as it is spread over time. As per various travel experts, booking your flight between 4-6 months will give you the best price. It will vary from destination to destination and the season of your travel.
An excellent place to check for good deals on flights is Skyscanner, Kayak, and Google Flight. Always check the flight's incognito window as cookies get tracked, and then the same flight would get expensive. You can also check the airline website for airfares as various sites show you different prices.
- Stay: This is the following enormous cost after your Airfare; one easy hack is to use your social circle to get a couch to stay abroad. It will drastically reduce your cost. I traveled to New York, and I was staying at a friend's place. You can always buy gifts for the host as a token of appreciation for letting you stay.
There are also options of volunteering where you get to stay at a person's house to take care of the house. Many long-term travelers use this option. I suggest exploring different options like Air BNB, Hostels, Hotels, etc. My favorite is the hostel as you get the meet a lot of friendly tourists on your journey.
- Season of your travel: As a general tip, avoid traveling in peak seasons; it means paying inflated prices and overall poor experience with many tourists. Pick a time of the year where many would not prefer traveling to your destination. E.g., Travelling to Santorini during July would attract many tourists, but when you travel in Sep when the climate is a little cooler, you can enjoy it much better at a reasonable price. Choosing your dates for the travel is essential.
- Health: Start eating healthy and working out. Now you must be wondering how health is related to preparation. Honestly, falling sick on the road is not fun. You might miss out on some beautiful destination plus you will end up wasting a lot of money. It is better to be proactive and taking your health seriously.
2 2 Months to travel:
- Passport and Visa: Check if your passport is expiring within the next six months. Also, if your pages are not enough to stamp, you might still need a new passport. It is imperative as issuing a new passport does take time. Sometimes it takes as much as 4-6 weeks.
Also, before you travel, make sure about the visa requirements. Getting a visa involves a lot of paperwork, and it is a painful experience. You need to have enough funds in your account to show that you can sustain the travel. I had a unique experience getting a visa for Bulgaria. None of the visa agencies knew about the process involved in getting the visa. Eventually, the Bulgarian embassy confirmed the requirements. Get your passport and visa well before time as you will have peace of mind.
- Insurance: The nature of travel is very uncertain, so it is better to insure yourself. It will cost you a basic fee to get insurance. Plus, few countries don't let you travel without insurance. It will protect you against robbery or accident. I have a friend who hit his head on the rocks while diving in an ocean; it was painful to see what he went through. He didn't even have insurance and was stuck in a foreign land with not much help. My intention is not to scare you, but I hope you get the point here.
3 One month to travel:
- Get your money: Do research about the country where you are visiting. If they require cash or card option works. Be careful about the exchange rate, as getting a reasonable rate can save money. I usually carry money in my travel card and carry cash as well. You can pay a bank, and they can load equivalent currency in your travel card.
Make sure you inform your bank that you are traveling to a foreign destination. Otherwise, banks think that your card is stolen and someone from abroad is misusing your card. It will save you unnecessary hassles. Also, be sure about the cards you are using, as if your card doesn't permit international travel, you will pay huge fees. It is better to call the bank and get this cleared before you use the credit card.
- Travel Gear: Even if we are traveling for 15 days, we carry stuff as we stay there for months. Avoid carrying unnecessary items in your travel. Think as you might have to keep it with you have to carry it for days. You should know about the weather in advance so that you can pack accordingly. Carry a water bottle as few countries don't give you water for free. Avoid carrying valuable stuff like jewelry, High-end computer; you might end up as a target for thieves. Be mindful of your travel gear; you should be carrying anything that you won't need.
- Your house and other things: Many of us would be worried about our house when we travel. The best way is to give your key to your neighbors so they can take of your pets and plants. You can always get a souvenir for them, and it is an excellent way to say thanks.
You don't want to be disturbed in your travel for petty things like outstanding bills. A good strategy is to pay your bills in advance, or even better; you can set up auto payment for recurring expenses.
One crucial point is carrying a universal adapter as every country has a separate charging system. This small piece can come in very handy in other countries. Also, backing up important files in Google Drive can work if you lose your device.
- Your apps: Carry Google translate, make sure you download offline dictionary of the local language. Also, carry offline maps; this is a lifesaver in a foreign country. Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, and Skype allow you to make free video calls. Also, install google authenticator to have two-factor authentication for your mails.
4 Two weeks to travel:
- Documents: Print all the necessary documents like flight, hotel booking, etc. Make two sets of copies and keep them in various locations. In case you lose one file, you have a backup file. Create a backup of important documents like a passport or visa. Keep it password protected and save it in Drive.
- Itinerary: Plan your time in travel, make a list of the places you want to cover. It will help in saving time while you are in a foreign country. Make plans on how you would reach your hotel from the airport. Make all the arrangements in advance. Ask your hotel if they have transport services and you might get a pick you from the airport.
- You did it: Congratulations, you did it. By now, you have all the international travel essentials. Now it is time to go through all the necessary documents one last time. I want to highlight that don't exchange your money at the airport; they have the worst exchange rate.
- This has been so much hard work to arrange everything. Be proud of yourself; you did it. Now it is the time to enjoy and relax. Have fun on your journey.
5 My Packing List:
What should I carry in a bag pack? The answer may vary from person to person. The best answer to this question is do not to carry much. It is not hard to find medicines, clothes, or toiletries. You can also use laundry services and repeat your clothes. Don't carry more than 7-10 days of clothes. It would be best if you customized it according to your needs.
- Six T-shirts
- One Shirt
- One Jacket
- Two long-sleeve Tee Shirt
- One pair of shorts
- One Jeans
- One Track Point
- One Sandall
- One Sport Shoe
- Six Underwear
- Multiple pair of socks
- Shower Gel
- Towel (Carry multiple towels)
- Medicines (Band-aid, Crocin, and biquinol)
Also carry a universal adapter, your phone, watch, water bottle, passport, and wallet. I keep my backpack quite simple.
6 Traveling During COVID:
No one ever imagined that we will ever go through COVID, and the entire world will come to a standstill. It is the first time since World War there are restrictions on travel. So, we need to prepare more compared to regular travel. There are many questions arising, where do we travel? What test needs to be done for travel? Is it safe? What is the Visa rule? Should you even travel at this time?
It is the best time to explore your own country than to travel to an international destination.
As Indians, we can travel to few countries due to the arrangements made with countries. The details mentioned below are subject to change due to the dynamic nature. Overall you must understand that you would have to provide medical test results before entering any international countries.
On the date of publishing the articles, 49 countries are entirely closed, 44 countries have no travel restrictions, and 103 countries are partially open. Below I will provide information for few top countries that are open for Indian travelers.
India signs air bubble agreements (Citizens can travel freely within member nations) with 24 countries, including the US, the UK, the UAE, Maldives, Bhutan, etc.
United States of America: The United States has restricted entry for all foreign nationals who have passed few countries (China, Iran, Brazil) in the last month. You can enter with an Indian passport and a valid visa. All travelers must show a negative COVID 19 or antigen test result issued 72 hours before departure. Websites like CDC will give you more information.
Maldives: Travelling to the Maldives is relatively easy; they have restarted to issue the visa on arrival. You must present a negative PCR test for COVID done 72 hours before departure. Many celebrities have visited Maldives post lockdown. A completed Health Declaration card must be presented at the time of arrival.
United Arab of Emirates: Indians can travel to the UAE. Visa on arrival facility is also available. Please carry health insurance if you are traveling here. It is mandatory to download and submit the Health declaration form. We need to get the COVID19 certificate from the approved labs only. In case you are tested positive, you need to be isolated and quarantined.
Bhutan: Indians can travel with Bhutan. Travelers must produce RT-PCR negative test results, done not more than 72 hours before leaving the country of origin. You have to be quarantined for 21 days.
Ukraine: India has been listed as a Green zone country by Ukraine. Hence Indians can travel to Ukraine. Green zone country residents arriving in Ukraine don't have to be quarantined. People need to carry a Health Insurance certificate covering COVID 19 treatment. The insurance policy must be registered company from Ukraine.
United Kingdom: Travel is restricted now in the UK due to COVID 19 guidelines. Indian nationals carrying a valid UK visa can travel to the country. You need to be in isolation for 14 days. You must update all your contact details before your travel on an online passenger locator form; this is done to track people if some people (traveled with them) develop coronavirus symptoms.
Serbia: Indians can travel to Serbia. You need to have a negative COVID 19 RT-PCR and a negative Antigen FIA rapid test issued before 48 hours of arrival. Passengers are subject to be self-quarantined for ten days.
Conclusion: We have gone through some difficult times together. So many lives lost, everyday fear, and overall a negative outlook. It is good some countries are opening the borders to travel. At this moment, the best is to travel within your country until the international situation gets better. With guidelines coming out, you can understand what is expected before you travel.
It would help if you didn't go anywhere before you get the required test done. It might be required at most places. You must make sure that you are not a sick or asymptomatic carrier. It is your responsibility that you don't spread the virus. We need to be good human beings irrespective of the rules. With so much chaos, we need compassion more than ever.
I don't think things are getting back to normal anytime soon. It will be the new normal going forward. It is better to embrace it rather than resisting it.
Wash your hands
Wear a mask.
Wear your face shield
Do not touch your face.
Wipe your seat and nearby area with disinfectant.
This is Shekar signing off; I see you in the next one. Ciao.