I’m a big believer in destiny. Paulo Cuelo’s The Alchemist is like my Bible: “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” I believe that fate has in store for us what it will, and that our actions of free will are actually just manifestations of this. This doesn’t mean that the steps to realizing our destinies are seamless or easy. And, this doesn’t mean that I believe in running into the midst of battle blindly and unarmed, wielding nothing but my belief that fate will lead me in whatever direction I’m “supposed” to go: I am a person that likes to be prepared, alert, and oriented to possible obstacles that might come my way. Some people like to use the word “worry,” as in, “you worry too much, Quinn.” Or, some people like the term “control freak,” as in, “you should just go with the flow.” I dislike these terms. I think they discredit the capacity that we have as individuals to steer our own success (even if ultimately our decisions may or may not be the universe acting upon our actions.) I prefer to say anticipate, or prepare!
So, when I plan for a trip, I like to pack for what I call “planned spontaneity.” I’m all for “winging” the itinerary and maintaining a flexible agenda. But there are certain elements of preparation that should not be improvised. I like to “go with the flow,” sure! – within certain parameters, that is. There a number of things that, if planned thoughtfully and systematically, can actually (for me) open up the possibilities of spontaneous glory on an international trip. You shouldn’t be ovely rigid with your itinerary, but you SHOULD be rigid with these.
These are my conditions for “planned spontaneity.”
Planning essentials that will liberate you later on.
Passport and passport photos.
- Physical copy of passport.
- Physical copies of passport photo
- Digital copy of passport
- Digital copy of passport photo.
- Check passport expiration
Always bring a physical copy of your passport, as well as a couple of physical passport photos (these are easily acquired at your post office. I’m down to pay up the $15 for these; you can certainly take your own passport-style photo and print it out, but this way you are certain it meets the requirements and you can scan it and save it for future use, using your own printer.) If you lose your passport or if it gets stolen, you’ll want to have these. You also may need passport style photos for any visas you’ll be acquiring during your travels. Have physical AND digital copies of both your passport and this photo either on a thumb drive or in your email (note that if you happen to be going to China, Google is banned here, so don’t count on accessing Gmail!) Also ensure that your passport is valid for at least six months from the date that you will be entering the country you are traveling to. Don’t wait until the last minute for renewals! If you decide to take your own passport photo, be sure to follow the guidelines listed here.
Visas and Immigration
- Know in advanced your intended destination’s visa requirements.
- Have a printed copy of return flight/train/bus information.
- Write down name, address and phone number of your first night’s stay.
- Have proof of financial means.
Upon entry to another country, you’ll have to pass through immigration (the immigration card that you’ll fill out for this will be given to you on the flight.) Be prepared with the address of the friend, hotel/hostel, etc. that you will be staying at your first night (even if you’re winging it and don’t yet have a reservation, write down an address and phone number of some hotel in the area beforehand so that you can reference it for this purpose.)
Often countries require proof that you’ll be exiting the country within a certain time period. Have a return ticket/bus ticket etc. printed out and accessible. Obviously, you should research this beforehand to know for certain whether or not this is the case. Some country’s require proof of financial means. Technically Thailand requires that travelers entering the country prove that they have at least 10,000 Thai baht worth of money. Check that whether your intended destination has a similar requirement, and plan accordingly. I like to change money before passing through immigration if it’s an option.
- Notify your bank about your travels
- Check usability/expiration dates of debit and credit cards.
Notify your bank that you will be traveling so that if they see a withdrawal in a foreign country, they won’t freeze your debit card on account of “suspicious” activity. That would totally suck! Most banks have a super simple “travel notification” feature that you can fill out online. If not, give them a call. Better to be safe than sorry! Additionally, you should check and test your debit and credit cards before leaving—especially their expiration dates. This may seem obvious, but when you’re trying to remember a lot of little things, it’s easy to overlook!
Vaccinations and Immunizations
- Consult your immunization record
- Research required vaccinations/immunizations
- Schedule appointment with a travel clinic
Never wait until the last minute to take care of any vaccinations or immunizations! The moment you know that you will be traveling internationally, be sure to contact your physician’s office to get a copy of your immunization record so that you can be sure what is up to date, what you have, etc. Be aware that some immunizations/vaccinations must be taken in a multi-dose series (and your local travel clinic may not have appointment openings for several weeks.) So, as you can imagine, this takes advanced planning and preparation. Be aware that some countries require certain vaccinations upon entry (i.e, you may need a “yellow fever” card if you are flying out of certain countries.) You will learn what you need to know at you appointment. You may, for example, need to bring Malaria medication depending on where you are going.
Certain OTC meds are pretty useful to take along, such as Imodium, for diarrhea (I once endured a diarrhea//vomiting bug while flying from South Africa back to the states; this wasn’t a very pleasant experience and I hope to never go through it again!) If you’re going to a doctor at a travel clinic anyways, you might as well ask them to give you traveler’s diarrhea medication for future use. Make you sure you know whether or not you need medication for Malaria, depending on where you’re going. Benadryl helps me sleep!
NEVER EVER go on a trip without at least one pair of socks, even if you’re traveling someplace tropical; the plane and/or airport will most likely be frigid and you will be miserable. James and I spent 14 hours borderline hypothermic in the Beijing International Airport because we didn’t pack a winter coat for our trip to Thailand…but I was prepared with socks for my feet, and I ended up using my second pair for mittens!
Research some potential, vague itineraries for your trip, but pencil in your plans, and only sparingly; this is where my “planned spontaneity” comes in! Be prepared, do your research – but start prepping yourself to be mentally and emotionally receptive to opportune friendships and experiences that you couldn’t possibly have planned for. Shunning the unexpected will hinder your trip a great deal and you may miss out on some incredible moments of authenticity and grandness because you’re too busy sprinting around snapping photos of famous monuments that you thought you had to see.
A little note on travel insurance.
In the past, I haven’t always used travel insurance. I recommend never going without it and I don’t plan on excluding it from future travel plans. A lot of people recommend World Normads Travel Insurance.
“The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.”
-Into The Wild