Multiple years of frequent travels taught me how to effectively deal with all the logistics around traveling. I learned: 1) when to book flights and the accommodation, 2) what (not) to pack, 3) how to pack, 4) how to quickly get through the airport, and 5) how to deal with the immigration. I’m sharing here my personal checklist that ensures that each trip goes smoothly and is worry-free. Ready, set, fire!
3 Months – 6 Weeks before the Trip
Flights. Ideally, I book my flights 6-12 weeks before the planned trip. That’s the period of the greatest uncertainty for the airlines. They are unsure about the number of passengers, oil prices, etc. Consequently, the flights are typically the cheapest. Earlier than 3 months, the airlines show pre-calculated average prices. Later than 6 weeks, many seats are already sold; the price per seat is high. Exceptions occur. Sometimes you can score very cheap flights when you book much in advance.
Accommodation. If I expect the accommodation to be a problem (e.g., during the carnival), I try to find a place as early as possible. Otherwise, I wait till the last moment.
1 Day Before the Trip
Laundry. I like my clothes clean. Regardless of how long I’m going for, I’ve got fresh clothes for 7-10 days.
Banking. I notify banks about the upcoming travels so they don’t block my cards.
Flights and the Airport. I verify my flight information and check in online. I also figure out how to get to the airport and when to leave. I plan to be at the airport 1h 30min before the planned departure. That’s enough time to go through the security, deal with possible surprises, and to grab a sandwich.
Documents. I update my encrypted archive of important documents, such as the passport, national ID, driver’s license. In case of losing these documents, I have their scanned copies. A scanned passport helped a Canadian man to get into the US. Also, I had some luck with using scanned copies within the US.
Packing. I pack all the stuff into a single mid-size backpack.
- Backpack vs Suitcase. The former is lighter, more versatile, and easy to squeeze if space is an issue. Suitcases are useless if you go to the jungle or walk on neglected sidewalks.
- Hand Luggage. A mid-size backpack qualifies as hand luggage. Traveling without checked luggage is awesome: 1) no need to wait for the suitcase at the airport, 2) no risk of losing the luggage, 3), ease of getting onto earlier connecting flights, 4) you pack only the necessities.
- Mid-size. I use a lightweight GoLite Jam 50L backpack. It weights 800g and can accommodate a lot of stuff. The total weight of my luggage is 5-6kg. The more you travel, the more you appreciate having light luggage. Also, some cheap airlines do measure and weigh your hand luggage.
- Closing. I close my backpack the day before the trip. Worst case, if I need to travel straight from the party, I just grab the backpack and I’m good to go.
The Day of the Trip
Before Going to the Airport. As the absolute minimum, I put on some clothes, take my passport, wallet, and the phone. Everything else, including the backpack, is optional, but nice to have.
At the Airport. I get my boarding passes and I go through the security. Almost mechanically, I remove the shoes (in the US), my cowboy belt, watch, and empty my pockets (wallet + phone).
Before Boarding. If I have a jacket, I move immediately useful things into the jacket to make them easily accessible. That includes headphones, phone charger, external battery, chewing gum, and a pen. I use the pen to fill out the customs forms.
Immigration. When talking to these guys, I am always polite, to the point, and give concise answers that are relevant to my status in the country. For example, in the US, I have an O-1 visa (extraordinary abilities :-P). Once the officer asked: what do you do here? My answer: I’m a software engineer. And then he started questioning me… Software engineers typically come to the US on an H-1B visa, so the O-1 was suspicious to him. Now I know better. My current answer is: I’m an expert at X. I work at Y as a senior software engineer. That sounds much more convincing and I haven’t been questioned since I started using this intro. Additionally, if I travel for tourism, I write down the name and address of the person that I’m first staying with.
After Arrival. I try to find a local pre-paid SIM card with data. That’s the cheapest way of getting connected.
What to Pack?
Clothes. Usually, I fly wearing long pants, a classy t-shirt, and sneakers. I pack 2 shirts, 7-10 t-shirts/tanks, socks, and pants, 2 pairs of jean shorts, swimwear, flip flops, and sunglasses. I roll the clothes so they take up less space.
Towel and Travel Pillow. I use a small (30cm x 30cm) microfiber cloth as a towel. Most people use them for cleaning. Microfiber clothes make great towels, as they are small, absorb a lot of water, and dry quickly. Travel pillow helps me to sleep comfortably during the flight.
Personal care. The usual stuff that you’d expect: floss, small toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, shower gel, nail clip, razor, cotton sticks, condoms, hair product, comb, contact lenses. I also pack baking soda and use it as deodorant. It kills all the bacteria, lasts long, is widely available, non-toxic, odorless, and very cheap. To smell good, I bring samples of perfumes. I put all the liquids/gels into a plastic bag so that I can take them on-board in the hand luggage.
Technology. Cell phone(s), headphones, SIM cards, phone charger, plug converter, and an external battery. Mostly, I travel with one phone. I take an additional phone if I go to a place where phones get stolen frequently. External battery is a useful source of power if I have no access to electricity.
Medications. Some places require you to take specific drugs. For example, I had to take anti-malarial drugs in the jungle. It is also a good idea to take anti-diarrheal drugs to avoid traveler’s diarrhea. Well, unless you go to Japan where you can actually enjoy your time in the restroom :-)