10 easy steps for planning your first overseas holiday

  1. Choose a destination.

Choosing the destination doesn’t need to be a hard task. Use a recommendation from a friend, go somewhere you have always wanted, or stick a pin in a map with a blindfold on! Whatever your method, if you research the destination enough before your travel, you will have a great holiday! Every destination has a lot more to offer than the top ten tourist traps and cookie cutter experiences, no matter whether it’s a far-flung destination in East Africa, or something tried and tested by almost every Australian, like Bali.

Once you have decided where you want to go, start planning! Start a new pinterest board, spreadsheet or notepad in your phone – whatever your method is to keep all of the information in one place. Some key information you should know before you book anything in:

  • The best time of year to go (or at the very least, what the weather will be like when you plan to go).
  • A rough idea of what it costs for flights, transport and a hotel.
  • How far away it is (or how long it will take you to get there).
Ku De Ta

Ku De Ta, Bali

2. Book the holiday.

Now is the time to pop in to your local travel agency. Contrary to popular belief, it is not more expensive to get an agent to book your holiday for you. I mean, you could definitely spend hours upon hours researching every flight, hotel, transfer, day tour and general travel advice, but if you can find a good travel agent, they will save you hours upon hours of time and stress.

A good travel agent will spend some time getting to know you, and then make some recommendations for your destination based on what you have said you are looking for. They should be able to put together a glamorous, instagram worthy 5 star sojourn, or help you backpack your way across an entire continent on your desired budget.

My top tip for using a travel agent is to book someone you feel you have a good connection with and that has shown that they have listened to what you want.

I am biased of course, because my day-job is a travel agent. I have been one for ten years! But this just gives me inside information. The way it works (with the company I work for, anyway) is that the airlines, hotels, tour operators etc pay the travel agent after the booking has been made, so there is no booking fee or extra costs. You pay the same amount whether you book it yourself, or via the travel agent.

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3. Passport and visas.

Do you already  have a passport? Great! Check the expiry date. You need a minimum of 6 months validity from the date you return from your holiday to travel to most destinations. (For example, if you get home from your trip on 23rd June, 2019, your passport must not expire before 23rd December 2019). If you fail to pick this up, you are very likely to get denied boarding at the airport before your holiday. It will ruin your trip, and cost you a lot of money.

If you haven’t got a passport yet, or you need to renew it, get it done, now. I have written some tips on how to renew your passport in a hurry which you can find here if you need.

You must make sure the name on your flight ticket is spelled the exact same way as it appears on your passport. (eg. If your name is Timothy on your passport, but your ticket reads Tim you will have a problem). Most airlines don’t need middle names, however in most cases, you are better off to put them in all bookings.

Once you have a current passport, you should check if you need a visa. A visa grants you permission to enter the country, not a credit card. Some visas can be applied for online for a small fee, and others require you to go to the consulate, or have your travel agent send your passport off to them, and can take months to be issued.

At time of writing this, some of the countries that require Australian passport holders to have a visa before entering are: USA, Canada, Brazil, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Russia, Egypt and Israel, to name a few.  Please note this is NOT a comprehensive list, and you should check with your travel agent, or with the consulate of the country you are going regarding your circumstances.

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4. Health and safety.

If you haven’t already, now is the time to buy your travel insurance. So many people leave this until the last-minute, and buy it the day before they travel. Take some advice from me; A few years ago, I had a 4 week South America trip booked. We had spent over $10,000 prebooking flights, tours and hotels. A few weeks before we were due to leave, we received some bad news that my mum was seriously ill. We cancelled the trip, without hesitation, and thankfully our travel insurance reimbursed us for all of the money we had lost (so we can rebook the trip at a later date!).

Your travel insurance will also cover things like if you are in an accident while you are away, or get sick. (It also covers things like when monkeys bite you while you are in Thailand!).

Before you travel you should check with your GP that your immunisation are up to date. Things like Tetanus, and Hep B are so uncommon in Australia, because people get immunised regularly. It’s easy to forget when you had your last booster! Overseas however, there are a lot more risks. You can also check with Travelvax to see if you need any immunisation. Some common ones for South East Asia are Typhoid and Hep A, where in parts of Africa and South America you will need Malaria tablets and Yellow fever vaccinations, the list goes on.

You can check out health and safety alerts on the Australian Government website  Smartraveller. You can also register your own travel plans, so if something goes wrong, someone knows where you are.

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Karon Beach, Phuket

5. Suitcase or backpack?

As it gets closer to your trip, you will need to decide what gear you are taking with you. The first place to start is whether to take a backpack, or a traditional suitcase. The correct gear very much depends on the type of trip you do. I favour my tried and tested Kathmandu Entrada 65 litre lightweight backpack for most trips but if I’m travelling for work, or for a short domestic trip, I sometimes use a standard suitcase.

Once you have picked your choice of pack, you can fill your case! What goes in it will depend very much on where you are travelling, so I wont go into that here, but you will be able to get suitable packing lists from friends or family. (Or, if you need a hand, hit me up in the comments and I’ll give you a hand).

Your nearest travel shop or outdoors/adventure store will also be able to point you in the right direction. My best piece advice though; Less is more. Once you have packed your case, take out 5 things.

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6. Money

If you intend on using your bankcard/credit card overseas, you will need to let your bank know where you are going. Even if you don’t plan to use them, I suggest notifying them anyway, so they are available to you in case of an emergency.

You also need to decide how you want to access your money. I usually carry some cash, but put most of my money on a travel card (I use the one provided by Flight Centre as the fees are really low, but you can get them from your bank or the post office too).

When I was travelling in Colombia on my own, I carried cash only, as ATMs are hard to find. On a night out drinking, I was a super-dork and carried my cash in a money belt, under my dress, and only a small amount in my handbag. (Most of the time I only carry a max of $200AUD of cash, so if I get robbed, it’s not a huge loss). In Bali, and in India I carried AUD, and exchanged it as I travelled around. In Europe, I took a few hundred Euros with me before I left home, but used my international travel card for most stuff. I’ve done the same in USA. Every country you go to is going to require a different approach.

7. Camera

I personally carry my camera almost everywhere I go, but phone cameras are such good quality now, I find I end up using my iPhone almost as often as my bulky SLR, so I am currently considering  upgrading to a smaller, lightweight camera. The list of tech items you might like to bring can go on and on, but this is not a packing list… (Perhaps that could be my next post?!

Orvietto

8. Phone / data

If you are travelling for a significant amount of time, buying a sim card locally that allows you to text and call, and gives a good amount of data is a good idea. If you are going for a few weeks, and not planning on hiking, camping or travelling anywhere too remote, you can probably get by using the free wi-fi provided at most hotels, cafes, bars, train stations, airports, well… most places! When I’m travelling, I usually switch my phones data off, and then put the phone on to flight mode. I then turn wifi back on and search for the free stuff. This is undoubtedly the cheapest method, however if you want to post your insta-worthy travel pic as soon as you take it, without waiting til you get back to your hotel, or need to be able to be contacted 24/7, you should seek an alternative. Check with your own service provider first, as they are pretty competitive for short-term travel. If you are going somewhere far-flung or for an extended period, a pre-paid sim from the country you are in will be the cheapest option.

9. Travel apps

There are so many great apps available now to help every traveller have a better experience. I’ll do another post on my favorite apps later, but until then, my top three  apps that you should have in your phone before you set off are maps.me, been, and Google translate

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10. Go on holidays!

Whether you followed this guide to a tee, packed and repacked, and carefully planned your trip months in advance, or you have just stumbled on this guide and you leave in a few days, don’t panic too much if you are not super prepared. If you forget something, you can probably buy in on your way. Don’t have a camera (or forgot it) well you’ll probably live more in the moment that way. If you get lost, you might just have the best adventure!

Overcoming obstacles while travelling teaches you so much about yourself, and gives you amazing skills that you never would have realised you had otherwise. Live in the moment, and enjoy your hard earned break.

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Until next time!

Sarah

xx

Camping packing list

Recently, a friend was telling me about their first camping trip.

They had been invited on a group camping holiday, and the whole family were excited! It being their first time, no expense was spared as they eagerly prepared for their holiday.

After weeks of planning, packing the car, and a long drive out to the campsite, they began setting up. Eventually the kids asked:

“What are we sleeping on?”

Well.

Turns out the air mattresses/ camp-mats had either been forgotten and left at home, or forgotten and never borrowed/purchased in the first place.

This made me remember the first time I went camping with a group of friends (who were also virgin campers at the time).

I’d known my whole life that I’d wanted to go camping and also knew, that given the opportunity that I would enjoy it. But, there I was,  20-or-so years old had still never managed to actually go.  I spent days, weeks, maybe longer, preparing for the trip. I was so excited for our Easter weekend camping trip I had bought everything I thought we would need – a tent, a butane stove, camping cutlery sets, you name it, I bought the budget (cheapest I could find) version of it.

Finally, the weekend came. Buzzing with excitement and anticipation, we packed up, headed off… And drove on to what ended up being the worst camping experience of my life.

One of our friends brought his girlfriend along. She didn’t even make it the first night! Her parents (lucky for her) made a three-hour-drive across town on Easter weekend to rescue her from our nightmare trip.

My boyfriend (at the time of the dreaded trip) had accidentally already (or drunkenly) eaten the food (all of it) that I’d bought specifically for camping, but didn’t tell me until I was starting to pack the esky, and all the shops were already shut for Easter. The lilo I had borrowed from a friend leaked, and went flat after we set it up. I’d forgotten to pack a torch. All five other campers also forgot to pack a torch.

It was a comedy of errors, really. And in hindsight, now that I’m an experienced camper, I know that given our inexperience, all these outcomes were inevitable.

Fast forward to now. After listening to my friend recount their failed camping trip, and reminiscing about my own failed trip, I thought about all the other people I know that have had a similar experience, and have never even wanted to consider going back for round two.

I hate that thought!! Camping is so much fun! For all age groups, and in a lot of cases, you can even bring the dog! Getting outside and appreciating this beautiful country we have is one of my favorite past-times, as I’m sure it is many of yours.

Sarah camping circa 2008

This photo is not from the fateful camping trip I described… We didnt get any photos of that trip (we all wanted to forget it ever happened!) its froma much more memorable trip to Hazelwood in approx 2008… Where we were all still young and less-prepared, but nowhere near as bad as that first attempt.

So, in an attempt to help out anyone who hasn’t been before, or maybe it’s been a while, or maybe someone like me who is a little forgetful (I forgot my head-torch last weekend which led to me falling down a 1.5-metre-deep hole in the dark), I decided to create a basic, printable, Camping Checklist.

You can get a copy of it here

Please feel free to pass it on to anyone who may need it, or even use it yourself. There is also a handy “add your own items” section where you can include anything I haven’t thought of, or you think you might specifically need, and then check off as you are packing. I reckon it’s also a great way to get the kids involved and teach them a little bit about the preparation that goes into camping too.

As always, I’d love some feedback! Is there anything on this list you think is totally unnecessary? Or have I forgotten anything major? Let me know in the comments below.

Cheers,

Sarah

PS – I’m going to put together a few more of these packing lists. Next is a lightweight 5 day hike checklist, as I’m planning a walk from Noosa to Rainbow Beach soon. Are there any other lists you want to see? or examples/photos of our regular setup?

How to renew your passport, fast

In a previous post, I described my own personal nightmare of discovering that my passport was due to expire before the required 6 month minimum needed to travel out of Australia…. The day I was due to fly out to the UK.

I have listed the steps I took to get my passport renewed same day, so I didn’t have to miss out on my holiday, or pay expensive airline change fees. If you want, you can read the full story here.

How I got my Aussie passport renewed in six simple steps:

  1. Call the passport office and make an appointment. As I needed a same-day passport, I called and made an appointment at the Melbourne passport office. I couldn’t get an appointment that day, so I took the first available one (2 days later) knowing full well I was going to drive in today and try to get it anyway. You can call them on 13 12 32. While on the phone, they advised me of all of the following info, and told me to bring as much supporting documents as I could (to show why I needed a passport issued that day).
  2. Get onto the passport office website. I selected apply or renew; (if you have a few more days up your sleeve, you could go with the priority processing service instead of going into the office yourself).
  3. Fill out the form online, and print it.
  4. Get new passport photos taken. I stopped at my local post office, but you can usually get these taken at camera shops and pharmacies too.
  5. Take your old passport, the completed & printed renewal form, and new passport photos with you to the passport office. In Melbourne, they are located at Collins Square, 747 Collins Street, Docklands. (This is a very short walk from Southern Cross Railway Station).  See photos below of passport office to hep you find it 🙂

I gathered up my documents, and headed to Melbourne. I drove, as I didn’t have enough time to take public transport. Plus, I had all of my luggage with me, in case I was able to go straight to the airport. If you have more time up your sleeve, I recommend taking the train. Parking is very limited. I could only find 2 hour parking and had to keep moving my car.

You can read the full process here if you want more of an idea of what will happen at the passport office, but in summary – the things  to take to the passport office are:

  • Completed and printed application form.
  • New passport photos (Less than 6 months old).
  • Current passport that needs to be renewed.
  • Any supporting documentation you can provide to state why you need to travel urgently. Examples of this are a letter from your employer (on company letterhead) stating that you are travelling for work; or proof of major illness or death of a family member, ideally from a doctor.
  • Your e-ticket for your flights if you already have one.
  • Any other supporting documents you have.

Fees for Aussie passport renewal (as of January 2018) are $282 for the passport, plus $186 priority fee. (There are other fees for other documents if you need them, or if you need a passport for a child or pensioner). You can see the full list of fees here. The passport office does not accept cash, so make sure you take a credit card.

 

Please note: This is the process I followed, in August 2017, as a Victorian resident (Australia). Please keep in mind that the steps required to get a passport renewed may change at any time.

This is a personal account of how I got my passport renewed quickly, and I am very lucky to have gotten it same day. The passport office will not guarantee this for anyone, and if your circumstances are different, your experience probably will be too.

My greatest piece of advise for anyone in a situation like this: Stay calm, and be polite! If you are stressed, and speak rudely or snap at anyone, they will be reluctant to help, and you may miss out on important information that could make or break you getting your passport reissued that day!

Good luck! 

Has this happened to you before? Did you do anything differently? I’d love to know – please reply in the comments below or send me a message!