CREATE AN ITINERARY
Day 1, day 2, etc. Where are you going to be, what are you going to do and where are you going to spend the night? This is the exciting part, a bit of a headache but vital to get it right. Traveller (www.traveller.com.au) has a searchable database of articles with suggestions to help plan your trip.
November to March is the wet season in Australia's Top End, anywhere in the Gulf States is blistering hot between mid-April and the end of October and you can expect huge crowds throughout most of Western Europe between mid-June and early September. Consider climate data and popularity when you're planning your itinerary.
PACKAGE DEAL, OR DIY?
Since they can take advantage of their huge purchasing power, the purveyors of holiday packages can save you heaps over the cost of organising your own flights, transfers and accommodation especially for popular tropical resort areas in Bali, Thailand and the South Pacific. Check the deals on Traveller [www.traveller.com.au/travel-deals].
BOOK YOUR FLIGHT
Airlines generally release their airfares 11 months in advance, and the cheapest "Earlybird" tickets are the first to go. Flights get more expensive as departure day looms nearer. Is this a codeshare flight? If the booking says "operated by…", it might be that one airline offers cheaper fares than the other. If you're flying to Europe consider a stopover either in Asia or the Middle East, there are plenty of choices.
You'll get a better choice if you book well in advance, particularly if you're looking for small, character accommodation at a busy period in popular destinations. Airbnb can be a great alternative to hotel accommodation but check reviews carefully, and if the host has cancelled any bookings before guests arrived, steer clear.
GET IN SHAPE
The fitter you are, the more you'll enjoy your time away. Walking, swimming, jogging, aqua aerobics, bike riding and yoga are all going to put you in the winner's circle.
Your passport should be valid for at least six months before you enter another country, but some airlines insist on six months' validity from the date you return home.
Many countries require a visa for entry. Check with the websites of the countries you plan to visit and apply in advance, or use a service such as Visas Direct [visasdirect.com.au].
Travel can play havoc with your health, and a check-up is a wise precaution. If you need regular doses of prescription medication, plan ahead and take the prescription with you as proof of medical authorisation, some countries forbid certain meds. If you're trekking in a remote part of the third world you might need specialist medical advice from the Travel Doctor [traveldoctor.com.au], the Travel Vaccination Clinic [travelvaccinationclinic.com.au] or another medical expert service. Sleeping pills can help you adjust to a new time zone. Get a herbal remedy over the counter, or refer to your GP for prescription medication. but make sure you know if there are any side effects. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website [wwwnc.cdc.gov] is a brilliant source of information for travellers and take note of their suggested travel health kit.
Buy it as soon as you've booked your air tickets, the cost will be the same and you should be protected if some natural phenomenon or unforseen personal circumstances in the meantime interfere with your holiday plans.
Car hire is usually more expensive if you leave your booking until closer to the pickup date. Car insurance is pricey if you buy it over the counter but a third-part provider such as RentalCover.com can save you heaps.
Although you'll never be asked for one at the car hire desk, as a foreign driver you're supposed to carry an international licence. If anything untoward happens while you're behind the wheel you might be in hot water if you don't have it.
WHICH CREDIT CARDS?
Using the wrong cards to pay bills when you're overseas and access funds from ATMs can whittle your funds away. The 28 Degrees MasterCard and Citibank Debit Card are the cards many professional travellers favour for their foreign transactions due to their low charges and lack of any annual fees. Always insist on paying in local currency rather than Aussie dollars if you're offered the choice.
You can probably access foreign currency at your destination airport but there are a few countries that require you to pay in cash for your visitor visa when you enter the country. If so US dollars are the currency of choice.
Suspend your mail delivery and while you're at it, gym membership, yoga classes and anything else that extracts weekly or monthly fees.
Print out your itinerary, airline tickets and hotel bookings. Email a copy of each to every traveller in your party along with copies of your passport information page and any other vital documents.
Most airlines allow it, and it saves time at the airport. You might also be offered seat selection and that's well worth the effort.
STAY IN TOUCH
Need internet access while you're away? If so you can buy a multi-country SIM card from a provider such as GO-SIM [gosim.com], TravelSIM [travelsim.net.au] or WorldSim [worldsim.com]. The major Aussie telcos also offer data packages for overseas travellers but by far the cheapest solution is to buy a local SIM card. If you don't need 24/7 connectivity you can rely on free Wi-Fi services in hotels and cafes, and most travellers find this is all they need. If you leave your usual SIM card in place don't forget to turn of data roaming as soon as you depart our shores.
Hiring a car? Rather than renting a GPS device from a car-hire operator you can download a GPS navigation system to your smartphone or tablet and find your way without having to rely on expensive data downloads. Sygic [sygic.com] works well and it's a cost effective solution, when you're finding your way on foot as well as driving.
We're ever more reliant on smartphones, tablets, cameras and other devices that require batteries, chargers and possibly data storage cards. As well as an adaptor or overseas sockets, make sure you've got all the cables and chargers you'll need, and throw in a double adaptor and a USB car charger if you're driving.
Some of the most useful apps for travellers are Google Maps, Weather Live, Google Translate, XE Currency Pro, CityMaps2Go and WhatsApp and Skype for making phone calls with free Wi-Fi.
THE PERSONAL TOUCH
Any flight over eight hours requires a personal kit. Neck pillow, ear plugs and eye mask are your best friends for overnight flights and noise cancelling headphones are brilliant, make sure you have an adaptor for the inflight entertainment system. You might need something warm and cheap, throwaway towelling slippers – try ebay – are the inflight footwear of choice.