Ultimate travel checklist: Things you need to know and do before you travel

Everyone forgets stuff when they travel. My own catalogue of items left behind includes charge cables, warm clothing on a winter trip to Hong Kong, various pieces of vital camera equipment, bathers for a resort holiday and underwear. Not just one pair but the whole lot.

Our foul-ups are wonderful teachers and the first rule of successful trip preparation is a checklist. Checklists are ideal for mundane, repetitive tasks that can bring you undone. Pilots use checklists. When they're sitting in the cockpit at the gate, on the runway before takeoff and at just about every stage of the flight, they run through a checklist. So do I these days, and it's a lifesaver.

Everyone has a different list, and every trip requires its own, but here's a universal checklist – plus some fixes and ideas to make your holiday run a little bit sweeter.



You need a passport valid for six months, and some airlines will insist that period extends to the date of your return to Australia. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade can issue a passport at short notice through its priority service but you'll pay an additional fee. Make sure you're compliant with whatever the visa requirements are for your destination, otherwise you won't be getting on the plane. (See the panel opposite for further passport advice and information).


It may not be too late to see your doctor and take whatever medical precautions your destination might require. Take any prescription medications or hygiene products you might need. The Travel Health section of the Red Planet Travel website (redplanet.travel) has destination-specific information, and also a suggested medical kit and contents to take on your trip.


Hopefully you locked this in the moment you made your booking, thus protecting you from any unforeseen events that might affect your travel plans, but it's never too late. Even if you're taking a cruise in Australian waters you need travel insurance. Adequate medical coverage is the No.1 item. Take a look at the travel insurance comparisons on finder.com.au


You'll probably be giving your debit and credit cards a workout so tell your bank if you're heading offshore. Ideally you need at least one debit card to use at ATMs and one credit card, to pay hotel bills, restaurant charges and tour charges. You might want to arrive at your destination with a small amount of foreign currency in your pocket and you can order most currencies through Australia Post, at a competitive exchange rate. Budget Your Trip (budgetyourtrip.com) has a budget calculator for all destinations.


Chances are you will never be asked to produce an international drivers licence at the car hire desk but in most countries it's required. If you're behind the wheel and involved in an accident, you might run foul of the law without one. International licences are available from your state motoring organisation. If you have an accident while riding a scooter and you don't have an Australian motorcycle licence your insurer might not come to the party to cover medical expenses and damages.


You've left it late if you haven't got your accommodation sorted, but there are a few websites specifically for late bookings such as hoteltonight.com that works well in the US, less so in the rest of the world. Another option is Last Minute (lastminute.com.au)



Travel calls for a special suite of smartphone apps. Among the most useful are Google Maps, Weather Live, Google Translate, XE Currency Pro, CityMaps2Go and WhatsApp and Skype for making phone calls with free Wi-Fi.


Snap an image of your passport photo page, itinerary, travel insurance policy, airline tickets and any other important documents and email them to yourself and to someone else who can retrieve them quickly in an emergency. Save them to the cloud as well, just in case. If you are overseas and in need of consular assistance from the Australian Government, the number is +61 2 6261 3305. Save it to your phone.


If something untoward happens in the country you're visiting, it helps if the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade knows you're in the area, and to start checking that you're OK. Registering your travel plans on DFAT's Smartraveller website (smartraveller.gov.au) takes about five minutes to complete.


Most airlines give you the option, and it usually gets you into a shorter queue at the check-in desk. You might also be able to confirm seat selection and nowadays even meal choice at the same time.


All the major telcos offer international roaming packages that give you data roaming overseas, at a cost of around $10 per day. A much cheaper option is to buy a local SIM card at your destination, and you can often find retailers inside the airport terminal. Multi-country SIM cards from providers such as ekit (ekit.com), TravelSIM (travelsim.net.au) [travelsim.net.au] or WorldSim (worldsim.com) are another option. If you leave your usual SIM card in place, turn off data roaming as soon as you depart our shores, even if you're cruising in Australian waters.


Rather than shunting your furry friends off to a boarding kennel, there are plenty of pet-sitting services that match you with a pet-sitter ready, willing and able to provide love and affection in return for a rent-free stay. Try Aussie House Sitters (aussiehousesitters.com.au), Mad Paws (madpaws.com.au) or Happy House Sitters (happyhousesitters.com.au)


Don't advertise your absence, including on social media channels (see below). Ask a neighbour to take in your mail, and a timer switch to turn lights on and off is a small investment. A movement-activated security camera can show you what's happening in your home via a smartphone app, and ping you if there's an unexpected entry.



Ideally you want to stow your passport where it's safe and secure but also accessible. Some prefer a waist belt, for some it's a bag they can hang around their neck but there's a pocket on my carry-on bag that works fine for me.


The rate you'll get if you buy foreign currency in the airport terminal you're departing from is terrible. Exchange at your destination and you'll get more for your money. Apart from alcohol and tobacco products, which are taxed at a higher rate than Australia's standard 10 per cent GST, duty-free shopping at airports is rarely a bargain. Airport coffee is a variable commodity. If you're fussy about your brew, look for where aircrew are queuing. Many airports offer bag wrap services if you're concerned about security along the way. Take a photo of your checked bag – if it doesn't show up on the carousel at the other end it might help with identification.


Have a small bag where you can stash keys, spare change, smartphone and anything else in your pockets and put them into your carry-on bag, which means they won't get separated when they go through the scanner. Boarding pass and passport should also be in your carry-on. Jackets, scarves and jumpers off and into a tray, same for laptops, tablets and e-readers. All liquids, aerosols and gels should be in a zip-lock bag and presented for inspection, and no individual container over 100 millilitres.


A window seat gives you something to lean against that is not your neighbour's shoulder, but it makes it harder to get up and move around, and thus carries an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis. An exit row seat is ideal – ask at the check-in desk. Less of everything inflight – alcohol, coffee and food – will give your body a better chance of coping with jetlag. For flights to Europe, a stopover and a night or two en route will probably help you adjust more quickly at your final destination.


Any flight over eight hours requires a personal kit if you're seated in economy. Neck pillow, ear plugs and eye mask are your best friends for overnight flights and noise cancelling headphones are brilliant; make sure you have a two-prong adaptor for the inflight entertainment system. You might need something warm so a light jumper or wrap are perfect. Cheap, throwaway towelling slippers – try eBay – are the inflight footwear of choice.



Get in the right immigration queue for your passport type and if the airport has scanners for e-passports, use one. If your checked bag doesn't arrive you are entitled to ask for immediate cash compensation to pay for toiletries etc. Ask in the baggage hall when you report it missing. Most airport terminals have ATMs, exchange facilities, car hire and tourist information offices.


The Guide to Sleeping in Airports (sleepinginairports.net) canvasses the various transport options to get you from your arrival airport to your destination, and much else besides.


When you check into your hotel you might be asked for a credit card to cover pre- authorisation charges. A daily charge, as much as $100, will then be deducted from your credit card to cover the cost of any incidentals you might consume. It's important that you use a credit card rather than a debit card or your available balance will be affected, and any credit owing to you might not be returned to your account for a week or more. If you have doubts about the security of your hotel room hang the "do not disturb" sign on the door when you vacate the room. If you've booked an Airbnb and your accommodation is not what you expected, contact your host immediately. If it's not fixed within 24 hours notify Airbnb.


Try and adjust your wake-sleep hours to wherever you happen to be. Taking a walk in bright morning sunshine will help reset your circadian rhythm. Get plenty of exercise during the day and you'll stand a better chance of sleeping well. If it's a long-haul trip, don't be too ambitious with your sightseeing schedule, and don't book theatre seats or other late-night events for the first couple of nights.


When you document your travels with social media posts to friends you're telling them you're away. That might not be the smartest move, particularly if you don't know everyone you've friended over the years. Maybe restrict who can read your posts to your nearest and dearest.


Don't carry all your credit and debit cards with you when you're out and about for the day. One or two should do fine, and if there are two of you, divide them up. Same goes for cash. The rest should stay in your hotel room, either in a safe or inside a locked bag. Pacsafe make a range of Travelsafes (pacsafe.com). If anything is stolen and you intend to make a claim against your travel insurance you'll need a police report.


If a flight delay or cancellation is the airline's fault, due to mechanical problems or late arriving aircraft, the airline should offer compensation, and a hotel room if an overnight stay becomes necessary. If it's due to circumstances beyond the airline's control such as weather events or volcanic eruptions, your travel insurance policy is your best chance of recouping any extra expenses you might incur. If you are offloaded from a flight due to overbooking, whether or not you are entitled to compensation depends on where it occurs. The EU and the US provide statutory compensation, the rest of the world does not.



The post-holiday glow can morph into "post-travel depression", a well-recognised condition. Acknowledge that the trough that comes after a happy experience is normal and relive the happy memories in a creative way. Create a photo book and have it printed, blog about your travels, maybe get in touch with some of the people you shared the good times with. Travel is a great way to discover a new passion, which might be Thai food or an adventure sport, and there are probably opportunities for indulging that passion close to home.


Flying east is generally acknowledged to be tougher than flying west, even when crossing the same number of time zones, which means worse jetlag coming from Europe, slightly less from the Americas. However the rules are the same whichever direction you're travelling. Eat sensibly, get plenty of exercise, try and adapt your waking and sleeping hours to wherever you are and expose yourself to strong daylight early in the morning.


Coming back to a credit card meltdown is never a great feeling but if it happens, a self-criticism session is called for. Was it unexpected expenses you didn't budget for or was your travel budget totally out of whack? Did you even have a budget? All good lessons for the future. If the damage is serious, consider a package holiday next time, and perhaps one that includes at least some meals, which means you've covered your basic costs. Take just a debit card and leave the credit card at home, or sign up for a prepaid travel money card.


Travel is a powerful addiction and you might want to start planning your next adventure. While this one is still fresh in your memory, think about what was great or not so great and how to make it better next time. Start with a packing list; there are always things you forget. If you found a hotel, a restaurant or an experience you'd like to tell the world about, whether off-the-scale outstanding or truly awful, share it with travellerletters@fairfaxmedia.com.au – you might even win a prize. While you're there, scout around the site for inspiration for your next trip.


1. It's a crime to wilfully damage an Australian passport but even accidental damage can ruin your travel plans. Travellers with damaged passports are delayed or turned away at airports every day, and their passports may be confiscated.

2. The most common cause of damage is from liquids. Remember to take your passport out of your pocket before washing your clothes or diving into the surf. If your passport does come into contact with moisture, drying it in a microwave will only add to the damage.

3. Take particular care of the photo page, as even minor damage can prevent machines from reading it. Placing a freshly printed or stamped boarding pass inside the photo page can leave marks that will make it impossible to read in a scanner.

4. Using the photo page as a surface for filling out arrival documents can leave marks and indentations on the photo page.

5. Avoid putting your passport in your back pocket. This can bend and damage the passport chip, making it impossible to scan at SmartGate or other biometric kiosks.

6. If any pages become detached, it is not acceptable to sticky-tape them back in.

7. If your passport is damaged and has more than two years validity remaining, you can apply for a replacement passport that covers the remaining validity period. You will need to provide the damaged passport even if it is in several pieces and make a legal declaration about how the damage occurred. If you need a new passport overseas, contact your nearest Australian diplomatic or consular mission.

8. If you hold dual nationality you should use your Australian passport when entering and leaving Australia.

9. If your passport is full but still valid you need to apply for another one.

10. If your passport is lost or stolen more than once in five years and the Australian Passport Office determines this was due to your carelessness, your next passport might be valid for a reduced period.

SOURCE Australian Passport Office. See passports.gov.au



3081, down from 3089 the previous year


2546, down from 5582 the previous year


1701 cases, up from 1667 the previous year


1653, up from 1516 the previous year


1641 cases, of which 1237 were criminal and 404 immigration-related. Up from 1551 the previous year


773, down from 1238 the previous year


370 cases, down from 391 the previous year


317, up from 315 the previous year


52, down from 76 the previous year


320, up from 315 the previous year

SOURCE Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). The quoted figures are for Australian travellers for the period 2016-17 See smartraveller.gov.au