I bought my first around the world ticket in 2010. I spent the next 5 years buying 5 tickets more. Not all of them took me in a complete loop around the world but they took me on adventures that lasted several months each time: Latin America, Asia, Africa, North America and Europe.
Although the landscape, accents, experiences and faces changed with each new trip, one thing didn’t: my backpacking checklist.
In 2016, I took an unintended break from travel (courtesy of an unintended break of a knee ligament) but as the curtains drew back on 2017, I hit the road once more.
I admit, it took me many months to plan my first backpacking trip around the world but after years of planning, packing and going, I’ve put together the checklist I use every time. A list that I’m going to share with you.
This list will get you from planning to going in just 4 weeks. Of course, take as long as you need to plan your trip – some people need more time mentally to get ready, and some have longer-term matters to deal with (I sold my house, which can’t be done overnight). Likewise, if you’re able to sling stuff in a bag, turn up at the airport and take the next flight out, this list will work on a compressed timescale too.
I’ve included a printable checklist at the end.
4 weeks to Go
Book your ticket – depending on the length and complexity of your trip, as well as how detailed you want to get with your itinerary, you may need a bit longer than a week to plan the broad outline of your trip. I spent months planning my first trip. These days I often buy a one-way ticket or, at most, a return flight and do little to no planning at all.
Get vaccinated – if you’re going somewhere with exotic diseases, you’ll want to get vaccinated. Some vaccines require more than one jab (rabies, for example) and they all take time to get into your system so make sure you have enough time before you fly. The Fit For Travel website is excellent for planning what vaccines you might need and has a very handy malaria map to find out whether you’ll need to take anti-malaria medication as well.
Written by a nurse, here’s my related article: Malaria facts every traveller should know.
You might also want to read my views on the best mosquito repellants.
Give notice – this is a really fun one to tick off. You can copy this template if you want:
“Dear [Boss/Landlord/Utility Company], I’m going off on an amazing adventure around the world. I QUIT. Love, peace and happiness. [Insert your name].”
Send this out as much as needed: your work boss, your landlord, all your utility companies and any subscriptions you have (TV and Internet services, magazine and gym memberships). Do check your contracts. Some notice periods might be longer than one month.
Check your passport validity date – most countries require your passport to be valid for at least 6 months from the point when you plan to leave their country. So, check the date you’re due to come home and make sure you have at least 6 months from them until your passport expires. Also check your pages – many countries have large visas and stamps. The last thing you want to happen is to run out of pages and not be able to visit a country because of it (speaking from personal experience here).
Apply for visas – visa requirements will differ from country to country, will depend on the passport you’re travelling with, and the rules can change over time. The best thing to do it check the requirements when you book your trip and re-check before you visit each country. If it’s easier or cheaper to get visas before you leave home, or if your first stop requires a visa, get it now. Although it’s possible to get visas on the road, it can be time consuming and you’ll be grounded without your passport for potentially weeks while you’re away. As most hotels and hostel ask to see your passport when you check in, this could see you stuck in the same spot while you wait for visas (something else I learned from experience).
I use the Visa HQ website for checking my visa requirements.
Tell your friends and family your leaving date I’m sure your F&F already know you’re going on a trip but once you’ve booked your ticket, let them know your firm leaving date. That way people can arrange farewell drinks, coffees and lunches before you scoot off.
3 weeks to Go
Buy your travel kit – whether you’re just after a secondhand backpack on eBay or you’re buying your whole kit list from scratch, give yourself plenty of time for shopping. I usually go and see big items (backpacks) in person then search the web for the best price. With time for delivery and returns if something goes wrong, ticking this off your list early will save you some stress down the line.
After years of last-minute purchases as I remember items I need to take with me (or can’t find that damn charging cable I swore I had), I now have an Amazon Prime membership. With next day delivery, I tend to make up a lot of the cost. Add in those ‘oops, forgot mum’s birthday’ last minute gift orders while you’re away and this is one of the few subscriptions I maintain while I travel)
If you’re looking for more packing tips, here are my related articles:
- The Best Backpacks for Travelling
- 10 Travel Essentials I Wouldn’t Travel Without
- 10 Travel Gadgets I Wouldn’t Travel Without
- The Art of Packing Light
- The Best Shoes for Travelling
Speak to your bank – yeah, I know these words should be on no checklist ever but I’m afraid it’s essential – letting your bank know that you’re leaving the country will help ensure your bank cards function overseas and that any extra protection for overseas travel is added to your account.
Get your health in check – another one from experience – it’s better to see your dentist in your home country than be faced with an evil woman pointing a pair of pliers at your mouth in Nicaragua suggesting extraction for a niggling tooth pain. Get your eyes, teeth and body checked to ensure full fitness before you go.
Boost your funds – if you’re moving out of your apartment/flat/house, consider selling some of your stuff to save on storage costs, boosting your travel funds in the meantime. I wish I’d done more of this. CDs and iPods were still a thing back in 2010 when I left. When I came to root through all my old stuff 6 years later, a lot of my things had become defunct and, worse, worthless.
Plan your farewells – to make up for the fact that you had to speak to the bank and visit the dentist in the same week, reward yourself by planning as many farewell meet ups as you can fit into the next few weeks.
Test out you travel gear – most of your travel kit shopping should be in your possession by now so test it out. Does that new camera switch on? Are the zips on your new bag sturdy? Does that swimsuit fit? At this stage you still have a chance to send stuff back and buy replacements.
2 weeks to Go
This is going to be a busy week. Hope you’re ready…?
Book travel insurance – yes, this task is up there will visiting the bank and dentist on the dullness scale, but believe me when I say this: YOU NEED INSURANCE! I meet a lot of backpackers who tell me it’s ok, they’re not travelling with anything of any value, by which they mean laptops, iPhones, etc. They’re missing the point: travel insurance isn’t to protect your replaceable items. It’s to protect your health. Having ruptured a ligament during my last trip, I can hand-on-heart tell you the value of travel insurance. As well as a hospital bill running close to $1,000, my insurance paid for an upgrade on my flight home so I could have a bed instead of crunching a knee that wouldn’t bend into economy class. Had I not been fit to fly, I would have needed to be medivaced home. Take the cost of an upgrade to business and times it by about 30.
Check out my related article: Travel Insurance: Don’t Get Screwed by the Small Print.
Have a go at packing your backpack – you’ve bought all your travel gear and tested it; now’s time to see if it will go into your backpack. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have whittled your ‘to pack’ list down to about half of your possessions and you’ll need the next week to brutally prune it down to something that will actually fit in your bag.
Wash your clothes – I still leave this to the last minute, folding damp tops into my backpack the morning of my flight. Be better organised than me. Sure, you can get your clothes washed all over the world, but who wants to spend their first week away washing stuff?
Get your mail redirected – life goes on while you’re away and you don’t want to get caught with a £600 bill comprising late fees, legal charges and admin charges for missing a payment because you didn’t get one bill redirected (yes, another of my mistakes).
Get yourself set up for people to contact you – you probably have all your favourite social media sites set up for people to contact you but you might want to make sure your friends and family who aren’t so tech savvy know where to find you online. Whatsapp is a real hero for free messaging and it’s worth getting some Skype credit for those times you need to call back home to sort admin stuff out (speaking to the bank or airlines).
Make a list of emergency contact numbers – speaking of calling home, I recommend making a written note of numbers to call in an emergency. If things have gone south, the last thing you want to do is scratch around for phone numbers. My list includes: bank, insurance, credit card, phone company, brother and friend.
Get your travel documents in order – it’s getting easier and easier to travel with little to no paperwork but I still email myself a scanned copy of my most important documents: a copy of my passport, visas, birth certificate, immunisation record, glasses/contact lens prescription, driving licence and insurance certificate. You never know.
Book your first night’s accommodation – this is a fun job after a long week of chores. Booking your first night’s accommodation (or more if you want to) is a great way to get back the excitement of your trip if you’re feeling some planning fatigue. My favourite website for booking is HostelWorld but you can find my full list of +100 Links for Travel Planning here.
Make plans for getting to and from the airport – probably easier to plan in your home country (begging a ride is a good place to start) but don’t forget to figure out how to get from the airport to your accommodation at the other end.
1 week to Go
Pack up your stuff – if you’re moving out of your apartment/flat/house to go travelling, you’re going to have to suffer the pain of packing. As I was selling my house (and because I’m bone idle when it comes to this kind of thing), I had professional movers come in and pack all my stuff. If you’re a borderline hoarder, you may want to start earlier than one week to go.
Say your goodbyes – fun, sad, daunting and potentially very drunken, enjoy saying your goodbyes, don’t let it leave you feeling sad (your F&F will be there when you get back), and don’t let it leave you with a hangover on the day you fly (also a note to self).
Pack your backpack (for real this time) – you’ve had a dry run at this. Now’s the time to pack that bag for real. And no, you don’t need that one extra top/pair of shoes/bongo drum. Stick to your original packing list.
Charge all your gadgets – for long flights and also to ensure you don’t have to stay inside for hours when you arrive charging your camera, make sure all your gadgets are full of juice before you go.
Backup all your gadgets – back everything up, too. I always keep an external hard drive in England complete with a full back up of all my photos (from my phone and camera) as well as a backup of my laptop.
Check-in online – checking in online will give you more time to chill out at the airport and quite often you can book your seat in advance.
Go Travelling and have the time of your life!
Let me know in the comments below if you found this list useful or if there’s anything you’d add.
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