7 Things to Do Before You Travel

I've learned the hard way that traveling can be complicated with illness, pickpocketing, and money woes. To make sure these problems never happen to anyone again, I've compiled a list of seven things every traveler should do before they hit the road. Better safe than sorry I always say!

1) Convert your money

One of the biggest travel scams ever is converting your cash at the airport. The rates are the absolute worst, which means you are losing money for nothing.

To get the most bang for your buck, make sure to convert your money before you leave home. You can do this at your local bank as most banks carry major foreign currencies. Here, you can change your money at a much more reasonable rate than what the airports charge.

If your bank doesn't carry the currency you need, you’ll need to find a currency exchange centre. If these centres do not carry the type of money you want, they can order it in for you. This process can take up to a few days. Try to find a place that doesn't charge a transaction fee to save a few dollars. For my friends and family in Vancouver, I’d recommend going to Vancouver Bullion and Currency Exchange. They offer good rates, carry over 100 currencies and have three convenient locations in the Lower Mainland.

Converting currency beforehand not only saves you money but also prepares you for worst-case scenarios abroad. What if you arrive at your destination and your credit card and debit card don’t work at the ATM?  It’s happened to me and other travelers before. Having some local currency on you upon your arrival can save you a lot of frustration and panic.

2) Get vaccinated

Exploring remote and exotic countries gives you the chance to experience different cultures, cuisines, languages and more. Unfortunately, this also includes the possibility of catching different illnesses and diseases. Less developed countries pose a threat to your health and that is why you must get vaccinated before your trip. Book an appointment with your local travel clinic and tell them where you’ll be traveling. The doctor will go over all the possible hazards found in the area and give you the appropriate vaccinations.

If you want to do your own vaccination research beforehand, the CDC offers a great website devoted to travellers health. Here, you can search any country and it will tell you what diseases you should be aware of and what vaccinations you should get.

After you get vaccinated, it is a good idea to keep a travel vaccination book or journal. Many vaccinations expire after a few years and having a record will help you keep track of when you need to get vaccinated again.

3) Buy travel insurance

That time I ran with the bulls in Pamplona during San Fermin. Good thing I had travel insurance!

No ifs, ands, or buts, buying travel insurance is a MUST for anyone leaving their country.

I didn’t always have this mindset. Being young, I used to think I was invincible and that nothing bad would ever happen to me while traveling abroad. This mentality changed completely two summers ago when I was on a weeklong sailing holiday in Croatia. One night, a girl from another catamaran slipped and hit her head on the boat. She suffered brain trauma, fractures and almost drowned in the ocean. She did not have travel insurance. After her fall, she was in a medically induced coma and had to be flown back to Canada by air ambulance. The air ambulance came to a total of $93,550 and that's not even including her medical bills.  

Travel insurance is so important and buying it won’t break the bank I promise! World Nomads offers great rates and is definitely worth checking out. Most banks provide travel insurance too. In my experience, the Royal Bank of Canada offers great coverage and a variety of packages, all at affordable prices.  

If you’re still a student, check to see if you’re covered under your parents benefit plans. Many of these benefit plans include travel insurance for employees and their children. If you aren’t covered under your parents, check to see if your student health coverage includes travel insurance.

4) Check whether or not you need travel visas

Photo Credit: Jon Rawlinson

No, I’m not talking about credit cards.

Many nations require you to obtain a travel visa in order to enter their country. A visa is a stamp or sticker placed in your passport that allows you to enter a particular country. There are several different ways to get a visa.

Some countries allow you to get one upon arrival at their airport. Here, you may be required to provide one or two passport-sized photos of yourself, so make sure you have some with you. You’ll also be required to pay a visa-processing fee, which is usually $20 to $30.

Other countries require you to obtain a visa before leaving home. In this case, you’ll have to pay a visit to your destination’s embassy. Here, you’ll submit an application form and passport sized photos. You’ll also have to bring in your valid passport and pay a fee. If you can’t make it to the embassy in person, you can always send in your documents and passport by mail. This process can sometimes take a while, especially if you’re doing it by post, so make sure you don’t leave it to the last minute.

Some countries, like Australia, require you to be in possession of an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). An ETA is a virtual visa electronically linked to your passport. You’ll need to apply for an ETA online before you leave home. Bring a copy of your ETA confirmation, as you may be required to show it at immigration.

If you’re already traveling, you can still get a visa by visiting your destination’s embassy while in any other country. Just keep in mind embassies have different processing times and requirements.

Also make sure to get the correct type of visa for your trip. Tourist, business and student visas all have different restrictions, fees and application processes.

Not sure whether you need a visa or not? If you are Canadian, check out travel.gc.ca and select a destination. The site will tell you everything you need to know about entry and exit requirements. For Americans, click here.

5) Register your trip

Photo Credit: Ministerio TIC Colombia 

In Canada, Registration of Canadians Abroad is a free service offered by the government. Basically, you fill out a short online form about your trip and include details like your contact information abroad, where you’ll be staying, your travel dates and your travel companions. If an emergency happens in your destination country, such as a natural disaster, civil unrest or a terrorist act, the government will know how to contact and assist you. For the American equivalent, click here.

6)  Call your bank

Photo Credit: 401(K) 2012

Sometimes, when banks see credit cards used for transactions in a foreign country, they flag the activity as suspicious and freeze the card. This can put a damper on your holiday when you realize you can’t pay for anything.

Remember to call your bank before your departure and tell them about your vacation. They will ask which countries you are going to and how long you will be away. After, they'll post a note on your account to not block any incoming transactions.   

7) Make a copy of your passport

Photo Credit: Alan Levine

Whether it's a physical photocopy or a digital one stored on your phone, make sure you copy the passport page with all your information on it. Keep the photocopy in your luggage during your travels. If the unthinkable happens and you lose your passport, you can bring your copy to the nearest embassy and have your passport reissued quickly. Without a copy, the embassy would have to track down your passport number and have to verify that you are who you say you are. This takes up valuable time and may leave you stranded in a foreign country for a while.


I’m a Canadian girl on a quest to step foot in every continent before I’m 30. You’ll most likely find me chowing down on Japanese ramen, partying at a music festival, hiking to the top of a scenic lookout, cuddling with cats, or chilling out at the beach. I’ve visited over 60 countries so far and hope to inspire you to do the same.

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