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Pre-Travel Checklist, Top 20 things you must sort out, gap year or sabbatical

If you are planning for a gap year or a long trip away, there are certain important things you will need to sort out before you leave for travelling. Here is a pre-travel checklist with my top 20 things to sort out before you get your bum on that plane:-

1. Work

If you are employed, which is more than likely as you need money to travel, then you need to think about telling your bosses about your travel plans. Make sure that you read your contract and give the correct notice, to avoid any legal problems. Giving in my notice was one of the worst things but I felt relieved after I had done it.  Once I handed in my notice, the trip started to feel real. 

2. Commitments 

Are you a member of a sports team, or have you made any commitments before you knew you were travelling? I was mentoring a Law Student at University and I had to make sure that I found a replacement mentor for him before I left. If you do have any commitments, it best to give as much notice that you are going to be leaving the country, so arrangements can be made, rather than leaving things to the last minute. 

3.   House/Flat

Your home is one of the main things to sort out. If you are renting, how long is on your tenancy and if you are planning on leaving before your contract is up, then ensure to pay your rent upfront or negotiate with your landlord beforehand. If you own a house, then you may either need to look for tenants to cover the mortgage, or you need to factor mortgage payments into your travel budget if you don't want to rent out your house. 

4.   House Insurance

This is linked to point 3, but if you are leaving your property for long periods of time, then you may need to change your house insurance to unoccupied house insurance, or else you may run the risk of your insurance not being valid if you do have to claim.

5.   Budget and save

Another vital point is setting your budget and saving your hard earned money. I have a separate blog post on how to save for travelling, which you can read here.

Pre-Travel Checklist, Top 20 things you must sort out, gap year or sabbatical

6.  Flights

Start thinking about booking those flights. You will need to weigh up if booking the flights on your own, or using an around the world ticket suits you best. If you are booking a lot of flights, I would recommend starting a spreadsheet to track what you have booked, the booking reference and the travel details. I also drag the email confirming the booked flight, into my calendar and then back this up on my phone. I also have a printed version of the spreadsheet, just in case I lost my phone and laptop and also left a copy with parents. 

I use SkyScanner when I book flights.

7.  Jabs

Depending on where you are going, you may have to have jabs before you travel. You need to organise an initial meeting with the doctor, to discuss each country you are going so they can give you specific advice to your route. If the doctors do advise you that you need jabs, then make sure you book the first jab in more than enough time. It is also worth noting that some countries will require you to carry a certificate confirming you have had certain jabs, so double check if your destination requires this, as you need to get this before you travel. If you are visiting a lot of countries and require numerous jabs and immunisations, you could create a separate pre-travel checklist just for jabs which has the name of the jab, the date you had it and how long it lasts for.

8.   Visas

With a lot of countries, you can obtain the visa on arrival but some countries require you to have a visa before you fly. I made a list of each country I was planning on visiting and then used the Government website to see if I had to apply for a visa before we left. I like to be organised with paperwork, so I created a specific pre-travel visa checklist for quick reference. Visas are important and so require some organisation beforehand so you leave yourself enough time to sort them out. If you don't have the correct visa, it could cause massive problems and stress. For example, in India, if you arrive without a valid visa, they will put you on a plane straight back home.

Pre-Travel Checklist, Top 20 things you must sort out, gap year or sabbatical

9.   Travel Insurance

This is VITAL! I know some people risk it for a biscuit, but I think this is one of the most important things to sort out before travelling. It should be at the top of the list.  Do your research and make sure that you don't just go for the cheapest policy you can find, as it might not cover your needs or activities and this may be in the inner lawyer in me....but read the small print. 

I ended up in hospital for a week in Japan and I was so glad that I had decent travel insurance which covered the medical bills!

10.   Change money or get a prepaid card

Money is one thing that you need before you travel but if you are going travelling for a long period of time, it can be hard to decide how to deal with the logistics of moving around different countries, with different currencies. I always like to get an emergency stash of money changed, just to make sure I can get out the airport to the hotel, or at least get to a cash point. Obviously, if you are going on a year-long trip, you can't take all of your cash with you, so you can simply take your bank card, or put some money onto a pre-paid card, or in my case, a combination of both.

It is also worth checking if there are any restrictions, for example in India if take more than Rs. 25,000 out of India there is a penalty. Luckily for me, there is no chance this would be a problem on our backpacking budget, but just keep the restrictions in the back of you mind!

11.   Pets

Saying goodbye to pets is one of the hardest things, as they can't understand why you have randomly disappeared. Since returning from our 9 month trip we got a cocker spaniel, Bonnie and we are lucky that my parents looks after her when we go away. If you have your own pets, you need to ensure that you have someone ready to look after them, or if you are having to put your pet into kennels, then this needs to be factored into your budget. 

Top 20 things you must sort out, gap year or sabbatical

12.  Car

If you are not selling your car before your trip, then have you got somewhere to store it? Or in my case, I let my sister, Alice, borrow my car which worked out for both of us, as Alice got a car and the car was not left sat for months on end. If your car is going to be stored somewhere make sure you have declared it to be off the road.

13.   Inform your bank

Let your bank know about your travel plans so they can make a note on your account that you are not in the UK. If transactions appear on your account from a foreign country, it is very common for the banks to block your account, as it looks like suspicious activity.

You should also try and remember to update your bank when you move from country to country, not just at the start of the trip. I can actually do this through my banking app on my phone, which is extremely helpful. 

14.   Make sure your passport is valid

Again, this should really be at the top of the list, as without a valid passport, your not going anywhere. It is important to make sure that there is 6 months remaining on your passport, from the last stop of your trip, as this is a criteria for entering many countries. 

Pre-Travel Checklist, Top 20 things you must sort out, gap year or sabbatical

15.   Change your mobile phone plan

Do you need to update your mobile phone plan? You will not be able to the use the data and minutes while in the majority of countries, so you might be wasting money. I went onto a much cheaper plan and didn't upgrade my phone, as I didn't want to take a brand new phone travelling. It is a good idea to unlock your phone so you can purchase SIM cards in different countries. 

16.   Buy a decent backpack/luggage

This is one thing you shouldn't scrimp on, it is basically your home for your trip and you do not want it falling apart. After a lot of research, I went for an Osprey Sojourn 80 litre ( I LOVE IT). Yes, 80 litres is massive but I liked having the extra space.

17.   Go to the doctors and dentist 

Before you go on a long trip, it is a good idea to go to the doctors and dentist for a check-up. Like a lot of other things, you need to go a few months beforehand, just in case there is something wrong or you need to change any medication.

18.   Make sure you have all medication

If you are on any medication, make sure you have talked to your doctor about your plans and make sure you have enough medication for your trip. For certain medications, you require a letter from a doctor to have it in your carry on, so double check with your doctor if a letter is required. I am not on any medication but I do suffer with headaches and codeine seems to be the only thing that helps, so I did stock up on it for the trip. However, just before we were leaving India to go to Japan, I read a story of a women who was arrested in Tokyo for carrying codeine. Apparently it is classified as a narcotic, so it is prohibited. My point is, be aware that every country is different and you should check the rules before you fly.

Like this general pre-travel checklist, if you need to take a lot of medication on your trip, it would be a good idea to create a medication pre-travel checklist with how much you need which is ticked after it is packed in your bag. This way it is hard to forget anything.

Pre-Travel Checklist, Top 20 things you must sort out, gap year or sabbatical

19.   Cancel any memberships

Are you a member of a gym, or do you pay a monthly subscription for magazines? If you do, make sure you have cancelled these beforehand, so you are not incurring any unnecessary expenses. 

20.  Buy things you can't buy while you are away

This will be minimal, but there are some bits and bobs you will need to sort out before you travel. For example, we had to purchase the JLR Pass (Japanese Rail Pass) before we left the UK, as you are not able to get this when you are in Japan. 

So there are my top things to sort out before going travelling. I hope this pre-travel checklist is helpful. Some points are obviously more important than others, but I hope this is a good starting point for you. 

Happy travelling!


Here are some more articles if you are planning on taking a career break or sabbatical:


If this helped you, why not share it and help other travellers:

Important things to sort out before travelling, gap year or sabbatical


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