Travel Preparations: Pre-Departure Tips You Need

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April 19, 2016
7 mins read

Heading abroad on the adventure of a lifetime is exciting, inspiring and… nerve-wracking! It’s okay to have some butterflies in your stomach, matter of fact, it would be weird if you didn’t. To reduce the chance of a full blown anxiety-stress-freak-out, we recommend that you have all travel preparations smashed out pre-departure.

As well as being completely zen before you even leave, being prepared to travel pre-departure will make your time in-country a more successful experience, reduce potential risks, and increase the positive impact you make on your host community.

So, where do you begin…?!?! Well, this article is a great start. I’ll guide you through some necessary travel preparations to make before you depart on your experience abroad. 

Set smart (S.M.A.R.T) goals

Before you decide on a destination, program, or volunteer project, it’s a great idea to set goals and achievements to work toward throughout your journey. It may seem silly, but it’s a very important step in making early travel preparations in order to guarantee the success of your time abroad!

The concept of a S.M.A.R.T goal is comprehensive and super-simple to create:

S – Specific: Your goals should be well defined and clear.

M – Measurable: Is you goal obtainable and how is success measured?

A – Achievable: Set goals that are realistic and can be achieved in the available time frame.

R – Relevant: Goals should be relevant to the task at hand – in this case, your travel journey.

T – Time-based or trackable: Set yourself a deadline, and hold yourself to it.

Goals can be aimed toward personal growth, professional development or specific to the work that you are planning to do. Struggling to start your goal setting? Begin by reflecting on your motivations for traveling/volunteering/interning abroad and listing five of them. You will see a theme emerge from these motivations and goals should evolve naturally.

I find that a stunning piece of stationary helps ward off the goal-setting procrastination, buying a journal or diary specifically for your trip helps kick off the journey and your excitement. Use this journal as you make travel preparations, and during your trip abroad, to document important information, ideas, bucket lists and to revert back to your goals when you need to.

By the end of your adventure you will have a great resource full of all your memories – not to mention, journaling is a great boredom buster while traveling (especially in-transit) when, more often than not, you can’t rely on Netflix to get you through.

close up of hand, writing in a bullet journal, setting goals
Set some S.M.A.R.T goals for your time abroad.

Endorse your travel — get certified!

There is no better way to prepare yourself for your adventure abroad than to up-skill by completing a certification course. With the boom of online-learning courses there are many options for furthering yourself from the comfort of your own home pre-departure and, bonus, they are affordable!

Brush Up on Your Lovely Language Skills

Learning key phrases of a new language is a crucial travel preparation and one that is often put to the wayside. At the minimum, you should know how to say these phrases in the local language…

  • Hello
  • Please
  • Thank-you
  • My name is…
  • Where is / where are…?
  • How much?

Begin practicing before you leave home by using language apps, podcasts, watching movies, using the language in conversation with friends and family or by attending a physical or online language class. The best way to learn is through practice, so make sure that once you are at your destination you put your language skills into real-life situations, be brave and habla alto!

Check Out a TEFL Course

If you are heading abroad to volunteer in childcare or teaching abroad then it pays to enroll in a TEFL course. A TEFL course will prepare you with practical methods and skills to teach a classroom of children or adults confidently and effectively. A TEFL certification will also put you in good stead for a paid ESL teaching job either at home or abroad.

wallet, suitcases and a passport
An easy step 1: get your passport (if you don’t already have one!).

Up-Skill with Pre-Departure Travel Courses

Traveling abroad is exciting, fun and sometimes a bit daunting. Learn to travel with confidence by enrolling in a Travel Health & Safety online course. This is particularly relevant to first time, solo, or nervous travelers. An online travel safety course can teach you all of the skills and tips you need to keep yourself safe, healthy and having the time of your life.

Considering volunteering abroad? Make sure you make a meaningful impact by up-skilling first with an international volunteering online course. Prepare yourself fully for the volunteering journey and arm yourself with the skills needed to make a responsible, sustainable and effective impact on the community in which you are volunteering in. Also, a perfect way to endorse your volunteering on your resume and further your professional development.

Any or all of these certifications are a rock-solid way of validating and endorsing your travel on your resume, filling a hole that a gap-year may make on your all-important documents.

Manage those expectations

Managing your expectations is key in travel preparations to ensure that your time abroad is a winner. This comes down to research, mindset, and commitment. 


If you are volunteering or interning through an organization, make sure you read all of the information that they provide. I know that the last thing you want to do is read a 20-page PDF, but trust me, these organizations know these destinations and experiences inside and out! They want you to be as prepared as possible, so that you can have the best time possible.

Chloe and Reuben of Global Travel Academy walking up steps smiling
Pre-departure prep courses will have you smiling and set up for success abroad.

Conduct your own personal research on things like; 

  • Local culture
  • Customs
  • Food
  • Laws
  • Living arrangements
  • Climate

Knowing what you are in for will reduce culture-shock and set realistic expectations. 


It may sound like a cliche, but keep an open mind. Your experience abroad will be heavily influenced by how you accept and embrace local culture, people and ways of life. If you are closed off to these things, you won’t have a very enjoyable time. Cliches are good, be ALL the cliches! Keep an open mind, step out of your comfort zone, seize the day etc, etc…


Volunteering abroad, or any international program, should be treated with the respect and dedication. You have chosen to travel abroad, give back and further yourself and so, you should be prepared to go the full nine yards during your working week. Never fear, you will have plenty of down time and weekends to explore this new and exciting destination.

Chloe posing in a doorway smiling and volunteering
Take care of yourself while you travel!

Get your ducks in a row

Essentially, without some very necessary paperwork, your dreams of a trip abroad will go “kaput.” Here are some questions to ask yourself when making your travel preparations…

  1. Do you have a passport? Yes — good work, make sure that it is valid for six months past your return date. No? Get one, ASAP!
  2. Do you need to obtain a visa to be allowed entry into your chosen destination? Research this with your designated embassy or discuss it with your program provider. They’ll know the requirements.
  3. Are your vaccinations up-to-date or do you need any specific vaccinations for your chosen destination? For example, some parts of Africa will only allow you to enter if you have you Yellow Fever vaccination. Visit a travel doctor with a comprehensive copy of your itinerary and they will discuss vaccinations, medications and risk management with you.
  4. Have you purchased travel insurance? And, if so, do you understand what it does and doesn’t cover? Make sure to speak to the insurance company about what activities are covered and have an understanding of the claim process, should you have to make one.
  5. Have you booked an airport pick-up and first nights accommodation for when you arrive at your destination? Chances are you will be tired and overwhelmed when you step off the plane, knowing that you have pre-organized transport and accommodation will reduce stress levels and keep you safe in your first 24 hours in-country.
  6. Have you spoken with your bank about using your debit and/or credit cards abroad? Let them know specifically where you are traveling to so that they don’t cut off access to your money on the account of them assuming it is fraud.

Me, Myself & I

Your well-being while you are abroad is super-mega-important, you don’t want your memories to be clouded by a persistent illness or mental health issues. Take care of yourself before you leave, stock up on vitamins, and make sure that you have a solid support network of friends and family to talk to when things start getting hard.

It is inevitable that you will find yourself with an upset stomach or a bout of homesickness, but so long as you prepared for these pre-departure, you will get over them quickly and be back to having an adventure for the books. Make sure you speak to your doctor or a mental health care professional before you leave so that you are armed with strategies and solutions for whatever life throws at you while you are on the road. 

People marking places on a map
Making travel preparations pre-departure, and taking the steps to really prep will make your time abroad a breeze.

Travel Preparation Checklist:

  • Have a passport that is in-date and any necessary Visas pre-arranged
  • Visit a travel doctor and receive required vaccinations 
  • Pack a basic (or not so basic) first-aid kit
  • Book first nights accommodation (at least) and airport pick-up
  • Purchase comprehensive travel insurance
  • Speak to your bank about travel money options and let them know, specifically, where you are traveling to
  • Ensure that your mobile phone is unlocked for an international sim
  • Discuss communication expectations with your friends and family
  • Research climate and pack accordingly (try not to over-pack!!)
  • Download your favorite podcasts and albums
  • Buy an amazing journal for goal-setting and keeping travel memories safe 
  • A open mind, a sense of adventure and a passion for meaningful travel

So, what now?

Following these travel preparation tips will set you up for a successful and overall more thrilling time abroad, remember that research is key and keep that mind of yours open to new and exciting opportunities. Go out there, have fun and keep yourself safe!

The Washington Inquirer Editor

20 years in media business

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