We’ve all had our fair share of travel disaster stories. From confiscated items in the airport to lost luggage, to missing your flights and being detained – even worse, being detained in prison rather than just at the airport. Disaster proofing your trip may not be absolute, but it helps to be aware and know what you can do before, during and after a disastrous situation. This first in the series of posts about how to disaster proof trips, covers preparation.

Find out as much as you can about your destination(s). Pay particular attention to visa and other immigration requirements, restrictions based on your nationality, cultural taboos, gender and sexuality issues, political situation and crime rate. This is not to discourage you from going, but knowing the boundaries of what is acceptable behaviour and the rules applied could prevent embarrassing and even catastrophic situations.

Write down your itinerary and prioritise. I have a spreadsheet where one column is for the places, another column labeled as “must” and another column as “want” then I put down the dates and estimated time. This gives me an idea how much time I still have and if its possible to visit all the places I’ve listed in the itinerary. I also plan for options on transportation to maximise the time. It’s also good to talk to your companions to find out what their priorities for the trip are – something that my partner and I unconsciously do for each trip. For instance, when we were in Sydney last year, since it was my partner’s first time, I asked him what were his “musts”, which were – fish and chips, kangaroo, Bondi beach, the Sydney Opera House and koala – we got to do all of them plus more!

Trip Checklist

Get a grasp of transportation options and basic routes from your hotel to places you intend to visit. Knowing how to get around is half the struggle. Understand the fare structure for all transportation options and what are possible scams locals might pull on you. Knowing how to get around will save you a lot of time and possible cash. For instance, when I travelled to Melbourne I found out that there is a tram that is specifically for tourists. It goes around the city at certain time intervals and its absolutely free. Considering the cost of public transport in Australia, a free bus service for tourists could stretch the budget a little further.


Build a list of important contacts. This list should include contact details of your embassy, police, ambulance, hospitals, local contacts if you now some people or family members who are residents, hotels, airlines, and banks. Save these numbers in your phone and if its capable of storing contacts as groups, you can create a group specific to the trip.

Save you emergency contacts on speed dial on your mobile phone. This could save you valuable minutes in cases of emergency when you néed to make urgent calls.

Understand the communication infrastructure in your destination and make plans on how you will stay connected. Most telcos would offer roaming services already, but they cost an arm and a leg. Find out if you can get local pre-paid SIM cards, how to obtain and load these with credits, and what other services, e.g. data, are bundled. Also, book hotels with wifi services so you can always keep in touch when you get back to your hotel.

Check your luggage a week or two before the trip. Make sure it’s in good working condition, appropriate for the trip, and will fit all your gear. Give yourself enough time to be able to buy new ones prior to the trip. If you do need to buy new ones, invest on something that is known to be of good quality and quite durable. Also, make sure to get appropriate luggage tags/stickers and label all your things like crazy!

All geared up

Create a checklist. Once you have planned out your itinerary, make a checklist of things to bring, things to do before the trip, gifts to buy, etc. Checklists are quite handy and they make sure that you remember the important things. But make your checklist ahead of time so you are not in panic mode.

Arrange for house sitters. One of the difficulties of going on holidays is getting someone to mind your place. Trusting someone to look after your precious belongings may be a hindrance to enjoying a well-planned and deserved vacation. There are options like house swapping or home exchanges, where you become part of a network that, well, swaps houses on a temporary basis. Trust is still important and there could be risks. I find a combination of options to be viable – getting a relative to drop by once a while to check on the place, a trusty home cleaner to keep the place tidy, and an alarm that is linked to the local police station.

Do you have other pre-departure tips for a disaster proof trip?

Boat Ride

5 replies
  1. Jennifer Choban
    Jennifer Choban says:

    Wow, Elmer, you do a lot more planning than I do. Guess I’ve just relied on dumb luck for a lot of things. Probably a good idea to be more prepared though. One thing I do is to put a copy of my flight itinerary in every piece of luggage – anything to increase the chances of my luggage and I both getting to the same place.

  2. Elmer Cruz
    Elmer Cruz says:

    Ye, I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to trip preparation. But I’m also quite flexible once we get there. I always make sure I have so many options just in case things go bad. That’s a good idea about flit itinerary. I do that too but sometimes forget especially now that there are so many apps on phone and tablets. Thanks Jenny.

  3. Michael Falk
    Michael Falk says:

    damn I work with some really smart, organized, efficient people! I must say I’m the opposite. I show up with stuff scribbled on napkins and little pieces of paper. I usually forget something important and bring something irrelevant. These are great tips Elmer, I’m writing them down on my napkin right now :) And Jenny, that’s smart thinking too

  4. Jennifer Choban
    Jennifer Choban says:

    I have the luxury of time, so my version of planning ahead is planning for flexibility. I usually buy one way tickets so I can decide when and from where I want to leave later. I carry extra passport photos for visa applications and when fill out immigration forms I always state that I’m staying in the country for the maximum time allowed (even if I’m not planning on stay anywhere neat that long).

  5. Elmer Cruz
    Elmer Cruz says:

    Wow, Jenny, I wish I have that luxury to go and stay in a place indefinitely! Right now I am really fed up with work and just saving enough to pay the bills for the next 2 years then I will go an a round the world adventure of a bum!


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