Planning for overseas adventure travel can be a little unnerving. After all, there are no second chances once you head out the door and you're pretty much at the mercy of your preparations from that point onward.
Adventure travel is particularly tricky considering you may need to deal with specialised gear and arrangements that don't accompany ordinary international travel. If you've ever had to travel with a surfboard for example, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about!
Luckily we've got few tips and tricks that we've developed from our years of searching for adventures beyond our borders.
What to plan for overseas adventure travel?
The 10 planning essentials for overseas adventure travel include:
- Make an overseas adventure travel destination shortlist.
- Check visas, passports and special documentation.
- Find out about health and safety.
- Plan your overseas adventures and pick a winner.
- Book your flight.
- Buy overseas adventure travel insurance.
- Ensure you have access to your money.
- Create a travel itinerary.
- Get some handy items.
- Keeping the home fires burning.
1. Make an overseas adventure travel destination shortlist.
The first step in an overseas adventure travel plan is choosing the destination. After all, you have to go somewhere, right? This process is often quite stressful for us because there are just too many places to go and things to do, and the sheer number of options can halt all your plans right there.
The trick with deciding where to go is to follow a process of elimination and see what sticks. Here's what we usually do. Grab a piece of paper and write down these 4 things:
Why do you want to go away in the first place? Is it to do a specific adventure (like climbing a mountain), or is it to spend time with your family and do something adventurous together? Having a priority to work towards is very helpful when narrowing down destination options.
This is normally just a loose figure to help rule out the extremes.
What adventure are you keen to do?
Seems silly, but if you're really keen to go diving with turtles, there aren't really too many places where you can do that, so this is a great way to sift out a vast number of inappropriate destinations.
When do you want to want to go, and for how long?
Having a time constraint also helps to rule out destinations that are seasonal and don't align with your needs.
Once you have your list written out you should start having a good idea of which destinations fit what your want. But if you still can't decide try this:
- Check Fly4free and look for insane deals in your area.
- Go to momondo.com, enter in your departure location and select “Anywhere” as your destination. Toggle your settings and see a list of suitable destinations.
Write out the top 5 destinations that jump out at you and proceed onto the next step in the planning process.
2. Check visas, passports and special documentation.
Now that you have your shortlist of overseas adventure destinations, you're ready to start doing some more specific research. The first thing you'll need to do is check that you are able to travel to the destinations on the list. To do that, complete the following check list:
Check your passport expiration dates.
Make sure your passport is valid for at least three (but safest is a minimum of six) months from the date of the end of your trip. It's also best practice to have 3 empty pages in your passport in case you need visa stickers.
Check the destination visa requirements for your citizenship.
This is as simple as typing the following search into Google: "visa requirements for (your citizenship) citizens visiting (destination country)". What you're looking for here is the website of the embassy, consulate or liaison office in your country as this will give you updated, official information. Many countries allow for visas on arrival, but there are a number that will require you to get a visa before you leave. If your desired adventure destination requires a visa then try get a gauge of the following: How long does visa processing take? Where is the office that does the processing? What supporting documentation needs to accompany the application (bank statements, etc.).
Check if you need any special documentation for entering the destination country.
This is especially relevant if you are travelling with children or minors. You may need to get written permission and proof of guardianship to cross the border.
3. Find out about health and safety.
Now that you have a good idea of what kind of administrative requirements each of your adventure destinations need, you can further narrow down your choices by doing a health and safety check. The best way to do that is by doing the following:
Check travel advisory websites.
Here are two we use:
Bear in mind, there may be areas within your destination that are not safe to travel, while others are perfectly fine. For example, the Philippines is an amazing place to explore, however, the southern and western parts of Mindanao and the Sulu Sea are extremely dangerous.
Consult a travel doctor got get advice of medical considerations for your adventure destination.
Some destinations may even require that you present certain medical certificates on arrival. For example, you will need to present a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate to enter Tanzania.
4. Plan your overseas adventures and pick a winner.
After weed-whacking your way through the administrative part of your planning, it's time for the fun part: Planning your adventures! If you have a specific goal, like climbing Kilimanjaro, then this part is easy, however, most overseas adventure travel will involve some kind of exploring and it's worth having an idea of what's out there before you leave.
At this point, your shortlist should be a little shorter and it's time to pull the trigger on selecting a winner. If there's only one destination left standing then it's easy, but if you still have a few options then consult your trip priority and see which destination best fits it. Alternatively, just roll a dice and let chance decide - at this point you can't really lose.
5. Book your flight.
It's time to take a deep breath and click that big red button that says "Book Now". You may prefer to do your travel bookings through a travel agent to get the peace of mind of having someone deal with the headaches of flight cancellations, itinerary changes etc. or you could do it yourself. Here are some flight booking sites we use:
Be sure to check the baggage charges. Airlines these days are getting sneaky with their pricing models and often don't include your baggage charge in the ticket price to make it seem cheaper. If you're travelling with specialised equipment like a surfboard, you'll need to check the extra baggage charges for those too as they often don't fall within the total check-in allowance.
6. Buy overseas adventure travel insurance.
This is admittedly the worst part about travelling for us. Buying insurance is such a grudge purchase, but that doesn't make it any less important. People naturally don't like to think that the worst will happen so they don't plan for it. In our experience, it's better to be prepared.
Your credit card company or home health insurance plan may offer complimentary travel insurance, but this is often very basic cover with lots of exclusions. We buy a variety of different kinds of insurance depending on where we're going, but one company that we've found that is really great for adventure travel is World Nomads. Most companies exclude all kinds of adventurous activities, a.k.a. the reason we're travelling in the first place, but World Nomads have a great range of coverage and are pretty competitively priced.
7. Ensure you have access to your money.
This is one that can really catch you out! There's nothing worse than going to an ATM in a foreign country only to find out that there is a problem withdrawing funds. There are, however, a few things you can do to make sure you always have access to your money:
- Tell your bank you'll be traveling. Mention your destination countries as well as your stop over destinations and ask them to allow your card to be used in those destinations.
- Bring more than one card in case one doesn't work.
- Buy some foreign currency and keep an emergency stash (enough for transportation to your exit airport).
- Investigate electronic wallet services, that allow you to transact in foreign countries with low fees. Some of the best include YouTrip, Revolut, InstaReM and TransferWise.
8. Create a travel itinerary
Make a basic itinerary of your route using My Maps by Google and share it with a friend. Not only is this a lot of fun and helps build the excitement for the trip, but it's a good idea to have someone know where you are, or at least where you should be in case of emergencies.
9. Get some handy items and last minute prep done for your trip.
Here are a few of the items we've found invaluable on our overseas adventure travels.
- Buy a flat bum-bag (money pouch) for keeping your passport, ID card and some spare cash hidden on your person. There are even RFID protection ones available to keep your cards safe from identity theft.
- Make copies or take pictures of your ID and travel documents and store them in a cloud service like OneNote or Evernote.
- Check the plug adaptor and power output of your destination country and get the relevant adaptors.
- Visit your mobile service provider and activate cellular roaming. Alternatively, a far cheaper and more convenient option is to buy a SIM card in your destination country and top up as you go.
- Use Google Maps to download an offline map of the area you'll be visiting.
- Download some podcasts/audiobooks for long haul travels. Living Adventurously by Alastair Humphreys is always interesting.
- Don't forget your travel camera gear.
10. Keep the home fires burning.
There's nothing worse than coming back from an amazing adventure trip to find a pile of bills in the mailbox and the lights and water turned off. While short trips are much easier, if you're away for an extended period you'll need to do a few things.
- Ask a friend to check in at your home regularly while you're away and clear the mail from your mailbox (a tell-tale sign that you're not home).
- Tell your security company you'll be away.
- Leave your overseas contact details with whoever is looking after your house.
- Get a house-sitter.
- Clean your house before you leave, so you don't have to when you get back.
11. Bonus resource list
Here’s a list of useful apps to try out (search each name in your applicable app store):
- Google translate
- Yr Weather
- Hiking and adventure
- All trails
- Google Maps
- VOIP calling
As with any adventure, some things you can plan for, and others you'll simply have to take as they come. It's always best to be as prepared as you can before you leave, but one of the best things you can take with you is a willingness to go with the flow. Plans may change, new adventures might present themselves and you'll want to make the most of those - being prepared at the outset will free you up to make the most of any adventure challenges and opportunities that come your way.