Dreaming about your next vacation but dreading the hassle of trip planning? We know it’s tough to remember all the nitty-gritty and different things to consider when planning that perfect holiday. Therefore, we’ve pooled together our travel expertise and put together the ultimate trip planning checklist: 8 simple questions to ensure you don’t forget any travel essentials!
1. Do I need to apply for a visa?
Singapore’s passport may be one of the most powerful in the world with visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 190 countries in the world (as of 2019), but it also means we tend to forget when we actually need to apply for a visa or pre-authorisation to visit certain countries.
How to check: Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has a useful site that lets Singaporeans check visa requirements for a foreign country, but you should also check that country’s embassy website for confirmation just in case, especially if you plan to travel for reasons other than leisure travel.
When to check: Check visa requirements before you purchase your plane tickets as some visas may be quite expensive. The visa process can also be tedious so get your visa processing going at least a month in advance to be safe – some countries like Russia and Bhutan require a longer visa issual process while others like the United States and Australia can be applied and paid for online with short notice.
2. What is the weather going to be like?
In Singapore, our tropical weather never varies too much – hot sunny days with showers over several areas in the afternoon is pretty much a constant throughout the year, so it’s easy for us to overlook the impact of different seasons and climates when we go overseas. You do not want to book a boat ride during Taiwan’s typhoon season, nor encounter perpetual flooding during Vietnam’s monsoon season for example.
How to check: Google the destination that you are visiting + the month you are visiting and plenty of weather reports should pop up to give you a sense of the expected temperature, rainfall and climate. Look at both the previous years’ records as well as past year trends to get a better sense of what to expect.
When to check: Check once before you book your flights to ensure you are visiting during the right season, and again the week before you go so you can pack accordingly. Note that the weather can be pretty unpredictable nowadays, so it’s always advisable to pack at least one good jacket and an umbrella no matter where you go.
3. Do I need to change money?
E-payment systems like Paynow, Paywave and GrabPay in Singapore means you hardly have to use actual notes and coins these days. But when you’re on the road, cash is often still the preferred mode of payment and exchanging currency is one of those long-standing pre-trip rituals for many.
How to check: Google to find out the local currency and rough exchange rates for the country that you are visiting. Online travel forums usually offer good advice on whether that country’s money changers offer better rates than your own. Not all currencies can be found in Singapore – Laos Kip and Croatian Kuna, for example, can’t be exchanged in Singapore. The US dollar is always good to have on hand as it remains one of the most widely accepted currencies in the world.
Credit cards and e-payment systems have also become more international – you can now use Alipay or WeChat Pay in China as a foreigner, and multi-currency accounts like YouTrip or TransferWise can also help you save a few bucks with more competitive exchange rates if you do your research.
When to check: For those looking to get the best rates, start monitoring the rates early so you can swoop in the moment it drops to a good rate. Weekdays tend to offer better exchange rates compared to weekends when the markets are closed. If you just can’t be bothered, you can always change some money at Changi Airport just before you take off.
4. Do I need to make transport arrangements?
Singaporeans are spoiled for choice when it comes to public transport options, and in a country this small it never really takes hours to get around. This accessibility is something we often take for granted until we travel overseas and realise that not all countries have such a strong transport network or are as well mapped, especially in more rural areas or remote locations.
How to check: Do a little research on the places that you are visiting to get a sense of distances covered and costs incurred. Sometimes it might be cheaper or easier to rent a car than rely on public transport. Google Maps works well in Singapore, but in some countries you are better off downloading their local map and transport apps to get around; for example, Naver Maps is more accurate and even offers bus routes and timings in South Korea, as is Baidu Maps in China.
When to check: We recommend checking transport options when you make accommodation or flight bookings as you can sometimes get package deals. An ideal timeframe is at least 2-3 weeks before your trip in case you need to make rentals, season pass or ticket reservations. Advanced bookings are especially vital if you are travelling during the peak season.
5. Are the places of interest that I want to see open?
The most disappointing thing to happen on a trip is to travel all the way to your destination with such anticipation, only to find out that it is closed. Not all countries have the same sort of opening hours as Singapore, so checking on opening seasons and hours is an essential part of trip planning that is often overlooked.
How to check: Visiting the attraction’s official website and social accounts are usually the best ways to verify their opening hours and get any news about adhoc closures. More things tend to be closed if you are visiting during the low season, so checking beforehand is essential. Knowing the country’s public holiday calendar is also a very good way to anticipate potential crowds.
When to check: If that attraction is the main reason for your trip, then you need to make sure it is open before you book your flight tickets or it will end up being a wasted trip. Otherwise, check when you are making transport arrangements and planning more detailed itineraries.
6. How do I stay connected overseas?
Singaporeans are used to being connected 24/7, and many of us are so reliant on our smartphones for travel, using it to search for everything from the best places to how to get there with a maps app. Overseas data roaming costs tend to be quite limited and expensive and some countries like China require the use of a VPN to access blocked applications like Google.
How to check: Besides checking the rates provided by your local telecom provider, booking sites like ChangiRecommends and Klook are often good places to get overseas SIM cards or wifi devices. Sometimes it’s much cheaper to get the devices in the country you are visiting – check the tourism websites or local telcos to compare prices.
When to check: It’s usually safe to make any bookings at least a week in advance to ensure there is enough stock, but if you know your dates well in advance and are travelling during peak periods, book early to avoid disappointment.
7. Did I buy travel insurance?
Not everyone believes that travel insurance is a necessary cost, but it’s something we highly recommend as a precaution against unforeseen circumstances. Common pitfalls that travel insurance can help defray costs of include travel delays and cancellations, lost or stolen items and hospitalisation or doctor’s fees overseas.
How to check: There are plenty of travel insurance providers out there – sites like GoBear or MoneySmart compare travel insurance plans so you can find what works best for you. If you travel often and tend to forget, consider an annual plan to save you the hassle. Travel insurance is sometimes included in flight bookings or credit card plans, so check to see if you are already covered before you buy a plan.
When to check: The great thing about travel insurance is that you can do it right at the last minute, even at the airport just before you fly off on your trip. However the earlier you can confirm your dates and buy a policy the better – some policies cover for cancellations in the case of bad weather or unforeseen strikes which you can claim for if you bought your policy before these events happened (Here’s a list of important travel insurance claims to note). Take the time to read the fine print as not all travel insurance policies are equal.
8. Did I pack all my travel essentials?
There are some travel essentials that you have to bring on any trip to make your transit that much better, but tend to be forgotten because we don’t always use them in daily life. Here’s a short list of our favourite travel essentials to pack.
If you are forgetful, consider keeping all these items in one handy pouch that you store in your luggage and never use for anything other than your travels. That way it’s hard to forget to pack it on your next trip.
- For those carrying electronics: a multiplug travel adaptor is a must for different pin configurations. A portable battery pack is also good for quick charging on the go, and it’s essential to bring the right wires as well as nothing is more annoying than having a full battery pack and no way to charge your items.
- For trips somewhere sunny and tropical: sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses are must-haves if you are going to be out and about in summer or at the beach.
- For trips into the great outdoors: if you are prone to mosquito and insect bites, always pack some insect repellent and a balm to soothe bites. A good pair of hiking boots and thick socks are also essential.
- For winter and cold climates: lip balm and moisturiser is a must to protect against peeling lips and flaking skin. Heat packs, gloves and a beanie are necessary for those who get cold easily.
- For better transits: A hoodie in case of dodgy headrests and window ledges, earplugs and an eye mask block out the world for better rest. Carry a pen or two for all those immigration forms you have to fill in.
- A light scarf: The one essential piece of travel clothing that can be used in just about any situation – a large light scarf keeps you warm on cold planes, shades from the sun, covers up in religious institutions and dresses up a casual outfit for a night out.