Characters in movies make me jealous because one moment they are prancing around with their girl-friend in some park and then the hero declares, ‘I’ve been called to this fascinating country for an important assignment and will leave tonight. Take care, dear!’

The dear one has her eyes filled with tears but says, ‘I know you’ll be gone a long time… but I’ll wait.’

Even I find my eyes welling up with tears because I know that international travel isn’t as easy as kissing your pet at home and asking mummy to call Uber as the time for leaving for the airport is now and that ‘I have so many things to pack, so please, please, mother dear, just run to the bank and get my passport from the locker.’

This never happens in real life. You know this pretty well. And if you still think the hero is doing things the right way, you really need to read this post to the end.

The secret mantra that you should know before your next trip abroad

Remember just one word: DIGITAL.

‘Digital? Just this one word tells me everything?’

Yes, it does, because I’ve used the word as an acronym that means:

Documents to keep
Information of destination
Gadgets to use
Insurance as protection
Toiletries and dresses
Allowances and finances
Leisure time

Believe me, remembering DIGITAL is far easier and faster than becoming travel-ready. Read on and you’ll probably be better prepared the next time you need to travel.

Documents to keep

This includes your passport with your visa stamped… and this does take time. I remember our 2010 visit to London to attend my son’s convocation and we had to wait for my wife’s NOC from her department and so were able to apply for a UK visa only around the second week of May. The High Commission took slightly more than three weeks to process our visa and there were moments we were sure by this time that we will miss the convocation that was in the second week of June. This doesn’t happen every time… because in 2014 they took around eight days to process our visa. What is important is to understand that this may take time and, therefore, your travel plans must include this uncertainty.

This isn’t all. There are then the papers about your financial status, health status, and other certificates that you may need, depending on the nature of your travel. It is a good idea to scan documents and keep them attached to an unsent mail in the drafts folder or just carry a couple of print-outs each in person.

Yes, you also need to first check if you already have a valid visa for that country as frequent flyers may not need to apply for a fresh visa if the one already stamped is still valid.

Information of destination

We’re living in a smart age and there are apps that can be helpful with language, translations, maps, places to visit, and restaurants to explore. This is necessary homework and, to give an example, it may make a Frenchwoman happier and more inclined to help if you say, ‘Bonjour, mademoiselle!’ and then ask something in plain English.

It also pays to have a rough idea of the names of important roads, facilities for within-the-city travel, weather conditions, security messages that the embassy of that country may have sent across, and… well, let me add here that every time I have gone abroad without this homework done I have wasted more time, paid more, and seen less.

Gadgets to use

You are the best judge for the sort of gadgets you want to carry with you… I mean, there is no point in lugging a heavy laptop if all you need it for is to open it at the airport and watch a movie that you’ve downloaded. Even smartphones can be pretty useless if you are not planning to buy a voice or a data connection in the country you’re visiting… though you must remember that hotels sometimes do give access to free wifi. Moreover, you’re free to use the camera in your phone. There are other gadgets and accessories like your DSLR, selfie stick, gimbal, iPAD, Kindle, binoculars… the list can be pretty long but please carry only those that you think you will really use.

Insurance as protection

The internet is full of stories where people have suffered because they had not opted for travel insurance or went on and bought the wrong one. Be careful and do your survey well. Health and overseas travel insurance is a necessary protection, for instance, the HDFC ERGO overseas travel insurance policy covers any accident or injury during the trip. Insurance helps you in getting ready for any unpredictable setback during your travel abroad. I generally go for an online purchase as this is faster and easier and anyway I do not like to spend hours listening to the sales talk of a financial advisor. What matters is that you know the different types of travel insurance options available. Having insurance is not a mere gimmick but a necessity as the concerned TPA or the Third Party Administrator is always there to help you pull yourself out of a messy situation round the clock. However, do check out what the policy delivers and also go through all that it does not cover. There are instances where people have been under tremendous stress when they realised that their policy wasn’t inclined to cover a loss that they felt it should have.

Toiletries and dresses

Imagine spending a fortune to visit some water park only to realise that you forgot to get your swimming trunks with you. You will either be spending another fortune buying one from the shop within the park or will take the most expensive stroll along the water bodies watching others have all the fun. So pack the right sort of dresses so that you do not look like a dolt in a tie and a three-piece suit holding a large colourful candy-floss in front of Merlion in Singapore! Such a picture can get you an unprecedented number of likes on Facebook though… so you’re the best judge here.

Loading yourself with all the perfumes, soaps, foams, and gels that you have bought in earlier visits abroad isn’t a brilliant idea. Just carry the bare essentials and in smaller packs. This sort of strategy helps if you plan to take no-frills flights within Europe.

Allowances and finances

Know the exchange rates and know what this means in the sort of foreign currency you’ll need to carry with you. I always opt for travel cards in either the local currency of my destination or in a currency that has international validity. Credit cards can be a saviour in a sticky situation, so make sure you have informed your bank about your trip.

Let the poetry in travel not remain uninspired because of a lack of funds.

Leisure

I’ve taken the liberty to add this word because even if you’re out on a business trip, you may need to pack in stuff that leisure moments need. This may include books, dresses, gadgets, and… most important, a positive mind-set.

By the way, leisure exists so long as you are not stressed because you forgot an essential. I remember a friend’s father who forgot to carry his dentures and had to spend almost a month dealing with this problem. Carrying all your medicines in prescribed bottles, medical prescriptions, and spare glasses etc helps. Let me add here that on my first day in Sydney my reading glasses fell in the bathroom and the lens for the right eye had multiple cracks. I spent the rest of the trip trying not to read or reading with my head bent low so that the cracked glasses weren’t too obvious. I now carry a spare pair everywhere.

All that matters during travel is to be prepared for any eventuality and have the right attitude. My secret mantra has helped me in one way or the other every time. Travel is essential as it is all about new eyes and not just new landscapes… so know this and travel well!

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The secret mantra that you should know before your next trip abroad

The secret mantra that you should know before your next trip abroad

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Arvind Passey
28 July 2016