If you've been keeping up with the blog, you'll know that I bit the bullet and said a temporary goodbye to Canada. I have a plane ticket to Australia leaving tomorrow, a three-month tourist visa and a bucket list that seems to grow every minute.
I prepared a highly detailed blog post on how to prepare for a trip to Sri Lanka last year and have referenced it or sent friends and family to it as an invaluable resource in ensuring your ducks are all in a row before a major trip. So, in preparation for this trip to Australia, my biggest one to date, I have compiled another detailed guide. Are you planning a trek down under? Then read on!
Pick a Date
The most important thing in a long-term backpacking trip is picking when you want to start. Pick a date that is far off enough to allow plenty of time to get your home affairs in order. Leave yourself enough time to give notice at work, potentially pack up and move out of your current home, put things in storage, get your vaccinations, buy all your gear and plan your trip.
This step competes for my favourite part of a trip! I love looking up places to go, adventures to be had, beautiful sights to see and stunning views to photograph. The best tools for this step are the Lonely Planet guidebook, Instagram, fellow bloggers, books (like Australia the Beautiful) travel guides, TripAdvisor and Google. When I find something I want to add to my itinerary, I 'star' it in Google Maps. By the time I finish flipping through books, blogs and reviews, my Google Maps looks a little like this:
As is often the case, many things I find to do in a new country end up being in clusters. This is very helpful in picking a route and where you want to fly into. The major hubs in Australia to fly into are Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. There are direct flights available from Vancouver to both Sydney and Brisbane, but you may find that having a layover somewhere along the way reduces your costs.
I scour the web, but typically always ending up booking on FlightHub where I have found the cheapest deals. Be wary of the absolute cheapest flight available - they tend to be the cheapest for a reason and you may be stuck with delays and horrible customer service! In the image below, I avoided Xiamen Airlines based on reviews I read and went instead with the China Eastern flight just below.
I am arriving in Sydney in the heart of Australian summer, so plan to work my way south towards Melbourne and along the southern coast, then up the eastern coast so that I am in the northern part of the country when it starts to become cooler as the seasons turn towards fall. I plan to end up in Brisbane three months later to fly out and return home.
Apply for a Visa
You need to decide which sort of visa you want for your trip to Australia. This will depend on what you plan to do while you're there. You can apply for the visas listed below - use the Visa Finder to figure out which one is right for you. I have an ETA for my trip as I do not plan to work while I am traveling. You must also check passport requirements for all the visas as some visas are restricted to nationals of certain countries.
- Electronic Travel Authority - passport holders from 8 countries can apply for this visa to visit as many times as you wish for up to year for three months at a time; you are not permitted to work on this visa
- Visitor - visit Australia for 3, 6 or 12 months; you are not permitted to work on this visa
- Working Holiday Visa - if you are ages 18-31 and wish to work in Australia for up to a year
- Student Visa - if you're on exchange at a university or plan to study at an Australian institution
You apply for Australian visas online before you arrive in the country. You cannot apply for your visa once you arrive in Australia as you must have it when you land. To apply for an ETA, you must have a passport from Brunei, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea or the United States. You will need your passport, email address and a credit card at the time of application. Apply for your ETA here.
Get Travel Vaccinations
No matter where you're headed around the world, it's always a good idea to check in with your local travel clinic approximately 6 weeks in advance of your trip. Bring along any vaccine records you have so they can decide which additional ones you may need. Canadian provincial medical insurance does not cover travel vaccinations, aside from the flu shot. It’s worth checking with your private medical coverage in case you can claim any reimbursement.
The consultation at my local travel vaccination clinic was $40 CAD, on top of the cost of each vaccination I received.
During the appointment, the doctor checked in on my general health, discussed what my planned activities were, where in the country we were headed and how long we would be abroad. I had already received all my up-to-date vaccinations (Hep A/Hep B/typhoid/etc.) when I went for my appointment last year before Sri Lanka, so the only thing I got this time around was the annual flu shot and a prescription for malaria tablets in case I wanted to pick any up on the go.
Purchase Travel and Medical Insurance
Chances are, if you're going on a trip like this, you won't be employed for the duration of travels meaning you likely won't have any pre-existing travel/medical coverage. There's two types of insurance you're going to need on an international trip:
- Travel Insurance - covering trip cancellations, baggage loss, flight delays, flight accidents and other travel-related incidents
- Medical Insurance - global medical coverage, emergency response and other medical-related incidents
I purchased an insurance bundle from World Nomads which provides coverage specifically for international travelers including emergency medical expenses and related costs, security assistance, luggage tracking, trip cancellation/interruption/delay, travel or flight accidents, baggage damage and theft.
If you're planning to be out of the country for an extended period of time, there's a chance you're planning to move out of your apartment or sub-let it to someone while you're abroad. Either way, most landlords require a full calendar month's notice that you're leaving. This also gives you time to start to get your affairs in order - either you're going to need to pack up everything you aren't bringing with you and leave it in a storage unit, or you need to start getting in touch with potential sub-leasers to take over your space while you're gone.
I already own a lot of the items I intend to bring with me, but there are a few crucial things I bought for this trip. For a complete packing list, see my separate post on what I am packing to bring to Australia. Remember that if you’re purchasing shoes for international travel, always buy them well in advance to break them in. You don’t want to start off your journey with blisters! Things I bought for Australia:
Australia requires a Type 1 plug which has two flat pins in a V-shape and a straight grounding pin. Some plugs only have the two flat pins. Type 1 plugs are used in Australia, New Zealand, most of the Oceania islands, Argentina, China, Uruguay and Uzbekistan.
I carry one of these notebooks on any trips to capture all my adventures and expenses. It also works wonders for making you look like you’re busy rather than awkward and alone for hours at a cafe or on a train. I come home with tales jumping off the pages and ticket stubs carefully tucked in the seams.
I swear by these books on my international trips, especially when wi-fi is unreliable and scarce. I love dog-earring the pages I need and using it for an on-the-go travel guide.
Book First Accommodation
Typically on this sort of a trip, you aren't going to want to set a strict timeline of where you want to be since new opportunities always crop up along the way. You may decide on a whim that you want to stay longer or leave earlier from somewhere than you had originally planned. Leaving accommodation bookings until you have arrived is a good idea so you have the flexibility to be where you want to be. Having said that, you want to make sure you've booked your first few nights at your accommodations so that when you land for the first time in a brand new country, you have a destination goal and a place where you can get your bearings.
A great resource while traveling is the Hostelworld app, where you can compare hostels and read reviews and book straight from the app.
Register with Government
The Government of Canada recommends registering with them any time you intend to take a trip abroad so that in the event of an emergency they have a better idea of where Canadians may be in the world. If you’re Canadian you can register your travels here. You will need to list an emergency contact as part of the registration process.
Talk to Your Bank
Any time you are venturing out of your country, or even out of province, let your bank know where you’re heading. Making them aware that your credit card will be used by you for transactions in other parts of the world may prevent your finances from being frozen to safeguard your security!
Further, if you're out of the country for an extended period of time you're going to want to have advice on how to best access your money. You want to avoid high transaction fees at ATMS, as well as international exchange rates if you continue to use your home credit card, but at the same time you also don't want to be walking around with thousands of dollars in cash. Talking to your bank can help shed some light on your best options for while you're traveling and give you the confidence to spend your money safely while abroad.
Pause Phone Plan
You don't want to keep funneling money into your monthly phone plan if you won't be using it. Most phone companies offer a pause option on your phone plan where you can pay a minimal fee to keep your plan active but not use all the features. Temporarily suspending your service means you don't lose that great data plan you've had for years while saving you money while you're abroad.
It's also a good idea to consider picking up a pay-as-you-go SIM card once you arrive in Australia. You won't be able to get a contract plan, but at least you can have some minutes and data and messages you can use for emergencies or when there is no wi-fi. Ensure your phone is unlocked for all carriers before you go to make sure it will accept a foreign SIM card!
While traveling, you'll want to have copies of all your documentation available. This includes your passport along with a photocopy of the image page as well as any forms of identification and monetary means (credit cards, etc.) that you are planning to bring. This is also a good time to make sure you have printed off your visa, your travel plans, any hotel documents you may need, flight information, proof of vaccinations (if your doctor deems necessary) and a copy of your medical insurance coverage. Store them all in a secure plastic holder to keep them safe on the go.
Let your close friends and relatives know where you are going, the dates you intend to be away for, and what route you are planning on following. You don’t want to be venturing off into the world with no-one having the faintest idea of where you are! If you’ve listed your emergency contact with the Government of Canada registration, it’s a good idea to let this person know the details of your plans and to keep them updated as much as you can while you are abroad.
Packing! The best part in my opinion is putting together all your gear and neatly folding it into your backpack (never to look like that again while abroad…of course). I have travel cubes to keep my belongings somewhat organized on the go. I am bringing my travel backpack plus a smaller day-pack which can both be brought on board as carry-on items, saving the need for extra luggage costs and the chance of losing my luggage! It also means less to lug around while traveling from place to place. For my detailed list of what I am packing for Australia, please read my separate post.
Look After the Home
If you have any recurring monthly bills, either cancel them if you will no longer need them, or pre-authorize them so you don't have to worry about missed deadlines! Try and get any mail online so you can still access it from abroad, and for the rest, either put a temporary pause on it or redirect it to a close friend or family member to collect. If you've got plants, make sure they're looked after as well!
Download some crucial travel apps before you go and set yourself up so you’re ready to jump in:
- Been – my favourite app for keeping track of all the countries I have been to.
- Trail Wallet – hands down the best app I have ever used for keeping track of expenses while abroad. You can set trip dates, the various currencies you need to use, categories of purchases and even a daily budget.
- Spotify – download a bunch of your favourite tunes and then put them into a big ‘Travel’ playlist. Set the playlist as playable in offline mode and then you’ll have all your best songs ready to play even in the Australian outback.
- Lightroom – this is how I edit all my photos for both Instagram and my blog. I use Lightroom Mobile to quickly post photos for Instagram, but the rest are all done on my laptop.
- Google Maps – log in on your phone and you’ll immediately have access to all those places you starred way back while you were researching. If you have wi-fi somewhere, download the directions to the next place they’ll work even if you enter into a no-coverage zone.
Prepare to Travel
Alright, the countdown is on: you're completely packed and ready to go. I can’t wait to share my stories from this adventure. Be sure to follow along here and on Instagram @janameerman for daily updates of whereabouts and mishaps. If you have any tips for trip preparation, please share them in the comments!