Standing at the security gate before travelling to Australia, a rush of anxiety came over me.
Did I accidentally leave a knife in my carry-on? What about my over-100ml expensive moisturiser? Do I have enough foreign currency to last my trip? What if my mobile doesn’t work when I land and I can’t text my mum to let her know I arrived safely and she’ll be up all night worrying I’ve been kidnapped or had a dreadful accident?
For most of us, it’s been a while since our last overseas holiday. And that means we’ve forgotten the basics of travel. Re-learning the rules and getting used to the new rules of international travel can be confusing, and lead to those pre-flight jitters.
If you’re about to travel internationally for the first time in a while, here’s a quick refresher on how to do it.
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Check your passport validity
No passport, no travel. The first thing you should check before you even book a flight, is whether you have a current passport.
Most destinations also require at least six months’ validity on your passport from the date you arrive in the country. I learnt that the hard (and expensive) way when I was 18 years old, the night before a trip to New Caledonia.
I managed to get an emergency passport and emergency passport photos (back then you had to find a pharmacy or Warehouse open as you couldn’t take them yourself), but not before crying solidly for an hour thinking my hard-earned holiday I’d spent all year saving for was down the gurgler. For the next 10 years of my passport’s life, I had to carry with me the most sad, bleary and puffy-eyed photo of Juliette ever recorded in history.
If you do need a new passport, then don’t wait a moment longer to apply. Go online and do it right now. Even if you don’t have anything booked. The wait time for a new passport is currently 22 working days, plus extra days for delivery.
The other thing to check is to ensure your passport is free of any damage. Even a bit of mould, or damaged edge, will render it invalid.
Download the airline apps
After being grounded for two years and needing more space on my phone for cat photos instead of travel pics, I deleted my extensive array of travel booking and international airline apps. But it pays to re-download the ones relevant to your trip.
Flights are susceptible to change, delays and cancellations, and having easy access to your booking details on an airline app will keep you updated if there are hiccups.
Airline apps make it easy to access your booking reference number should you need to make any changes, as well as your flight number – a key detail you will need when filling out any passenger declaration forms.
Don’t forget to link your booking to your frequent flyer account and start enjoying the benefits again of travel points.
Sort out mobile roaming
Check your mobile provider to see what roaming charges you might incur while overseas, and whether it’s better to prepay for a roaming pack.
Once upon a time it was imperative to buy a local SIM card when travelling to a new destination; in 2022, if you have a newer phone, you can actually get a virtual eSIM – meaning the local network is just a download away.
Check luggage weight restrictions
Most economy passengers are allowed 23kg of checked in luggage, but this varies from airline to airline. The luggage allowance will be on your e-ticket. Sometimes, depending on the airline, you can pay extra to bump it up to 30kg. Travelling light is better for the environment, so try stick within the limits. If you need another bag, pre-purchasing extra luggage is cheaper to do online than at the airport.
Carry-on is up to 7kg – and staff are checking and weighing all items. This is especially important to note if you’re travelling with laptops and camera gear – lenses can weigh your bag down so be smart about what you’re bringing.
Portable chargers, power banks, e-cigarettes and lighters need to be in your carry-on, anything sharp, large or over 100mls goes in your checked-in luggage.
Give yourself extra time at the airport, don’t turn up hungry
In a pre-virus era, I could check in for a flight to Australia about 90 minutes before scheduled departure. Any earlier and the bag drops were rarely open.
But these days there’s a lot more paperwork per passenger, not to mention higher levels of anxiety among travellers. Not only do you need a passport and a ticket, but usually you’ll also need to show proof of vaccination and copies of digital passenger declarations. Print everything out.
I arrived at Auckland Airport nearly 3 hours before my recent flight to Adelaide on Qatar Airways and I was still standing in the check-in queue for at least 45 minutes. Each passenger takes longer to check in, and there was also extra paperwork to fill out while waiting in the queue specific to Qatar Airways. Carry a pen.
After checking in, your airport experience will look a little different to what it used to. Travel is returning, but it’s not the busy hive of activity it used to be.
Most shops and eateries are still closed. Staff shortages and low passenger numbers mean there are limited choices when it comes to purchasing food at the airport.
For my early evening departure from Auckland Airport last week, McDonald’s was the only eatery open before security at the international terminal (the Maccas on airside was closed) and Vantage Bar the only place open airside. I could have got some snacks from Relay if I was desperate, but I had made sure I had eaten before heading to the airport. Don’t turn up hungry – options are still severely limited and you will get hangry.
In terms of shopping, Duty Free was open, but the remaining shops were closed or closing by the time I was walking past. The shops that are open may have limited retail hours.
Dress for fluctuating temperatures and security checks
Ah, the joys of air travel – stuffy when carrying your bags onto the plane, freezing when the air con kicks in.
Layer up on the plane – if you know you overheat, or are susceptible to the cold, make sure you’re dressed appropriate to your body’s sensitivities. Pack a lightweight jumper like a cashmere sweater, or an oversized scarf to use as a wrap if you’re cold, wear a t-shirt underneath if you know you’ll need to cool down.
If you’re wearing a belt or anything with a buckle such as biker boots, you’ll be expected to take it off to go through security. If you insist on wearing a stack of bangles, put them in your handbag until after you’ve passed through the metal detector. And avoid carrying a collection of loose coins in your pockets (blokes, I’m looking at you because we all know women’s clothing doesn’t have pockets).
Be prepared to remove your laptop from your carry-on bag; camera gear however is usually fine. Pack your clear, zip-lock bag of toiletries and any other liquids at the top of your bag so you can easily remove it to place on the x-ray trays.
Check each country’s entry requirements and carry all your paperwork
Be sure to check not only the entry requirements of your final destination, but also any countries you might be transiting through.
Some countries require you to fill out a digital passenger declaration, including Australia and New Zealand. These can be started days before your trip, and finished closer to departure.
For Australia, you’ll need to download the DPD app and screenshot the final page to show at check-in. The New Zealand Traveller Declaration can be done online and requires details and proof of each individual vaccination you’ve had, as well as results of your pre-departure test required for entry back into New Zealand.
Re-read the fine print of your travel insurance
Comprehensive travel insurance should be an absolute no-brainer, especially when travel remains volatile and flight cancellations are frequent.
Always check the fine print – not all policies will cover accommodation should you contract Covid-19 while overseas and need to isolate. And, isolation periods may vary from country to country. Make sure you have your policy number easily accessible in case you need it and be prepared for a longer stay if you get sick.
Take into account different currencies and exchange rates
As well as airline apps, my currency converter app has also gone into hibernation during the pandemic. The NZ dollar is all over the show these days and stock markets remain volatile, so keep an eye on the exchange rate.
In a pandemic world, many places stopped using cash, with contactless payment becoming the preferred method. But, if you’re going to use credit or debit cards overseas, check your bank for what fees you will be charged for overseas transactions.
The same goes for withdrawing money from an overseas ATM – it almost always comes with extra fees, so it’s better to take local currency with you. And if you’re using cards and are offered the option of paying in local currency or New Zealand dollars, don’t be fooled into thinking paying in NZD is cheaper.
Book rental cars early, return your car keys before you fly
When the world shut down and people stopped travelling, rental car stocks rapidly declined. There’s still a shortage in the rental car pool, so there is limited availability and car hire will cost you far more than what it used to. Book early to avoid missing out.
Remember to fill your car up with fuel before you drop it off at the end of your trip, otherwise you’ll be charged a premium and a service fee if you leave it up to the rental car agency to fill. Give yourself extra time to get to the airport if you need to return your car and refuel on the way.
And, this may sound obvious, but check your pockets and handbags to ensure you’ve returned your car keys. One seasoned traveller in the Stuff Travel team who shall remain nameless (it wasn’t me, I promise), recently had a moment of mindlessness, flying back home with the car keys still in their pocket. With most modern rental cars being keyless, it’s an easy, but expensive, mistake to make.
Check your contract carefully and what roadside assistance coverage is included – and plug in local numbers into your phone in case of an emergency.
What other basics of international travel have you forgotten about? Tell us in the comments.