A backpacker’s guide to pre-trip panic

February 16, 2024

My carry-on is neatly packed and has been waiting by the door since last night. My apartment is sparkling clean, I’ve already checked in for my flight, and my plants have been watered. My phone battery is at 100% and I’ve downloaded enough podcast episodes to keep me entertained until I make it to El Salvador for my layover.

This organized traveller is the new me. Normally, I’m a total disaster in the lead-up to travels—especially when I’m going abroad. Normally, I’m scrambling to fit the last essential items into my bag. I’m down to the wire and still cleaning my apartment (who likes to return home to a mess?!) and I’m running late. Usually, I’ve crammed my week full with an unrealistic list of to-dos and social events of people I must see before I embark on an adventure abroad. Typically, I’m stressed, chaotic, with laundry waiting to be folded and added to my suitcase and at least a couple errands that’ll have to wait until I return.

I’m the girl you shouldn’t dare to talk to before a trip because the days leading up to it are chaos will all that I have to do. Don’t ask me to hang out. Don’t ask me if I’m excited. Definitely don’t ask me if I’m ready for my trip because I’m not. The pre-trip chaos of packing, leaving your place as one you’ll want to return to, and last-minute buys can all just be a tad overwhelming. It’s one of those lesser-talked-about crappy sides of travel. Not this time. I’ve learned my lesson. I’ve finally gotten my sh*t together. If you have yet to perfect the art of smoothing out pre-travel stress, these tips are for you. Here is the backpacker’s guide to simplifying pre-trip chaos.

Buy trip essentials well in advance

Buying trip essentials the day before your flight is like doing all your holiday shopping on December 24th: so stressful, last-minute, and completely avoidable. After you book your flight, ask yourself what you’re going to realistically need for the trip. A quality backpack? A gift for your sister? A new bathing suit? Full bottle of sunscreen? Make a list and seriously, just buy these things asap. There’s no use putting this off until the days when you’re busy wrapping up work projects and packing. Do it now and save yourself unnecessary stress.

Make a packing list

It’s not realistic to pack well in advance when you’ll just end up forgetting what you packed or needing items that have already been neatly tucked into your suitcase. What you can do though is make a packing list and think through the items that you’ll need so that you don’t forget anything. Categorize based on clothes, hygiene supplies, books and entertainment, footwear, work-related items, and outerwear for outdoor adventures. By listing it out, you’re already thinking through what you actually need. When it comes to packing, it’ll be a breeze.

Packing list2

Double check documents

Ok, reviewing documents, visas and your passport expiry date are less thrilling elements of travel but without these things, you’re not getting past immigration or going anywhere. What do you need in order to travel to your country of choice and are those things ready and up-to-date? Passports need to be valid six months from your travel date, for example. If you have an electronic visa, you may need to bring proof of that to show the airline. Some countries require proof of certain vaccinations. Gather all of these essentials, print whatever documents are necessary so you have a hard copy, and store everything safely in a designated place so that all you have to do is grab them and go.

Skip the socializing

When travelling (especially if it’s for an extended period of time) it can feel like you’re about to go forever without seeing friends and family. It’s so easy to accidentally crowd your schedule with coffees and dinner meet-ups with those who you must see before you go. Though quality time with others may be something you value, ask yourself if these social plans are really necessary or if they’re just taking up time in your already busy schedule before your departure. Too many plans can easily add to overwhelm which is something to keep in mind. It’s perfectly fine to keep things as simple as possible and decline invites until you return. Hey, once you’re back, you’ll have more to talk about anyway!

Review your ticket

If you have a flight booked, make sure you’re clear on what’s included with your ticket, what isn’t, and if you need to upgrade. Baggage weight requirements can vary depending on the airline so make sure you know what dimensions and weight you’re entitled to in regards to carry-ons or checked luggage. Will there be a meal included or do you need to travel with snacks? Check out all of this so that you ensure you’re avoiding getting dinged with hefty baggage fees or overpriced airport food.

Plane ticket

Schedule chores a week in advance

There are many non-glamorous sides of travel. We tend to see others’ highlight reels and social feeds while we curate our own. Or, there’s the pre-trip dreaming as we book tours and look forward to the social connections we’ll make upon checking into the hostel. But before all that happens, most of us want to leave our homes clean, organized, and presentable to welcome us home after the adventures. This can add to the frenzied feeling before you travel. If you want to avoid that, aim to get as much done as possible a week before your leave. Thoroughly cleaning the house now means you just have to do quick touch-ups before your trip and batch-cooking freezer-friendly meals can make all the difference as the days before travels get crowded with last-minute errands.

Chill for a bit!

There’s no use heading into your travels depleted and exhausted. Even relaxing vacations come with unique challenges or confusion from time to time. While travelling can be one of the best ways to destress and unwind, you don’t need to arrive at your destination frazzled if you can avoid it. Before you hit the road, create space to pause, chill and reflect on what you’re hoping to get out of this trip you’ve been preparing for. As you head out the front door, you’ll be ready for the adventures that await and start them off relaxed and clear-headed.

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