4 checklists for your visa, flights, travel documents and money

4 checklists for your visa, flights, travel documents and money

Everything you can prepare for your trip – with helpful printable checklists

In this post I focus on all the technical, pragmatic stuff you should take care of before you start your trip. I tried to keep them as general as possible, but different countries of destination have different processes. Since these things are sometimes overwhelming, you can download and print the checklists at the end of the posts to keep track of what you have to do.

Visa

The first thing to check, even before applying for your visa, is your passport and its expiry date. Will it be valid until you return to your home country? Is it damaged? Does the photo still comply with your appearance?

Then collect information about visa requirements for the country or countries you want to visit. Check the websites of embassies, trustworthy guidebooks, blogs or forums. Also check back with people from your own country who have been there. Contact bloggers or websites directly and ask them for specific advice for certain countries.

What are the specific requirements? Do you need specific vaccinations? A certain amount of money on your account? A letter of invitation? (Sometimes it must include specific information or be written in a certain format.) How much does it cost?

Sometimes you can get the visa at the airport upon arrival. Check which currency you can pay it with. If you have time, though, doing it in advance is what I’d advise you to do. It saves you time and stress when arriving. If you apply for visa or other documents in advance, make copies before you send out originals.

In addition to the visa, when arriving in Kenya I always had to fill an entry form. Sometimes marking “voluntary work” as the purpose of entry was a bit tricky. It is often easier to tick “tourism”. A tourist visa may not officially allow you to do voluntary work.

In case you want to travel to several countries:

What makes more sense? One multiple-entry visa or several single visa for the specific countries? Compare finances, flexibility and conditions. Will you be able to change your plans if you have the single visas fixed in your passport?

Bureaucracy in your country of destination may work differently. If you continue your trip into the neighbouring country, make sure to find out in advance where you can do that and what documents and procedures are required in that case. Not all border crossing places issue a visa.

Carry all documents you can imagine being helpful, especially if they have a government stamp. Consider that translation might be necessary. And remember: It takes time!

For some countries there are commercial visa agencies you can pay to do the work for you. Be a bit careful and trust other travellers who successfully have used them before.

Don’t risk to overstay the expiry date of your visa. Make sure to start the process for the extension a couple of days in advance.

For perfectly relaxed visa planning download and print this free checklist.

checklist for visa

Flight

If you apply for a visa in advance, you may need to know the time period you will be in the country. I haven’t found a proven strategy for booking cheap flights. But here are some common strategies for cheapest prices:

  • The earlier, the better. Start looking for flights even ten months in advance!
  • Compare prices.
  • Countercheck on the website of the airline you consider flying with. Sometimes booking can be cheaper there than on a platform.
  • Are there cheap airlines from the country you want to go to? Sign up for their newsletters. When do they announce sales?
  • Set up an alert.
  • Fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
  • Book at night.
  • Check blogs that provide information about error fares and special offers.
  • Be flexible with dates and location, if you can.
  • Use Privacy Mode or something similar in your browser, in order to avoid cookies and the collection of your data. If the booking platform realises that you are comparing certain flights over and over, they automatically raise the price.

Things to consider:

  • Consider consulting a travel agent or a special student travel office at your university.
  • Consider how much time you want to spend in a transfer. Are there special packages to be able to get a refund in case you have to cancel the flight?
  • How much luggage are you allowed to bring?
  • What time of the day will you arrive? Is it convenient for someone to pick you or will you have to wait?

Stress free flight booking works well with this free checklist.

checklist for booking flights

Documents

It’s advisable to walk everywhere and anytime with a copy or a registered / certified copy of your passport, including the visa. Like that, you can prove your identity if necessary and if you lose it, you still have the original.

Some countries require you to prove certain vaccinations. Make sure to have those.

Leave copies of all important documents, including front and back of any money cards, at home with someone you could get in touch with while abroad.

Scan your documents and save them in your email or the cloud (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.). If you feel comfortable, give someone else access to these files, in case you are not able to access internet. You can also store the documents on a flash drive that you carry.

These documents include:

  • tickets
  • passport
  • ID
  • international driving license. How to make it international?
  • vaccination certificate(s)
  • insurance policies, forms to be filled by the doctor in case of sickness, phone number
  • PIN / TAN-list for online banking
  • emergency number for the bank
  • (certified) copies of everything
  • any additional documents for special cases: research permit, disability certificate, student pass, invitation from the host, …
  • contact addresses and phone numbers of your host, friend, organisation etc.at the destination
  • passport photos

Some embassies offer registration of their country people in the new destination. If you want, you can let them know that you are in the country, provide them with your address and local phone number.

In case you have donated blood before, you may have a passport-like document showing your blood group. It is a good idea to carry that as well.

Store these things flat, stable and waterproof.

I had a couple of my certificates laminated, because they went through so many hands that they started to get small cracks.

Empower somebody who remains at home to be your legal representative with a letter of attorney, in case something needs to be signed, collected etc.

Don’t fear to forget anything. This printable list is complete.

checklist for travel documents

Money and banking

Collect information about the currency in your country. Maybe you can get information from your bank about what is best for your trip.

Check whether your cards are valid long enough.

Not everywhere can you pay with credit cards. Are there ATMs around?

Schedule or pay all necessary expenditures in advance, for example rent, and cancel all subscriptions for the time you will not be around.

Some countries have cultural specifics when it comes to money. In D.R. Congo, for example, people would accept US dollars, but only in specific contexts and only if they looked like freshly printed and were not folded. In Kenya, the best places to change Euros were the casinos in town because they had the best rates, not the exchange bureaus.

Should you get the foreign currency ahead of time or just change upon arrival? How much is necessary, for example, for visa and transport from the airport?

The best advisors for these cases have proven to be travel websites, guidebooks and especially people who have travelled there.

Yes, I also have a printable checklist for your travel finances. Right here.

money

Did Imiss something? What is your biggest piece of advice? Let me know in the comments below!

How I travel on a low budget in Kenya

travel on a low budget in Kenya

and why a change in perspective is the key to all richness

Just to warn you: This is much more a blog post on your own attitude and how it can help you deal with the money issue while travelling. It’s not a guide to travel on a low budget in Kenya. BUT: With the right perspective, money issues become much easier to handle.

I went to Kenya as a volunteer because I didn’t have money. Or at least, that was one of the many reasons. The African continent fascinated me and I wanted to get in touch with people instead of visiting the place as a tourist.

In fact, travelling as a volunteer may not be as money-saving as you think.

I paid for my flight tickets, the German organisation that connected me to the Kenyan one, and for them I paid again, for hosting and food. Regardless for me, after finishing school, volunteering was a cheaper option to travel.

It is always good to have a bit of a buffer on your account when going abroad. Many people work extra and save money for their big trip. Tara wrote a non BS guide on how she earns money for travelling.

It’s hard earned money. And it’s precious, so you don’t want to waste it.

I lived very modest in Kenya, never bought sweets or anything that appeared luxury to me. I hadn’t done that in Germany either, in order to keep my bucks together and make this trip happen.

It took me many years to realise two things:

  1. The fact that I am in a position to work extra, earn and save money for a flight ticket, is a privilege that not many people have.
  2. And: Some people in Kenya would have preferred me to send them the money instead of coming.

Some people see me as a walking wallet. Because I do own more money than them.

The most important thing to keep in mind when travelling to the global South is that you as a traveller from the global North will always have more money, better ways to get money and higher financial security than many people you will encounter. Think health insurance, visa card, student loans, help from your family, etc.

Many of my Kenyan friends don’t have a bank account. It’s not necessary for them.

Keeping my privilege in mind makes it a bit easier to decide on what to spend on and it helps to understand certain situations.

Volunteers invited my husband to a fancy restaurant once. To get there, he spent half of the money he had that day on transport and remained with another 80 Kenya Shillings, just enough to get back home. After the meal, where he only took tea which was already expensive enough, the inviting volunteer left a tip of 400 Kenya Shillings on the table. Tipping is generally not very common in Kenya, and there was my husband, spending his last bucks on transport, leaving 400 Shillings on the table of a noble restaurant.

I still don’t spend a lot of money when travelling, mostly because I don’t have it anyway.

  • I don’t need much anymore, as my life has become more minimalistic.
  • I personally don’t give money to people begging in the streets, whether it is in Kenya or in Germany. Even though I could. I may write about my reasons for that another time.
  • I developed a feeling for when something is expensive. I buy local food on the market. I use public transport and don’t join all-inclusive safari packages. Goods and services are cheaper compared to what I would have to pay in Germany. But that is not reason enough for me to abandon my modest lifestyle in Kenya.
  • I don’t invite everyone all the time and pay for everything, just because I feel guilty about having more money than many of my Kenyan friends. But I sometimes cook for them, I help them when they have funerals or hospital bills. Not because I have money, but because it is very common to do that in Kenya.

To me it is important to add value to people’s lives and make them know that they are adding value to mine. Money discussions are still uncomfortable, but I know my privilege and that makes me more open towards the Kenyan culture of dealing with money. I have learned to develop my standing point when it comes to what to pay for and what not.

How do you deal with “the money issue” while travelling? Do you have any good tips or tools you use? Let us know in the comments below!

Should I pay for volunteering?

Should I pay for vlunteering?

Yes and no. First you need to evaluate your attitude.

When travelling to Kenya for the first time, I did pay for volunteering. I used two organisations to get there. One German and one Kenyan one. The German organisation prepared me with two seminars and connected me to the Kenyan organisation. The Kenyan organisation connected me to an orphanage and two other projects where I could stay and volunteer.

The opening ceremony for one of the projects was a fundraising campaign. Local officials gave speeches and some women donned them with glittering chains that I just know as Christmas tree decoration. The volunteers, a bunch of slightly overwhelmed graduates from Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and Finland had to introduce themselves, and everybody said how happy and grateful they were to be here and motivated to work together.

The campaign followed the common structure: Somebody announced that they were collecting money to support the project we were all going to work in. Then people went in front and gave out money which they collected in a pot or on a plate. Often, politicians use such fundraisings to become known as supporters of certain causes, as they are also the guests of honour of such occasions and draw attention to the project.

When the officials and the project hosts had contributed, something awkward happened:

Everybody was waiting for the volunteers to contribute, but we hadn’t brought cash, because we hadn’t known that there would be a fundraising campaign and that people expected us to contribute. Also, we thought, we paid for our flights and our organisations, so why add expenditures on top?

I didn’t understand the cultural value of a fundraising ceremony by then. And many Kenyans thought that if I had the money to come all the way to Kenya, I would certainly have money to contribute to their cause.

I expected that with the fee I had paid to the German and the Kenyan organisation, they had taken care of everything.

I didn’t understand that NGOs or community organisations that are sending international volunteers to local projects are, at least in Kenya, mostly commercial undertakings. And there is nothing bad about that. Just as my German organisation gets funding from the government and the German participating volunteers to pay their staff, the Kenyan organisations need to cover their costs and generate income as well. They work in offices, they have transport costs and internet fees, and that’s where the volunteers’ money goes.

One of the biggest complaints I heard from many volunteers…

… was that they were disappointed and angry, because they felt that the money they had paid the organisation didn’t reach the project where they were staying. This is very common. But neither are we police nor do we have the authority as volunteers to ask for a total breakdown of the organisation’s cost. None of the volunteers I ever met demanded that from their sending organisation. The tension usually arose on the ground, when expectations were not being met and communication was not clear. Money is only a scape goat for these issues.

Erick Hartmann knows the numbers:

Intermediary organizations may be for-profit or non-profit, but they’re all part of the $173 billion global travel and tourism sector. Within that sector, industry leaders have identified international volunteering as a high growth market. There is also typically a community-based organization (CBO), or a local school or other social-serving initiative, where the volunteering actually occurs.

Depending on the financial model, the CBO may receive a donation with each volunteer, may receive room-and-board revenues, or may experience no clear financial benefit. The CBO, like the intermediary, is part of the financial puzzle that is the rapidly growing $2.8 billion global voluntourism sector.

It’s business – which doesn’t mean it is bad. But knowing that fact can avoid that you have wrong expectations.

But let’s get back to the burning question: Should you pay for volunteering?

You are offering your time and labour for free for people to improve their living conditions. Then why should you add them money on top?

When should you not you pay for volunteering?

  • when you are actually scared or not sure about what you are doing and you want an agency to handle everything – In that case, rethink again whether volunteering is for you.
  • when you want to make claims, get back the exact value for your money or implement your idea on the ground – Volunteering cannot be broken down into monetary value only. Exchange, connection and experiences count much more.
  • when you want to donate for charity – You can do that differently. If you see a situation on the ground that needs support, you can start thinking about how you can assist. (We once got support by the great people of The Wandering Samaritan to do so.)
  • when you want the certificate for your CV – Volunteering is so much more than that. That’s why you will have to pay for much more than only a certificate.
  • when you already know a local project and have contacts so you can organise it yourself – Then it depends on whether you can stay there as a visitor or whether you will contribute to your stay financially. The beauty of this situation is that you can discuss it with the people directly without having to pay an agency for connecting you.
  • when you will be in the country for a while – Get to know people first. They will be able to direct you to projects where you can become involved.

Would you pay for volunteering? Have you volunteered before without paying? Let us know in the comments below!

We are not affiliates with any of the linked organisations or websites – but we think they are great, that’s why we share them.