Scott Monument I Edinburgh, Scotland
Travel resources to help you plan your next trip
Planning a trip can be pretty overwhelming, especially if you are headed overseas for the first time. Travelling from Australia, where the whole country is both a continent and an island, there are a lot of things to consider. My wife and I believe planning the holiday is as much a part of the experience as actually going, so don’t let the unknown hold you back or take the joy out of your trip.
With that in mind, this page is intended to serve as a resource for all the places my wife and I use when planning and booking our trips and activities. As an added bonus, it’s also a list of all the things to consider for your upcoming trip to help take some of the stress out of planning.
I make a small commission from some of the products mentioned on this page at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase. That said, I’ve only included products that I actually use and recommend, regardless of whether I make a commission from it or not. I’m not interested in selling you something that I don’t genuinely think is the best!
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1. Where do you want to go?
Where to next? Are you working through an activity bucket list? A country checklist? Or are you looking for something more relaxing? Will you dive deep into nature or explore a new city? Cultural experience? Something off the beaten track?
If you don’t know where you want to go and what you want to do, head to my inspiration page which is filled with ideas from our trips to inspire you on your next holiday escape. I’ve categorised them based on the type of travel they most relate to.
If you already know where you want to go, but aren’t completely sure what you want to do, you can browse all the destinations I’ve written about or try one of our itineraries.
2. Can you go there?
Once you know where you want to go, it’s time to find out what the requirements are for you to go there.
Visa requirements vary widely between countries. Australians are able to travel for tourism purposes with reasonable freedom to many countries with visa-waivers or with visas issued on arrival, but you should always check before you book anything.
I always check the SmartTraveller.gov.au website before booking travel to any country outside Australia, even if I’ve been there before. Rules change and Smart Traveller provides the most up-to-date advice on requirements for Australians travelling overseas. From there, follow the links to the relevant embassy website to confirm visa requirements and organise obtaining one, if required.
Flights are an essential part of any overseas trip from Australia, and for many trips within Australia. Flights also tend to be one of the most expensive parts of an overseas trip. Prices vary significantly between airlines and between booking sites, so it’s worth checking a flight aggregator tool, like SkyScanner, not only to find the best prices, but also to get ideas on different routes and destinations that might save you money.
I always start by searching on SkyScanner. Their search tool is easy to use and gives you the ability to do open-ended searches. For example, rather than searching for flights from Sydney to London, you can search for flights from Sydney to the United Kingdom, or even Australia to the United Kingdom. SkyScanner will find you the best priced flights by comparing all the flights and possible routes between all the airports in those countries. I’ve picked up some great deals flying from Newcastle airport via Brisbane or Melbourne instead of flying out of Sydney. For more tips on saving money on international flights from Australia, have a look at my guide.
4. Rental Cars and Campervans
Rental car companies. Don’t get me started on them. Rental car companies can be so confusing with all the different inclusions and upsells they try to add. Then there are campervan rental companies which are even worse!
For rental cars, I always use Auto Europe to compare prices and get an idea of what rental car companies are around. There are often smaller companies, that Auto Europe has pricing for that can be extremely competitive compared to the big global operators. Remember, if you have travel insurance, you most likely don’t need the extra insurance upsells (make sure to check your travel insurance for this) so save your money there!
If it comes down to one of the big global operators, I prefer Europcar and Avis. Avis often has the most convenient locations outside of major centres, but Europcar tends to have the better pricing. Make sure you join the Europcar Privilege Loyalty Program and Avis Preferred to help streamline collections with those companies.
When it comes to campervans and motorhomes, I use Motorhome Republic to compare prices across different companies and find the best deal. I usually check the price directly with the rental company after I’ve picked the best one on Motorhome Republic, but I find that most of the time it is cheaper to book on Motorhome Republic.
5. Accommodation Bookings
My favourite booking site is Agoda. It’s owned by Booking.com, but the prices are usually slightly better and the loyalty rewards represent great value:
- Agoda PointsMAX: Enables you to earn frequent flyer points on your hotel bookings with participating frequent flyer programs.
- AgodaCash: Cashback on your next booking after your stay. I like this because you don’t have to stay so many nights or do anything special, you just get a discount off your next booking based on the value of your first booking.
- AgodaVIP: Member only discounts with bigger deals for members who have completed more stays within a year.
However, before I book anything, I always compare prices using hotel aggregators HotelsCombined and Trivago to make sure that Agoda is the best price. It usually is, but I do find it occasionally isn’t.
I’d also recommend reading my article on how to save money on accommodation before you book anything.
6. Activity Bookings
To ensure you aren’t wasting any time on your trip trying to work out what to do and then standing in line for tickets, I recommend booking activities in advance wherever possible. Doing so ensures that you are definitely going to be able to get a ticket for the day you want, and in many instances can either save you money, time or both.
Some days you do just need to leave available and see where the wind takes you, but even booking on the day you decide to do something can help. For example, we booked our tickets to go up Sapporo TV Tower online through Sapporo tower online with Klook the morning we decided to do it, and it was still cheaper and faster than getting tickets at the tower entry.
Klook has a larger Asian catalogue of activities that is expanding rapidly into other parts of the world. Klook also tends to have the cheapest activity prices and often runs deals as well such as bonus inclusions when you book through them.
Viator is owned by TripAdvisor and has a much bigger catalogue of activities overall. Viator isn’t always as cheap as Klook but they do typically have more flexible payment and cancellation policies.
Not sure what you want to do? Have a look at our itineraries and inspiration sections for ideas!
7. Travel Insurance
Travel insurance can be extremely complicated with all the inclusions and exclusions. Travel insurance can also become very expensive.
There are a lot of factors that should be considered, but I would always recommend ensuring you at least have medical coverage. Medical bills and airlifts due to medical emergencies can be extremely expensive. If you are going to be on a cruise ship, make sure your travel insurance covers you for air lifts at sea. These tend to be listed separately from other kinds of medical evactuations and most insurers won’t cover you for them unless explicitly stated.
If you travel a lot, it might also be worth considering an annual policy rather than individual policies for each trip.
Travel insurance is often included with platinum and higher level credit cards as well. Policies vary between providers and even between cards issued by the same provider, but sometimes these policies are more than sufficient. Just make sure to read your PDS carefully and call them to confirm any questions you have. Make sure you also take note of any requirements that you have to meet for the coverage to apply. Sometimes there are minimum spend amounts and limits on how many people are covered.
We almost never purchase travel insurance anymore as our credit card travel insurance policy does cover almost everything we might need insurance for, including medical evacuations from cruise ships. Over the years, our credit card insurance has covered us for all sorts of things, including expensive broken camper van habitation windows. The only thing we’ve found that they wouldn’t cover was change in trip plans due to the Coronavirus pandemic, which is because pandemics are an exclusion specifically listed on the policy.
When it comes to insurance, you will likely also find that rental car companies and camper van hire companies always try to upsell you on their additional insurance coverages. If your travel insurance policy covers you for rental vehicle damage, you don’t need to pay extra to the rental company. Always check your travel insurance policies to be sure!
8. Health, Vaccinations and Safety
Before visiting any country, especially for the first time, I recommend checking the guidance provided by your own government. In Australia, that guidance is available on smarttraveller.gov.au (conveniently, the same place I recommend for visa guidance) and it covers topics including health concerns and advice, vaccination recommendations and safety guidance for every country around the world.
In addition to following the government advice on Smart Traveller, I also highly recommend taking a filtered water bottle with you, especially to countries where water safety is questionable. Filtered water bottles can also help to reduce waste from bought bottled water (bonus points for sustainability)!
I recommend the 800ml Fill2Pure (Seychelle) Travel Safe Outdoor filtered water bottles. Either the ADVANCED or EXTREME version depending on what level of filtration you want. These water bottles work great and we’ve never gotten sick drinking water from all kinds of questionable water sources through these bottles. I recommend the plastic Travel Safe over the stainless steel version because you can squeeze the plastic bottle to force water through the filter and out the spout. This makes it practical to use the filtered water for cooking and other purposes in addition to drinking.
These bottles are sold under the Fill2Pure brand in Australia and New Zealand. Elsewhere around the world they are sold under the Seychelle brand.
Read my review (coming soon).
Get your own Travel Safe filtered water bottle:
9. Travel Money and Foreign Currency Exchange
Check the credit and debit cards you plan on taking. If they have the Mastercard or Visa logo on them then they will typically be accepted in most countries, at least at some ATM’s and banks. However, just because they are accepted doesn’t mean it won’t be expensive. Have a look at the fine print and check for fees on foreign transactions, currency conversion fees and overseas cash withdrawal fees.
Fees charged can be widely variable, but in Australia, most major banks charge a consistent 3% fee on currency exchange and may also have an additional markup built-into the conversion rate itself. Many banks often charge additional fees on top of this and the big 4 banks tend to be the most expensive. Be aware that paying overseas using card terminals that offer to do the exchange for you does not get around this as many Australian banks charge their foreign fee based on the transaction location, even if that transaction is in AUD already. These terminals that offer to convert to your own currency will usually be just as expensive in fees anyway.
Instead, I recommend getting a TransferWise Borderless account with debit card and using that card for all your overseas purchases.
TransferWise processes foreign exchanges differently to banks and offers much lower transaction fees and will save you a lot of money! TransferWise is my go to for all my foreign currency purchases, including online purchases and is an excellent choice regardless of where you are traveling from or to.
If you are an Aussie, I recommend getting a bank account with Up as a backup. Up is what is known as a neobank. They operate solely online, and as a result their costs are very low. Up is backed by Bendigo Bank and Adelaide Bank as well as the Australian Government deposit guarantee, so you know your money is safe. However, Up has super low foreign exchange fees. In fact, they are actually almost identical to TransferWise. Up uses the Mastercard exchange rate with no extra markup for all card purchases and cash withdrawals and now uses TransferWise to process foreign currency transfers. Combined, this makes Up a brilliant option as a backup.
The other reason I recommend Up as a backup is for cash withdrawals. TransferWise has a limit on how much foreign cash you can withdraw without any extra fees each month. Up doesn’t. So I typically use Up for my overseas cash withdrawals instead.
Use this link and enter my referral code “matthewbrown” during the sign up process to score yourself $5 when you sign up for an Up account and an additional $5 if you make 5 transactions within your first 30 days of signing up.
Lastly, before you head overseas, make sure you notify your bank to ensure that your cards don’t get blocked. This applies for Up too. Let them know what countries you are visiting to ensure you don’t get locked out of your accounts!
TransferWise is the exception to this, you don’t need to tell them where you are going, but I do recommend having their app installed on your phone to ensure you are able to lock or unlock your card if something happens.
I don’t recommend pre-paid travel money cards. These cards tend to either have high fees, poor exchange rates or both.
10. Packing Tips
It’s possible to travel with carry-on bags only. This can save you money on flights, but it might not be the best option. In either case, the smaller your baggage, the easier it is to carry it around, so here are a few tips to help keep your baggage lightweight:
- Put together a checklist of everything you are likely to need, then really evaluate if you do actually need each item. If you most likely don’t and it is something easy to get in the event you do need it, then just leave it behind.
- Only pack the clothes you actually need. If you are going somewhere hot, you don’t need any more than one light jacket or coat.
- Pack clothes that can be worn in multiple ways to make different outfits with less clothing (or just wear the same outfit multiple times like me).
- Choose clothing that compresses well. For example, my Kathmandu Heli jacket compresses down into it’s own pocket making it much smaller than a jacket that doesn’t compress.
- Roll your clothes instead of folding them – it takes up less space and they get less crinkles.
- Put things inside other things. Eg stuff underwear inside extra pairs of shoes.
- Put shampoo, conditioner and other toiletries into smaller containers. We use these HumanGear GoToobs. They are compact, easy to fill and easy to use. Most importantly, they are much smaller and lighter than taking big toiletry bottles.