By Casey O'Neill on 31 August 2017

In my early twenties I was invincible. When I travelled I was care-free and on occasion, don’t tell my mother, insurance free.

These days, I wouldn’t jump on a domestic flight without insurance. Working in the travel insurance industry, I’ve had the benefit of learning not only from my own experiences but also from the experiences of the many travellers I get to speak to every day.

One of the things I’ve learnt is that when it comes to making the most of a trip, preparation is key. Here are some of my best pre-trip travel hacks:

1. Take photos of your luggage and valuable items.

In 2016 I travelled to Spain with a mochila verde grande (large green backpack). I thought learning to describe my luggage in Spanish was a really clever move. It was not. I learned, following an incident with an overzealous cleaner in Sarria, that mochila verde grande is an accurate description of roughly half the luggage in any given youth hostel.

You do not realise until you are forced to describe a lost item, how utterly inept our ability to describe things is. When you add a foreign language into the mix things get even more difficult. A photo is a quick, language-free and incredibly accurate way to make the person helping you understand what you’re looking for. 

A photo of your luggage and its contents can also be handy when it comes to travel insurance. When making an insurance claim for a lost, damaged or stolen item, you'll need to prove that you own the item in question. Generally, you'll need purchase receipts as proof of ownership and value. As many of us don't keep receipts for low-value items like socks etc., you may get away with a photo as proof of purchase, depending on the individual situation and your insurer.

Another huge advantage of photographing your luggage is that it helps you remember what you packed, so if you need to lodge a claim, you'll know exactly what to put on the list.

Take photos of your luggage before you go

A good luggage photo has 4 elements:

  1. Yourself: including yourself in the photo is a great way to show your item’s size and to prove to someone who has found your item that it belongs to you.
  2. Serial numbers and distinctive marks: This is particularly useful for those travelling with commonly seen items like an iPhone or a popular designer handbag.
  3. A time stamp: If the carrier damages your luggage a time-stamped photo taken immediately pre-trip will help to prove the extent of the damage.
  4. #No filter: Leave the unusual angles, lighting enhancements and special filters for your travel snaps. A luggage photo does not need to be pretty - its job is to show what your luggage actually looks like.

2. Tell someone that you are insured.

Insurance for luggage, flight delays and cancellation is important but, when I travel, the thing I‘m most concerned about is large-scale medical costs. If something goes terribly wrong overseas I want to make sure that my family will not bankrupt themselves paying for my medical treatment and trying to bring me home.

In the event of a major problem overseas your loved ones will need your insurance details when you and your travelling companions may not be in a position to supply them. By hitting the forward button on your policy documents or sending a simple pre-departure message, you can save your family a whole lot of unnecessary hassle and worry. 

It really is as simple as this:

Hi Mum. I'm off to Bali. Insured with Columbus Direct. Policy number 123/456789. Emergency line: +44207902405. Love you

3. Print!

In Cyprus my phone died because it was too hot. In London my phone died because it was too cold. In Marrakesh my phone took issue with my travel adaptor and decided it would only charge at 2% an hour. In Florence my hostel had one socket for 9 people.

When travelling, I trust my phone with a number of important tasks but, I NEVER trust it with the tickets. I have a simple rule:

If it's important to have, it's important to have in hard copy.

Before I travel, I print:

  • My transport tickets
  • My accommodation address and reservation details
  • A photo of my luggage and any valuable items
  • My Travel insurance policy

4. Become a Smart Traveller

When we travel we want to arrive home safely and, it turns out, the Australian Government wants that too. I use the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Smart Traveller website to:

  • Get expert travel advice. Most travel insurers can't provide cover for travel to areas marked as “do not travel.” On the Smart Traveller website you can check the travel advice for the country you are heading to and get information on everything from common scams and places of civil unrest to visa requirements and the legal system. The site also offers great safety advice for family, backpacker, schoolies, senior and LGBTI travellers.
  • Register my trip. In the event of an emergency overseas the role of identifying affected Australians, verifying their safety and notifying their family at home falls to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT). Using a Smart Traveller account I can tell DFAT where I will be and how to contact my family.
  • Get email updates on travel advice changes. Using the website’s country-specific subscription service I can keep up to date with the travel advice for each destination that I’m planning to visit.

For more tips and facts around being a smart traveller, see our Smart Australian Traveller infographic.

5. Check your travel insurance and documents

Does your travel insurance policy need a refresh?

After I book a trip, travel insurance is the very first thing I organise. When my policy is purchased I read my policy documents carefully, put them somewhere safe and start focusing on the fun parts of travel – like where I will stay and what I will do.  

By the time departure day rolls around, my trip often looks very different than it did at the time I was booking my insurance. You’d be surprised how often a pre-travel policy refresh pays off. Revisiting policy documents can be tedious but, if I need to add a new destination, request cover for any medical conditions, or include an adventure activity, I want that sorted with a few days to spare.

Are there any hidden surprises in your travel docs?

In my experience, the difference between smooth sailing and being caught-out by common travel oversights usually comes down to one simple habit: to check, double-check and check again. A couple of 30 second checks can save hours upon hours of wasted holiday time.

When checking your travel documents here are some common errors to look out for:

  • Check your passport expiry date.  Many countries require you to have 6 months left on your passport in order to enter the country.
  • If your plane leaves around midnight, make sure you are planning to travel to the Airport on the correct day. It seems obvious but this simple mistake catches even experienced travellers out.  Remember that a flight at 12.01am on Tuesday is not a Tuesday night flight – you will need to be at the airport on Monday night.

Double check your flight dates and times

  • While we are talking about travel dates, don’t forget that Americans write their day and month backwards. If you turn up on the 1st of February for flight dated 01/02/17, you may be in for an expensive surprise.
  • Consider all entry requirements and not just visas. Visa free access is not the same as free access. If you are entering a country where you will not require a visa, you will still be required to meet certain entry standards. These can range from proof of insurance and a lack of criminal convictions to the completion of pre-travel paperwork. For example, many of those able to enter the USA without a visa will still need to provide Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) information before they depart.
  • Check that you are going to the right airport and catching a plane to the right location. You would be surprised at the number of travellers who turn up at London Heathrow for a flight departing at London Gatwick, buy tickets for Bucharest instead of Budapest or, end up with tickets to Melbourne, Florida instead of Melbourne, Victoria.

Casey is an avid traveller. In her role as Columbus Direct’s Customer Relationship Executive she speaks to hundreds of travellers every week.

Have a question for Casey? Email her.

Share your own pre-travel tips by commenting on our Facebook post – we’d love to hear them!

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