1. Passport - OK, so it's probably the most obvious one to start off but most of us think we know where our passport is, but the reality is more likely that the drawer we thought we threw it in after the last time we used it, isn't the drawer where it is now! Apart from locating it, it is also worth checking that it is still in date and has enough spare pages for the border guards to stamp if travelling through multiple countries.
2. E111 Card - When travelling in Europe, the E111 European Health Insurance Card, while probably not absolutely essential, is very handy to have. This will make admittance to casualty quicker and easier and reduce the chance of you being left abandoned in a waiting room with blood pouring out of your elbow. If you a fortunate enough to have private medical insurance and/or travel insurance cover, make sure to have a card with the relevant contact details to hand.
3. Travel Insurance - A missed flight can mean the holiday is over before it has even begun so even a basic travel insurance plan can take some of the headache out of even a minor disaster. It is worth checking with your health/car/motor insurer as some have discounted rates if you are already a customer or might have basic travel insurance already included in another policy as standard.
4. Breakdown Cover - Even if you have domestic breakdown cover, make sure to get add on cover for travelling abroad. The cost is usually very reasonable (under 100 euro) and usually covers up to 30 days or the entire trip if longer (read the small print). This can speed up recovery and repair or provide a replacement vehicle to continue your holiday if your own has to be towed home. It is also worth notifying your motor insurance provider as some may require advance notice and/or an additional premium for travelling abroad.
5. Get a Service - Bearing in mind you are probably going to cover more kilometres in two weeks than you would normally do in two months, on a mixture of high speed motorway and steed windy mountain roads, it would be only fair if you gave your car/van a little TLC before you head off. Even little things like making sure the coolant is topped up and carrying spare coolant, oil, bulbs, etc... can keep things running smoothly when your 2000 metres up the side of a mountain with no phone reception and the dashboard looking like a Christmas Tree!
6. Waterproof Document Case - You've probably all heard the horror stories of boats lost/pinned on rivers with keys/passport/wallet/etc... safely tied inside. Or cars broken into and all the valuables stolen. Get a medium sized document case - or most smartphone cases these days are just about big enough as well. This will act as your personal "safe" on the water with all the valuable essentials inside. Make sure it is big enough for passport, car keys and some cards - it is worth carrying health insurance card, credit card and some cash in case you don't get to the chosen take-out or you shoot past it chasing gear. The Aquapac 658 is a pretty good option:
7. Airports/Airlines - Probably the most stressful part of any holiday is the airport check in procedure and experience can vary wildly depending on which airline and airport you use. For this part of the trip, your kayak has magically transformed into a bike/surfboard/ski's/golf clubs - basically anything other than a canoe/kayak/boat, so it helps to disguise it with a bag or cloth to hide it's true identity (an awesome whitewater machine!). Get things off to a good start by booking on the oversize baggage option, keeping it within the weight limit and arriving to the airport early. DO NOT try and blag it by saying it's an extra bag for your girlfriend, it's part of your standard baggage allowance, it "just looks heavy" or arriving within minutes of the departure time, skipping to the top of the queue and gasping breathlessly that it's a matter of life and death to get you on board with your "life saving medical device". Also some airlines/airports (Aerlingus, Dublin/Cork) offer an "evening before" check-in/baggage-drop service which means you can drop off your gear during the usual off-peak hours the day before and stroll in the day of the flight with just your carry on bag and sunglasses. Lastly, if you are part of a large group/club travelling on the same flight, it is worth phoning ahead to make sure there is enough room for 8 surfboards, 12 ski bags and 15 forty kilo gear bags all at the same time!
8. Last, but most definitely not least, get out and practice! Most of us have barely managed to squeeze in a half day a week over the winter and now we will be aiming to do a week of full days paddling on the water. Even if there is little to no water in your local river, get in your boat and do some endurance/resistance training. Focus on edging and boat control as the jump in volume is what catches most people out during the first couple of days. Practice short, sharp, acceleration strokes to get the boat up to speed on faster water. And make sure to test out your roll in a couple of different positions and set ups. If there is no convenient river close by, the sea is also great for training on especially in swell and surf. Most river paddlers don't realise that the skills needed for big volume river paddling are the same as swell/surf.