Your bucket-list research trip

Alex from Family Tree Frog Blog has invited us to a blog challenge to celebrate National Family History Month 2022. The topic for Week 2 was Travel, including your bucket list of research travel. So you can “thank” Alex for this long-winded list. <smile>

I’ve been lucky to have multiple research trips to Ireland, Scotland and England as well as Bavaria, to visit ancestral sites and relevant libraries and archives.

So, what is on my planning list for a research trip? This is all a bit nitty-gritty but it seems to me we often overlook the semi-obvious. With thanks to all those who’ve provided advice, wisdom and mateship over the travel years, and especially my loyal companion whose patience is amazing!

Before even doing the packing, your most important travel addition is the person going with you.  They need to be:

  • tolerant (ready to listen to research ramblings not to mention having you “waste” a goodly proportion of your holiday on family research),
  • self-sufficient (enjoy toddling off to do their own thing while you’re in archives and libraries),
  • supportive (happily hunt through cemeteries for the names required)
  • have strong muscles to help you with the books you’ll buy and the weight of all that technology <smile>
  • patience by the bucket load.


Plan your travel.
  • Flights (and seats if possible) booked and confirmed. Check in before you get to the airport and familiarise yourself with security requirements.
  • DFAT SmartTraveller registration – to be done for Australians
  • Do you need any visas for the place you’re visiting?
  • ESTA permit if you’re heading to a conference in USA eg RootsTech.
  • Travel Insurance – don’t be tempted to go without it!
  • Advise your bank that you will be travelling and where, so they don’t reject your cards.
  • Itinerary printed, copied to offline storage site. Email it to yourself and family. Ditto documents.
  • Your usual bank cards and maybe a Cash Travel card (if your bank still issues them). It’s good to have more than one type of credit or cash card as some banks overseas won’t “like” particular ones.
  • Make sure you know the PIN numbers for all your cards.
  • A stash of local currency to pay for transit expenses, snacks, tips on arrival or in transit. I always include a small amount of US dollars wherever I’m going.
  • RFID wallet and I also have a RFID protected handbag.  OR ID protector pockets for passport and credit cards.
  • Download relevant ebooks, city and airport guides to your tablet. Airports are huge these days and can be very confusing.
  • In-flight reading, books and podcasts on phone/iPad/tablet. A calming music list can help you get to sleep.
  • I can’t travel now without my noise-cancelling headsets -they make such a difference and can be a help to sleep without distraction.
  • You should keep your medications in the carry-on bag and I’ve decided it’s worth carrying a prescription renewal.
  • Vaccination certificates online and/or in hard copy eg Coronavirus and vaccinations specific to your destination.
  • First night’s hotel booked.
  • Know where you’re going: check out how you’ll get from the airport to the city: train, taxi, hotel bus, or shuttle bus.
  • Jetlag: Not to be underestimated, but my cure is to get out in the day for as long as possible ie until you are ready to fall over from tiredness. Try to keep to local time in subsequent days.
    • What better way than to walk/travel to the archives? Don’t get over-optimistic, you’re probably not going to be at your best for research, but you will be able to do a reconnaissance of the place, sort out your ID card, and the like. One time I was in Dublin, within hours of landing, we toddled off to the Archives -and ran straight into a professional researcher I knew from Brisbane. It’s a small world!
  • Certified copies of your personal documents (passport, birth and marriage certificates).  Trust me, you really don’t need to spend the time it takes to yo-yo between embassies and consulates to get a replacement passport and accompanying visas. I speak from an experience 40 years ago when Mr Cassmob had his stolen on a Friday evening.
Replacing paper with tech.


  • SIM cards for smart phone & a wireless dongle if you use one. (I’ve used Go Sim a few times, and it works). If you can get a good deal with your usual provider, go for it, but I usually either use Go Sim or buy one at the airport.
  • Charger packs to keep the tech going all day: I take one that is heavier-duty and a light one that I keep in my day bag.
  • iPad – Recently I haven’t been taking the laptop, partly because I’m combining research with other travel. I can manage most things on the iPad and will take other data on USBs or a backup drive. I can also carry a very light weight keyboard if I feel the need.
  • USBs for libraries or archives and for anyone you want to share the information with. Some places will require you to buy your USB for use in their facility to avoid viruses etc.
  • Backup Drive: light-weight but with enough storage to hold your research information. I’m much less likely to take this now that so much can be stored in the cloud.
  • iPad/camera USBs so I can copy info to/from the iPad and also the Android phone. I use this to back up my photos in case disaster intervenes. Posting to social media also saves at least some photos.
  • Power point adaptors for the countries you’re visiting. Also check what type of plugs your airline uses so you can charge inflight.
  • Charging cords for each bit of tech: phone, Ipad/tablet/computer. Camera, watch.
  • Some people suggest an extension power board but I think these are unnecessary – I have a multi-USB-outlet charger which saves the charging dance when you/your travel companion have multiple devices.
  • Emails: rationalise your emails before you leave. You really don’t want to be wasting your precious data download on all the random emails you get. You can sign up again once you get home or change it to a different email which you’ll only access when you get home. Also have more than one email: I remember being caught at the Clare Library once when a particular email server wasn’t permitted access, though I can’t remember which it was, maybe bigpond.
  • Internet connections: As in Australia, the more remote/rural the place, the greater the possibility you won’t get reception, so beware keeping everything in the cloud and assuming you’ll always be able to access your information anywhere, anytime.


Research is key.
  • Save relevant research documents to cloud-based storage such as  Evernote, Dropbox, OneDrive or your own favourite. Sync to all your devices and ensure you have key documents marked as available offline. Include your travel documents as well.
  • Prepare a research list of things to search in order of priority and accessibility for each library, archive or repository you’re visiting.
    • For example, when in Salt Lake for RootsTech I will focus mostly on books rather than microfilms which I can review at a registered family history centre near me. Preferably review those for your parishes before you go overseas: these take time and the more knowledge you have of your ancestors, the more productive your research trip is likely to be.
  • Pre-book documents: be like the professionals and if you can locate a document via the online catalogue, email to ask if you can pre-book it. Some need to be brought in from storage, and that can take a day or two: not much use if you’re time-limited.
  • If you’re travelling at peak periods some archives can be so busy that you need to pre-book your research place/desk.
  • Make sure you charge your phone and/or camera overnight so it is fully charged and ready to go.
  • Don’t forget your reading/computer glasses!
  • Notebook and pencil: I loathe normal pencils so I always carry my own propelling (aka mechanical) pencil plus a notebook which has all my contact details in the front, including an annotation that I will pay for postage if it’s lost/misplaced.
  • Homework: Don’t forget to review your notes and your research plan the night before you head off to the archives. What better way to spend those tedious hours in flight as well?
  • Have your family tree online, on paper or on your smart phone for ready reference.
  • Take a topographical map (preferably one for the right time frame) for regional ancestral lands: they can be invaluable.
  • Join relevant Facebook groups for your places of interest – they can be very helpful.
  • Knowing the opening times of repositories will enable you to maximise your research time, moving from one repository to another as the day progresses. Evening hours can be particularly helpful – you don’t need dinner do you?
  • Check when the local public holidays are, so you don’t miss a day’s research, and do outdoor activities.
  • Note when copying ceases for the day: you don’t want to miss out on that inevitably-last-minute find just because copying has closed.
  • Money: change for lockers, photocopying, or food. Or maybe the purchase of a local history book.
  • Passport photo: Some overseas archives require you to have a passport photo with your application so take a spare sheet of photos with you to save time.
  • Application forms: complete online or print the archive’s application form off before you go and take it with you already completed….every minute counts.
  • Lanyard with clear pocket attached: handy to keep your change and your archives ID so you’re not carrying it around or leaving it on the desk.
  • Snack food: Not every library or archive has snack dispensers or a canteen. Besides which, you may not want to take much time out, so a quick muesli bar or piece of fruit can be handy, and recharge your brain. On the other hand, smaller archives may close over lunch (of course just as you’ve found something important!), but just roll with it. Venture into the fresh air, take a walk, or enjoy a pleasant lunch while that research percolates through your mind. Or, heaven forfend, chill out with your travelling partner.
  • ABOVE ALL: Allow more time than you think you’ll need!


Connect with new friends at conferences.

If you’re travelling to a genealogy conference here or overseas, you’ll want to think about these:

  • Join a Facebook group that may have been created for the conference to get tips and make friends.
  • Business cards for your blog with family names on reverse.
  • Badge with your blog name on it I have had one made but would probably  not bother again.
  • Conference ribbons to promote your business/blog or a cause like Genealogists for Families.
  • Blogging beads if you’re a blogger.
  • Aussie souvenirs (for overseas conferences – check your local tourist shop here).
  • Any special gifts for genimates eg thank you gifts for hospitality or research help.
  • Bubble wrap and zip lock bags: these always seem to come in handy, and weigh very little. You could of course buy these once you’re overseas if you think you’ll have time.
  • Carry bag featuring your blog name (from Vistaprint). I have had one made but would probably not bother again.
  • Remember not to photograph speaker’s slides without prior permission.
  • Fill out the feedback content on the Conference app as each presentation finishes.
  • Book for any of the social events that you wish to attend and link up with genimates from near and far.
  • Work out which sessions to attend: lots of competing entries always.
  • Book and pay for lunches and computer labs if required/desired.
  • Check out the exhibitors and decide which stands you most want to visit.
  • Social media: spread the word about what you’re learning or enjoying – or just to make your friends at home jealous😉
  • Don’t be shy: everyone who’s attending has the same “hobby” as you – there’s always something you can chat about.

Strong muscles for all the stuff I take and collect (hah!) I try very hard these days not to buy regular books when I’m travelling these days – just more hassle.


Trying to minimise can be a challenge.

Obviously plan for the weather as indicated on various web sites.

We rarely have truly cold weather here but we do often travel to colder places or in winter so these are clues to what I take. Mix and match layers and trousers, light but warm merino sweaters/jumpers, a pashmina or two, leggings/stockings, thermals, coat, silk scarves, gloves, warm socks, walking boots and hat/beanie. Some of my freezing-weather gear is from New Zealand in merino and possum fur.

Trying to fit all your clothes and research needs in a carry-on bag seems nigh on impossible to me, even though with the hazards of international luggage these days, it would be desirable. Having said that, I do include one spare set of clothes in my carry-on drag-bag and I always take a pashmina for warmth in flight.  I try to limit my check-in bag to about 12 kgs but even that is too much.

Who cares that you have only a few outfits, though earrings and scarves can change the looks…your research needs are more important. After all, do you remember what everyone else is wearing daily?

Make sure your boots/shoes are comfortable as you’ll be notching up some distance.


So there you have it, the things I’ve learned from my mistakes and omissions during many overseas trips. Remember you will always find something pivotal at the last possible minute, it will always take longer to get through the documents you do find, or you may get completely absorbed in an unexpected discovery.

You’ll meet people and see places which take you well beyond the tourist trails. You’ll be amazed by people’s generosity and take away some truly special memories.

Enjoy the ride and don’t forget to allow time to just enjoy the place where your rellies lived and don’t neglect your travelling partner all the time.

After all that, do you still have itchy feet? Are you keen to head off on your ancestral journey?

What have I forgotten? Any thoughts?

Disclosure: I have not received any financial remuneration for recommending the places/sources mentioned. They are offered as a helpful clue to possibilities.

Excitement ahead.

12 thoughts on “Your bucket-list research trip

  1. I still have itchy feet but the need to research overseas is less. I agree there is a lot to think about when planning an overseas trip.

    I write a list of the repositories I wish to visit with their opening hours and a list from their catalogues of what documents I wish to view and whether I need to order them if offsite

    I am not sure but I don’t think you can actually register with DFAT now. I think you have to subscribe to their updates. A step backwards I thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So much great advice here Pauleen. You are an absolute treasure. I laughed when I read Carmel’s comment – yes – your travelling companion is the most important choice me thinks. Lucky you having Peter 🙂 I had no idea about the need for passport photos at some archives – excellent tip. And I also liked the idea of ziplock bags and bubble wrap too. Brilliant. Thanks so much.


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