Preparing for an international trip can be overwhelming. You don’t want to leave anything pertinent behind—you’ll be in a foreign country, you likely won’t speak more than the niceties in the native language, and you’ll be far from the conveniences of home. As the hubs and I pack for our upcoming trip to the Canary Islands and Portugal, I’m going to share with you the checklist I use for our international trips to ensure you’ve got everything you need when you’re over there.
1. Your passport.
You won’t get anywhere without it. Keep it within easy reach when you’re checking in, boarding your flight, and going through customs, and then put it somewhere safe when you’re out on the town.
We often leave ours in our (locked) luggage or in the safe, if there is one, or my husband will put it in our money belt.
One of my girlfriends made the mistake of carrying hers everywhere with her, and a pickpocket lifted it when she was at the Eiffel Tower. She had to go to the American consulate and go through the whole rigmarole of getting temporary identification so that she could come home.
It’s also recommended that you make two copies of your passport: Put one in a separate place than your actual passport, just on the off-chance yours gets lost or stolen, and leave a copy with someone at home, just as a precaution.
May I also take this moment to encourage you to check the expiration date on your passport several months prior to your departure? Passports are good for 10 years, so it’s completely understandable that your passport’s expiration date might not be at the forefront of your thinking, but the hubs and I know from experience what it feels like to realize the day before you’re supposed to leave the country that your passport has expired.
There are services that expedite passports if you find yourself in a similar situation, but even those typically require 48 hours. My husband had to go to the Secretary of State first thing in the morning and push to the head of the line just so he could get his new passport in time. So it’s doable, definitely, but if you like to keep your heart in your chest, it’s definitely not preferable.
2. Travel insurance.
It’s completely affordable, and it beats paying thousands out-of-pocket for medical care in a foreign country. For our upcoming trip, we went with World Nomads.
I won’t lie to you, we’ve never purchased travel insurance before, but to be honest, we’ve been really lucky that no calamity has befallen us whilst overseas—Segway crashes and food poisoning aside. We’ve been pretty cavalier about that stuff, but no more—I do not want to break a leg or need to be hospitalized overseas and get slapped with thousands of dollars in hospital fees. I’d rather pay the $75 for 8 days in Europe, if for no other reason than peace of mind.
3. Your International Driver’s License, if you plan on driving in a foreign country that requires it.
You don’t want to spend 250 euros and 90 minutes of your time being interrogated by police when you’re supposed to be vacationing, right?
My husband just got his today; he said it was super easy. I’ve read some horror stories about folks who didn’t get one who got pulled over when driving in Europe, and it did not sound pretty, so double-check with the consulate or embassy of the country you’re visiting to see whether one is required. Your stateside Secretary of State website should be able to tell you where to get it. We got ours from AAA.
4. Your medication.
Make sure you take it on the plane with you. Do not leave it in your checked luggage, just on the off-chance that your checked luggage gets (gasp!) lost in transit. You don’t want to be caught in a foreign country without essential meds.
Make sure you keep your medication in the original prescription bottle, too. It’s actually illegal to transport medication in anything else, especially in those plastic day-planner things. You don’t want to get to the airport then have TSA stop you and make you throw out medication you really need, right?
I would also recommend bringing an antidiarrheal, ibuprofen, flu medicine, and allergy medicine. There’s nothing worse than having to mime puking or diarrhea. Just ask my husband—he had to do it for me while I was ill and sleeping it off in Italy. I would also recommend bringing a sleeping aid with you—melatonin or an actual sleeping pill if you have trouble sleeping on a plane or in unfamiliar places.
5. Your debit card and at least one credit card (preferably one with no foreign transaction fees).
Make sure you let your bank know you’re going to be in another country so they don’t think someone’s stolen your credit card.
It’s super easy to do; you can do it right from their website. Just let them know what dates you’ll be gone and where you’ll be.
You can learn a little bit more about the aforementioned credit cards without foreign transaction fees on the post I did about affordable travel.
I also recommend you take out some foreign currency prior to your departure so you have cash if you need it upon arrival. In Europe, for example, some establishments only accept cash, and your affiliated banks aren’t always in the most convenient places. It’s just easier to have some cash on you when you reach your destination. Or, you know, prepare to be slapped with a $20 ATM fee if you go to a random bank.
Also, do NOT use the foreign currency exchanges at the airport. From what I’ve heard, they totally overcharge you, and you don’t always get the best exchange rate.
6. Conversion plugs to fit the electrical outlets in your destination.
You’re in for a world of sadness if you get to Europe and you realize you can’t plug in your hairdryer or your phone. Just sayin’.
This Travel Wall Charger USB Plug really came in handy when we were in Italy in May. I could plug in my phone, the WiFi hotspot, my Kindle, and even another phone if I needed to, all in one handy plug.
I also recommend having a portable charger in case your phone or camera battery dies when you’re out on the town. Using navigation and taking photos with my camera tends to drain the battery, so the portable charger came in handy quite a bit when I was overseas.
7. Your travel pillow, eye mask, headphones, and a good book for the flight.
You can read more about why I recommend bringing a good travel pillow, comfortable eye mask, and noise-canceling headphone in my post on 4 surefire ways to beat jetlag.
For those of you with circulation problems, compression socks or tights are recommended for long flights to prevent blood clots, so make sure you pack those in your purse or backpack, too. I like to make sure I’ve got several books loaded up on my Kindle, too; having something interesting to read makes that long-haul overseas a little more bearable (on the way home, at least; on the way there, my goal is to sleep).
8. Your itinerary.
I bring a paper itinerary with me, but I also keep a copy saved on my OneDrive so I can easily access it wherever I am.
It helps you keep everything straight, especially if you’re popping around from place to place. I also include in my itinerary addresses and phone numbers of places we’re going.
9. Your phone and/or camera so you can record all of those memories!
If you’ve got a selfie stick, pack that too. I’m not a lover of the selfie stick, but I can’t deny it comes in handy when it’s just the two of you and you don’t want to trust your expensive camera or phone with a stranger.
If you’ve got a GoPro camera, pack all your accessories together. It’s also a good idea to use a glasses case or something similar to keep all of your electronics cords together—oh yeah, and make sure you bring cords so you can plug in your phone and/or camera!
10. A WiFi hotspot.
Getting international service on your cell phone can be insanely expensive, especially considering how little data they actually give you.
I think we paid $80 for 250mb. MEGABYTES, you guys. And when we (unsurprisingly) went over our allotted data, those overage fees were pretty painful.
Instead, leave your phone in airplane mode the entire time you’re overseas. I mean it. If you’ve got your data turned on, you can be charged for incoming texts and calls and any data you inadvertently use. (I’m pretty sure we got charged $20 for an incoming text my husband received when we landed in Europe the first time because he hadn’t turned his data off yet.)
A WiFi hotspot is truly a glorious thing. You don’t have to rely on spotty WiFi from different establishments, for one thing. And if you have crappy WiFi at your hotel, who cares? Admittedly, one of the things I love most about being overseas is that I can be completely disconnected. It’s a digital detox. BUT, having a WiFi hotspot really comes in handy when you’re trying to find your way around a new city. I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I got lost in Florence because we were trying to find our way with a map. Being able to pull up directions and have Google maps tell you where to go takes a lot of stress and saves a ton of time when you’re trying to get somewhere in an unfamiliar place. It’s only a little more expensive than an international plan, and you can use Skype or Whatsapp to make phone calls if you really need to.
Alternately, depending on your wireless carrier and cell phone, you can “unlock” your cell phone and use an international SIM card. To each their own.
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