Traveling internationally is an adventure best planned ahead of time, and not just when it comes to booking flights and packing. There are a lot of bigger picture to-do items that could make or break your trip, and should be crossed off early on. Sure, showing up at your gate sans passport or forgetting melatonin for your red-eye flight can put a damper on your long-awaited escape. But most of your preparation should be dedicated to ensuring health, safety, and financial necessities are covered.
To save you some prep time, we’ve compiled this checklist for your next long-distance journey.
One of the easiest and most important pre-trip checks is also arguably the most ignored. Travel insurance and State Department alerts can be incredibly important in emergency situations abroad, but many tourists bet they won’t become part of the small percentage of travelers who require evacuation assistance or protection from hotel or flight cancellations.
Last winter’s harsh weather resulted in about $5.3 billion in lost productivity and out-of-pocket costs, according to Skift.com. That’s almost twice as much as the typical winter average, and includes a lot of canceled flights.
Subscribing to the State Department’s STEP alerts for your destination early on may seem unnecessary, but the emails about upcoming and current travel restrictions, strikes, and areas of political unrest will serve as a mini-lesson in what to expect once you’re there. Any alerts you receive will let you know whether or not to plan for some unexpected obstacles in advance.
Tip: Travel insurance can cost as little as a few dollars per travel day, and can cover anything from replacing a broken camera to emergency medical attention, potentially saving you hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars.
Travel Documents and Banking
Make sure your passport and any necessary travel visas are up to date. Most countries require a passport to be valid for at least six months after your scheduled return, so make sure you won’t be turned away or delayed at customs because of an old passport.
Keep physical and digital copies of you passport and all your paperwork in case anything is lost, and give copies as well as your itinerary and contact numbers to family and friends whom you can contact in case of an emergency.
Notify your bank and credit card companies about your travel dates so they don’t deny your purchases, and ask about international ATM fees so you can find out which ones won’t charge you. As an added bonus, if you’re a forgetful cardholder (or just want to be prepared in case your wallet is stolen) bring an un-activated credit or debit card in case you have to cancel the few you brought with you. It’s a rare occurrence, but it’s an instant buzzkill if it does happen.
Tip: Don’t underestimate how helpful a cell phone photo of your passport can be. Whether you have to go to the consulate and report it lost, or are just filling out a customs card and need your passport number, it will likely come in handy. Email the image to yourself to have an extra digital copy in case your phone runs out of batteries or goes missing.
It’s best to get the necessary vaccinations out of the way as soon as possible, since certain required vaccines may unexpectedly sell out around the time of your trip. Some also require multiple doses, which may need to be administered over days, weeks, or even months time. Talk to your doctor about getting the CDC-recommended shots, as protocol for vaccines vary by country. For example, the U.S. recommends yellow fever vaccines for those visiting Colombia, while 159 other countries require proof of a yellow fever vaccination from travelers who have been to at-risk areas in Central and South America and Africa.
Tip: Keep your vaccination certificate in your carry-on in case customs requires you to present it in order to enter the country.
Whether you’re a travel app connoisseur or more of a paperback guidebook person, having some source of knowledge about your destination is invaluable. Read about the region you’re traveling to in advance to gain insight into important information you may not even know you have questions about. From money conversion and useful phrases to tipping, appropriate clothing, and cultural/legal customs, it’s better to be prepared so you don’t land yourself in a compromising situation.
Tip: Did you know bringing chewing gum into Singapore and wearing camouflage in the Maldives are both punishable by law? There are all sorts of other similar laws that could ruin your trip if you don’t do your research.
Make Sure Your Home is Cared For
There’s nothing worse than realizing once you’re without cell service that you forgot to stop your mail delivery or ask someone to water your expertly cultivated window plants. Make sure your daily tasks are covered before you leave, or appoint a trusty friend to do them for you.
Tip: You can find a house or pet sitter to do your chores for free if you’re willing to list your home on TrustedHouseSitters.com. Plus, you could find free lodging through the site for your trip abroad if you’re willing to spend some time with someone else’s furry friends.
Buy an international phone plan ahead of time, “unlock” your phone so you can make calls through a foreign carrier, or buy an international prepaid SIM card. If none of those sound ideal or if you’ll be staying at your destination long-term, research options for phone rentals or plans before you leave.
Tip: Some phones are already unlocked, depending on the carrier. Find out more about international phone options, and call your phone company about options once you know what will work best for you.
Download the Necessities
Sometimes the most important thing you’ll pack is in your smartphone rather than your suitcase. Offline maps are your best friend when it comes to traveling without access to cellular data. You can find Wi-Fi in some places, but downloaded Google Maps or CityMaps2Go will allow you to follow your GPS without using up battery life and roaming data.
Downloading in-flight entertainment could also save you if your TV malfunctions on the long-haul flight. Streaming won’t be available without consistent in-flight Wi-Fi (which you shouldn’t ever depend on) but Amazon Prime recently announced users can pre-download their entertainment, and music streaming service Spotify allows paying users to download tracks for offline use with the press of a button. You can also buy movies or shows to download via iTunes.
Tip: Don’t forget a portable backup charger. Watching hours of your favorite TV show is sure to drain your battery life, and there’s nothing worse than finally finding a Wi-Fi spot only to have your phone die.
Pack These Essentials
While the contents of your checked bag will largely depend on the climate you’re visiting, you’ll want most of your trip’s essentials on hand in your carry-on. SmarterTravel editors recently detailed their in-flight must-haves.
But for any trip abroad, be sure not to forget the following for your carry-on:
- Passport and visa
- Insurance and ID cards
- Cash, debit and credit cards
- Pen for customs cards
- Portable charger
- Earplugs, eye mask, natural sleep aid
- Electrical converters/adapters specific to your destination
- Anti-bacterial wipes
- Sweater/Scarf for the cold plane
- Plastic bags
- Cameras/memory cards
Tip: Take a photo of your packed suitcase in case it gets lost. That way, airline employees will then know what to look for, and you’ll know what was inside in case you don’t get it back.
More From Smarter Travel:
- The Ultimate Packing List
- The 15 Items You Need to Survive a Long-Haul Flight
- 10 Things to Pack That Will Save You Money
Associate Editor Shannon McMahon is constantly looking for ways to see the world. Follow her on Twitter @shanmcmahon_.