A reliable packing list is a valuable tool for dedicated travelers; however, for folks who take many different types of trips—road trips, business trips, international vacations—a single list can start to get unwieldy. That’s why I have a master packing list with various subsections that I can add or remove as appropriate, including a specific international packing list for trips abroad.
The list below doesn’t include things like socks or underwear, which you’d bring on every trip. (For a list that does include those items, see SmarterTravel’s comprehensive Ultimate Packing List.) Instead, I’ve focused on items that are particularly essential when you’re traveling abroad, from compression socks for long overseas flights to adapters for foreign electrical outlets. Read on to learn what to pack for an international trip.
A Current Passport
This is beyond obvious, but is there anyone reading this who does not know someone who left their passport at home or discovered it was expired at the last minute? Keep in mind that many countries require your passport to be valid for at least six months from your arrival date, so not only do you need a current passport, but you need one that does not expire within six months.
All things considered, it is critical to tend to your passport issues well ahead of your travel date—then put it at the top of your international packing list, and actually pack it first.
A Backup Copy of Your Passport
Having an accessible copy of your passport can bail you out if you lose your passport. You can carry a physical copy of your passport among your travel documents, but some travelers see this as just another thing you can lose. In that case, send yourself a copy of your passport to an email account that is always accessible online, or upload it to a storage service like Amazon Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive, or other similar services. This way you can access a copy even if everything you have goes missing.
If you purchased travel insurance—and if there is a time to consider it, a long international trip is that time—you will want to have this info accessible both on your person and in a remote location, preferably accessible online as per above. Note that your personal car and medical insurance likely do not cover you overseas. Reputable trip insurance providers include Allianz and Travel Guard.
Adapter with USB Slots
The design of universal plug adapters has evolved to a point where it is no longer necessary to cherry-pick from a big bag of plug variations as was the case several years ago. These days many universal adapters have not only a bunch of different plugs built in but also at least one USB slot, which will allow you to avoid bringing dedicated chargers for your phone, tablet, and other electronics. Well-reviewed adapters that fit the bill are available from Unidapt, LKY Digital, and SublimeWare.
Having a MiFi hotspot on my last few trips has completely changed the way I travel, reducing anxieties about data usage costs, international roaming fees, getting lost, and staying in touch with family and friends. One of the most popular options is this mobile hotspot from GlobalMe, but you can shop for others here.
Credit and Debit Cards with No Foreign Transaction Fee
Paying a fee of 2 or 3 percent every time you check out of a hotel, buy dinner, or withdraw money from an ATM can add up fast. That’s why anyone who travels abroad regularly should make sure they have at least one credit card and one debit card that don’t charge fees for international purchases and/or withdrawals. SmarterTravel’s sister site, Airfarewatchdog, offers a handy list of credit cards with no foreign transaction fees. For debit cards, see WalletHub.
International Driving Permit
To rent a car in some countries, you’ll need an International Driving Permit that translates your driver’s license into the local language. As with your passport, you’ll want to look into this well in advance of your trip. You can get an IDP through AAA.
Belt with Plastic Buckle
Avoid issues at airport security—especially in airports where you don’t speak the local language—by replacing your normal belt with one that has a plastic buckle. Options include this one from 5.11 and this one from Sportmusies.
Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a health risk for many travelers on long-haul flights across continents or oceans. To prevent swelling and clots and to keep blood circulating throughout the legs, I’ve found compression socks to be very helpful. There are tons of options out there, but I use these.
The sun can be much stronger in countries near the Equator or at high altitude, so if you’re headed to one of these destinations, it’s worth packing a good sunhat to protect you through long days of sightseeing, hiking, or hanging out on the beach. This hat from Columbia is lightweight, packs easily, and has a UPF rating of 50.
A Language Translation App on Your Phone
On a recent trip to the Czech Republic, my family stayed on a working farm outside Prague. Breakfast was not available until after 9 a.m., as the entire staff was tending to the animals, so I had a walk around the farm just around dawn. In one pen I spotted a sheep lying on his side, clearly in distress. I went to the folks who ran the farm, but none spoke any English whatsoever, and they shook their heads “no” as I tried to pantomime the troubled sheep. Finally one wrote down “9:00” on a piece of paper, and I realized they thought I was asking about breakfast.
I pulled out my phone, typed “the sheep has fallen and can’t get up” into my translation app, and repeated what I saw; still no go. So I hit the app’s “say it” button, and their faces lit up, first with concern, then with laughter. They took off to help the animal, and for the rest of our stay, all of us pantomimed the sheep that couldn’t get up.
The year before, a soldier with a big machine gun with whom I was having trouble communicating pulled out an app and did the same thing; much as the app saved the sheep lying on the ground, it probably did the same for me standing at the end of a machine gun.
It’s hard enough navigating through a foreign country—perhaps even driving on the opposite side of the road—without worrying about your phone running out of juice. That’s why a small car phone charger should be on your international packing list if you’ll be renting a car during your trip. Buy one with multiple USB ports, and you can keep your map app running while charging other devices as well. Recommended chargers include options from Incipio and Maxboost.
Filling a prescription in a foreign country can be fraught with problems, from inexact medication matches to insurance coverage issues. Obtain and pack at least a full trip’s worth of any essential medications, plus a few days’ extra in case your return is delayed for any reason.
Extra Contacts and Glasses
Replacing eyewear on the road can be very difficult, especially if you have a prescription. Pack an extra pair of glasses and an additional supply of contacts, and put them in a different part of your luggage than your main supply.
Anything for Which You’re Loyal to One Brand
If you’re especially attached to your favorite brand of shampoo, sunscreen, or the like, don’t count on being able to purchase it in a foreign country. Make sure you pack enough to last throughout your trip plus a few extra days.
Anything You’d Be Afraid to Purchase in Another Language
Along similar lines, if there is anything you know you will need, but would be unsure of replacing with a product described in another language—examples might be eye drops, contact lens solution, cold medicine, or vitamins—buy them at home and take them with you.
What would you add to this international packing list? Share your picks in the comments.
More from SmarterTravel:
- The Essential Beach Packing List
- Packing for Europe: 8 Items You Should Leave at Home
- What I Wish I’d Known Before My First International Trip
Ed Hewitt is a seasoned globetrotter who brings you a monthly glimpse into the latest travel news, views, and trends—and how they could affect your travel plans.