Having a thorough international travel checklist can save your trip by ensuring you are prepared before you leave, as well as having everything you need when you are on the road. For us, the countdown to the big trip is always super exciting, especially if we are traveling overseas to a foreign country. If this is your first trip overseas, then you are surely about to burst with excitement. And because I love trip planning so much, this is really part of the fun for me!
However, you might feel stressed and overwhelmed with all the things you need to do before you leave for your trip abroad. This is especially true if it’s your first trip out of the country. No worries – that’s why we are here to help! We’ve put together this international travel checklist (printable PDF) to help you stay organized and rest assured that you are fully prepared for your upcoming trip overseas.
Download Your Pre-Departure International Travel Checklist PDF
Important Items on Your International Travel Checklist
Check Your Passport
One of the most important items on your international travel checklist is to always double-check your passport before leaving on a trip overseas. If this is your first time traveling abroad and you haven’t gotten your passport yet, be sure to do it as soon as possible. In fact, some hotels and airlines will require you to have a passport number as a part of the reservation process (although not all). Further, if you are traveling to a country where you are required to get a visa, then you will definitely need to get your passport in advance!
** Check out these 5 Easy Steps to Getting a U.S. Passport.
One of the first things you should confirm on your passport well before you leave is the expiration date. You want to be sure that your passport doesn’t expire while you are traveling. Also, most countries will require that you have at least 6 months validity beyond your stay in their country. This is just in case of emergencies or if you end up getting stuck in the country for a while. So if your trip is cutting it close to your passport’s expiration date, then you should really consider renewing your passport before your trip. Luckily, it is quite easy to renew your passport…but you should allow plenty of time (at least 30 days to be safe – but check the US State Department website for up-to-date processing times just to be sure).
You should also consider the number of empty pages currently in your passport. Some countries will take up full pages with their visa stickers, and require you to have one or even two completely blank pages. The US has been allowing people to add extra pages to their passports for years, but as of the end of 2015 they will no longer add extra pages. So, unfortunately, if you are running out of pages you will simply need to get a new passport (sad…we know!).
Make Color & Digital Copies of Your Passport
Traveling overseas can be a bit unnerving at first, but as long you are prepared, then you should have nothing to worry about. Another thing to prepare for your travel overseas is that you have some colored copies of your passport tucked away in your bags. This is in case your passport goes missing, you at least can show this to your embassy to start the process of getting another one.
We highly recommend that you actually make a few color copies and tuck them around in your luggage and other secure places. If you are a couple traveling together, each of you can carry a copy of the other person’s passport. And just as an added backup, we will usually email an electronic version of this passport copy to ourselves as well as our family members.
Check Visa Requirements for Your Destination Country
What’s the difference between a passport and a visa? Many new overseas travelers get a bit confused by these terms – so let us clarify. A passport allows you to leave your home country…but a visa allows you to enter another country as a visitor. Countries around the world have different requirements for visitors who want to enter — and it all depends on the country you are entering, as well as the origin country of your passport.
So without a doubt, an important line item on your international travel checklist is to verify the visa requirements well ahead of your trip. In fact, we highly recommend that you do this well before you even book your trip. For US citizens, you can check the State Department website for details on the requirements of all countries.
As US citizens, we are quite lucky because there are a lot of places that we can go without getting a visa in advance. Or perhaps we can just get a “visa on arrival” – which is when you arrive at the airport they just give you a visa. However, even for US citizens, there are countries that can be difficult, time-consuming, and a bit expensive to get a visa. For example, getting a visa for China will take some time…and it’s not cheap.
So you will need to know this information in advance so that you can plan accordingly and get all of your paperwork together.
Get Your International Drivers License
If during your trip you plan on renting a car to explore on your own, or if there is even the possibility that you may want to drive somehow, then you should apply for your international driver’s license. While not all countries require this, there are some that do. So in these countries, you may not even be able to rent a car without having an international driver’s license. But even if they don’t require it, they are easy and cheap to get – so they don’t hurt to have on you.
We love to road trip. And some of our favorite experiences while traveling have been when we were out exploring on the open road. In fact, we wouldn’t have been able to experience one of our Favorite European Road Trips without an international driving license.
Luckily, it’s quite easy to get an international driver’s license. And to be technical, it’s not really a driver’s license but just an additional permit (IDP) that translates your current license into multiple languages. We actually got ours down at a local AAA office – and it was super easy and cheap. You do still need to carry your original driver’s license with you when you travel, but the IDP is a supplemental document that you must also have in some countries.
For further information, read How to Get an International Drivers License.
Buy Travel Insurance
There are actually two different kinds of travel insurance. One type of travel insurance is for things like trip cancellation, lost luggage, etc. Which is definitely good to have — especially if it’s an expensive trip and complicated in its arrangement. But that type of travel insurance is completely different from travel medical insurance.
Did you know that when you travel abroad, your health insurance DOESN’T COVER YOU! Scary huh?!?
Even if you are a careful traveler, accidents happen…just ask Liz. She broke her foot in China while walking from a metro station exit to a bus stop, accidentally stepping in a hole she didn’t see through crowds of people. That simple twist caused a fracture that sent her to the hospital and put her off her foot for 1 month solid!
Honestly, travel insurance isn’t that expensive when you consider how much your entire trip costs. From health insurance, to lost luggage, trip cancellation or interruption, there are many types of travel insurance policies that have different coverage and prices to meet your specific budget and needs.
You may choose to buy these two types of insurance separately, or you can often bundle them together through the same provider. MEDEX is a highly reputable company that offers a variety of affordable travel medical insurance plans, as well as optional trip insurance.
So it really is better to be safe than sorry. Because when something happens, you will be glad you have the coverage!
Read more about Why You Need Travel Health Insurance
Get Required Shots / Immunizations
Another important item on the international travel checklist is your immunizations. Depending on where you are traveling, you may need to make sure that you are up to date on your immunizations as well as getting new vaccines specific to your destination. The CDC travel website has a comprehensive list of countries and their required and recommended immunizations. You can also search for local healthcare providers in your area who specialize in travel medicine.
Be sure to check with your insurance to see what vaccines they will cover, and you can contact your local healthcare provider to inquire about the cost of additional vaccines that aren’t covered. Keep in mind that some travel shots are considered “optional” under most USA insurance plans, so likely you will need to pay out of pocket for some of the less common vaccines. For example, we were traveling to Asia for an extended period of time and wanted to get a Japanese Encephalitis vaccine just in case we ended up in a remote area. Our health insurance wouldn’t cover it here in the USA because it’s not required. And it was crazy expensive!
If you are planning to travel for longer-term and have the time, then you may also consider getting your shots overseas where it is less expensive. Many destinations, such as Thailand, are hot in the medical tourism market. They offer clean facilities, certified physicians, and great medical care for a fraction of the cost. If you are curious to know more about this, check the story from our personal experience about how we saved thousands of dollars by getting a number of vaccines in Thailand!
Create / Print an Itinerary & “Cheat Sheet” for Reference
It is important to have some kind of document with your itinerary and travel information during your trip. Even if you enjoy traveling without a set schedule, it’s helpful to create some kind of simple itinerary reference for yourself, as well as for your friends and family.
For us, because we do a lot of travel planning, we have a thorough Vacation Planning Template that we use to build out our travel itineraries. However, even after we make that we also like to have a quick-reference version that we can print out and take with us on the road. It’s a one-page “Travel Itinerary Cheat Sheet” which has proven to be really handy over the years!
While technology is great, sometimes a good ol’ fashioned piece of paper is even better. And it is nice to have everything in one place where we have easy access to it. You can break your trip information down many different ways, but we recommend at least having all your reservations numbers, hotel addresses, phone numbers, etc. all in one place. It’s also helpful to include basic transportation information and schedules.
Use our template to create your very own “Travel Cheat Sheet” HERE*
Print / Email Copies of Travel Tickets, Reservations & Confirmations
Anything that has been booked and / or paid prior to your trip should have confirmations, usually emailed. Be sure to group these emails in one place (or tag them) so they are easy to find in your email box. You may also choose to include these confirmations on your “cheat sheet” document, or load them into some kind of trip management app on your SmartPhone, like TripIt.
TripIt is one of our favorite travel apps because we can easily organize all of our emails and confirmations electronically in one place. Overall, you should have all of your confirmations at your fingertips. However, this will depend on if you can use your cell phone internationally. If you can’t use it or don’t want to pay for overseas use, then definitely be sure you have a printed version of these confirmations and bring with you!
Be sure that you have printed out any travel tickets that you need for boarding transportation or activities & tours. This can help you save time waiting in lines, and some low-cost airlines require that you print it out in advance, otherwise you must pay a fee at the airport.
Print Out a Copy of Your Hotel Reservation
Some hotels require that you print out the hotel voucher to present at check-in, but not all of them. So be sure to check the details and see if your hotel specifically requests it. It’s definitely a pain when you try to check-in and they require the printed “voucher” — then you have to find somewhere to print it off…and they charge you! NOTE: This is extremely rare…but can happen!
Typically, you can just access your reservation confirmation information, address and phone number within your saved documents on your cell phone (as mentioned in the previous travel tip). But you may also want to print your reservation just so that you have a copy of the hotel address and contact information, in case your cell phone isn’t working. Or at minimum, include this information on your travel “Cheat Sheet” (as recommended above).
Check Local Transportation Maps / Instructions / Schedules
Nothing is as much of a time-killer while traveling than trying to figure out how to use public transportation on the fly, getting oriented with the maps and planning your routes. Do you know how many different ways you can travel around cities like Bangkok, Thailand? Save yourself headaches and your time by doing knowing this before you arrive to start your vacation.
Take a look at where you want to go, where your hotels are, and the transportation options. Read up about how to use the transportation system, download digital maps to your phone for reference, or buy little travel pocket maps (like this cool pocket map for NYC), and check operating times and schedules for location transportation. You will be so happy you did all of this ahead of time!!!
Check Out our Recommended Travel Apps
Who wants to spend their valuable time trying to figure all this out on your trip when you could be relaxing and having fun?!? You may want to add some of this information to your cheat sheet too, especially if there are certain operating times or routes that you want to keep in mind while roaming around town.
Share Your Itinerary With Friends / Family
Whenever you travel, it’s important to tell people about your plans. This is where having a “Cheat Sheet” or similar travel itinerary document comes in handy. Having this document already put together makes it is super easy to email it to close friends or family. Let them know where you are going , when you are going, your flight numbers, etc. Emergencies happen on both ends, so it’s important to have your bases covered. This is even more critical if you are planning to travel solo.
Double Check Your Travel Dates!
Have you ever gotten to the destination of your dreams only to realize that you are traveling during a major national holiday? Some holidays are wonderful times to experience a destination, but other holidays can be a real nightmare for your travels!
Ideally, you would research holidays before making your travel arrangements, but somethings can get overlooked. If you are lucky, you might have a grace period for changing your dates for hotels, flights, etc. Or perhaps there is a small change fee that you are willing to pay in exchange for a different date. Also, keep in mind timezone differences and that good ol’ international dateline when figuring out your travel dates.
Notify Any Appropriate US Embassies of Your Travel Plans
While this is not required for every destination, it is a good precaution to consider when traveling internationally. This is especially true if you are planning to travel to remote areas or higher risk destinations. Make sure to follow your embassy on all social media for current updates as well. This is also another avenue to chat with them in case anything may happen and you need to notify your embassy.
Check Your Airline’s Luggage Restrictions
Oh packing! Isn’t that the fun part of preparing for your big trip!!! Nowadays with all the airlines charging fees for baggage, a lot of us want to bring our bags with us. If so, be sure to check your chosen airline’s luggage rules and restrictions well before you pack for your trip. Many airlines, including low-cost airlines like Ryan Air and Air Asia, make their money with extra carry-on fees. You want to make sure that your bags adhere to their restrictions so you don’t get caught having to pay a ton of money for your “discount” flight. Also, if you are choosing to check your luggage on a flight, you should be aware of those restrictions or any associated fees with those bags as well.
To help you find the baggage sizes, rules and restrictions, check out our quick reference document with information for all major global airlines!
Get Your Copy of this Checklist Here:
Check the Weather For Your Destination
This is an obvious one as you check off items on your international travel checklist and begin to pack for your trip. It’s important to know what the weather will be like during your trip so you can pack accordingly, but it’s also good to get a heads up on bad weather that may have already happened. You might not want to go to an area that has just had a hurricane or a city with major flooding (it happens even in big cities like Bangkok). Having no power, interrupted public transportation, and possibly a bit of chaos can really be a bummer for a vacation.
Organize With Packing Cubes!
Packing Cubes are the best! Seriously, I doubted these for a while but after using them just a couple times – I was amazed! It is nice to be able to separate your stuff, yet keep it all together. It’s also nice to open a suitcase or backpack and not have individual items go flying everywhere.
Packing cubes are also great if you are sharing a suitcase or bag. Having your nice clothes separate from your adventure clothes makes getting dressed and keeping the clean stuff away from the smelly and sweaty things.
Different Electric Outlets Require Adapters!
Did you know that other countries have different electric plugs in the wall?!? That’s why when you are traveling abroad, it is important to have a universal adapter so that you can plug in your electronics using different outlet styles. Some first-time travelers don’t realize that plug styles are different around the world! And that would be awful if you showed up at your destination and couldn’t plug anything into the wall.
Even with a travel adapter, most of the time you can only plug in 1 item at a time. But let’s be honest, we all have way more than one item that will need charging. That’s why we also highly recommend that you bring a small travel power strip with you. At first, Liz was skeptical about this purchase of mine…but it has come to be one of the best little travel gadgets that we have purchased!
With one travel adapter we can now charge 4 of our items at the same time. And it’s so small, we can easily put it in our electronics bag.
** PRO Travel Tip: Do not pack your electronics and or your CORDS in your Checked Luggage. Carry-On ONLY…because things get lost! **
Charge All Electronics Before Leaving
It goes without saying that you should charge it all up before you say goodbye. But you should also be sure that your cords have been packed in your carry on luggage (not checked bags) and that they are easily accessible so that you can charge items during your travels too. It’s common to find charging stations all around airports now, and if you are lucky, some of the newer airplanes have charging panels too! So keep those cords handy.
*Don’t Forget: If you are renting a car, don’t forget your car charger and your iPod connector to listen to your music while driving!
International Cell Phone – Adjust Your Plan or Buy a SIM Card
Modern-day cell phones make it fantastically easy to connect with people, especially when you are traveling. The great news is that cell phone service is available most everywhere in the world now. The bad news is that if you aren’t careful, you will pay a ridiculous amount of charges to use your phone abroad!
Using your cell phone abroad without planning in advance can lead to crazy high international roaming charges. This can really kill your travel budget, and be a nasty surprise after a trip. Most USA phone companies will charge you a lot for international roaming. However, you can easily contact them in advance of your trip and adjust your cell phone plan so that you can make and receive calls / texts at a more reasonable price. It will still cost you, but not nearly as much!
Travel Tip: Take note of their “data” fees when traveling. Even if you change your plan, the data is usually a small amount…and the fees can be huge. Limit your data usage when traveling and ALWAYS try to use wifi if it is available to you.
Can I Just Buy a Local SIM Card for My Phone When I Arrive?
A great alternative for using your cell phone when you are traveling in another country is to buy a local SIM card after arriving and swap it out in your cell phone. Most countries around the world have cheap SIM cards for sale that you can buy online, at the airport, or around town after you arrive.
However, this ONLY works if you have an UNLOCKED cell phone! Basically, in the USA if you are currently locked into a contract with Verizon, AT&T, etc. then you likely have a LOCKED cell phone. This means that you CANNOT use any other SIM card in your phone because it won’t work. You must ask them to unlock your phone first, which will often have a fee associated with it.
Pack Some Snacks for Your Trip & Bring an Empty Water Bottle
Newsflash!!! Airports are expensive for just about everything. Save your travel budget by bringing some snacks with you on the trip. You are able to pack many items into your carry on bags, and you can even bring some food, like sandwiches for lunch. Just be sure that these items will keep well without being cold for long periods of time.
Also, we all know that the TSA is not allowing open bottles of liquid through…including water. However, buying water is expensive at the airport. So save yourself some cash and bring an empty bottle that you can just fill up at the drinking fountain once you are past security.
Related: What to Pack in a Carry On Bag
Make Sure Your Bills Are Set to Autopay
When you are on vacation, the last thing you want to worry about is paying bills back at home. But you also don’t want to forget about important bills and get charged late fees while you are away. Of course, you can always pay your bills in advance before you leave, or you can also set your bills for autopay. This way, everything will be taken care of while you are gone and you can kick back and relax. Oh technology, you really can be a wonderful thing!
Notify Your Bank & Credit Card Companies of Travel Plans
This is such an important thing to do, and it is often overlooked by first-time international travelers. The last thing you want is to arrive in your destination and realize that your bank card and credit cards are not working. Even worse, your bank might have blocked your cards due to suspected fraud — because you are suddenly using your card overseas.
Luckily, this is a simple problem to avoid. Simply call your banks and put a “travel notification” on your account that includes the destination and the dates of your travel. Some banks even let you do this online! Also, be sure to ask about international fees for using your ATM and credit cards. Some cards are more advantageous to use than others.
For more detailed information, check out our post all about Money Travel Tips.
Get Foreign Currency Before Your Trip
It is advisable that you arrive in a new country with at least some local currency. You never know what you will encounter upon your arrival, and it can really add stress to your situation if you are running around trying to figure out where to get cash. Save yourself some stress and get some local currency in advance.
The good news is that most large banks will sell foreign currency. So a couple of weeks before your trip, just head to the bank and buy some. Sometimes they have it on hand, sometimes they need to order it – which is why you should give them some time. We advise that you order enough cash to last you at least a few days on your trip.
Taking all the money for your trip at once can be scary, especially if there is a problem. You could end up losing all of your money if it is stolen or lost.
So one of our money travel tips is that you only bring enough for a few days or a week — then get more cash out of ATMs while you are traveling.
Be Prepared By Completing This International Travel Checklist!
If you’ve read through this post, congrats because it was a long one! Also, be sure to download your own copy of this international travel checklist too. You can print it off and keep track of your travel planning. Overall, if you go through all these things and check off the list of items, then you should be able to rest assured that you are all set and ready to kick back, relax and enjoy your awesome vacation!
Download a Printable PDF Version of This International Travel Checklist Below: