Having an International Travel Checklist can save your entire trip. The countdown to the big trip is always exciting, especially if you are traveling overseas to a foreign country. If this is your first trip abroad, then you are surely about to burst with excitement. But even seasoned travelers love the anticipation building up to their trip, including us. However, you might feel stressed and overwhelmed with all the things you need to do before you leave. No worries – that’s why we are here to help! We’ve put together this international travel checklist to help you stay organized and rest assured that you are fully prepared for you upcoming trip.
International Travel Checklist
Download Your International Travel Checklist HERE
Check Your Passport
When checking you International Travel Checklist, you should always double-check your passport before leaving on a trip abroad. 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. 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, to ensure that it 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. So if your trip is cutting it close to your passport’s expiry date, then you should think about getting another one. Luckily, it is quite easy to renew your passport…but you should allow plenty of time (30 days or so).
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 one (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 you have nothing to worry about. Also on the International Travel Checklist it to make sure to have some colored copies of your passports tucked away in your bags. Make sure you have more than one. If you are traveling as a couple, it is nice to have a backup to your backup and each have one tucked away separately. This is incase you passport goes missing, you at least can show this to your embassy to start the process of getting another one.
Check Visa Requirements
A passport allows you to leave your country…but a visa allows you to enter another country. Countries around the world have different requirements for visitors who want to enter — and it all depends on the country origin of your passport.
An important check on the International Travel Checklist is to check visa requirements well ahead of your trip — even before you book your trip. For US citizens, you can check the State Department website for details on the requirements of all countries.
Overall, we are quite lucky in that we can go many places without a getting a visa prior to our trip. 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, then you should apply for your international drivers license. Many countries around the world require this if you want to drive there, and rental car agencies in these countries won’t rent a car to you unless you have it.
We love to road trip. And some of our favorite experiences while traveling have been when we were out exploring on the open road. Check out our Favorite European Road Trips & Driving the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland. We wouldn’t have been able to drive in these countries without the international driving license.
Luckily, it’s quite easy to get an international drivers license. In fact, it’s not really a drivers license but just an additional permit (IDP) that translates your current license into multiple languages. You will must carry your original drivers license with you when you travel, but the IDP is a supplemental document that you must also have.
For further information, read How to Get an International Drivers License.
Buy Travel 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
An important check on the International Travel Checklist and 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 shots specific to your destination. The CDC travel website has a great 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.
If you are planning to travel for longer term and have the time, then you may also consider getting your shots overseas. 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 out our story about how we saved thousands of dollars by getting our CDC travel vaccines in Thailand!
Create / Print an Itinerary & Reference Document (Cheat Sheet)
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, we’ve created a one page “Travel Cheat Sheet” which has proven to be handy over the years.
While technology is great, sometimes a good ol’ fashioned piece if paper is necessary. 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 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.
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!
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 you hotels are, and the transportation options. Read up about how to use the transportation system, download digital maps for reference, and check operating times and schedules. You will be so happy you did.
Check Out our Best Travel Apps
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 “Cheat Sheet” with close friends and or family members
Whenever you travel, it’s important to tell people about your plans. This is where having a “Cheat Sheet” document comes in handy, because it is super easy to email it to close friends or family. Let them know where you are going , when you are going, and your flights numbers and all of that. 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 international 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 of you are planning to travel to remote areas or places where there is a possibility of something bad happening. 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
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 carry-on fees. Be sure that your bags adhere to their restrictions so you don’t get caught having to pay extra 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! (click on the picture below to download the PDF)
Check the Weather For Your Destination
This is an obvious one as you check the International Travel Checklist and begin to pack for your trip. It’s important to know the weather coming during your trip so you can pack accordingly, but it’s also good to get a heads on bad weather that may have already happened. You night 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.
Separate Your Stuff. Packing Cubes are the Best
Packing Cubes are the best! It is nice to be able to separate your stuff. This is 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.
Pack Travel Adapter & Small Packable Power Strip
When 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!
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. So be sure to 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.
*Travel Tip: Do not pack your electronics and or your CORDS in your Checked Luggage. Carry-On ONLY*
Charge all your Electronics
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 thaty 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 most everywhere in the world that you will travel. The bad news is that if you aren’t careful, you will pay a ridiculous amount of charges to use your phone abroad!
International roaming charges can really kill your travel budget, and be a nasty surprise after a trip if you haven’t prepared correctly. 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.
Other options to adjusting your home cell phone plan is to buy a SIM card during your trip. Most countries around the world have cheap SIM cards for sale that you can buy online, at the airport, or around town. Just swap them out in your phone and you are set. ** The only problem is that these SIM cards will only work with UNLOCKED cell phones! ** If your phone is locked by your carrier (such as ours were with AT&T and Verizon) then you cannot just insert a new SIM. You must ask them to unlock your phone first, which will often have a fee.
The final option is to rent a cell phone abroad. There are many companies that provide this service, but for us, we would rather just pay a fee to use our own phones or buy a SIM card.
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 auto pay. 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 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.
Download a Printable PDF Version of This International Travel Checklist!
(click on the picture below to download the PDF)