For most people, the days leading up to a vacation are a blur – doing laundry, packing, running errands, making arrangements for plants and pets, and wrapping up responsibilities at the office. Even though I travel frequently, it’s still a challenge to remember all of the details that I need to take care of before I leave on an international trip, so I created this handy checklist to help keep myself organized and sane.
1. Buy emergency medical insurance.
I find and purchase a plan through insuremytrip.com that will cover me in case of a medical emergency overseas (and includes evacuation). I’ve paid as little as $5 for a week-long trip – well worth it, in my opinion! And don’t buy what you don’t need – your credit card may include insurance for trip delays/cancellation as well as lost baggage.
2. Upgrade your phone plan.
I typically rely on wifi when I travel, using WhatsApp or iMessage to text, and FaceTime and Skype to make calls. However, on shorter trips when I’ve needed to use my every-day phone number for business purposes, I’ve upgraded my domestic service to a global plan just for the time I was out of the country (I’ve done this with both AT&T and Verizon, and the upgrade was prorated.)
3. Print & scan important documents.
Make sure you have easy access to copies of your passport and credit cards by scanning them and saving them as images on your phone. I also convert them to a PDF, save in Dropbox and share them with my emergency contact. It’s a good idea to carry hard copies too – I typically leave my passport in the hotel (ideally in a safe or locked bag) and take the copy with me when I’m out and about.
4. Get some cash.
I’ve started carrying a decent amount of U.S. dollars with me for any needs that might pop up – when I arrived in Sri Lanka, I discovered that the $25 visa fee needed to be paid in U.S. dollars and had to scrape together some change. And I know some travelers who like to go to a U.S. bank before departure to get a small amount of their destination country’s currency, so they have it on hand upon arrival – a good idea if you plan on taking a cab or shuttle from the airport to your hotel.
5. Alert your credit & debit card companies.
You should give your financial institutions advance notice of your travel dates and destinations, so you don’t have your card declined for fraud (which happened to me in Bangkok years ago when I tried to use a credit card to make a phone call in the days before ). You can usually set international travel alerts in your online accounts or just call customer service.
Typically, you’ll get the best exchange rate by using your credit and ATM cards to make purchases and withdraw cash at your destination – just be sure to check whether cards are used widely there, especially if you’re going to be spending a lot of time outside of big cities. (And make sure you have cards that don’t charge exchange fees – read more about some options on my Travel Tips page).
6. Have your destination details on hand.
I enter all of my flight, transportation and lodging information into my Google Calendar, so I can pull it up right on my iPhone (There are apps like TripIt that do this as well, but so far, my system seems to work). I also print out confirmations, since it’s usually quicker to access a hard copy than pull up an email, and they can be handed over if necessary.
7. Know what to do when you get there.
I use a mix of digital and hard copy resources. I typically don’t have a lot of time to plan in advance, so I make sure I have hard copies printed or articles downloaded to read offline on my phone or laptop, so I can prep on the plane. One resource I frequently rely on is the New York Times “36 Hours” feature for cities, so I print those out too.
8. Plan for emergencies.
If you have anyone taking care of your house, kids, pets, or plants while you’re gone, be sure they know the quickest way to contact you in case of an emergency. And make sure someone local has keys to your apartment or house (When I was in India, I had water running out from under my condo door due to storm damage, and my neighbor was able to enter and clean it up, so I didn’t return to a bigger problem).
Also, given the world we live in these days, make sure an emergency contact has your flight, transportation and lodging information (I’m not always good at remembering to do this. Sorry, Dad!).
9. Become a SMART Traveler.
I am friends with a few U.S. Foreign Service officers, who recommended that I check out the SMART Traveler Enrollment Program, which I used for the first time prior to leaving for India. It only takes a few minutes to fill out a form with your contact and destination information, and then the U.S. government will be able to track you down in case of an emergency in the area where you’re traveling. When I was in Colombia, I was even invited to a local consulate event.
10. Don’t forget your entertainment.
Especially if I’m going to be taking long flights or expect to have some down time during my trip, I fill up my iPhone with podcasts and audiobooks (sometimes making space by deleting apps I don’t use very much), and download books for my Kindle Paperwhite. Tip: It’s a good idea to download any TV shows or movies you might want to watch – even though Netflix is now available in most countries, your Internet connection might not be fast enough for streaming.
Remember to pack your chargers in your carry on, and if you’re traveling internationally, check to see if you’ll need to use an outlet adapter at your destination (I recently purchased a universal adapter).
Did I forget anything? (Probably!)
good tips. i do some of these. also hold mail via post office and send copy of itinerary to family .
Good tips – this is a great guide for first time travellers.
Great checklist! I’ll admit, the more I travel the lazier I have become! I just have my passport copy in my emails and don’t even send to anyone or print.
All really great suggestions! I used to be so good about registered as a “SMART Traveler” but have to admit that I have gotten lazy in my recent years. It doesn’t take long, so it is worth the time to do it. Also so so handy to scan your travel documents. This has saved me countless times!! I email it to my family and boyfriend and myself. As well as keeping a copy in my dropbox in case I need to access them.
This was a really good list, thanks for writing. I’ve never heard of the SMART program either but thats great. I also need to call and inform my bank company before I leave in a few days for my next trip…so thanks for the reminder! 🙂
I’ve been traveling for years and have over 40 countries I’ve visted and I have never heard of SMART! Thanks for teaching me something new!
Great tips! You’re right–so important to contact the credit card companies before. I’ve had so many issues with this in the past!
I love these tip, no matter how hard I try I always forget something in the rush!
Great tips! I’m quite the disorganised traveller and tend to wing most of this last second, but I always say I’m going to be better. Maybe next time 🙂
Good tips! I do some of these. Thanks for sharing!
And thanks for reading!