International travel is exciting, rewarding, and even life-changing. It can also be a little overwhelming. There is lots to think about, and it’s best to plan ahead. We’ve put together this international travel checklist to help you make sure you haven’t forgotten anything important, and that your travels go as smoothly as possible.
There are several important documents that you will need every time you travel. It’s best to make physical and digital copies of your documents. Leave some at home with a trusted family member or friend, and take copies with you as well. This ensures that you can get the information you need if anything is stolen.
Make sure that you have a valid passport. Many countries will not allow you to enter if your passport is not valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return, so make sure yours is up to date.
Visa and other entry requirements
Research the entry requirements for your destination, as well as any countries you may pass through. Some places do not require a visa if you are just visiting for a short period; some places will require that you register for a free tourist visa; and others will require you to purchase and provide proof of a visa. Do your research so you don’t get stuck at customs.
A good place to start your research is your local government website, and the government website of your destination. If you need to purchase a visa, make sure to do so through an official channel. Many companies advertise and charge for visa services at inflated prices, even when the visa should be free.
Emergency contact details
We always put together a document using Google Docs that includes all of our flight and accommodation details, and any emergency contacts. We then share the document with close family or friends so they know where we are at any given time, and how to get in touch in case of an emergency.
If you are planning on driving during your trip, check whether your driving licence is enough. Some countries may require you to get an additional driving permit.
Health and medical precautions
Make sure you have valid travel insurance for your trip. The world of travel insurance can be very confusing, and having done a lot of research ourselves, we know there is no perfect policy out there. Things to look out for include emergency medical expenses, compensation for delays, and lost luggage replacement. Keep in mind that while many policies do include compensation for stolen items, they put a lot of restrictions on what can be reimbursed. There’s no way around this, but make sure you understand what they actually cover.
The medical expenses are the most important element. You don’t want to be refused essential emergency treatment because you don’t have insurance, or be sent a large bill afterwards.
It is wise to print out a copy of your insurance policy, and make sure you have the insurance provider’s emergency number saved in your phone.
Check whether you need any vaccinations before you travel. It’s always sensible to check with your doctor first.
Prescriptions and medication
If you require any medication for an existing condition, make sure that you have enough with you to cover the length of the trip. Pack a first aid kit with painkillers, plasters and bandages, and medicine for allergies or travel sickness. It won’t always be readily available.
Safety and security
Is it safe to travel?
Check foreign travel advice for your destination with the government, and sign up for travel alerts if possible. Make sure you research the laws in your destination, so you don’t accidentally offend someone, or worse, get arrested.
Call your phone provider
Figure out what the costs are for using your phone abroad. You don’t want to get a bill that costs thousands for using your phone abroad. If you are able to use your phone abroad, you may need to enable data roaming. If not, keeping your phone on airplane mode is a good way to avoid any unintentional costs.
It may be cheaper to buy an international SIM card when you arrive; some countries have really cheap SIM-only plans. Do some research and figure out what the most cost-effective option is for you. If you plan on using a different SIM card, you will need to make sure your phone is unlocked.
Download anything you might need
You never know what the wifi or data signal situation is going to be like when you arrive, so make sure you have anything you might need saved to your device. This includes digital copies of your important documents, maps of the local area, and any in-flight entertainment such as movies, music or podcasts.
Don’t forget a portable charger.
There’s nothing worse than finally finding WiFi and realising that your battery is about to die. Okay, maybe there are some things worse, but it’s still pretty annoying.
Call your bank
Let them know that you will be using your cards abroad. If you don’t, they may assume that any foreign transactions are fraudulent and block your card. That’s a hassle that nobody needs.
Figure out which card is best to use
You want to minimise international fees as much as possible. We personally travel with a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees, and a debit card that has no fees for withdrawing cash abroad.
Where possible, opt to pay in the local currency and use your card provider’s exchange rate. It’s almost always better than the one you will be offered in stores or at ATMs.
It’s worth making note of the emergency number for a lost or stolen card. It’s usually on the back of the card, but if the card is missing that won’t be much help.
Take some cash for emergencies
Ideally some of the local currency, as well as your own. The cheapest option is usually to withdraw cash from an ATM in the local currency, but it can be helpful to have a small amount with you before you arrive. Don’t plan on exchanging money at the airport, as the exchange rate will usually be worse than in other locations.
Take care of everything at home
Depending on how long you will be away, you may want to arrange for someone to feed your pets, water your plants, and generally take care of your home. If you trust your neighbour, ask them to keep an eye out for any suspicious favour.
It may also be worth speaking with the post office to temporarily hold your mail, and don’t arrange any deliveries. A pile of mail on the front doorstep indicates to thieves that your home is empty.
Make sure you know what to expect when you arrive!
If they speak a different language to you, it is always polite to learn basics such as hello, please, and thank you. People will appreciate you making the effort!
Although English is widely spoken throughout the world, especially in the more popular tourist destinations, don’t assume that you will be able to get by. Learn as much as you can, download a translation app or take a phrase book, and be prepared to smile, nod, and gesture.
As previously mentioned, take some local currency in case you need cash upon arrival. Do some research as to what things should cost. You don’t want to get ripped off by a taxi driver as soon as you arrive.
Decide if you want to stay in a hotel, hostel, AirBnb, or somewhere else. We always use booking.com to find somewhere to stay. You can find great deals, and many places offer free cancellation which is helpful when you are still finalising your plans. (That’s an affiliate link. We get a small commission if you use it to make a booking, at no extra cost to you. We appreciate it!)
Figure out how to get to your accomodation before you arrive. It’s never fun to arrive in a foreign country and realise you have no idea where to go. Sometimes we make the decision after we’ve landed, but we always do research first so we know what our options are.
Even if you like to travel spontaneously and not book everything in advance, we recommend booking at least your first night. You don’t want to get stuck in a foreign country with nowhere to stay.
Make a list of everything you want to do, and double check opening times. You don’t want to get somewhere only to find out that it closes early that day and miss out.
Kayla has a story about travelling to the Palace of Versailles from Paris – with several mishaps along the way – only to get there and find out that the palace is closed on Mondays. The next day she found out the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.
You’ll have a much better trip if you research these things beforehand!
Download a map to your phone, or go old school and take a physical one. Even though we can use our phones, sometimes it’s easier (or more fun) to grab a free map and start exploring. Know the best ways to get around; some cities are better to explore on foot while others require trips on the metro.
A packing list is an entirely separate article! We’ll be back with that soon.
For now, remember that packing is always less stressful when you make a list of everything you need and leave plenty of time to get it done. Waiting til the last minute is a surefire way to start your trip on the wrong foot.
The night before
Get plenty of rest and set multiple alarms. Use your phone or a battery operated alarm clock in case of power failure during the night. If you have an early flight, make sure everything is ready to go before you go to bed so you don’t have any delays in the morning.
On the day
Make sure you leave plenty of time to get to the airport. You don’t want to miss your flight because of traffic or delays on public transport.
It’s also a lot less stressful going through airport security when you aren’t rushing. The person in front of you will take forever to empty their pockets, carefully untie their shoes, or realise they haven’t put their liquids in a bag. But who cares? You can breeze on through, safe in the knowledge that you have plenty of time to spare.
There’s a lot to think about, and travelling can sometimes be stressful or overwhelming.
Remember why you are travelling, take it easy, and enjoy yourself!
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