Planning a big overseas trip–maybe even for the first or second time–and trying to put together the perfect international travel checklist to ensure you don’t forget anything before you leave?
We have you covered: as full-time travelers for more than 4 years across nearly 50 countries, we are well accustomed to preparing for international travel.
We’ve put together this international travel checklist to make sure you leave for the airport stress-free and ready to enjoy a phenomenal vacation abroad!
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International Travel Checklist: Booking Your Trip
Calculate your travel budget and plan with your eyes open.
Before starting any of your trip planning, we recommend setting a budget for your travels.
Having a number in mind (though this is a very, very old post, we still stand by this formula for calculating your travel budget) will not only keep you from overspending, it’ll also keep you from underspending in the early planning stages.
You don’t want to get to the end of your trip and realize you could have splurged on that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity after all!
Sketch out your travel itinerary.
Once you have a budget in mind, go ahead and sketch out an itinerary for where you want to go once you arrive at your destination.
This is one of our favorite things to do on this international travel checklist, and detailed itineraries are also my favorite blog posts to write.
If you’re headed to a destination we’ve covered on Our Escape Clause, use the search bar on the top right of the screen to find what suggested itineraries we have for your trip!
Check visa requirements.
Depending on where you are coming from and where you are going, this step might vary from a cursory Google search all the way up to planning a year in advance so you have time to gather your documents and get to an interview.
For US citizens, we recommend checking visa requirements for your intended destination on the travel.state.gov website, which will always have the most up-to-date official information.
Check COVID-19 documentation requirements.
In 2021 (and let’s be real: probably in 2022 and quite possibly beyond that), it’s a whole new world as far as traveling abroad goes, and this checklist would not be complete without mentioning COVID-19 documentation.
Whether you need to show your vaccination card, a negative test, or both, odds are you’ll need to square away some documentation to travel internationally.
Don’t forget to check any requirements for coming home, too!
Buy your plane tickets!
Personally, the moment that we finally purchase our plane tickets is virtually always the moment that a trip really, truly starts to feel real.
It’s exhilarating, and hopefully, a highlight for you as you work through this international travel checklist as well!
Book your hotels & rental car.
Once you have your travel itinerary ready to go, your plane tickets purchased, and your visa sorted (if applicable), it’s time for the next phase of preparing for international travel: booking your hotels for each destination and your rental car.
Start learning phrases in the language of your destination.
For the vast majority of international trips, this is more out of politeness than an extreme necessity, but still: as your trip starts getting closer, start learning a few phrases in the language spoken in your destination!
A few to start with are: yes, no, please, thank you, hello, goodbye, I would like, where is the toilet, and excuse me.
International Travel Checklist: Getting Your Documents in Order
Check the expiration date on your passport.
For most countries, your passport will need to have an expiration date more than 6 months after you leave the country.
If yours is getting close to expired, get that taken care of ASAP, especially if your trip is coming up (like, start looking at the process of renewing your passport this second).
Book onward travel if needed.
Technically speaking, most countries around the world require you to have your exit plan firmly in place in order to enter their country.
Depending on where exactly you’re going and your level of passport privilege, this may be a very important step on your international travel checklist or more of a CYA move, but either way, it’s good to have it taken care of.
If you have a round-trip plane ticket booked, no worries, this doesn’t apply to you.
If you have a one-way ticket booked, print out or download it to your phone (don’t rely on having the internet to look something up in your email–we’ve learned that one the hard way) proof of your plan to leave the country in question.
If you don’t have a plane ticket, perhaps because you are planning to take a train or bus to your next stop, a hotel reservation or visa for your next destination may sometimes work, but it depends on the immigration officer or airline employee (as they often are de facto in charge of enforcing these rules) in question.
Buy travel insurance.
Given how inexpensive travel insurance is as compared to traveling in general, and how much money and headache it can save you in the face of something going wrong, it is absolutely worth buying when preparing for international travel.
We don’t ever suggest traveling without travel insurance–anything can happen on the road, and traveling abroad is definitely a case of better safe than sorry.
For the vast majority of destinations, we use and recommend World Nomads for travel insurance.
Get an international driving permit if needed.
If you’re planning on driving on your trip abroad, be sure to check and see if you need to add an international driving permit to your checklist for international travel before you go!
These are essentially translations of your license into many languages–some countries require them, some technically do and rarely enforce it, some require it only if your license isn’t in one of several languages, and some don’t require it at all.
You can obtain a permit at home before you go by following these steps.
If necessary, get vaccinated.
Depending on where you’re going, what you’re doing, and how up-to-date your immunizations are, you may need anywhere from a slew of vaccines to prepare for your international trip, documentation of vaccines you’ve already received (especially in 2021), or nothing at all.
The more prep time you have to get any vaccines that you do need, the easier your trip planning will go!
Email a copy of your itinerary to yourself and a trusted loved one.
The odds of a loved one needing to access your itinerary during your trip abroad are small, but even still, there’s no downside to making sure someone back home knows where you are!
On your side, it’s always handy to have a copy of all your hotel bookings, rental car bookings, plane tickets, etc, handy–you never know when you might need to refer back to something.
Generally, as part of planning a trip, we make an email folder specifically for that trip and put all relevant reservations and information in there to ensure we’re able to keep track of everything.
International Travel Checklist: Taking Care of Your Home
Stop your mail.
Don’t let mail pile up at your home while you’re away–make sure it is held at the post office for you for the duration of your trip.
For travelers from the USA like us, you can easily set up a mail hold here through USPS online.
Let family and friends know how to contact you.
Do you plan to stay in touch with family and friends through an international phone plan? Skype? Whatsapp? Email? Social media?
Whatever the plan, be sure to let your loved ones know–especially if you’re planning a longer trip–and if it makes sense for your situation, help them set up any necessary apps that they may not have yet.
Hire a house or pet sitter if needed.
If you have plants that need watering, a pup that needs walking, a pool that needs cleaning, or just a house that needs someone to come by and make sure everything is okay, get a house and/or pet sitter worked out as far in advance of your trip as possible.
The closer to your travel dates that you start making arrangements, the more stressful the process can be.
International Travel Checklist: Getting Everything Packed
Make a packing list and buy anything you need.
Obviously, your packing list will vary dramatically based on your destination, but here are a few items that are on our own international travel checklist, typically regardless of destination.
Pacsafe — We can’t recommend our Pacsafe enough: this travel safe is affordable, sturdy, easy to pack, and will help keep your valuables safe in your hotel room (not that you should need to worry much about theft from your hotel room during your trip, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!).
Comfortable Day Bag — We currently use Pacsafe’s sleek anti-theft backpack and love it, but if you don’t want to shell out the cash for this trip, that’s totally understandable. Just aim for something comfortable to wear, not flashy, and medium-sized–we used a Northface Jester backpack for years and loved it as well.
Portable USB Charger — Don’t worry about your phone dying while you’re out sightseeing on your trip abroad: be sure to come prepared by packing a portable USB charger!
Purell Hand Sanitizer — We carry this everywhere, and never been sorry to have it floating around in our day bag.
Travel Journal — If you want to keep a travel journal during your international trip but can’t commit to a huge amount of writing each night, I can’t recommend the One Line a Day Journalenough–I’ve been using it for almost three years now and absolutely love it.
Money Belt — This is up to you, but I’ll include it here due to its popularity. We no longer use a money belt, but if you’re more comfortable having your passports on your person while exploring you can consider bringing one.
Check your prescription medications.
Do you have enough of a supply to last the length of your trip?
If you need to bring it with you in your carry-on luggage, is it in original packaging?
Let your banks and credit card companies know that you’re traveling abroad.
For most banks, this can be done online these days, but you can also choose to call to set a travel notification in a pinch.
Generally, they’ll want to know what countries you’re visiting and for how long, and simply make a note in your file.
Forget to do this, though, and you risk your card being denied when you try to use it abroad!
Be sure you have all your long-haul flight essentials.
We’ve dedicated an entire post to making sure you bring the right things with you for the endurance event that is getting through a long haul flight semi-comfortably, but here are a few things to get you started: an eye mask, lip balm, cozy socks, hand sanitizer, offline entertainment, and a portable USB charger.
If you like to download things to watch or listen to for flights, consider picking out one of the best travel shows to watch along the way!
Weigh your luggage before you leave.
… and compare it to not only the airline you’re flying with to reach your initial destination, but also any other airlines you’re flying for different legs of your trip, as well.
For example, if you fly from New York to Paris with Delta but are flying from Paris to Rome with Ryanair, make sure your luggage meets Ryanair’s requirements as well to avoid a headache later in your trip.
International Travel Checklist: Streamlining Your Arrival
Keep a pen in your carry-on.
If you end up needing to fill out an arrival card before passing through immigration, either on the plane before landing or upon arrival before getting in line for processing, you’ll be so glad to have a pen with you!
Have a plan in place to get from the airport to your hotel.
The final step of your international travel checklist is as simple as it is important: make an arrival plan.
When you arrive at your destination, you’re undoubtedly going to be exhausted, overwhelmed, and probably a bit jet-lagged, too!
No matter how many times we arrive in a new country, it never stops being a tiny bit stressful, simply because there are a lot of variables at play in the first few hours of arriving somewhere new.
Make life easier on yourself by thinking ahead: when planning your trip, figure out your exact steps of what will happen after the plane lands.
That means exactly how far away your hotel is, how you’ll get there from the airport (train, bus, rental car, taxi?), and if you’ll be traveling by taxi, what a reasonable price is and/or if there is set fare from the airport to the city center (there often is).