The Ultimate International Travel Checklist For Stress-Free Travel
You finally booked that damn trip and you cannot and will not shut up about it. Well, hold on to your britches cuz international packing can be a doozy.
Not if you have a thorough checklist filled with tidbits from well-seasoned travelers. (hi 👋, we’re Explorer Chick )
Whether you’re a first-time traveler or a seasoned pro, this checklist will ensure that you’re ready to tackle any challenge and make the most of your journey.
Checklist For International Travel (The Boring Stuff)
Thorough prep for travel abroad should start weeks if not months ahead of traveling internationally. If ever you needed an excuse to treat yourself to a new notebook, this is it!
Get Your Travel Documents and Credit Cards in Order
For a big trip abroad, you need travel essentials like passports and visas plus travel/health insurance, cell phones, luggage, credit and/or debit cards and cash.
It sounds obvious but CHECK YOUR PASSPORT EXPIRATION DATE! Some countries have specific entry/exit requirements, so the up-to-date info about your destination country on the US Department of State website.
When to do this: We may apply for US passports in person or via mail depending on circumstances. Find out why, when and where to go for an in person application on the Department of State website where you will also find details of special “passport fairs”. If you just need to renew your passport, then you can get instructions here.
How much time is involved? Usually 8-11 weeks. There are emergency, urgent and expedited passport services too.
Check if you require customs forms or special travel documents for items such as sporting guns or medical equipment.
When to do this: Before you book your flight, check your chosen airline’s policy and requirements for specialist luggage. Apply for the necessary paperwork as soon as you have booked your flight.
Ask your doctor for a letter explaining why you need to carry liquid meds, equipment or sharps in your carry-on bag. For firearms and ammo check the US Transport Security Administration(TSA) website for up to date guidance.
How much time is involved? It can take up to 60 days to sort the TSA Pre-check approval to allow swift passage through US ports. Consider carrying paperwork in the language of the foreign country you plan to visit to expedite the arrivals and departures process.
Some airlines expect you to print out boarding cards and may charge a fee or refuse boarding if you don’t. Advance Passenger Information (API) is required by airlines in the US, most EU member states and other countries.
When to do this: Requirements vary, so check with your chosen airline. Some have an app which will list when and how to do things like add API or print/download boarding cards.
How much time is involved? Timings vary between carriers but complete ASAP and consider buying a travel wallet to store passports and important travel documents in.
Travel insurance is one of the most important things to tick off your travel checklist. Not only is it wise to cover disruption to your travel plans, but you should also make sure you have good health coverage, including repatriation and COVID-19 coverage. Ask your current insurance company what they cover before shopping around.
We recommend World Nomads for reliable travel insurance. Travel insurance is great because it applies to all things that can go wrong, like:
- Needing medical help for unexpected illness or injury.
- Needing emergency medical evacuation for serious and unexpected illness or injury.
- Having to cancel your trip due to, you guessed it, unexpected events outside of your control.
- Getting reimbursements for gear stolen or damaged while traveling
When to do this: Travel insurance should be purchased at the same time as your international trip to take full advantage. If your flight is canceled or you have a death or illness in the family you can’t claim if the policy isn’t active. If you travel internationally frequently, consider buying an annual policy.
How much time is involved? Comparison websites can make shopping around quick and easy. Always read the small print and check the policy meets your needs before buying, especially if you have serious health conditions.
Currency conversion is always the most expensive at airports, so exchange before your trip. It’s handy to have some cash at the airport in case you need to pay for a taxi, water, or anything else that comes up.
Credit cards are safer and easier to transport. Check which credit card companies offer free or cheap foreign transactions, or choose one which can be pre-loaded.
Explorer Chick Sam Sterling asked about this in our Facebook group and got a serious thread going about all the best credit cards for travel.
When to do this: Order in plenty of time before you travel, especially if you want currency delivered. Most banks will be able to get foreign currency within 4-7 days.
How much time is involved? Allow at least a week, although many places have the same or next day pick up or delivery depending on the currency.
The onus is on YOU to ensure you apply for the correct visas and other immigration forms. Use this handy visa checklist for visa requirements for international travelers. Be honest when applying for a visa or they may refuse you entry at your destination.
When to do this: Apply for a visa before making non-refundable travel plans.
How much time is involved? A straightforward visa usually only takes a couple of days, but can be up to 21-24 days.
Check Vaccination Requirements
There’s lots of useful up-to-date information and a global checklist on the CDC Travelers’ health pages or check with your doctor or a specialist travel healthcare provider.
When to do this: Ideally 6-8 weeks before traveling abroad for best protection.
How much time is involved: You may require multiple visits to the doctor’s office.
Check Your Destination’s COVID Policies
Check individual country’s policies here. You may need to carry paperwork proving your vaccination status, take a pre-departure test and/or complete a health declaration form. Some countries require you to quarantine at your own expense if you test positive while overseas. Be honest declaring all existing health conditions – lying might save money in the short term but may render the policy invalid.
When to do this: Before booking travel or accommodation.
How much time is involved: Pre-departure tests are normally taken 48 hours before boarding.
Prepare Your Home Care For While You’re Away
So you have broken in your hiking boots, but have you remembered to sort out a pet sitter? And security -I use a smart kit to operate lights to make it look like I’m home and Alexa has a burglar deterrent skill to make it sound like people are home.
Get a trusted friend to water plants and collect mail and newspapers and don’t post your location on social media until you are safely home! You can also use a service like Trusted Housesitters to find someone to care for your home while you’re away.
When to do this: Good pet sitters book up fast so book ASAP.
How much time is involved: Variable.
Download Helpful Travel Apps
Other travelers may enjoy going off grid, but I love a travel app. Traveling abroad I use Google Translate, a good sat nav/maps app (I like Google maps, Waze, Maps.me are all free) along with a weather app. Flightradar24 is useful for keeping you informed about delays and cancellations.
Tripadvisor is a good all-rounder and finally for my international travel packing, I like AnyList, a basic list app, and PackPoint which makes packing suggestions based on destination, weather and planned activities. A packing list can definitely make life easier when repacking when returning from traveling abroad.
When to do this: It’s worth trialing a few before your trip abroad to see if they suit you. Download on Wi-Fi (especially maps) to save roaming charges.
How much time is involved: How fast is your Wi-Fi?
What To Pack For International Travel (The Fun Stuff)
What you pack depends on your final destination and travel dates. Here’s a quick guide to international travel packing.
There are some items that are pretty damn important to bring with you. Here’s my must-have list:
- Your driver’s license (and international driving permit if required.)
- First aid kit containing basic meds, dressings including steri-strips and blister plasters, and painkillers
- Cell phone. Check your cell phone plan for international roaming charges. Arrange an international plan or buy local sim cards when you travel abroad. Pack a rechargeable juicer for maintaining battery life.
- Electrical converters and adapters for your international destination (super important!)
- A portable battery pack that can charge your electronic devices on the go.
- Day bag, eye mask, ear plugs, neck pillow and warm socks for a long haul flight.
- Plastic bags to use for dirty clothes, muddy shoes or trash.
What to pack in your carry-on
Pack light – you might even get away with a small rolling suitcase or your backpack as carry on. Save space by wearing layers and your heaviest shoes.
Here’s what to bring on the plane:
- All the paperwork! Don’t forget your passport (with that visa, girl!), boarding pass, ID, itinerary, and wallet with extra cash. We don’t want you stuck in line digging for your papers!
- Toiletries, because who wants to be stinky on the plane? Throw in a toothbrush, toothpaste, face wash, and deodorant. This also includes things like contact solution, eye drops, chapstick, or any other creams or solutions you need to get through each day.
- Extra clothes, because we’ve all been there: lost luggage, delayed flights, you name it. Pack a cozy sweater, fuzzy socks, one outfit, and 1-2 pairs of underwear. Seriously, trust us. You don’t want to be stuck in the same clothes for days!
- Electronics to keep you entertained and connected. Don’t forget your devices, headphones, chargers, adapters, converters, and battery packs. We all know how important it is to keep that Insta game strong!
- Snacks to keep you fueled and satisfied. Bring a water bottle and any of your favorite munchies to keep those hunger pangs at bay.
- Miscellaneous items for ultimate comfort. Pack your fave books, journal, pen, an eye mask, earplugs, and luggage locks. We want you to feel comfy, cozy, and secure throughout your travels.
What to pack in your checked bag
Now to the real question: what kinds of clothes do I pack?? Winter weekend adventure in Banff? You’ll need thermals and waterproof hiking boots. Heading to Scotland? Pack rainwear even in summer. Heading to Uganda you’ll love non-iron T-shirts and shorts while on safari while long trousers are best for hiking to see gorillas and chimps. Swimwear is essential for a tropical paradise like the Caribbean – don’t forget your sunscreen!
Otherwise, here’s what we recommend for international travel:
- 3-4 breezy tops that will keep you cool
- 1-2 cozy sweaters to cuddle up in when the temperatures drop
- 1-2 long-sleeved shirts that you can dress up or down for any occasion
- 3 pairs of trusty jeans/pants that can handle any adventure you throw at them
- 1 pair of PJs that are so comfy, you’ll never want to take them off
- 2 workout outfits for the adventuring parts
- 7 pairs of socks that will keep your feet feeling fresh, no matter how many miles you walk
- 7 pairs of underwear & 2 bras to keep you feeling fresh
- 1 bathing suit to soak up the sun and feel like a goddess
- 1 quick-dry towel that will come in handy at the beach, the pool, or wherever your adventures take you
- Gym shoes for your workouts, hiking boots for your outdoor adventures, and comfortable walking shoes for your daily explorations
- Flip-flops or shower shoes for when you want to feel free and easy
- 1-2 pairs of shorts and tank tops
- 1 light scarf/wrap that can double as a cover-up, a shawl, or a stylish accessory
- 1-2 skirts or dresses for some international breeziness
- 1 nice outfit for going out, whatever either of those terms mean to you
- Medications and vitamins to keep you healthy and energized throughout your journey
- Razors, pads, tampons, menstrual cup, period panties, or WHATEVER you use, no matter what time of the month it is (travel can do wild things to your cycle)
- Sunscreen/bug spray to protect your skin from the elements
- 1 light jacket to keep you warm on those chilly nights
- 1 washcloth to stay fresh and clean on the go
- Hat and sunglasses to protect your face
- Ziploc bags (you’ll need them more than you think)
- Cold weather gear, if it’s cold where you are
- Backpack to carry all your essentials and keep your hands free for adventure
- Packing cubes to stay organized and make packing and unpacking a breeze
- Wet/dry bag to keep your wet clothes and gear separate from your dry belongings
- Any can’t-leave-home-without or tour-specific gear that will make your journey even more fun and unforgettable!
International Travel Tips By Explorer Chicks
According to seasoned Explorer Chicks the ultimate international travel hack is Global Entry which includes TSA Pre-check benefits.
You have to apply well in advance to Get Global Entry which provides swift and easy transit through US airports for you and your family (💅 worth it) but travelers rave about expedited customs lanes-great when you are tired after long flights traveling abroad and just want to get home.
Explorer Chicks who’ve been there and done that recommend you opt for travel payment cards and credit cards with good reward schemes for your next trip. Some Chicks say they love free flights they can buy using points earned with purchases.
Ready to Explore The World?
It’s time to crack open that blank travel journal and start planning to explore the world with Explorer Chick. From marveling at a historic city center to scaling mountain tops with like-minded women, Explorer Chicks has perfected the art of adventure, enabling you to be the best version of yourself possible.
Meet the Writer
Afra is an award winning journalist who has enjoyed many adventures including swimming with sharks, crewing hot air balloons and canyoning. She started creating online content ten years ago, diversifying after years writing for print publications. She loves travel, great food, and her family. Not necessarily in that order.
Favorite outdoor adventure: Snorkeling in the warm waters off the coast of Cyprus
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