So, your flights and housing are booked and you have your itinerary put together—let the trip countdown begin!
But before you pack your bag and wheel down the jetway, there are some extra steps you can take before leaving to help your trip go more smoothly. I’ve put together this checklist of what to do before a trip (particularly a big trip or international one) to help make your next trip a success.
You might also like: Free E-Book: Epic Trip Planning 101
Safety (& Border Security) First…
These are non-negotiable on any trip (except #1 is mostly international). Start here to keep your blood pressure down. Remind me to tell you about the time that I was on the airport parking shuttle and running late for my flight to Istanbul and spent about 60 seconds thinking I’d forgotten my passport…
#1 – Make sure you can get in—and out—of your destination!
Ahh, paperwork—can’t live with it, can’t live without it. Or get home.
- If you’re visiting another country, make sure your passport is up-to-date and that you know where it is. It’s important to check and make sure you have at least 6 months from the end of your trip until your passport expires—many countries won’t let you in if it expires within the next 6 months (this is true of driver’s licenses too!).
- Do you need a visa for your trip? Your trip research should identify this (TripAdvisor forums can be a great help here), and make sure you get it enough ahead of time to where you can address any hiccups. Make sure you know if you need to have it printed out, if just having it on your mobile phone is okay, or if you purchase it once you arrive. I almost got into trouble headed to Argentina because I hadn’t checked closely enough. #neveragain
#2 – Make sure you can pay for things while you’re gone
- Research whether it’s a cash or credit destination. I’m a big fan of credit cards for the safety, convenience, credit building, and rewards you can build up. But there are still many places in the world where credit isn’t used or accepted much, so you need to know ahead of time. Check with all your hotels, rentals, and tour operators to find out what they accept, and look at the TripAdvisor forums to see whether people talk about needing cash. And if cash is important, research where you can find ATMs in more rural places. When we were in Jordan, it’s pretty much cash-only so I had to make our taxi driver stop just a few minutes over the border to hit an ATM because otherwise there were none for the next 24 hours.
- Set travel notifications on your debit card and any credit cards that you plan to take. You can do this online for most banks and credit cards these days. I always recommend you take two credit cards, a primary and a backup, as well as your debit card for withdrawing cash from ATMs.
- It’s important to know if your credit cards or bank charge you a foreign transaction fee (if they do, look into getting one that doesn’t), and whether your bank has partnerships in other countries. Bank of America, for instance, has a global network of partner banks such as BNP Paribas, which reciprocate on dropping ATM fees.
#3 – Make sure you’re protected if something is stolen
It happens to even the most-vigilant traveler, and you’ll be so happy you took a few minutes to plan ahead. Technology is your friend here.
- Use your phone to take pictures of credit and debit cards (front & back), your main passport photo page, your health insurance card, and any other important documents you might need. Save these not only on your phone but in a cloud-based program like Dropbox or Google Drive, so that if your wallet or purse gets stolen you can easily pull up the photos online and use that to help expedite replacements.
- Make a note in your phone and save all important info—airline and hotel loyalty numbers, bank and credit card phone numbers (including collect call numbers for overseas), and anything else you might not remember.
#4 – Make sure people know where you’ll be, & how to contact you
Yes, Mom, I KNOW.
- Print out your itinerary, important documents like hotel and flight confirmations, and your big Word research doc, and bring these with you in a folder. It’s always important to have hard copy versions of things when traveling overseas, in case you can’t get cell signal or a reservation is lost.
- Send your mom a copy of this. Or someone else who cares and will know how to get a hold of you in event of emergency.
Pre-packing prep you won’t regret
#5 – Make sure you have the right credit card(s) and understand all the benefits: Trip planning is a great time to make sure that your wallet is working hard for you. If you don’t already have one, I definitely recommend researching and selecting a really good credit card for travelers—ideally before you actually book flights and housing, to get maximum benefits. There are several top-notch ones out there (see the Resources section), but whatever you choose it should come with some super helpful benefits. If you do already have one, make sure you understand all your options and the terms under which they’re valid. This often includes things such as:
- Car rental insurance – allows you to decline all rental company insurance in many countries (often half the cost of the car rental!)
- Trip insurance – can reimburse you when things go wrong (like when you break your ankle and have to cancel your trip to Quebec…)
- Airport lounge entrance – once you’ve experienced lounge life, it’s hard to go back
- So much more. From cellphone insurance to lost luggage reimbursement, you never know what’s included if you don’t ask!
#6 – Make sure that you order or purchase any specialized gear: Depending on the trip, you may need clothing for extreme temperatures, special activities, waterproof hiking boots, or even a new travel-sized tripod. Purchase these things well ahead of time to make sure you have time to try a few things out and return things, and have exactly what you need.
#7 – Go carry-on if you can: It is SO much easier. But do your homework, because many non-American airlines have very different carry-on size and weight regulations and they often really do weigh and measure them. This is my go-to carry-on suitcase, I’ve used it for everything from a weekend to three weeks in Europe. It is just a tiny bit big for super restrictive airlines, so I’m working on getting a smaller one as well.
#8 – Understand your connectivity options: Call your cellphone provider to find out what your options are while abroad (assuming you’re going out of the country). They may need to enable a particular kind of receiver for your phone to work overseas, and can tell you about charges you could incur if using your phone. For many people, I would recommend turning your cellular data (a.k.a. internet) off when you board your flight to avoid international data charges, but leaving the regular phone signal on so you can receive (or send, if necessary) texts, make a call in an emergency, and of course no matter what you can still enable WiFi on your phone. I know AT&T has an international package that basically is “as you use it”…it’s like $10 per day for each day you use the cellular data or texting, so it’s a great in-case-of-emergency option.
#9 – Download important travel apps: The list here can be long, but here are some I believe are critical. The other important thing is to LOG IN to all of them before you leave! You’ll never remember your login otherwise. I’d recommend writing down your passwords or putting them in a note on your phone, in case you accidentally get logged out (happened to me recently on a business trip and I couldn’t access my boarding pass at the security line).
- Itinerary – your airline’s app, any hotel group, Airbnb, etc.
- Transportation – Google Maps, some kind of taxi app, such as Uber or MyTaxi (find out what’s used where you’re going), and train or metro apps for schedules (Trenitalia for Italy, SBB for Switzerland, etc.)
- Pro tip: Did you know you can use Google Maps without using data/internet? You can download maps ahead of time to use offline, or if you pull up the map while on WiFi it will pull up the map and then you can use it without WiFi later to navigate.
- Getting around culturally – Google Translate, a currency converter app, WhatsApp (a messaging app used heavily in many countries)
- Getting home: Mobile Pass (if you don’t have Global Entry). For U.S. citizens, this app allows you to set up a profile ahead of time with your passport, and then as soon as you arrive you can answer the customs questions and speed through special Mobil Pass lanes. It’s totally free and helps you get home faster!
#10 – Protect your home while you’re away: If you’re going to be gone for more than a few days and you don’t have a friend or neighbor who can grab your mail, think about having the post office hold your mail until you’re back. If you have a neighbor you trust, ask them to keep an eye on your place, and I always am pretty careful how much I talk about an upcoming trip when I’m out in public or on social. Technology is not always our friend, and it’s pretty easy for criminals to game the system.
What are your tips for must-do’s before you travel? What other apps are lifesavers overseas? Hit me up in the comments with your best!!
Other resources for planning your travel:
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