Complete International Travel Checklist [Packing Made Easy]

by Diego Navarro | LAST UPDATED August 24, 2021

A girl packing for a trip
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Traveling is a great way to explore new spots, experience new cultures, and embrace a fun adventure. It’s too bad that leading up to the journey can be a nerve-racking, disorganized stretch of planning and frustrations. Making travel arrangements, getting all of your documents in order, planning what to take, and setting up your luggage are just a few things that make the traveling experience a bit of a headache in the beginning.

To make sure that you don’t go through a whole bottle of aspirin on the buildup to your trip, we’ve prepared an international travel checklist that will hopefully help you with your preparations. 

But before we get started, the first thing you’ll want to do is make an actual printable checklist. We’d recommend that you make a packing list, a document list, a medication list, and any other sort of itinerary that you think might be necessary. Spare a few pieces of paper, boot up the printer (or get a pen), and start listing off everything that might be even remotely useful for your journey.

Secondly, we’d also recommend that you make at least two copies of all of the documents that we list below. You’re naturally going to keep the essentials like the passports and visas with you at all times, but you’ll also want to place a copy in your luggage and maybe another spare in your carry bag.

Aside from that, take note of the detailed prep since it’s definitely more than just making a list; go over the essentials, remember all of the documents, and then bask in daydreams about your upcoming trip. Let us show you what we mean.

Preparations

International travel checklist graphic

Before you even pick a destination and before you start thinking of essentials and luggage, let’s go into the actual prep work.

Some of the items that we cover might seem obvious and not worth mentioning, while others might seem excessive preparation for a simple vacation. However, we assure you that there’s a practical reason for including each of the cover points. That said, it’s ultimately up to you to pick and choose what you’ll do; we made sure to include everything.

Passports

When planning a trip, you first make sure that your passport isn’t past its expiration date. You might also want to double-check and see that it won’t expire while you’re on holiday since that can cause a whole mountain of issues and additional fees you’ll need to pay.

If you have at least a few months left until you reach the deadline, then you’re all good, but if you need to apply for a new passport, do so well in advance. U.S. citizens can access passport services online and learn about all the necessary documents and fees regarding passport renewal.

Visa Requirements

Certain countries will require more than just a passport before they can let you in, so you might need to look up all of the locations that call for travel visas and apply for one as soon as you can.

Some countries might also be stricter than others when it comes to issuing visas, but you shouldn’t run into any problems if you have all of the necessary documents in order. The bigger issue will almost certainly be the wait time.

We’d recommend applying for a visa before making any further travel plans since the exact dates may depend on when you’ll receive the visa itself.

Mail and Housekeeping

If you’re planning on taking an extended vacation and being away for at least a month, then you’ll need to sort out your bills before you leave. Of course, you can simply pay the bills online or have them scheduled for after you come back, but there’s a better way.

Getting a friend or a family member to either house-sit or just pick up your mail and pay your bills is the more practical solution instead of covering everything in advance. If you can’t find anyone willing to stay in your home for an extended period, at least have them swing by once or twice a week to make sure everything is fine.

We all get paranoid about leaving the stove on or not locking the front door, but if you’re away from your home for a long period, that paranoia goes into overdrive. So having someone come by and check that everything is fine would greatly ease your mind. 

You can always opt for a home security system too and get alerts on your phone if there is anything suspicious going on while you are gone. This definitely helps with peace of mind. 

Emergency Contacts

Anything could happen while you’re abroad. You’re very unlikely to get kidnapped or anything extreme like the movie Taken, but accidents unfortunately occur. So, it’s better to be prepared for the worst and get pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t happen.

Make sure that you tell at least one person where you’re going and inform them of your exact travel plans as they change. Additionally, you could also swing by your local embassy and make sure that your arrival into the country, hotel name, and private phone number are all written down.

In case of any unforeseen accidents, either your confidant or your embassy can take measures to make sure everything is alright if there’s been no word from you for a few days. 

Booking

This item probably falls under the category of “so obvious that it shouldn’t even need to be mentioned,” but you’d be surprised at just how many people think that they can get away with not booking their hotel rooms ahead of time.

The mentality of “we’ll figure something out” usually results in you having to stay in a sub-par room or in a hotel that overcharges for everything, but you have to stay there because there are no other vacancies.

We’d strongly recommend planning ahead and actually searching through your available choices to have the best experience abroad.

Research Exchange Rates and ATM Fees

If you’re anything like us, then you probably can’t tell if an ATM in a different country is ripping you off. We hardly know the transaction fees and exchange rates of all our local ATMs, so there’s very little chance that we happen to know the transaction fees for France or Brazil.

A five-minute Google search can tell you the sort of fees that you should expect and how to tell if a shopkeeper is trying to charge you $200 for a t-shirt. Sometimes it is a better idea to get cash out before hand and exchange it in the US. 

Cash is great to have on hand for tips, taxis and small purchases, but we don’t recommend you bring your entire vacation spending money in cash for obvious reasons. 

Plane Tickets and Boarding Passes

We don’t really have any airline hacks that we can share with you, but we’d recommend checking the pricing of the tickets at different periods of the day or downloading some travel apps that can monitor the price fluctuations for you.

It’s well known that plane ticket prices drop and rise based on different seasons and even periods of the day, so we’d say that it’s best not to rush and buy the first tickets that you can find. Spend 2-3 days watching how the prices on the tickets change, and buy them only when you’re absolutely sure that you won’t get a better price any time soon. You can also set up a tracker on Google Flights which will notify you with a drop in price if you plan enough in advance.  

Additionally, we’d also recommend calling the airport a day before you’re set to depart and ensuring there aren’t any unexpected problems or cancellations. Airports usually inform all of their passengers of any delays or changes, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to these sorts of things.

Travel Insurance

After your flight has been booked, the next thing on this international travel list is travel insurance. Most insurance packages provide coverage in the case of lost documents, accommodations, and other basic issues that might arise on your international trip.

Regardless of where you’re going and how long you’re staying, travel insurance is a mandatory inclusion, so there’s really no reason we’d attempt to sell you anymore on the necessity of this item on our list.

However, we’d still like to give you a bit of advice and warn you against getting a cheap plan when it comes to health insurance. The same package you decide to go for will naturally be up to you, but if you skip over necessary procedures to save a few bucks, you’re defeating the purpose of the insurance itself.

Getting sick in a hotel room in another country is a nightmare. Not getting the necessary treatment because you decided to get an insurance plan that doesn’t even provide coverage for the common flu will worsen.

Driving Permit

If you’re planning on doing a bit of sightseeing on your next trip, then you might want to consider getting a driving permit that will allow you to rent and drive a car in the country that you go to. 

The process is pretty simple. All you really need to do is bring your driver’s license, go to the local DMV, and apply for a quick exam. This exam usually consists of a written and driving section, so all you’ll need to do is answer a few basic driving questions and get into a car with an instructor to prove that you can handle yourself.

Your driver’s license already proves that you’re eligible to get behind the wheel of a car, so the rest is just a formality, and it usually takes a few hours. The signs are all the same, so as long as you don’t crash the instructor’s car, you’ll easily get your permit, get a rental, and be able to explore in style.

Vaccinations

On top of the visas, certain countries also have a list of vaccinations that you need to have taken before they can admit you. Additionally, it’s also recommended that you take certain booster shots when going abroad, so you get a bit more protection from any sort of bug bites or common local diseases.

Luckily, the CDC has a complete list of all of the mandatory and recommended vaccines that you should take for each country, so all you need to do is visit their site and set a schedule for your booster shots before you go abroad.

Phone Plan 

One last bit of preparation you should consider for your trip is checking your phone plan to see what rates you might be looking at for long-distance calls. The rates are, without a doubt, going to be too ridiculously high for you to actually use your phone to call people, but you can still make use of the Wi-Fi.

You could also switch out your current plan with an international plan for the duration of your vacation, but we’d recommend just saving yourself a bit of money and simply taking out your sim card before you decide to travel.

Wi-Fi and hotspot cafes are plentiful, and any McDonald’s will have a decent internet connection. We’d still keep the sim card on your person, however, since you might still need access to a standard call option in case of emergencies.

Packing The Essentials

Essentials while traveling

This next portion of our international travel checklist is centered around the most important non-clothing items that you can take with you on your trip.

We’re fairly confident that this is a pretty extensive list and that we covered all of the bases, but we all have different needs, so feel free to add to this list if you think that we’ve missed something.

Cash and Credit Cards

Carrying around a lot of cash with you is always a bit risky, but you also don’t want to go into a restaurant and not have enough money to pay for your meal at the end of the night. The simplest solution to this problem is to bring along both cash and a debit card.

Credit card companies offer travel credit cards for just such an occasion, and they can help you shift as many funds as you want into your travel account. This means that your main account won’t be in danger if you brought your standard credit card with you and it got misplaced or stolen.

Another reason why you apply for travel credit cards and let your bank know your travel plans is so that they don’t block your cards due to “suspicious activity.” If an American citizen uses their card in another country, it’s automatically flagged, and you’ll have to go through a lot of phone calls and identity confirmations just to reactivate it again.

Medication

A portable first aid kit is always a good idea to bring with you in case of emergencies. Any serious injury or disease will naturally need to be taken care of at the local hospital, but there are a few things that you can bring that might come in handy for everyday ailments.

We’d recommend bringing along a bottle of aspirin and a few paracetamols for general use, a few vitamins or iron supplements, bandaids, disinfectant spray, and a mild pain relief drug like ibuprofen.

We’d suggest staying away from items such as syringes or any harder medications since it’s going to be a pain to cross borders or fly with them. You’re likely not qualified to use any sort of medical equipment either, and you should leave any serious medical issues to the professionals rather than trying to solve them yourself.

In addition to the standard sort of medication kit, you might also have specific health care items that you might want to add to your own private travel medication bag. This includes items like EpiPens, an asthma inhaler, or any pills or medicine that you need to take for specific conditions.

Toiletries

You’ll need a small toiletries bag for the bare essentials. Our list has the following items:

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste;
  • Dental floss;
  • Deodorant;
  • Shampoo and conditioner;
  • Body wash or soap;
  • Sunscreen;
  • Nail clippers;
  • Hairbrush or comb;
  • Razor;
  • Bug spray.

These are only the bare essentials that you’re going to need, and you’re free to include any moisturizers, cleansers, eye masks, or skincare products that you use on this list.

It’s not a big problem if you forget something on this list or if you run out since you can easily go and buy it at a local shop. The only issue that you might come across is if they don’t sell the specific brand of the product that you use.

Charger Adapter

A very common problem that a lot of people run into on their first trip abroad is not bringing along an adapter for their cell phone charger. This is a common issue, yet it rarely appears on articles about travel tips for some reason.

In order to make sure that you can charge your phone without having to go out and buy a brand new charger that can fit a specific plug, you’d want to go over a few converters.

Items like the Fuse Chicken Universal or the Travel Adapter are meant to fit into any wall or power socket and allow you to get a full charge regardless of which country you travel to or how their plugs look.

We’d also suggest getting a power bank since you won’t always have a conveniently placed power source near you while traveling, and these items can help you keep your phone alive on those long journeys.

Luggage Locks

This is pretty self-explanatory; the luggage locks help you add that little bit of security to your luggage that can really help put your mind at ease. These items are smaller than padlocks and are meant to hold both of the luggage zippers together so that the pocket can only be opened by taking off the lock or sheer brute force.

Your luggage can still get stolen and simply ripped apart to get to the contents inside, but very few people actually go to the trouble of stealing large suitcases and running away with them. Instead, most thieves are just likely going to try to open your pockets while you’re not looking and try to steal something from them as quickly as possible, and these small locks help prevent that.

Water Bottle

Traveling is synonymous with exploration, and that means a lot of moving around and walking. If you’re not careful and forget to bring any water with you when you go out, then you could easily get exhausted and dehydrated or even get a full-on heat stroke.

This is exactly why items like the LifeStraw water bottle make it onto our international travel checklist. This item is small but can hold just enough water for a few hours of exploration. It also has a latch that can allow you to attach it to your belt buckle or backpack and even has a convenient straw attached to the top.

Wet Wipes and Sanitizer

It’s obvious that you’ll want to try the local delicacies when you go to another country, and a lot of the time, this means getting food from stalls on the street. These stalls are probably the most authentic way to find out about the local food, but they don’t really come with a sink where you can wash your hands before you dig in.

This leaves you with two options: eat without washing your hands and get a bit more flavor on your food than you bargained for or carry a pocket-sized pack of wet wipes or hand sanitizer with you.

Taking food out of the equation, these are also just convenient items to always have with you. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to wash your hands often when you travel, but it’s more than likely that you’ll subconsciously touch your face many times during the day, which is an easy way to develop a few zits or even a rash.

Headphones

A good pair of noise-canceling headphones are a must when you travel. The experience is always made better with your favorite tunes blasting in your ears, but it’s also a good way to get away from the noise on the plane.

Additionally, you can also download your favorite audiobook and just focus on that for the duration of the flight, which will make a dull flight a lot more bearable.

Books

We sort of touched on this topic in our previous segment, but a good story is a great way to kill the inherent boredom that comes with traveling by plane. Regardless of whether the story comes in audio or text form, the important thing is that it’ll help those long hours pass by much more quickly.

A book is also a good way to spend a day at the beach or even in your hotel room if the weather isn’t compatible with sunbathing. You could also choose to bring along a tablet and a few PDF format books and even a few movies, but for our money, there’s nothing like the feel of an actual book in your hands.

Luggage

Passport and luggage

The last segment of our international travel checklist article will focus on all of the clothes you should consider bringing along with you on your trip.

But, before we get into it, the first thing that we’d recommend that you buy is sturdy travel bags. They don’t have to be military-grade, but you’ll still want to make sure that everything from your carry-on to your toiletries bag is reliable and won’t give out on you halfway.

This is especially important for suitcases. This means that if you aren’t sure that your old travel bag is capable of withstanding any more trips without ripping, you should immediately replace it. It’s better to spend a few bucks and get a new bag instead of having to pick your clothes off of the ground when it rips in transit. We also recommend investing in a quality set of packing cubes. You can organize all of your items and separate them from clean and dirty mid-way through your trip.

Walking Shoes

If you take nothing else from this article, all we ask is to remember to bring along a comfortable pair of sneakers that you can walk around in. Don’t buy new shoes that haven’t been broken in yet, and don’t wear sandals or footwear without socks. Both will lead to blisters, which means that you’ll be in pain on day two of your trip.

We’re not saying that you should bring along the most worn-out pair of shoes you own, but rather your favorite pair. Everyone has that one pair of sneakers that they prefer, and that’s the most comfortable. We promise; that’s your best choice of footwear on any trip.

Comfortable Clothing

Regardless of whether you’re going to the beach or the mountains, your primary style is largely going to consist of whichever articles of clothing you decided would be the most comfortable.

Similarly, as with footwear, we’re not saying that you should bring along pants that have a hole in the back and shirts with so many stains that they look like a Jackson Pollock painting, but rather that you should prioritize tracksuits and loose clothing.

You’ll want something comfortable to move around in but also practical. We’d recommend bringing along one or two tracksuits, at least two pairs of comfy jeans, and as many t-shirts or long-sleeved shirts that you can fit into your luggage.

The decision is ultimately up to you, but if you’re a person that likes to mix and match their clothing and wears a lot of layers, you might want to consider toning down your wardrobe a bit, unless you plan on lugging around a separate suitcase just for your dress shirts.

At Least One Classy Outfit

Speaking of fancy attire, you might get tired of getting food from your hotel room or food stalls at some point during your trip and decide to treat yourself by going to a proper restaurant. However, ordering a 3-course meal in a fancy restaurant might warrant respecting a dress code, so you can’t just roll up to the door in flip-flops and shorts.

You might not have to wear a tie and a suit, but you still would want to pack at least one long-sleeved button-up shirt and one pair of dress pants. The shoes are optional, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be turned away at the door because you’re wearing sneakers.

However, for the love of God, please don’t wear sandals at dinner. We don’t know if any restaurant would turn you away because of that decision, but wearing sandals with a shirt and dress pants should probably be illegal. We can’t condone that much of a lapse in judgment.

Sweater and Scarf

Yes, we’re pretty aware that we’re starting to sound like your mother at this point, but have you ever thought that she might have been right about bringing along some warm clothes with you, just in case?

All joking aside, a comfortable sweater and a good scarf don’t take up all that much luggage space, so there’s no harm in bringing them. Plus, we guarantee that you’ll be glad that you brought them along when you end up going on that night cruise or if the weather relieves itself.

Pajamas

Aside from the obvious reason to bring pajamas (that they’re comfortable for sleeping), this is a great option for people that don’t really like sleeping in a bed that they’re not used to. 

A lot of people just forgo bringing any sleep attire with them and simply choose to sleep in their underwear or tracksuits instead. This is a viable option, but if you’re not used to sleeping like this at home, it could mean having to do a bit more tossing and turning before you actually get comfortable enough to drift off.

Regardless of how comfortable you feel in just about anything you wear, a pair of your pajamas from home can really help you relax at night and allow you to actually feel like you’re in your own bed rather than just in a hotel room.

Towels

You never know if the towels that the hotels provide are as clean as they would like you to think they are. The beach towel that you bought from that stand next to the busy street is probably so covered in dust that not even an archeologist would want to touch it before it’s been through the washing machine at least once.

The safest bet when it comes to towels is always going to be the ones you bring from home. You’ve washed them yourself, you know you won’t have an allergic reaction to the softener, and you won’t have to worry about hotels not providing you with any clean towels all of the time.

Conclusion

Our international travel checklist might be pretty different from any guide books or recommendations you might have seen on social media. It definitely won’t suit everyone’s tastes, and there are definitely improvements that you can make to suit your needs a bit better. 

However, we still stand behind our opinion that if you print out our list and follow most of our points, you’ll be able to prepare for your next trip without having to worry about anything.

Diego Navarro
Diego became interested in a nomadic lifestyle during a semester abroad during college. He spends most of his time in central Europe and the American southwest (where his family is from). He loves exotic food and playing video games on his Nintendo Switch.

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