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14 Things you absolutely have to do before international travel
things to do before international travel
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There are so many things to do before international travel, and packing is just one of them!

This international travel checklist starts after you’ve booked your flight(s), and you’ve arranged accommodation and rental cars. Here’s what has to happen next.

1. Check your passport expiration date

You can get a passport with an expiration date of 10 years in the future. With such a long window to travel, it can be easy to forget to renew your passport. However, do yourself a huge favor and make sure your passport has at least 6 months of travel left before it expires. In fact, the US State Department recommends that you renew your passport at least 9 months before it is set to expire.

Having at least six months left on your passport may seem excessive but it is required by many countries. The worse thing about a situation like this is that your departing airport may allow you to travel, but you may be turned about at your destination.

Once you have applied for your passport, allow 10-12 weeks for the passport application to be processed. For an extra fee, you can get it done much faster.

Also, be sure to make 2-3 copies of your passport and keep them in separate places. For example, your passport in your purse, one copy of your passport in your carry-on luggage, another in your checked luggage, and a digital copy in the cloud.

Things you need for international travel visa requirements

2. Make sure you have the required documents

For US travelers, a passport is often all you need to travel. However, this is not a given. As a US citizen, check the State Department’s website to make sure you don’t need a visa or other documents before you are allowed entry into a foreign country. Sometimes you can complete travel paperwork on the airplane, which can be approved upon arrival. This is not always the case so it’s best to quickly check to make sure.

3. If you’re driving, check the requirements

If you are renting a car at your final destination, you’ll want to know if your US license will be acceptable, or if they will need an international driver’s license.

4. Check for travel warnings and health advisories

Obviously, this will depend on where you are traveling but it’s always a good idea to see if any travel warnings have been issued. There may be short-term conditions that can pose a threat to travelers. Many travel insurance policies will not offer insurance to countries that are under travel warnings.

In the time of covid, it’s also important to check CDC’s website to find out the most current information about the destination you are traveling to.

5. Fill your prescriptions and get vaccinations if necessary

If you take prescription medicine, be sure to get a refill before you go. You will want to make sure you have more than enough medicine during your trip. Pack your prescriptions (in their prescription bottles) in your carry-on luggage. If you’re using syringes, get a letter from your doctor, and declare your syringes before you go through security. Also, be sure to make copies of your prescriptions + the generic drug name, and pack them separately from your medication.

In a time of covid, some destinations require that you have a negative covid test from 72 hours before your departure. You’ll therefore want to check what their requirements are.

Different destinations require different vaccinations, so check with the CDC to see what is necessary for the destination you are traveling to. For maximum protection, it is said that you should get your required shots six weeks before you leave.

6. Prepare a first-aid medicine kit

You may have a headache, trouble sleeping, constipated. Even if these things rarely happen to you at home, they may happen during your travels. Yes, there are pharmacies in foreign countries but avoid the hassle by being prepared.

7. If possible, get currency

This is not essential, but a good idea.

Once you get to your final destination, you can usually get to an ATM machine at the airport where you can withdraw the local currency. You can use this to pay for taxis, tips, etc. However, needing to find an ATM puts that added stress on you. You will have to consider what works best for you – trying to get to an atm upon arrival or trying to get a bit of currency before you leave.

8. Make sure you have accepted payment methods

This is one of those essential things to do before international travel!

Cash is great, but it’s not always the most convenient payment method. Make sure you have options: cash for tips and taxis, credit cards for hotels, rental cars, etc.

For credit cards, it’s always a good idea to:

  • get credit cards that do not charge a foreign transaction fee—you don’t want to come home to a big bill;
  • let the card issuers know when and where you will be traveling. This may seem like a hassle but it’s important, otherwise, the issuer may see international charges as suspicious, and therefore deny those charges.

In addition to credit cards, you may want debit cards too to withdraw cash from ATMs.

Finally, be sure to write down your debit and credit card numbers, as well as the toll-free numbers of the credit card companies. Store them somewhere other than your wallet. If your wallet gets snatched, you’ll be able to call the credit card companies/ banks and let them know.

9. Get directions to your hotel/Airbnb before you leave

If you are taking a taxi from the airport, it is likely the taxi driver will know where to take you, but he/she may not know. Be prepared for that by getting the directions ahead of time.

What if you are renting a car. You may choose to upgrade to GPS, but GPS is not reliable 100% of the time. It is, therefore, best to be prepared, just in case.

You could get the directions via Google Maps and download them to your phone. That way, even if you don’t have WiFi, you can still have access to the map.

charge electronics before your flight

10. Get travel insurance

Travel insurance is not expensive and considering all the things that could happen (flight cancellations, lost luggage, etc), you might want to get some. 

11. Research your destination

When it comes to researching our destinations, we usually check the weather, the activities, the hotels, etc. In other words, the fun things. However, there are a few other things you have to do before international travel:

  • Find out about customs and norms.
  • Check what is going on in the cities you are traveling to. You never know if a train strike or something related can derail your carefully laid plans. By knowing what could happen, you can plan ahead.
  • Know how to say simple things like thank you, please, hello, where is the bathroom.
  • Know who to tip and how much to tip. You don’t want to overtip and therefore seem like Mr/Mrs. Moneybags, thereby making you a target for theft.
  • If you are traveling to a conservative country, don’t pack tank tops, mini skirts, shorts, or other revealing clothes.

12. Plan your itinerary

Being spontaneous is fun and you can certainly be spontaneous on your trip, but it’s a really good idea to have some sort of itinerary. 

Make a list of the things you want to do and figure out when and how you can do it. Do not dismiss this step. Traveling abroad is a wonderful, sometimes life-altering adventure. It doesn’t just put you in another location, it also resets your brain. Therefore, if you don’t consciously plan your activities, you may forget about it. 

packing for international trips

13. Pack early and pack wisely

You do not want to be rushed while packing. Plan ahead and start packing days before you leave. This may feel weird but as you pack, you’re going to realize you’re out of things, and you want to have enough time to get whatever you need.

Certainly, do not leave packing to the day before you leave—you’ve already got a long pre-departure list of things to do.

  • Don’t travel with valuables or with things that you can’t replace. By traveling with valuables, you are making yourself a target. If you have to bring them, don’t flaunt them. Pack them in your carry-on luggage, (not your checked luggage), or keep them in your hotel safe.
  • If you wear prescription glasses, be sure to pack an extra pair.
  • Put your name and address on closed baggage tags.
  • In addition to the closed baggage tag, also put your name on the inside of your luggage.
  • Use TSA-approved locks. However, check on this because TSA locks may not be recognized in the country you are traveling to, and they could be cut to inspect your bags. Either way, always keep your luggage locked.
  • If you have done your research on your destination, you’ll know what season to pack for. However, even if you’re traveling to a country where it is summer, it might be cool on the airplane. Consider things like this and pack accordingly.

14. Take care of your home responsibilities

You won’t be there, but life will still continue in your home when you go travel. Here are a few things you might want to take care of:

  • Stop your mail delivery;
  • Pay bills that will come due while you’re gone;
  • If you have houseplants and/or pets, start thinking about who you can ask to take care of them;
  • If you leave in a week, certainly don’t go grocery shopping. You want to empty out your refrigerator as much as possible before you leave.

Once you have all of the above out of the way, you’ll need to look at yet another international travel checklist – a pre-departure checklist. 

A pre-departure international travel checklist is equally important because it will help you stay on track!



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About The Author

Hi! We’re the Cheltens’. We visit South Africa 1-2 times per year. We want to share our experiences with you so that you may make educated decisions when you plan your next trip to the rainbow nation.

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