*Because I’m regularly asked for recommendations, and to make things as easy on you as possible, I have included many links for your convenience. Some of these may be affiliate links.
3 - 6 MONTHS BEFORE YOUR TRIP
Check your passport
If you check your passport in preparation for your next overseas trip thinking “No problem, it’s good for another 4 months”, guess again. Did you know for international travel your passport must have two or more blank pages left AND be good for at least 6 months from the date of your scheduled return? I learned this one the hard way many years ago (before becoming a travel agent), on a scheduled trip to Bali. I had a good 4 months left on my passport, but when I was about to board my Bali-bound connecting flight in Atlanta (from Orlando), the airline wouldn’t let me board the plane. As luck would have it, there is a passport processing center in Atlanta, but it required us to get a last-minute hotel room, be waiting when the passport office opened in the morning (luckily it was a Monday morning), and then we sat there for almost 8 hours waiting, with no guarantee they would get it to us that day. Thankfully, they did, and we were able to catch a different flight to Bali that night. We lost a day, incurred the unexpected expense of a hotel room and expedited passports, but we did, ultimately, make it to our destination.
Don’t learn this lesson the hard way. This is a detail a trusted travel agent (hello!) would help ensure doesn’t get overlooked.
It’s also a good idea to take a picture of your passport and email it to yourself, and perhaps a family member that you trust to keep it in a safe place should you ever need it.
In many locations around the world, there are certain vaccines that are highly recommended. But did you know some destinations REQUIRE proof of certain vaccines before you can enter? Before my trip to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, I finally bit the bullet and got the Yellow Fever vaccine I had been avoiding. It’s a little expensive, and I’ve always been one to drag my feet when it came to vaccines but, with the amount of international travel I do, it finally just seemed like the smartest thing. Now, I’m up to date on all my vaccines (Hepatitis A & B, Typhoid, and now, Yellow Fever. I now have a yellow vaccine card that lists all of my vaccines, and I keep it with my passport (in a handy passport holder like this one) in case I’m ever asked to present it. Of course, I also do my homework before I travel to any new destination, and you should, too. Do your homework or, better yet, ask your trusted travel agent.
Know Your Embassy
Know where the U.S. Embassy or consulate is in your destination. Keep that information (address/phone number) on hand, in your notes on your phone, or take a picture and keep it in your photos, or print it out and keep it with your passport (in that handy passport holder I mentioned). Visit https://www.usembassy.gov/.
Enroll in the STEP program
Register your trip in the Smart Travel Enrollment Program at step.state.gov. This is a free program for U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad where you can register your trip with the nearest embassy or consulate in your destination. This way the embassy can communicate with you in the event of a family emergency, or to notify you of any safety issues you need to be aware of (such as natural disasters, or civil unrest). This isn’t to alarm you but to help you feel safe knowing that your local embassy is looking out for you. Be aware, however, that they err on the side of caution, and may end up making you second-guess your trip, or going anywhere for that matter. I like to see what they have to say, and then reach out to other travelers who have been to that destination to find out what their experiences have been. More often than not, as long as you’re smart, there’s nothing to worry about. Truth is, we’re likely just as vulnerable here in the U.S. as in many other countries.
In some instances, travel insurance may be a requirement. But honestly, even when it’s not, it’s always a wise choice. I never travel without it.
These days, due to global warming and other environmental changes, we’re seeing more hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, flooding, and other natural disasters. Plus, airline delays and cancellations, strikes, and more can throw a wrench in your travel plans. Hopefully, this never causes a disruption in any of your travel plans but, if it does, it’s wise to cover your financial investment with travel insurance. Plus, when you travel, your medical insurance may not cover you for any health-related issues you may encounter.
As a frequent traveler, I have done my research over the years. And, when I went “all in” and became a full-time travel advisor several years back, I did even more research. There are a couple of travel insurance companies I stick to, and a few I avoid. When you’re ready to cross that bridge, reach out to me, and I’ll help get you paired up with the right plan for you. Or, if you’re in the mood to DIY, you can get a travel quote and purchase travel insurance here.
1 MONTH PRIOR
Check your luggage
If it’s been a while since you’ve traveled, your luggage has likely been lonely. Pull your favorite piece out of hibernation, dust her off, and reacquaint yourself.
Then, check out her dimensions. Airlines vary (so always check your particular airline's baggage rules for every trip) but, for international flights, the average allowable size for carry-on luggage is usually around 22 by 16 by 9 (and that includes the handle and wheels). I am a big fan now of expandable, hard-case luggage, like this one.
Speaking of carry-on luggage, I always encourage my travel guests to avoid checking a bag if at all possible. I’ve had my luggage get misplaced for days, and I’ve seen it happen to others. On one of our river cruises, there was a couple who wore the same clothes for almost a week because their luggage didn’t make it. More recently, an entire boatload of cruisers in Barcelona was luggage-less due to a baggage handler strike. Another time I saw a family of three arrive for their cruise to Antarctica, but their luggage did not. You can only imagine how limiting that was for them.
Less disruptive but still concerning is when you’re luggage doesn’t make it back home. I waited at baggage claim for an hour before accepting that my suitcases weren’t coming out. Then, I had to wait in another line to file a claim. That’s the last thing you want to deal with after a long overnight international flight. Three days later my luggage was delivered to my home, but it still created a significant amount of stress.
To help inspire you, I’ve created a short video on How to Never Check a Bag Again. When we were preparing for my Kenya Yoga Safari, I got texts and emails from members of the group who were excited that they managed to pack everything into a carry-on. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to do if you follow the suggestions I share in this video.
Just like with carry-on luggage, there are limitations to what qualifies as a personal item. And when you’re packing light, it gives you just a little more space to make it all work. Plus, you get to keep the things you need quick and easy access to at your fingertips (like your phone, camera, book, medications, etc.)
When it comes to personal items, I like this one.
When I discovered packing cubes they were a game-changer for me. They allow me to fit more into my carry-on and stay more organized. Now, I never travel without them. These are a great option.
Daypacks & purses
When I’m out and about for the day during my travels, I try to carry only that which is essential (lip balm, sunscreen, hand sanitizers, etc.). Naturally, I also carry cash and credit cards and, sometimes, my passport (when necessary). So I need something that’s just the right size and anti-theft with slash-resistant straps. I’m a fan of Pacsafe products for this very reason. They’re light and compact, with maximum security, while still allowing fast and easy access. Check it out for yourself. This is the one I use every time I travel.
If you’re a guy or want something bigger than a handbag (to carry a raincoat, camera, jacket, etc.), this Pacsafe backpack is ideal.
Hold the Mail
Some of the things that make it obvious homeowners are away on vacation are things like newspapers piling up in your driveway, and the mailbox getting filled to overflowing. You can ask a friendly neighbor to help you out with this, or make arrangements to have the post office hold your mail (they’ll do this for up to 30 days), https://www.usps.com/manage/hold-mail.htm.
Consider a House Sitter
When I was a teen my family and I returned from a 3-week road trip to Canada only to find our garage refrigerator had died while we were away, with what was a frozen turkey in the freezer. This trip took place in July, and we lived in Florida. I cannot even begin to describe the effect the Florida summer heat and humidity had on that frozen bird after a couple of weeks. The smell had us all gagging the minute we walked in the door.
I’ve also heard stories of people coming home to flooded houses, and worse.
With the amount of travel we do, sometimes for weeks or months at a time, we didn’t feel good leaving our home unattended that often or for that long. Plus, we have several pets (cats, dogs, fish, and even chickens). We started off with various friends housesitting for us but, that wasn’t really a sustainable long-term solution.
Thankfully, we have developed a relationship with a woman we trust completely who house-sits and pet-sits for us every time we travel, whether it’s for a long weekend, or weeks at a time. She has been our go-to for years now. It gives us such peace of mind knowing our fur (and wing) babies are in good hands (she treats them as if they were her own), and our house is not sitting empty. She even cleans for us!
While this might feel a little outside of your comfort zone right now, I cannot recommend enough doing your homework and building a relationship with someone you trust. Check out TrustedHousesitters.com, where you can research vetted house and pet sitters, read through their profiles, check out their reviews, and start honing in on the right person for you.
Maybe a house-sitter feels like too much of a stretch for you right now, but you do want to make arrangements for your pets. You can ask your vet or, using the same vetting and relationship-building process I mentioned for finding the right house sitter, you can build a relationship with a pet sitter who can either come to your home (to feed your cats, walk your dogs, or sing to your birds). Or, in some cases, you can have them take your fur babies into their own homes so your pets don’t have to be alone in an empty house. Check out Rover.com.
1-2 WEEKS PRIOR
Notify your bank and credit card companies of your travels
Speaking of credit cards, some great travel credit cards don’t charge fees on international charges (which can add up) and allow you to accumulate points to apply toward future travel purchases. My husband and I share one credit card, which we use for everything (and then make sure to pay it off every month). This allows us to accumulate some serious points, which are usually enough to pay for our international flights. That’s a HUGE saving if you travel a lot like we do. Here’s the card we use and swear by.
Check into international calling plans with your cell phone company.
Some cell providers charge a hefty fee for international plans. With others, like T-Mobile, it's included at no extra charge. After spending a LOT of money on international plans with other cell providers, I eventually switched over to T-Mobile and I've never looked back. It's the smartest option I know of if you travel frequently and want the most consistence and affordable international coverage.
Check with your provider to ensure you can send and receive unlimited texts while traveling, and make sure you understand how to change the settings on your phone, so you don’t get charged for data roaming and get surprised by a bill of several hundred dollars. If you do a lot of traveling, as we do, you may want to consider switching providers.
Start a packing list
Start making a list of things you need for your trip, so you have time to pick up anything you don’t have without stressing about those details at the last minute. To help make your travels as smooth as possible, ask for the IYT Packing List.
Picking up 3.4 oz travel-size bottles for your liquids (shampoo/conditioner, face wash, lotion, sunscreen, bug spray, etc.), or purchase travel-size bottles of your favorite items, if available. Usually, it’s more cost-effective (and sustainable) to buy refillable bottles, especially if you plan to travel frequently.
24-36 HOURS TO GO
Naturally, you’ll want to take into consideration what you’ll need. Will there be any formal nights, or are you keeping things casual? What’s the weather going to be like? Are you packing warm-weather-wear, or layering up for cool weather?
Even if the weather is expected to be warm, I recommend a lightweight sweater. Airports, hotels, and restaurants sometimes overcompensate for warm weather, and you might be riddled with goosebumps throughout most of your trip if you don’t plan accordingly. I like to keep a lightweight sweater on hand that I can tie around my waist if I don’t need it.
Everyone tends to overpack. I still do, to this day. My goal now is to have everything I need without carrying a bunch of extra clothing I never use halfway around the world with me. Who wants to carry around any extra, unnecessary weight? To travel lightly, here’s what I recommend.
Arrange all the outfits you think you might need on your bed. Then, see what you can reasonably eliminate. Then, when you start packing, you’ll still likely find you have more than you can fit, and there will be another round of elimination. By the time all is said and done, you’ll have what you need and it’ll all fit comfortably in your carry-on bag and personal item.
If you forget something, it’s not the end of the world. Unless you’re headed to Antarctica or some other super-remote destination, most things can be picked up at your destination. I’ve bought raincoats, umbrellas, sweatshirts, and scarves during my travels. Sometimes those were great purchases I appreciated for years to come, and sometimes I simply bought what I could find to get me through the trip.
*Remember all liquids must be 3.4 ounces or less, and should fit into a single one-gallon ziplock bag.
Drink lots of water. Starting a couple of days leading up to, including, and even after your flight. Consider electrolytes and Vitamin C to help boost your immune system. This is what I take with me when I travel.
Download movies, books, and/or podcasts, bring paperbacks or magazines, and prepare yourself with any other entertainment you might enjoy in case your in-seat entertainment system isn’t working on the plane. I’ve seen it happen. Nothing makes for a longer flight than not having something to entertain yourself for several hours at a stretch. My husband and I like to bring games like backgammon or cards for card games.
Charge your phone, computer, tablet, backup batteries, and anything else that you plan to bring with you.
Clean Your House
This might seem like a weird one, but trust me when I tell you it’s so much nicer to come home after a long trip to a clean house, rather than one that was left looking like a tornado tore through it while you were packing and frantically trying to get out the door.
When we travel, I insist that the dishes are done, the beds are made, the laundry is caught up, and everything looks and feels tidy. It’s part of my pre-packing ritual. Trust me. You’ll thank me later.
It can be both exciting and nerve-wracking leading up to a big trip, especially overseas. Help yourself feel prepared with this pre-travel checklist.
Has this been helpful? Did I miss anything? Let me know at [email protected].
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