Whether you're traveling to go wild or into the wild, the first step on your journey should always begin with this ultimate overseas travel checklist. So if you're ready, let's begin.
International Travel To-Do List
If you’re going to be away on an overseas trip for an extended period of time (gap year, student, work assignment, volunteering) your international pre-trip preparation checklist should include the following:
✅ 3 TO 6 MONTHS BEFORE
The planning stage. If you haven't experienced it already, you'll find that international travel is much more different than your regular local trip. If traveling from one state to another in just a couple of days takes a lot of preparation, how much more if you're going on an international trip? You just got to make sure you're prepared and you've got all the angles covered because you're far away from home.
☐ Choose your destination - There are two types of travelers: those who choose a place first before thinking of the budget, and those who budget first before looking for a country to visit. Whether you're Type A or Type B, it's essential that you research the place you have selected, be familiar with their culture, and learn a bit about their language, social etiquette, and more. Join FB travel groups about people who have been to that specific country and start asking questions, getting insights from their personal experiences.
☐ Create your itinerary - After you have gotten to know a bit about the country you're visiting, think of the things you want to do there. Try to look into the best tourist spots, activities, festivals, attractions, and rank them from what you want to see first and work your way towards the bottom of your list.
☐ Travel Agency or DIY? - Decide whether you're going to book with a travel agency or have a DIY trip so you can prepare for the cost and know the places you are going to visit beforehand. The thing about booking with a travel agent is that you may not have full control of your time and the places you are going to see as opposed to booking and doing everything yourself. If you're someone who's not really into planning things, booking your trip with a travel agency would be best. But if you're the type who enjoys planning and having the liberty to choose where to go and when to go, you should definitely DIY.
☐ Do the paperwork - If it's your first time to travel abroad, make sure you have a valid passport (at least 6 months validity). Also, check the visa requirements for your destination. Make sure other important documents like your driver's license, bank cards, etc. are not expired. Obtain a consent letter (if only one parent is traveling with the kids). Make digital and printed copies of these documents and have separate storage for them.
☐ Get your finances in order - Start allocating money for your trip while you're still a few months away. Aside from your plane tickets, accommodation, transportation, food, and travel insurance, consider the expenses for unexpected stuff like health emergencies, activities, shopping, and gifts, etc. Allot a travel budget and make sure to stick to it!
☐ Book in advance - Booking ahead of time usually guarantees special offers, deals, and discounts that you wouldn't find anywhere else. This means you get to choose the most comfortable hotel rooms, the best seat on the plane, and save time and avoid long lines in restaurants. More than anything else, you also have the liberty to change your plans or cancel your booking months or weeks before your trip, in case you change your mind.
☐ Schedule a visit to your doctor - Schedule checkups with your dentist, doctors, specialists, and inform them about your travel plans. Schedule the necessary vaccinations, ask for prescription medication according to the length of your trip, etc.
☐ Inform trusted family and friends about the trip - Now that your plans are starting to fall into place, don't forget to tell your loved ones about it. Or better yet, inform them beforehand or as you are planning your journey because they might have some ideas or suggestions that can help you travel more efficiently. Make sure to tell them when you'll be leaving and when you'll be back, so they'll notice if something goes amiss.
☐ Get an international driving permit - If you want to explore the place on your own without having to rely on public transportation, make sure to obtain an international driving permit. Many countries require non-resident drivers to have this permit before allowing them to legally drive a rented vehicle. This also guarantees you won't get fined if you get stopped by the local authorities.
☐ File for university / vacation leave - Don't stress yourself out answering business phone calls when you should be enjoying every second of your trip. Request a leave of absence from your studies/work months in advance so you can meet deadlines before your planned leave.
☐ Get Travel Insurance - Things don't always go as planned. However, there are times when nothing really goes as planned. You can lose your luggage, your flight could get canceled, you might get into an accident, or even need to be evacuated - you name it, you're at the mercy of Murphy's Law when you're traveling. The good news? A quick phone call to your insurance provider can prepare you for such emergencies. You can check this post for a Travel Insurance 101 and this post to better understand your coverage when traveling abroad.
✅ 1 MONTH BEFORE
The finalizing stage. This is where you finalize everything and make sure everything's right where it should be, from your itinerary to the minute details of the trip.
☐ Get your shots - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting the recommended travel vaccinations with your doctor 4-6 weeks before your international trip. Keep in mind that each traveler's vaccine list is going to be unique because of different factors such as:
✓ Personal medical history (allergies, chronic conditions)
✓ The country you're headed to (rural areas, developing countries)
✓ Length of stay (student, tourist, volunteer)
✓ Activities (volunteering, mountain climbing)
✓ Additional vaccines may be necessary if you're pregnant or if you're traveling with children.
☐ Finalize travel itinerary - This is the time to add any last-minute changes to your itinerary - maybe there's a new city you want to include, activities you just can't miss to do, etc . Then finalize your itinerary, make sure everything is in order, and keep a printed or digital copy for your reference.
☐ Finalize accommodations and other reservations - By this time, you should have already compared prices and costs and have booked your flights and other reservations for your trip. Make sure to have your confirmation email printed or digitally saved. If you are going to make some changes, make sure to get everything booked and settled before the first week of the month before your D-Day passes.
☐ Get to know the local transportation system - Have a plan for transportation especially for that first day arriving at your destination's airport. Are you going to take the taxi, bus, or train? Rent a car? Or book an Uber or Lyft? If possible, research how much specific taxi fares should be or if there are passes or cards needed, and where to obtain them. Get to know the distance between point A and point B, how long it will take you there, and how to get there. Knowing these things will help you save energy from walking when you could've taken the metro or help you save money when you could've just walked.
☐ Double-check your paperwork - Make sure you've completed the necessary paperwork like your visas and passports, itineraries, IDs, etc. Don't forget to make several printed and digital copies in case you lose any during the trip.
☐ Remind family and friends about your trip - As you are only a month away from your trip abroad, subtly remind your family and friends about this by asking them what they'd want as souvenirs when you get back. For sure, they'll get even more excited than you are!
☐ Download any of our FREE packing lists - Make sure you don't leave anything important behind by following a packing list. This is also the perfect time to start buying any essential travel items that you don't have yet. Don't have the time to make your own packing list? Don't worry! We have awesome packing lists for every kind of trip. Head over to the bottom of this post to download any of them!
☐ Learn a few words from the local language - Learn some important words and greetings in the local language to help you get around places, whether you're reading signs or asking for directions. You can buy a pocket dictionary or download Duolingo to help you out with basic but useful sentences you can use. Plus, you'll have that sense of accomplishment when you can successfully converse with the locals without using a translator. And the locals might even find it amusing to hear a foreigner speaking their language, thus turning it into a fun and memorable experience.
☐ Visit local food chains that may not be available in other countries - Going on a long trip? This is optional but if you're going to miss the local food chains in your home country, be sure to dig in and settle your cravings before leaving! Although trying new cuisines brings a fun, new experience, nothing beats the food you have at the land you call home.
☐ Throw a going-away party with friends and family - As you're slowly approaching your D-Day, make plans with your closest friends and family to meet them before you leave. Just a simple dinner or a night out will do.
✅ 1 WEEK BEFORE
The packing stage. You're getting closer to your D-Day and by this time, you must already be very excited! Now that you've finalized everything for your trip, it's time to tighten up some details.
☐ Enroll in STEP - Enrolling in a Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) or other similar traveler programs is very important. It notifies you about the latest safety and security information for the country you're visiting from the U.S. embassy or consulate so you can have safer travels. This will also allow the US. embassy to easily contact and locate you should there be any emergency or calamity in the area.
☐ Pay your bills - Yes, you read that right. Pay your bills. While it’s probably the last thing you want to do before going on your epic trip, you also probably don't want to return to a heat-less, electricity-less, internet-less, and cable-less house either. Depending on how long you'll be away, you can either set up an automatic payment system with your bank to make sure you don’t miss any payments. Or request a temporary suspension on your account instead for services like your cable and internet.
☐ Book a house sitter - Arrange for a house sitter while you are away to make sure everything is well taken care of when you come back. But if you don't want to spend extra money on this, you can always ask a relative or your closest and most trusted friend to stay at your house for a couple of days, or until you return, and just bring back some souvenirs for them as a way of saying thanks.
☐ Make arrangements for your furbabies - If it's not possible to take your pets with you on your holiday abroad, make sure to find a safe environment where they can be well-cared for while you're away. Leave them with family. The best thing about this setup is the peace of mind that your furbaby is going to be well-taken care of to the point of being spoiled rotten. Hit two birds with one stone by having a trusted family or friend, house sit (and pet sit) for you. If your pet requires special attention, hire a professional pet sitter through the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters or DogVacay.
☐ Make cell & data plans - Avoid racking up thousands of dollars in roaming data when you travel abroad by either getting an international roaming plan or by unlocking your phone to be compatible with the country's network and buying a local SIM card with a basic calling and browsing plan. Subscribing to an international phone plan will be convenient, but buying a local sim will save you more money.
☐ Download entertainment - You're in for quite a long flight and instead of staring deep into space while you're in transit, keep yourself entertained by downloading your favorite movies, songs, ebooks, and games on your phone so you can forget the tiresome journey. Better to download them than stream using your data. Don't forget to bring your headphones!
☐ Inform your bank / credit card company of travel plans. - Don't forget to notify your bank about your international trip before using your credit or debit card abroad. This way, your bank will keep an eye on your account to avoid identity theft and detect fraud if your card gets lost or stolen. For faster and convenient transfers, sign up for mobile banking. Just make sure not to do transactions using an unstable public WIFI.
☐ Make digital and printed copies of all travel documents - Keep all these stored in one place where they will be safe from being lost, stolen, or misplaced. And as a backup, send photos of these documents to yourself in your email.
☐ Learn the airline's luggage restrictions - Check with your airline regarding their luggage restrictions. International luggage size standards are mostly based on weight, with 50 pounds as the usual limit for checked luggage while a carry-on bag must not be too large with maximum dimensions of 22 x 18 x 10 inches. However, each airline has its own rules on the size of luggage so be sure to look into it.
☐ Create a packing area - Any flat surface like the bedroom floor will do. This is where you can toss clean clothes that you want to pack, plan outfit ideas, place any other item you need to bring, etc. This makes the packing process easier and less stressful.
☐ Step up your packing game - Remember that the most disastrously embarrassing travel stories always involve two things - disorganized luggage and a person recklessly doubting the organizing power of clear packing cubes. If you're prone to overpacking, clear packing cubes force you to be mindful of the space in your luggage, so you end up taking only the essentials with you. We highly recommend these:
✔️Starter Set - The perfect set to organize your carry-on luggage. It includes an extra small cube that you can use for your toiletries (it's TSA approved!), a small cube for your undies and socks, a medium cube for your shirts and blouses, and a spacious large cube for your bulky clothing items like sweaters and jeans.
✔️ Complete Bundle - This complete bundle of joy neatly organizes checked luggage for couples or families sharing a suitcase. With this generous bundle, you'll get 2 pieces of all 4 cube sizes, 3 sets of folding boards, 2 shoe bags, and a laundry bag.
✅ 1 DAY BEFORE
It's the day before D-Day! You've got everything checked and packed by now. The adventure awaits!
☐ Check-in online 24 hours before your flight - Don't wait to check-in at the airport when you can do it online 24 hours before your flight departs. If you have downloaded your airline's app, they will either send you an email or notification that you can check in already. This will save you time lining up at the check-in counter, plus, you'll get to know if there are any delays the day or even hours before your flight.
☐ Charge electronics and portable power bank - Charge your phone and make sure your portable power bank is full. You would definitely want a cashless transaction when traveling and most of your reservation confirmations are in there, plus you will be taking tons of photos upon arriving (or even while in transit), so make sure your battery's at 100% before D-Day.
☐ Weigh your luggage - Avoid paying excess baggage fees by checking your airline's baggage weight restrictions and then weighing your luggage to see if they coincide. If not, consider transferring other items to your carry-on, or better yet, just leave them if they're not that important. Packing light is the key!
☐ Confirm your flights / reservations - Unless you want to go to the airport at the wrong time and date, confirm your flight number, date, and time of your departure right before you leave. Checking the AM and PM of your flight is of great importance. Do the same with your hotel reservations, just to make sure that you booked correctly and that they're expecting you on the day you arrive.
☐ Get enough rest - We know you're too excited to tick items from your itinerary but seriously, make sure you get enough rest so you won't feel drained during your trip. Also, don't go partying or staying up all night before your departure. There's no guarantee you can sleep comfortably on the plane, so get rested before you fly.
☐ Set an alarm - If you're going to stay up all night to get some final work done before your D-Day, make sure to set an alarm so you won't miss your flight.
☐ Get to the airport 4 hours early - Rule of thumb when traveling, get to the airport 4 hours ahead. You'll never know what the traffic is like and you would want to get check in an hour before your flight. Remember, you can't skip to the front of the security line just because you're running late.
☐ Check tickets and other travel documents - Make sure your plane ticket, ID, itinerary, and other necessary travel documents are kept in an easy-access place - your purse or personal items bag - so you won't have to dig through your things when you get to the airport just to present your documents.
☐ Change money into local currency - Use an ATM to exchange currency. Depending on your bank and destination, you might get better rates and lower fees.
☐ Double-check cell phone plan - Make sure your phone is set and ready for international travel. It doesn't hurt to double-check; what hurts is when you come home to a sky-high phone bill.
☐ Check the local weather forecast - Just to make sure you're wearing the right clothes when you land. Although the weather can be quite unpredictable, checking on the weather forecast will somehow help you be prepared whether or not you should wear a coat or sunhat.
☐ Prep house before leaving - Don't forget to throw the trash, unplug any electrical appliances (except for the fridge), request pause on mails, set motion detector lights, close the windows and doors, and keep your keys safe with you. Check out our Free Closing Up the House checklist to guide you!
Are you a travel junkie? Veteran business traveler? Wanderlust suddenly hit you? If you have any other travel hacks to add, make sure to share it with fellow travelers in the comments section.