I travel a lot – usually for work, sometimes for fun. When it’s a work trip, I don’t worry about all that much, because the company has to have my back. When it’s a play trip though, I like to make sure that I have preplanned almost everything. (I’ve learned the hard way too many times that when I haven’t preplanned anything I start to get really anxious about everything.) My past trip to Europe is one of the trips that I have been most prepared for in my life, and in celebration of that I’d like to share my 15-item international trip checklist with you.
Figure out if you need a Visa
If you’re traveling from the US to Europe, you probably won’t need a travel visa. If you’re traveling from the US to anywhere else, there’s a chance you will need a visa. Find out if you can buy a visa when you get to the airport or if you will need to apply for one ahead of time. This process can take up to two months, so make sure you start early.
Check in with the CDC
The CDC is the Center for Disease Control & Prevention. If the country you’re going to has vaccination requirements, you will want to take care of these a few weeks in advance. Check in with your doctor for the easiest way to fulfill all of these requirements. Or just google where you can get things like that taken care of in your city.
Call your credit card companies
Tell your credit card companies you are leaving the country so that they know not to be alarmed when you make a charge somewhere else. Not only that, but while you’re on the phone with them, ask what the international fees are. I was shocked to learn recently that one of my credit cards has a 3% fee and the other (the one I use less) only has a 0.08% fee. I’d never asked that question before and definitely could have saved a couple of bucks on some trips.
Take out money for your trip
If you’re going to be traveling to a place with a different currency, take out some money before you get there. You never know how soon you’re going to need it and whether or not you’re going to be able to find an ATM. I had never done this until my most recent trip and I felt a lot more at peace knowing that if my credit card didn’t work for some reason I had a little bit of cash to get me through. Consider whether or not you need to move money out of your savings account into your checking account before you leave for the trip. Sure, your goal isn’t to spend all of it, but it’s probably better to have a buffer just in case. And finally, look at your current finances to understand exactly how much you can afford to spend on the trip, it’s always better to go into the trip with a number you can spend per day so you can gauge if you’re way over or (hopefully) way under that amount.
Add an international data plan to your phone
Adding an international data plan to your phone might sound expensive, but there’s a good chance it’s cheaper than you think and will be good to have if you really can’t figure out where you are or really need to Google something. Also, if you’re spending +$1,000 on a trip, what’s another $50 or so as some insurance?
Figure out what you’re missing while you’re gone
There’s a chance you’re missing someone’s birthday, someone’s anniversary, a holiday or two, a big exam, a weekly appointment, etc. Look ahead on your calendar, figure out what you’re going to be missing and take care of it (even if that means canceling something) before it happens. Before my most recent trip I sent out approximately 20 birthday postcards so that I could wish my friends a happy birthday and not have to worry about any of it when I got back. That way I can pick up right where I left off when I get back.
Decide what to do about work
Have you told all of your project teams that you’re leaving? You’ve probably asked for permission to take vacation, but have you told all the team members everything they need to know while they’re gone? If you have a side hustle, what are you going to do about that while you’re gone? Take a leave of absence for a little bit? Prepare a lot of product ahead of time? Move all of your client’s appointments out a few weeks? What exactly is this trip going to be affecting?
Put up an autoresponder
After taking care of business, put up your autoresponder to let people know that you’re gone. I always put once up for my work email address and this is the first time that I have put one on my personal email address (which is the same one I use for the blog) as well. I used this template that Jess Lawlor created and while admittedly, it feels a little weird to essentially tell my friends I’m putting them on hold, I didn’t feel any stress about having to answer the emails while I was gone.
Get your house ready
If you have a roommate, do they know everything they need to know if something goes wrong? Does somebody have a spare key in case your neighbor’s email you that your smoke alarm has been low on batteries for over 24 hours? Are the windows closed? Is the heat or air conditioner turned down? Are all the dishes done? Is the trash emptied? There’s seriously nothing better than coming back to a clean house when you get back from your trip. Partially because you don’t need to clean it when you get back and partially because you’re going to be bringing the mess with you.
Buy the book
Even if you don’t buy the book about the place you’re visiting, do some research on the area you’re going to be visiting. Make a list of things you’d like to do. Get a map and study it a little bit before you get there so that you have a general idea of where the big monuments are in relation to each other and where you’re staying. That way you won’t look like a complete tourist. Not that there’s a problem with looking like a complete tourist, but sometimes it’s nice to feel a little bit more like a local.
Learn some key phrases & information
If you’re going to a city where you don’t speak the language, it may be useful to learn some key phrases. Start with these: yes, no, please, thank you, pardon me, I’m sorry, I don’t speak (insert language here), and do you speak English? Do people tip in the country you’re going to? And might you need change to go to the bathroom when you get there? There are all important things you’ll be glad you looked up later.
Write down the important stuff
Now this might be a me thing, but I like to have all the information for the trip in one place. Train times, hotel and Air BnB information, how to get from point A to point B, and how to use the subway. In addition, I like to have a copy of my passport, all of my credit card numbers (and toll free international phone numbers to call in case something goes wrong) in one or two places just in case anything goes wrong.
Figure out your electronic situation
Do you need an outlet converter? Do you need a voltage converter? Should you bring a portable charger (or two) because your cell phone can’t go the entire day without being plugged in? The easiest thing to do is leave all of your electronics at home that are the wrong voltage, during my first two trips to Europe I blew out two of my hair straighteners, that wasn’t fun.
Make a copy of addresses you might need
Write down all of the addresses of people you might want to send postcards to while you’re gone. This is a fun way to stay in touch with people and share your adventures from the road.
Buy a journal
And finally, number fifteen, buy a journal (or find one of the ones you have stashed away that you’ve meant to use a million times before). Writing in a journal has quickly become one of my favorite things to do on an international trip – write down the story. Write down what you do, what you ate, and all of the mishaps that happen along the way. You’ll love reading it later.
PS. If you’re traveling to India, I created a special guide just for that trip when I got back.