The Ultimate Checklist for Travelling Abroad – With a Downloadable PDF Checklist
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Okay guys, it’s no secret that planning a trip overseas can be S-T-R-E-S-S-F-U-L! I go into full list-frenzy mode when I have an upcoming trip. There’s more paper involved than an origami lesson at a Japanese school assembly. It always seems to work in my favor though as I very rarely forget something.
When you’re planning for a trip, there’s always just so many things to check off the list. It can be overwhelming and hard to know what to prioritize.
What you’ll find below isn’t a packing list, this is a list of everything you will need to do before you go abroad. It begins three months in advance but if you don’t have three months before leaving, don’t freak out! Just do what is in that section first and you’ll be fine.
My biggest piece of advice… don’t leave everything until the last minute! I once bought my travel insurance 30 minutes before I was picked up to go to the airport. Please don’t be that person!!! After 10 years you would think I’d have this down pat… but that is because I didn’t have this exact ultimate checklist for travelling abroad!
If you just focus on one thing at a time and tick the items off this list one by one, your planning will go smoothly. You’ll get access to my super handy downloadable PDF printable at the bottom of this page BUT WAIT! Don’t just scroll down to get it, make sure you read these details first as they will really help your planning!
Also, bookmark this page for a reference between now and when your flight takes off, you won’t regret it.
Ahhh I’m so excited for you!! This comprehensive international travel checklist will apply to you whether you’re going overseas for a 2-week trip, to study, volunteer, live or work… though it may need tweaking a little for REALLY long trips.
Okay, let’s get into it!!
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3 months before leaving
○ Check your passport is valid and has enough time on it
Many countries require for you to have at least 6 months left before your passport expires from the date you return from your trip. If your passport is getting close to expiration, get the documents together to get a renewed passport sent out to you. This can take between 4 and 6 weeks depending on your country. Getting the required documents together to send in can take a bit of time as well so make sure you factor this in.
To find how much time you need on your passport, go to the government website of the country you’re visiting. To find what documents you need and how long it will take to get your own passport renewed or initially sent out, you’ll find this information on the “passports” section of your own country’s official government website.
○ Book your flights
This is the thing I hate most about travelling. I spend forever researching then generally have buyers regret afterward. But over the years I’ve learned a few tricks!
I use Agoda to find the best flights then either book directly through them or through the airline directly if it’s cheaper as this makes it easier to change your booking if you need.
○ Apply for any necessary visas
In some countries, you can apply for a visa on arrival, but this takes time and is a bit of a stuff around. I would recommend you apply for your visa before you leave. Though it can cost more for some countries, you have peace of mind knowing you can just get on with your trip.
There are plenty of fake websites out there claiming to be the place to get a visa, but these are generally scams. There are also websites who will organize the visa for you. They may be legit, but they’ll charge you a premium.
To get to the correct website, find the country’s official government website and go from there. You can generally tell if its a government website if it contains .gov in the last section of the website address in a Google search.
http://www.evisaindia.org.in/ is NOT the government website though it looks professional. https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/IS the actual website you should use. This can be confusing as the official website looks like it was built in the 90’s and is a pain to use, but it’s the only one you should use.
If you are not sure, there will usually be an embassy for the country you’re visiting in your home country. Just call them, or visit their website, and they should provide you with the correct information.
○ Check requirements for countries
For example, in Afghanistan, it’s a requirement for you to have a yellow fever vaccination certificate if you’re arriving from another country where there is a risk of yellow fever transmission.
And in Brazil you need an International Drivers Permit to drive a car.
You can find a pretty comprehensive list on the Choice website where they mention visas, laws, culture, accommodation, vaccinations, health and safety, transport, emergency contacts, money, the best time to visit and more. It is an Australian site but has plenty of good info!
Another good thing to do is Google “Things I need to know before travelling to…” or “Things I wish I knew before travelling to…” and click on the first few blog posts and have a quick read. A good way to avoid making mistakes others have previously made.
○ Get a check-up with your doctor
This is a good habit to get into. If you’re going for an extended period of time, book in a checkup with your doctor and dentist before leaving. Get on top of those little things that have been bothering you for a while. Have the necessary prescriptions written for what you may need.
On this trip, I brought a year’s worth of the pill because I read online that it’s very expensive in Canada. What I didn’t research was something as simple as Ventolin. In Australia, you can buy Ventolin for Asthma over the counter for about $10. In Canada, I had to pay $75 to see a doctor for a script then another $20 for the Ventolin. Ouch! If I had known that I would have brought a few extras.
Before I went to India I asked the doctor to write prescriptions for common medication I may need. From memory, this was a script for gastro, a general antibiotic, and an antibiotic for a respiratory chest infection. Logically it was much easier to be prepared than to find a doctor in India when I’m already sick, try and explain my issues, then going to the chemist to buy the right medication. I actually filled those scripts in Australia before I left and brought the medication with me. It wasn’t very expensive (maybe a total of $30), and actually ended up saving me when I got REALLY sick in Varanasi.
I don’t recommend popping antibiotics left, right and center, and if you don’t use them and they expire, throw them out.
I can’t legally give medical advice, so make sure you visit a doctor if you have any questions!
○ Get vaccinated
If you’re going anywhere tropical or third-world you will most likely need vaccinations. Make sure you keep a list of all the vaccinations you have ever had. I always ask the doctor to print out the copy whenever I get a shot and I keep it in a medical file at home. This is an easy way to keep up to date if you need booster shots or can skip certain shots altogether.
Even if you’re not going to a third world country, shots like tetanus are usually a good idea as you can get that anywhere. The best person to ask is your doctor as they generally have a list, or there is a great resource at the cdc.gov which gives you a list of countries to choose from.
○ Prepare your finances
Alright guys, the nitty-gritty. Have you got enough dosh to go overseas? If not you better get saving!
Calculate the cost of accommodation, flights, travel insurance, food, transport and about 20% on top of all that for extras and unexpected expenses.
If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.
I know some people who skip the travel insurance. I have been fortunate enough to have never needed to claim and I can’t help but think “Ugh! That was so much wasted money!” But you just never know right!
The reason why I suggest buying travel insurance as soon as you book your flights is this: My mum planned a holiday to China with my grandparents a few years ago. They had bought travel insurance about 2 months before the trip, just after they bought flights and booked their tour. 2 weeks before they left, my Grandad started having health issues. After getting tests done we discovered he had blood cancer.
There was no way any of them were taking a trip to China after that news! After paying the small excess to claim from their insurance, they got their money back from the flights and tour. Thousands of dollars worth.
This is why you need travel insurance and why you should book it as soon as you book your flights. Some providers have a cooling off period if you change your mind and want to switch to another company. I get asked a lot who I use, and that is Good2Go Travel Insurance. Now they are for Aussies only so my second recommendation is World Nomads.
○ Research events and festivals happening while you’re visiting
You don’t want to miss something by a day! This happened to me in Seville. When I was booking accommodation a month in advance, everything was booked out for the dates when I wanted to go so I went the next night that accommodation was available. When I arrived, I discovered I had missed Feria de Abril, just the biggest annual festival the town has. I was heartbroken! If I had known this was on in my research phase, I would have made some sort of arrangement to be there and experience it but instead, I missed out.
○ Book accommodation
One of my favorite parts of booking a holiday, the accommodation! I find this really easy to do through Booking.com by typing in my dates, the location, then filtering down until I get a select list which makes the decision easy.
The other factors I narrow down are:
My budget “Show only available properties” to yes Review score to 8+ Free WiFi
They also have a great map feature so if you’re really struggling, you can make a decision based on if it’s walking distance to places you want to see, or to public transport. You can narrow down the filters even more to suit your needs, just decide what is a priority for you and that will make deciding simple.
If you’re unsure about where your location will be, booking.com have properties with a free cancellation period. I’ve done this a couple of times just to secure accommodation, then canceled when my plans have changed.
The other thing I really like is they have a price match guarantee. So if you book and see the price cheaper on another website, Booking.com will refund the difference. Just make sure you contact them after booking and at least 24 hours before your check-in date. You can see all the details on their website.
○ Learn key phrases in the local language
If you’re going to a country where you don’t speak the language, remember a few key phrases and your life will be a whole lot easier!
“Hello” “Goodbye” “Please” “Thank you” “Where is the bathroom?” “May I please have the cheque?” are handy to learn first.
Or, use this as an opportunity to learn another language! Especially if you’re visiting for an extended amount of time.
A great app is Babbel, they have 10-15 minute lessons to help you learn a little every day. You can access it online or via their app, try it for free today!
○ Start walking and getting fit
If you’re going somewhere you’re not hiring a car, you will most likely be doing a lot of walking, especially in Europe or Asia. It’s a great way to break in any shoes you’ll be taking as well.
○ Organize your car hire
If you’re hiring a car, now is a great time to do it. Many companies don’t require a deposit so if your plans change, your car hire can too at no risk to you. The earlier you book it, the more options of car you have and the cheaper the price.
I arrived on Kauai, Hawaii and decided to book a car when I got there. Unfortunately for me, the day before I arrived Kauai had it’s biggest storm on record which took out roads on the north shore. People couldn’t access their cars and then had to rent vehicles to continue with their everyday lives. Every single car on the island was booked out!
○ Research local customs and etiquettes
The last thing you want to do is accidentally offend the locals the second you get off the plane. Something as small as gifting flowers in China, or eating with your hands in Norway. A great place to find the local etiquettes is a quick Google search for “local etiquette in [Country]”.
1 month before leaving
○ Check for travel warnings and advisories
The place to do this is on your local government website. They generally have warnings for every country. Keep in mind that they go to the extreme and situations aren’t normally as bad as they say they are. But it’s great to look over just in case.
○ Register your trip with your embassy
If you’re travelling solo and going somewhere that safety could be an issue, whether socially or naturally, it never hurts to register with your embassy. It’s free and quick to do on their website.
○ Get all the necessary gear for your electronics
Getting in to the fun tech stuff! Road trip? Take car phone chargers, converters for your laptop and speakers. Heading overseas? get an every-country adapter/converter. I recommend one with a USB port. I actually recommend taking two depending on how many electronics you’re bringing. For me, I have my laptop, camera, GoPro.
I have a Nomatic bag for my day pack which keeps all of these electronics amazingly organized!
○ Purchase guidebooks
We all love to get our hands on something we can actually hold and read without needing to rely on these gadgets. I like to put those little brightly colored tiny post-it notes throughout my guidebooks to keep things organized.
○ Start saving places to Google maps
I only discovered this semi-recently. If you log on to Google maps you can save places in there under favorites, want to go, or saved. This makes it really convenient when you’re either deciding between two places or if you’re road tripping to see what’s nearby that you want to see. The only downside to it is that you cant put notes in. I also like to go through when I’ve been somewhere and change it from yellow to green so I can see the places I have been.
This app is also really important for safety as you can mark your accommodation on the map ahead of time. I always make this pink so it stands out. Even if you don’t have internet, if you have location turned on for your Google maps in settings, the GPS in your phone will locate you on the map. Therefore, if you’re in a taxi you can see if you’re being taken in the right direction or not.
If you feel you need to, you can also put in police stations, emergency rooms, and your country’s embassy in case something bad were to happen and you needed to get there quickly.
○ Research transport
How are you getting from the airport to your hotel? How do you get around the town? How are you going to get from one city to another?
An app I used religiously in Europe was www.rome2rio.com but they’re also in other locations around the world. An alternative to public transport is car sharing. Europe has BlaBlaCar, Canada has Poparide (click here to get $5 credit!). Then you have Uber as well which is mostly a safe way to travel, taxis, public transport, and high-speed trains which generally need to be booked in advance.
○ Arrange for house or pet sitting
This depends on how long you’ll be away for. If you’re gone for a week, your house will generally be fine. I like to leave a light on to make it look like there’s someone home in the evenings.
If you have friends or family that would be happy to go around and check up on your home, I would insist that you ask them to just so you have peace of mind.
As for your pet, there is the option of using a kennel, though we did this with our pup once and he came back so stressed and unhappy we refused to do that to him again.
○ Make a spreadsheet or folder of all bookings to keep organized
Whether this is in a specific folder in your emails, put in to an excel sheet, or written down in your travel book, just have one place to put all of your reference numbers, addresses, dates and times to keep yourself organised and reduce the amount of stuffing around when you’re actually on your trip. No one wants to search for a hotel name when they could be laying in the Mediterranean sun!
○ Research appropriate clothing
For many countries, this isn’t an issue, but for some its a really important. It’s best to research the appropriate clothing for the specific country and area you’re visiting. In India, it’s respectful to have the upper half of your legs and shoulder covers, but you can show off as much stomach as you like. It isn’t so strict in the southern tourist-filled beach towns like Goa.
This point isn’t just for religious reasons though, you need to research appropriate clothing for the weather! Is it going to be -9 degrees outside? Do you have the right type of clothing to keep you warm?
○ Look up common scams
It would be nice not to worry about these, but unfortunately, you’ll get them pretty much everywhere you go. The most common which has happened to me is the taxi scam. My brother arrived and we were so excited chatting in the back I didn’t pay attention to the map on my phone and the taxi driver took us the roundabout way. It only cost a few extra dollars, but I was annoyed because we were late for a tour and missed it!
You just need to be paying attention and have your guard up at all times. In different countries, different scams are more common. A great way to find the best scams is to once again, do a quick Google search and speak to people who have been to that destination before.
○ Check the country’s entrance/exit fees
Some countries will require you to pay an entry and exit fee. and while this isn’t necessary knowledge, it helps you budget better and also prevents a rude shock. You can also make sure you have a way to pay before arriving.
○ Fill prescriptions
Make sure you have enough of whatever you need to get you through the trip, and then some extra just in case.
○ Inform your bank or credit card provider
Most important tip!!! Let your bank know where and when you’re going! If you don’t, they will flag or cancel your card as soon as you use it overseas as it will be identified as suspicious! Then you won’t have access to money. Not good!
This is super easy to do, you can usually either log on to your internet banking and message them, call their hotline, or go to your local branch and inform them in person. Not sure how long you’ll be away? Just tell them that and they’ll work their magic on their end.
While you’re there, check out the fees they charge for taking money out at international ATMs as well as for using the card in store. It’s also a good idea to make sure your card is actually going to work in the country you’re going to.
1 week before leaving
○ Make copies of:
Passport, insurance, hotel & flight details, visas, tour bookings, your drivers license, credit/debit card emergency phone numbers & the last 4 digits of cards, trip itinerary, and important phone numbers.
Leave a copy of these items with a trusted friend or family member then email a copy to yourself or keep it somewhere secure. You don’t want this information to get into the wrong hands but you also need it to be accessible in case of an emergency. If you lose your passport, it makes it so much easier to get a new one if you have a photocopied copy.
I say to write down the emergency phone numbers of your bank and the last 4 digits of your card because if your card is stolen, you no longer have this information. You’ll need to call your bank straight away to report it missing or stolen. The last 4 digits are good to have if you have more than one card with that bank to make sure they cancel the right one.
○ Print packing list
○ Pack appropriately
Don’t go overboard guys. Don’t pack that jumper you never wear back home because you ain’t gonna wear it!
○ Pay or schedule any bills due while you are abroad
Either pay in advance if you know what the amount will be or get your mail delivered to a friend who can open it and let you know the bill amount so you can easily do it through internet banking. Better yet, get email billing set up and do it yourself all while saving paper. Yay for the trees!
○ Clear memory cards
Either clear your current memory card on to your laptop or an external hard drive or get a new memory card (or two). I always buy high-quality SD cards.
○ Download books, podcasts, movies and apps on your phone, e-reader, and laptop
Airport, plane, bus station, quiet night in, in line for the Colosseum, you can use that time to either get informed about travel, to learn a language or just to keep yourself entertained!
E-books: If you’re a big e-book reader, try Audible (the audio book store of Amazon). For a monthly fee, you can listen to as many books as you like. You also get credits for free books.
Podcasts: My favorite are:
Zero to Travel
And The Confident Traveller (of course!)
Apps: The fun part. Apps you need to make your life a whole lot easier are:
Maps.me a free app that lets you use maps even when you don’t have internet. You have the ability to add pins in different colors and notes so you remember why you pinned it.
Find my iPhone
Your bank’s app
○ Research how to get from the airport to your first night of accommodation
I actually recommend you plan your whole first day. This will help calm your nerves and stop you panicking unnecessarily. Have at least your first night booked, know how you’re going to access money, know how to get to your hotel safely, and have something nice and relaxing planned for that first day, even if it’s just taking a walk around the town to orientate yourself.
○ Do all dirty laundry
No one wants to come back to a house smelling like dirty undies. Just do it all and you’ll feel so good when you come back to no chores. I know it can be a busy time, but just doing a general clean up makes post-travel much less depressing if you don’t come back to a house which clothes and sh*t thrown everywhere. Personal experience talking here.
○ Start to eat perishable foods
Minimize your waste before leaving and start eating all those veggies and drinking that milk. Try not to buy more perishables if you don’t need them. If you do, only buy what you will be able to use before now and when you leave. Is there anything you can freeze if it doesn’t get eaten? Eat that last.
○ Put your mail on hold
Either forward it to a family member or friend who can keep an eye on important mail such as fines, bills, and invites. Or get it all put on hold at the post office. Either way, there is a fee. If you have someone checking up on your house, you can ask them to check the mailbox while they’re there. Put a ‘no junk mail” sign up so it’s not obvious no one’s home.
○ Clear room on your phone
Go through and delete apps you never use, delete old messages, clear up your photos and videos. Its a pain in the ass but it has to be done!
○ Organize for someone to take your bins out
This only needs to be done once because in theory, after that you won’t have more rubbish in there if you’re not using it. Remember, they’ll need to take the bins back in again afterward! A neighbor is a great person to ask as they’re taking out their bins anyway! Maybe pick some flowers from your garden as a thank you in advance.
○ Pre-travel beauty routine
My pre-travel routine pretty much involves shaving my legs and making sure my eyebrows are half decent. But I do like to have a bath and a little facemask just to feel spesh and take away those pre-travel nerves. But you do you girl!
○ Confirm leaving time to get to the airport and decide how you will get there
Take into consideration what day you’re leaving, if will there be peak hour traffic, if there will be road works. If you’re taking public transport and you somehow miss the train or bus or it’s canceled, will the next one still get you there on time? Do you have a backup plan in case sh*t hits the fan?
Occasionally in Melbourne, the trains don’t work as the weather gets so hot the tracks warp. They generally have buses running but you don’t want to stuff around with that. A $50 Uber ride is more expensive than the bus but cheaper than missing your $700 flight to Europe.
○ Pack bags and weigh luggage
Check your airline’s restrictions on weight, they all vary so much. A top tip: if you have internal flights at your destination, will your luggage be within those limits as well? Generally, overseas flights are more generous than local carriers.
The day before you leave
○ Check in online to your flight and screenshot the confirmation number
Pretty much all airlines allow you to check in online these days. So easy to do from your computer or phone. Then all you have to do when you’re there is print your ticket (not even sometimes) and drop your bags off.
○ Check your flight status to make sure it’s still on time
No use getting to the airport at the time you planned if the plane is delayed by three hours! Check the flight status again a couple of hours before you leave for your flight.
○ Buy and prepare plane snacks
Some people LOVE airplane food, I very much do not. I like to pack a trail mix (almonds, cashews, sultanas, chocolate chips), carrot sticks, celery or cucumber sticks to help stay hydrated, a muffin or two, cheese sandwich, and popcorn for that movie of course.
○ Make sure carry on is within airlines requirements
Measure the dimensions of your carry on bags. A lot of the cheaper airlines are strict!
○ Check the weather and adjust packing
When I was going to Japan in 2013 in October, the weather was meant to be pretty mild. I checked the weather a few days before I left and the temperature was in the 30s!! All I had packed were jeans and leggings. So luckily I threw some shorts in there which I ended up wearing nearly every day.
○ Remove unneeded items from wallet
IKEA family card, the loyalty card to your local cafe, I don’t think you’ll need them on the other side of the world. Save the space and the possibility of losing them.
○ Add luggage tags to bags
Make sure you have an email address on the tags because your phone number probably won’t work in another country. A good idea is also to have the “Going to address”. If it does get lost, its much better to have the going to address than your home address (but put that as well).
○ Charge electronics
○ Put an email address on anything important
Phone, laptop, camera… if you lose that, how is the person that finds it going to get a hold of you? You can access your email from almost anywhere and you very rarely change it.
○ Calculate the exchange rate to know how much money to take out at the other end
When I arrived in Vietnam I didn’t do this and had no idea what the exchange rate was. I knew I had $200 in my account to take out but took out $20 instead as I got my zeros mixed up. $5 ATM fee later…! You need internet to access the exchange rate which is sometimes hard to access when you’ve just arrived in a new country. In case you forget, write this little number down somewhere you can find it, like your wallet.
○ Make sure there is money in your account
Do it before you leave and know how much you can access.
○ Lay out your travel clothes
This saves you wasting time the day you leave.
○ Make a list of all the last minute things you need to pack and put on top of your bag
Toothbrush, glasses, keys…. if you don’t do this, you WILL forget something! Put it ON TOP of your bag so you can’t miss it.
I like to write out a new list instead of referring to my initial packing list. This makes it clear to read.
○ Give away perishable foods
If the food in your fridge is still edible, either freeze it or give to a friend or neighbor.
○ Drink lots of water
Stay hydrated for a big flight to help you feel fresh at the other end. Keep off the alcohol the night before and eat simple foods which your body can process easily (stay away from anything deep fried).
○ Wash dishes and empty the bins
○ Unplug all electronics
“Did you unplug the iron?” “No, I thought you did” What a nightmare! Did you know a lot of devices still use energy when they’re plugged in on stand by mode?
○ Lock windows
○ Water your plants
They need love too.
You can download a free PDF checklist here, but I recommend you read the details in this post as well!