Smart Travel Preparation Checklist

Without lists, my life would be complete chaos. I make lists for everything from daily routines to monthly checklists (cleaning schedules, chores, appointments, etc.). You probably know by now that I’m totally OCD. Naturally, I also have a travel preparation checklist!

When it comes to traveling, I have tons of lists: packing lists for all seasons and members of my family, shopping lists for items to bring and to buy while abroad, I could on and on.

Many details of an international trip can be taken care of ahead of time. Over the years, I’ve perfected my travel preparation checklist. Do yourself a favor and take care of these items before you go, don’t learn the hard way like I did!


  • Make sure your passport is valid for AT LEAST 6 months for your trip. Renew if it’s close. You should also have enough empty pages for stamps and visas, if not renew it! My passport expired while studying abroad…major inconvenience since I then had to get a new visa as well. I have no patience with bureaucracy! If you do nothing else on my travel preparation checklist…do this!
  • Get visas if required, check with the embassies of the countries you will be visiting to see if you require one.
  • Make three copies of your passport, itinerary and emergency contact list. Put one in your checked luggage, one in your carry-on and leave one with a trusted family member or friend at home in case you lose yours.
  • Take a picture of your passport with your phone. This can come in very handy when you need the number for those damn customs forms, or if you lose it.

Money Matters

  • Get a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
  • Alert your credit card companies and bank (for your ATM) of your travel plans. TIP: Cards must have a chip in Europe.
  • Get some foreign currency in advance from your bank, it’s always good to have some when you get there. I always have a beer and a pretzel in Munich if I’m on a layover!
  • Do not EVER use the airport or train station exchange service, they charge ridiculous fees. Avoid those ones in cities for the same reason, plus they remind me of used car dealers. Go to a bank when you get there, or use an ATM.

Health and Safety

  • Purchase travel insurance. It can get you out of a sticky situation, fly you home in an emergency, etc. Check your health insurance for international coverage. Travel insurance costs range from a few dollars a day and up. Look into it, it can be well worth it. TIP: some credit cards offer emergency travel services, check if yours does.
  • Register with the US State Department STEP Alerts online. It’s free and will keep you informed of any travel alerts while abroad.
  • Register with the US embassy in the country you are visiting, so they know where you are in case of an emergency. This is especially important in high alert areas.
  • If you need vaccinations, get them early, some require a series of shots. Bring your vaccination record with you, customs may require it for entry.
  • Get your prescriptions refilled so you have plenty for the trip (take more than you need). For more information about what medications to bring read my Ultimate Travel First Aid Kit

Tech Stuff

  • Take the necessary plug adapters/converters. TIP: Be sure that any small appliances you bring are dual voltage (fried a curling iron once, thought I packed my dual voltage one…oops). We use 110V in the US, most other countries use 220V.
  • Buy an international phone, SIM card (for an unlocked phone), or check with your mobile carrier for international travel plans. My plan has international coverage for $10 a day. I don’t use it every day, only if I don’t have WiFi. I keep my phone in Airplane mode and use WiFi when I don’t want to pay the $10 charge for the day.
  • Download Google Maps and Google Translate. Both can be used offline by downloading any maps and languages you need ahead of time. Priceless! For tips on more great apps read my Awesome Travel Apps
  • Bring power adapters, plugs and cords for all your electronics. Bring a charged battery pack for the plane or train.
  • Charge all electronics before leaving, including camera batteries (I started a trip in Spain with a dead battery, needless to say I have no photos of the first day!).

Travel Planning

  • Confirm hotel & flight reservations.
  • Buy tickets to events/attractions ahead of time online, especially to frequently visited places like the Vatican. No waiting in line!
  • Buy train tickets online. You can purchase your tickets for train travel in Europe well ahead, and save quite a bit by doing so. Check Deutsche Bahn for trains from Germany three months ahead of time.
  • Print out all flight & hotel confirmations, train, event & attraction tickets and put them in your carry on.
  • Read up on your destination, use guidebooks and websites like Frommer’s and TripAdvisor for planning.
  • Don’t be the ugly American tourist who expects everyone to speak English! Learn a few key phrases of the language like hello, please and thank you.


  • Check baggage allowances for your flights. All airlines are different, allowances vary according to flight class and domestic or international flights.
  • Luggage takes a beating, especially checked bags (have you seen the way they throw them around?). If your suitcase is ripped or the wheels are broken, get a new one. You don’t want to be the person whose underwear is going around the conveyor belt in a tub or a clear plastic bag (gasp)!
  • Take a photo of your luggage with your phone, just in case the airline loses it. This helps identify it for the forms you will need to fill out. Lost luggage really is a thing, trust me.


  • Put all your bills on billpay or autopay. Who wants to pay bills while on vacation, or pay late fees upon returning home?
  • Arrange pet/house sitter if needed. If you have one, you can skip items 3-6!
  • Put a hold on your mail and newspaper. Piles of papers in your driveway are an open invitation to thieves.
  • Install timers on several lights to go on and off at different times in the night.
  • Make sure your smoke detectors have fresh batteries, and your house alarm is working. Leave the phone number of a trusted family member or friend with the alarm company.
  • Turn water heater down, and water to the house off. Who wants to come home to a flooded home from a busted pipe? And why bother heating water if no one is home?

Most importantly…bring a sense of humor and patience. Sh*t happens. Use a travel preparation checklist. Make a plan B (or C) and go with it.

Do you make a checklist? Leave me a comment, or question.

Keep traveling my friends!



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