Whether you are a seasoned traveller or going abroad for the first time, there are many different resources readily available that offer excellent advice for international travel.
The problem, however, is that most checklists for international travel cover the same things - visas, currency, and hotel reservations, for example - that are usually among the first things we think about when we leave the country. It's the overlooked aspects that are better to focus on.
Here, we present an alternative checklist for international travel that covers the essential but often forgotten items that can make a significant difference to the success of your trip abroad.
1. Check Travel Advice
The first and most important item on your international checklist is to check if it is safe for you to travel. National security is something that changes regularly, but don't worry - travel advisories aren't there to scare you; they're simply there to make sure you have all the information you need to stay safe on your trip.
Before you get on the plane, it doesn't hurt to check the latest guidelines for your destination, which can change due to many things, including the weather! In most cases, a change in travel advisories doesn't mean you have to cancel or postpone your plans, but it's always a good idea to be aware of what's happening locally so you're well prepared for your upcoming trip.
2. Plan Alternative Routes
Multi-centre travel is becoming increasingly popular as many travellers prefer to move around a country (or even travel from country to country) rather than stay in one place for the duration of their trip. This is a great way to see more of the world, but it's a good idea to not only plan your travel routes in advance but also plan alternative routes in case of a closure. While it's unlikely you'll have much trouble on the warm and sunny Mediterranean scenic roads, for example, there are roads in many thriving travel spots that can become inaccessible during the winter months due to snow and ice. Iceland's iconic Ring Road (Route 1) is a prime example. It never hurts to have a plan B!
3. Determine if You Need an ICVP
Most travellers who plan to travel to countries where there are cases of Yellow Fever, typhoid or hepatitis A know that it is a good idea to see their doctor about 8 weeks before travelling. Although travellers don't need travel vaccinations, they are often recommended for anyone staying in rural areas or visiting heavily wooded parts of the country, and it's a good way to stay happy and healthy while abroad. What many don't know, however, is that there are actually some countries that require proof of vaccination (an ICVP, or International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis) as part of their entry requirements. Don't risk being turned away; it only takes a few minutes to cheque what is required.
4. Apply for a Driving Permit
Want to get in the driver's seat when you're abroad? Then it's worth applying for an International Driver's permit before you start your journey. You don't need an IDP for every country, although there are some countries that require an IDP for car rentals, and others that mandate that visitors must have an IDP if they are in the country for more than 30 days. Even in countries that don't require an IDP, it can be a good idea to apply for one, especially if you're travelling to a foreign language country. This is because IDPs are all standardised, which means that if you need to show your driver's licence abroad, the information on an IDP can be easily understood no matter where you are in the world.
5. Pack for Local Culture
When travelling to a hot country, most travellers fill their suitcases with summer-weight clothing to help them stay cool in the intense heat. Staying cool is important when travelling to hot countries, and it's one of the best ways to avoid heat-related illnesses like sunstroke. One item to add to your checklist for international travel, however, is to pack not only for the weather but also for the local culture. In some countries, especially in Asia, it is advisable to keep your shoulders and knees covered. Fortunately, many countries are not particularly strict, although it is important to dress respectfully if you plan to visit religious sites. This includes the Vatican Museums in Rome.
6. Study the Calendar
All countries in the world have their own unique calendars of events, celebrations, festivals and national holidays. Travelling at particularly festive times can be very exciting, but it's also something you should add to your international travel checklist before you embark on your trip.
For example, you might want to visit a particular attraction on a day when it's closed for a local event, or you might want to spend the day at the beach when it's busier than usual due to a big celebration. If you know what events are coming up at your destination, you can better plan your trip and make sure you can see and do everything you want without being disappointed.
7. Unpack Restricted Items
Did you know that there are some items that we use in our daily lives that cannot be taken abroad? For example, if you are travelling to Japan, it is even illegal to take fake designer brands with you. So if you're carrying around a fake Gucci bag, it's best to leave it at home. Other items are heavily restricted in Japan, such as herbal medicines containing ginseng, and travellers are only allowed to bring a maximum of 24 cosmetic items into the country.
The good news is that most travellers will follow the rules when packing, especially if they're going to Europe or the U.S., so there's no need to worry. However, it's always a good idea to check the import regulations to be on the safe side.
8. Read up on Safety Information
One of the most exciting parts of travelling abroad is experiencing a completely different, unfamiliar environment. However, it's important to remember that there are different security risks in other countries, and regardless of how likely an event is, it's important to know what protocols are in place in case something happens. You may be travelling to a country where shifting landmasses increase the risk of smaller quakes, such as the west coast of the U.S., or to places like Iceland or Hawaii that are dominated by active volcanoes. Although the risk is often very low, it never hurts to be aware of what to do in these situations so you can enjoy your trip knowing you are prepared.
The Most Important Item to Pack
Of course, clothing, passport, and entry documents are the most important things to pack when preparing to travel abroad, but there is one very essential item that travellers regularly overlook. It's something that's small in size, but really should be on every checklist for international travel...
... A pen.
Writing utensils are so easy to forget, and yet many travelers find that they need them in so many different places on their trip. Pens are needed on the plane to fill out immigration forms in advance so you don't have to wait in line at the airport, they are needed to fill out rental car agreements when you pick up your vehicle, and they are needed to fill out exit documents when you want to claim back your taxes. There are no restrictions on carrying pens in your carry-on luggage, so be sure to pack one in your bag.
Create it, Store it, Use it
One of the biggest mistakes that many travellers make is that they create new international travel checklists before each trip. The problem with this method is that many important considerations are forgotten or overlooked, which can lead to a few obstacles getting in the way of a perfect vacation. Instead, an international travel checklist should be created, saved, and used year after year. It's a good idea to create a digital version that can be automatically saved and added to as needed in the future.
While preparation may not be the most exciting part of travelling abroad, it is one of the most important parts of ensuring a successful, safe and enjoyable trip. By checking off each item, you'll have the confidence that you're ready for your next adventure, and you'll have the knowledge you need to really make the most of your trip, exploring new places, seeing new things, and enjoying a much-needed break.