This travel checklist is designed for new travelers going on a trip, studying abroad, or moving overseas.
My sister-in-law decided to study abroad in Barcelona and it was her first time traveling overseas. After all the fun chats my wife and I had with her about why she should do it and where she should go, the questions inevitably got more practical and tangible in the weeks (ok, days) before she left. There were questions (many of them from her parents) about how to handle money, health, safety, packing, logistics, accommodation, and connectivity while abroad. I of course gave some advice, but afterwards, I realized how many more things I should have shared. After traveling to over 75 countries, I simply forgot what it was like to be a new traveler full of questions and excitement. Since I was only moderately helpful to her this time, I decided to create the comprehensive travel checklist for the next person who asks. Here’s a travel checklist of (almost) all the practical things someone should know before traveling, studying abroad, or moving overseas. If you or a loved one is new to travel and has a big adventure coming up, hopefully I can redeem myself by being more helpful to you!
Technology Travel Checklist
- Get a VPN for your computer and phone. Not only will it help protect against people hacking into your devices, it also allows you to use sites otherwise blocked overseas, like Hulu and Pandora. My favorite is Private Internet Access.
- International voice and data roaming can be insanely expensive, so don’t use it unless you know what you are doing. If your phone isn’t already unlocked, ask your carrier to unlock it so you can use local SIM cards. Carriers sometimes resist, but if you say that you’re temporarily traveling to foreign countries they don’t have service in, they will do it (if not, talk to their manager). You then simply need to go to a local carrier when you arrive and purchase a pay-as-you-go SIM card.
- If you’re traveling for a short time and don’t want to deal with local SIM cards, check out your company’s global roaming plan. With Verizon (my provider), I can choose between using my existing voice and data plan for only $10/day ($2/day in Canada and Mexico) in a handful of countries, or paying $25 per 100 MB. T-Mobile has a good international roaming plan as well. Always double check if the country you are visiting is included and make sure you activate these international services in advance. If you mess that up, your bill may end up being thousands of dollars.
- I’ve found FaceTime Audio to have the best quality for international calls. If either party doesn’t have an iPhone, my other preferred calling options are Skype, WhatsApp, Hangouts, Facebook, and the Vonage App (which is best if you need to need to dial an actual number).
- If you’re going to be somewhere for a while and need to make a lot of calls, getting a home phone with Vonage service before you leave (available online or stores like BestBuy) will provide the best quality by far. Their service is cheap, it plugs into your local internet connection, and gives you a local U.S. phone number.
- Carry an external battery back, preferably with a solar panel, and always keep it charged. Here’s the one I use and love: Nekteck’s Rain Resistant & Shock Proof Solar Charger.
- Bring a universal adapter. Don’t get one with pieces that come apart (trust me, the one piece you most need at any moment will be the one that ends up missing). Most electronics can regulate power, so converters are generally not necessary except for select use cases (check labels on things like curling irons). Here’s a good one that also has plugs for 2 USB’s: Travel Inspira’s All-in-One WorldWide Travel Power Plug.
- Here is a list of the best travel apps, in my opinion.
- If you want a highly quality, professional camera, but you do not want to spend too much money or carry something bulky around, I highly recommend the Sony A6000.
Money Travel Checklist
- Use ATMs to get local currency instead of converting at an foreign exchange bureau. Except for a few select countries with high inflation and official rates pegged to the dollar (e.g., Argentina), you will get a far better rate. Take out cash in higher quantities and fewer times to limit ATM fees. Your ATM and the other bank will usually each charge $2-5 dollars.
- Check your bank for foreign alliances. For example, in Europe, Bank of America customers don’t pay any fees when using Deutsche Bank ATMs.
- Get the XE currency app for your phone to stay up to date on the currency rates in the countries you’re traveling to.
- Always have backup cash in U.S. Dollars and local currency for emergencies. $100 – 200 should be plenty.
- Always request that taxis use the meter if they have one. If they don’t, make sure to negotiate the price before starting the ride. Otherwise, be prepared to get ripped off or have an overly drawn out argument.
- Don’t ever give money to kids. Begging kids are hard to watch and not help, but they’re most likely being taken advantage of by someone and that just reinforces that kids are more lucrative income source for them to continue to use.
- Learn the negotiating culture when you get to a new country as prices can range dramatically. Quoted prices could sometimes be ten times higher than the real price, other times it could be a simple 20% markup. In other places, prices are fair and negotiating is considered extremely rude. If you’re in a new city and forgot to find out, just test it by responding to any price with a shocked look and walking away. Try this with a few different vendors and see how low you can go before they are shocked and walk away from you.
Best Booking Tools for Flights and Hotels
- Skyscanner is the flight booking search engine that most consistently has the cheapest fares and most options. I usually double check prices on Kayak and any local airline that may not be on the search engines. I usually double check a flight on the airline before booking as well, because although it’s rare and often more expensive, sometimes their prices will be considerably cheaper.
- Hostels are great to meet fellow travelers and get local travel info. Private rooms are usually available for a little more if you’re with a friend and/or don’t want to share a room with other people. HostelWorld is best for finding the best hostels. Hotel Tonight and Priceline are great for last minute deals at nicer hotels. I love AirBnB if I’m going to be somewhere for a while, traveling with friends, or simply want my own apartment for the trip. Couchsurfing is great if you’re on a budget and interested in meeting more locals.
- Rome2Rio is the most efficient tool to brainstorm and plan more complex travel that involves buses, ferries, and trains.
- Hitlist is a great resource to get travel ideas within your required timeframe and budget.
Packing for Travel Checklist
- Roll clothes and compress them into a zip lock bag. It saves a lot of room, keeps your bag more organized, and protects them from smells and spills.
- Throw a dryer sheet in your bag. Everything will smell fresher.
- Pack less and don’t plan for every situation. You’re not going to another planet, you can get stuff there. Having less stuff to carry around is worth far more than the few dollars you may need to spend getting it.
- If backpacking, bring a rain cover (or at least a garbage bag) for your backpack to prevent your stuff from getting soaked in the rain.
- Here’s the only backpack I use for almost every trip: The North Face Recon. Here’s what I occasionally use on much longer trips: Osprey Talon Backpack. I haven’t used them yet, but I’m really intrigued by PacSafe and plan to check it out soon.
- If you need to bring your own towel, investing in the right one is crucial. The cotton kind most people have at home takes up a ton of room, is heavy, and is the slowest to dry – which is a disaster if you have to pack up and go to your next destination (or use it too many times on a trip). I’ve tried dozens of travel and workout towels, and my favorite by far is this one from Snappy Towels. It’s a microfiber towel that works great, feels comfortable, and dries super quickly. It doesn’t take up much room, so is perfect when packing light.
How to Stay Healthy when Traveling
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor so make sure to get a medical opinion. This is simply what I do and what’s on my travel checklist.
- I bring Vitamin C packets and take at least 1,000 mg per day when traveling. I often take one in the morning and one at night during actual travel days since the body is typically tired and exposed to a larger and wider range of germs. I use Lypo-Spheric (or sometimes Emergen-C if I’m out).
- Make sure you stay hydrated. It’s much harder to drink lots of water when you’re traveling since you’re busy exploring and you may be avoiding tap water. It’s one of the easiest things to neglect, but most problematic. To ensure you have a good trip, make sure to drink over 10 cups each day (especially when in aiports).
- If you’re ever sick, find a local pharmacy. Their over the counter medication is usually far more effective (although it’s worth Googling the ingredients since regulations are much more lenient in some countries).
- Pack a small pack of pills for Ibuprofen, Nyquil, Dayquil, and stomach issues just in case.
- I usually keep a small pack of trail mix or meal bars for long travel days where it may be hard to find a real meal.
- Don’t sacrifice sleep. I used to think travel didn’t affect me, but it takes a lot more out of you than you expect. To prevent getting sick, crashing, or bad moods, make sure you get the sleep you need.
- Many advise not to drink when in a foreign country, but well, that rule sounds boring. However, be careful not to get drunk and don’t walk around drunk at night, especially by yourself. Nearly every story I’ve ever heard about someone getting robbed (occurred late at night when they were walking back to their hotel drunk. You are too much of an easy target.
- For a full list of tips for staying healthy, read/watch My Secrets for How to NOT Get Sick When You Travel.
Safety Tips for Travel
- Don’t leave anything in pockets that aren’t zipped, tight, or deep. Travel is usually safe, but pick pocketers are in every major city. I always use a money clip and carry it in my front pocket. My favorite is the BASICS Slim Wallet.
- If you ever feel uncomfortable, just look like you exactly now where you’re going, are in a slight hurry, and a little pissed off.
- Keep copies of your passport. If you’re in most developing countries and someone besides your hotel or airline (e.g., police) needs to see it, give them your copy.
- Spread out your money. I often keep some in my money clip, backbpack, and in my passport or secret zipper pocket.
- If you’re in a city known for a lot of robberies, like Nairobi or Bogota, carry a fake wallet.
- If someone tries to rob you, give them what they want. It’s not worth trying to fight them. Nothing is worth your life. Also, people are nosy, so if they see a fight break out, they may think it’s a foreigner picking on a local and you will have an angry crowd to deal with.
- It’s great to connect with locals, but use common sense. Unfortunately almost everyone who approaches you on the street or near tourist attractions is trying to hustle you or sell you something. Be polite, but try not to keep the conversation going too long, don’t believe any story about them needing money, and don’t follow them anywhere. Locals are often extremely helpful and friendly if you need help, but those types of people are not usually hanging out in tourist areas and approaching you on the street.
- Don’t be paranoid when traveling. Most countries are safe and hospitable. Just use the exact same common sense as you would in your own country.
- Get an offline map to make sure you know where you’re going without using data. GPS is actually based on satellite, so you can still know where you are without roaming. There are dozens of maps in any AppStore. My company, TripScout, provides the offline map with a curated list of sites, neighborhoods, and the best local spots (with awesome audio tours for many of the cities). That way, you’ll always know where you are and what cool things are nearby. You can download TripScout for iPhone here.
- Have a hard copy of all flight/train times, ticket numbers, hotel names, etc. in case your phone dies. Simply write it all down on an index card, in a notebook, or carry one consolidated print out.
- Before you go to a new country, check if there are any visa requirements that you can’t get on arrival. Travel.State.Gov is the best resource for U.S. citizens. However, don’t be overly concerned with their travel warnings. Except for extreme cases, they always air on the side of extreme caution and have to be overly paranoid. I’ve been to many places with “Warning: U.S. citizens should not travel here” advisories and the places were perfectly safe and welcoming.
- Hostels are usually the most reliable source of travel information. You will usually find that information online or in guide books is outdated or wrong. When in doubt, talk to locals.
- If you’re crossing borders and need to get visas, always carry a few extra passport photos and copies of your passport. Always carry multiple copies of these because you never know when the local telecom or some other random service will require it.
- Strategically use stopovers and multiple one-way flights to save money or see more cities. I wrote a detailed post about that here: How A 10 Minute Hack Can Get You $250.
- If you want to learn the language, here’s a blog post I did with one of the world’s leading language learning experts: How To Quickly Learn A Foreign Language.
- If you need some inspiration on why to travel or are ever feeling overwhelmed, here is an interview I did with the top travelers in the world about why they do what they do: Why do you travel? A chat with the world’s top travelers.
- I highly recommend that all new or hopeful travelers read Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts. Its one of the best how-to books ever written on travel and its packed with great travel philosophy, tips, and resources. His minimalist and experiential perspective will be the perfect companion thing to balance everything on this travel checklist.
- It’s great to explore all the sites and museums, but it’s everything in between that really makes the city. The best way to get a feel for this is to walk a lot. Use the sites as check points and roam around from one to the other. Walk through any street that looks interesting, pop into shops and cafés, talk to people, and soak in the atmosphere. Not to do another plug, but TripScout is great for this.
Most importantly, travel is not complicated. Mistakes will be made and you will figure it out. 99% of the time, these mistakes are not a big deal and you will simply have a good story or learning experience from it. Besides reading through this travel checklist, don’t overthink it. Just go explore.
If you have any additional questions or think I should add something to this travel checklist, I can be easily reached on Twitter at @goKonrad.
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this travel checklist contain affiliate links, but that didn’t have any influence on the products I chose to recommend. If you do decide to purchase one of the products listed in this travel checklist, clicking from this article would be much appreciated!
I hope you find my travel checklist helpful! If you know any new travelers, please share this article with them. You can also follow me on Instagram or sign up for my free weekly digest about ways to travel the world, build a successful business or career, and make a difference at the same time:
A Comprehensive Travel Checklist for Any New Traveler #travelchecklist