When it comes to travel, a little planning goes a long way. We all know that feeling on the way to the airport that it just seems we forgot something. While it’s usually unfounded, it does add stress and you really don’t get to fully check your bags until you’ve reached your destination. I have a trip to Europe coming up and I’m actually making a list of things I can absolutely not forget to pack. This may not work for everyone, but it does for me. Regardless of where you may be headed next, there are some essentials that you should not leave without.
What To Pack For Travel Overseas
Traveling abroad can be an enlightening and life changing experience. It provides a fresh perspective on many of life’s issues and can be educational in more ways than one. But it also takes us far away from home and with different countries, there are different rules. Fortunately, a little bit of preparation can help us avoid some potentially nasty surprises at either our destination, or upon our return home.
This one is almost a given. If you leave the country, you need a passport. However, there is a credit card style passport card for travel to Canada and Mexico. It’s only $30 and can be ordered either by itself, or in conjunction with a passport book. It may be a novelty, as a passport book is equally accepted when traveling to either of the two countries, but it does offer a bit more security and convenience.
Either way, DO NOT forget your passport when leaving the country! Your vacation could end before it even began. I’ve gone as far as attaching a Tile Slim to my passport keep track of it at all times.
International Driving Permit
An International Driving Permit (IDP) may not always be a necessity, but is definitely a good idea to bring anyway. Many foreign countries recognize US Driver’s Licenses, but many also do not and require an IDP instead. If you rent a car with just your US Driver’s License in a country that does recognize it (UK, Ireland, etc.) and decide to go on a little road trip, you now have to do your research to find out if you’re crossing into any countries that require an IDP (Germany, Italy, Spain for instance).
The IDP costs only $20, plus the cost of two passport style photos. AAA issues them and the whole process takes less than 10 minutes. They are good for a year and you can pick a “valid from” date. You do not have to be a AAA member for this. CVS usually has $2 Off Passport Photo coupons available online, making the IDP even more affordable. I definitely recommend one, even If you don’t plan on driving at your destination. You just never know and plans change all the time.
The Right Credit Card(s)
OK, so I do focus heavily on earning travel points and miles and maximizing credit card benefits, but this is actually about more than earning points. Travel does present a prime opportunity to earn points, simply because we tend to eat out more, rent cars and stay at hotels, but bringing a credit card along for the trip has additional benefits.
If you’ve ever tried renting a car or staying at a major hotel with a debit card or cash, you’ll know that it’s extremely inconvenient, if not impossible. Presenting a debit card at a hotel check-in counter could result in a several hundred dollar hold being placed on your account, just to cover incidentals. That hold remains in place until up to several days after check-out. It’s not much different for renting a car with a debit card. This limits the amount of cash – which you will definitely need outside of the US – you have available for the trip, and could potentially ruin the vacation if you did not plan for this.
Then we have the issue of liability. If you only bring cash and it gets lost or stolen (or spent!), you’re pretty much on your own. If nothing else, bring a credit card for contingencies. Also, if you pay with your debit card and your card information becomes compromised, it’s your money on the line. The most you are legally liable for if your credit card information is stolen are $50, but most card issuers offer zero liability.
Make sure to bring credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees when traveling abroad. Even if we can earn a ton of points on our vacations, they lose their value if our purchases cost an extra 2.5 – 3.5 percent.
As important as credit cards are for travel, they will only get you so far in most countries. Anyone that’s ever been to Europe will know that, at least there, cash is still king. Unfortunately, the “Mighty Dollar” is not exactly what it used to be anymore and is less frequently accepted abroad than before. Even when it is, paying with anything other than the local currency will expose you to whatever exchange rate the merchant deems fit. In other words, you will pay more than if you had paid in the local currency. The same is actually true when paying with a credit card. If the credit card terminal asks you to pay in USD instead of the local currency, always choose to pay in the local currency. The merchant may seem to be catering to you, but the exchange rate will be much worse than that of Visa, MasterCard, etc. Of course, provided that your card does not charge a foreign transaction fee.
Your best and cheapest option is to withdraw cash from an ATM at your destination. Even if your bank does not reimburse foreign transaction and ATM fees, you will typically still come out on top. Exchanging the USD at a local exchange counter will not give you the best exchange rate and comes with its own set of fees. Just make sure to use ATMs from major banks and preferably indoors.
If you take chronic medication, make sure to bring a little extra and don’t keep it all in the same place. Never assume that the local pharmacy will carry what your neighborhood Walgreens carries. Here are some additional items that may be useful to pack for travel overseas:
- Immunization Book
- Hanging Scale (for your luggage)
- Pocket Translator
- Unlocked Cell Phone
- Extra set of eyewear/contact lenses
- Prescription for eyewear or medication
- Travel Medical Insurance
- Phone number and address to nearest US embassy
Travel should be fun and rejuvenating. But if we don’t plan at least a little, travel can quickly turn into a pretty stressful situation. In today’s world unfortunately, we also have to take into account the potential for emergency situations more and more. That’s why a bit of preparedness and situational awareness are essential to that stress free vacation we have worked so hard for.
What do you pack for travel overseas? Please share below or on our social media pages.