I made up this form and included it here to anyone interested in using it. It helps me stay organized when packing and preparing for a trip. Just click and print.
Many of the items on the list pertain more towards international travel, but I still use the list domestically just so I don’t forget anything.
Just to review some of the items….
Informing banks and credit cards of your trip is very important. You wouldn’t want to be overseas and have your cards declined because the banks think there’s a fraudulent trancaction happening. That only means you somehow have to get in touch with them (no phone service) to get it resolved and now you’re wasting your precious vacation time!
Decide which credit cards to use? Overseas travel can mean foreign transaction fees (forex fees) are added to your purchases if you use certain credit cards. Also many places overseas only use chip and pin cards so make sure you have at least one of those. Check to see if your credit card charges foreign transaction fees. If it does, leave it at home. Thin your wallet and only take the cards that will give you the best value.
Check promos – If you’re interested in getting more miles and points, then see if any of the hotel chains are having a promotion. Choice hotels sometimes has a promotion where if you stay 2 nights, you get a 3rd night free. Actually they just deposit points in your account to equal a free night. Whatever hotel you are staying at, if you have a credit card for that chain it would be a good idea to use it to pay for your stay. Hyatt gives 3 points per dollar at their hotels when paying with their credit cards, IHG gives 5 points per dollar and so on.
Dining programs. You can link your credit cards to airline and hotel dining programs and earn extra points effortlessly when you eat at certain restaurants. This is one that I don’t actually use because I’m usually not where the restaurants are. Or I just forget. American, United, Delta, Alaska Air Lines, JetBlue, Southwest, Hilton and IHG all have programs. Click links to take you to their pages and learn more. Sign up is free. It is geared more towards the big cities.
Inform STEP – This is the US State Dept Smart Traveller Enrollment Program. Just let them know your travel details and feel safer knowing that not only can you receive up to date information on your travel destinations but it also can help them get in touch with you in case of emergencies. Again, this is for international travel.
Some countries require visas as well as passports to enter. We recently traveled to Cambodia where visas are required for US citizens. I did the online version which saved us time rather than doing a visa on arrival. We were through customs and immigration within 5 minutes!
Money. I only bring a small amount with me, enough for a taxi, tips, plus a few extra bucks. Airports notoriously offer horrible currency conversion rates. Check online to see what your best options are for converting currency. My best advice is to carry an ATM card that will reimburse your ATM fees. I picked up a Charles Schwab ATM earlier this year and every withdrawal fee from ATM’s we used internationally were reimbursed at the end of the month. SCORE! That means I don’t have to carry a wad of cash with me. This account is linked to a brokerage account as well but you don’t have to put any money in it. What I do is load my travel money into the Schwab account and when I need it I can use any ATM anywhere. There are no service fees and no minimum balance required for this account. All your ATM fees will be reimbused to you at the end of the month. By only having travel money in that account I can systematically add to it so I know how much I have dedicated to travelling. One thing to note is that is probably took about a month to apply, get approved and get the money into the account before I could use it. I prefer to use credit cards anywhere that I can (to get the points of course!) but when you need cash, Chuck is my new friend!
Credit Card benefits – Some credit cards have rental car insurance coverage and some do not. Some offer their own version of benefits for trip delays, cancellations, lost luggage etc. If I’m renting a car, I’m going to use a credit card that offers the rental coverage and I can thereby decline the coverage offered through the rental car company and save some money.
You need cash for tipping. Remember – the housekeepers work hard for their money! I figure out how many days we will be gone and x that by 3 or 4 and get that many dollar bills. If travelling internationally, google “tipping in whatever country” and see what the normal tip etiquette is.
Airport lounges are awesome if you have layovers. Free food, free drinks, free wifi, quiet atmosphere, comfy chairs sometimes even showers and spas! The problem is knowing if you can get in for free. Some credit cards have this perk just for holding their credit card, others send you a free pass yearly, and if you are flying business or first class you may also have access. Check your cards and see if you have lounge access through them. You can always pay to get in if they are not too busy, but $25-50 per person is a little steep in my opinion for what you get.
Travel Insurance. Sometimes I get it…. sometimes I don’t. Recently we took a 3 week overseas trip that involved 8 flights, 3 ferries, 7 hotels and 3 counties. I definitely got the travel insurance for that trip and fortunately did not need to use it. I still felt “safer” knowing it was there. Last year we had a simple domestic trip via Delta and I purchased insurance with the ticket via Allianz (because it was winter and I’ve had bad luck with winter flights) and we did end up using it because of a cancelled flight and a delay on the next flight which led to a missed connection. We were reimbursed within a few weeks for our extra expenses.
First aid kit – bring what you think you’ll need. I always overdo it in this department (I’m a nurse… go figure!) but for overseas trips I do like to carry an antibiotic…just in case we are struck with TD (travellers diarhhea) which we have not ever had thus far. Just contact your doctor and ask her for a one time prescription to bring with. I also have added Bonine (Meclizine) to my kit – for dizziness/sea sickness. And I’ve used that for sure!
Know your cell phone and it’s rules. You really don’t want to pay a huge cell phone bill because you used your phone overseas. I always set mine to airplane mode. This turns off the data useage. You can still use wifi around the world for free (if available). You can make free actual phone calls with Skype or facebook messenger as long as you have wifi available and you can text via those two programs as well for free via wifi. You can find wifi at hotels, restaurants and other places.
Lastly… there’s a new addition to my list – have the names/addresses/phone numbers AND nearest intersection to your hotels for your taxi driver. When we got to Bangkok at midnight, I gave the non-English speaking taxi driver a map to our hotel, which I printed out from our hotel’s website. He didn’t have a clue! He kept asking for the “soi” which is the sidestreet name. I knew the main road it was on but not the side street. Luckly I had the hotel phone number. He used his phone to call it and ask for the side street. Whew…crisis averted! The other note to mention here is to make sure you have access to these numbers somewhere in your phone or a paper notebook that you can access offline. I had been using the app Evernote to store info only to find out that I couldn’t access it offline – eeks! Now I use good old paper and pen because I worry that my phone will die and I won’t have anything I need! Sometimes old school still makes sense!
One other tip…learn a few phrases of the language of the country you’re going to. Even if you botch it up, they still appreciate your attempts to speak their language. It’s also good to check up on the customs as well. In some places things are frowned upon like tipping, shaking hands, pointing, certain words etc. You never know til you do your research. The internet is a godsend!