With a strong dollar in the U.S., many of us are planning international trips. As a travel writer, I do a fair amount of international travel and know that some must-have items can really make a difference in the ease, convenience, and safety of your trip.
Here are my must-have recommendations:
Passport. This one is obvious, but what many don’t know is if your passport has just a few months left on it, some countries won’t accept it (some require a passport to have at least 6 months left on it). Check with your travel agent or your destination country’s website before you go for the latest recommendations. And, if your passport is coming due soon, consider renewing it before you travel.
Visas. Some countries, like China, require Visas for entry. And applying for and getting a visa may require more time than you might think. Plan ahead. Check with the country (ies) where you’re headed to see what they require and file early.
Shots. Yep, many countries like Africa require vaccinations for entry. While your primary care doctor can likely take care of these shots for you, a better choice is to check with a Traveler’s Medical Clinic. They’re up-to-date on all the health requirements and will make sure you get your required vaccines. And don’t wait until the last minute. It often takes several weeks after a vaccine to build anti-bodies.
Flashlight. I can’t tell you the number of times the power has gone out in a hotel where I’m staying. Bring along a small, powerful LED flashlight and keep it in your carryon and, when you land, next to your bed at your hotel.
Pashmina or travel blanket. I always travel with my pashmina, a largish scarf/wrap that I can use as a blanket, a wrap, a pillow, or, in countries where women must wear scarves, a head covering. If you’re not crazy about pashminas, try bringing along an uber-tiny travel blanket. Matador makes a Pocket Blanket that’s 63”x44”, large enough for two to sit on. It’s made of water an puncture-resistant material and it folds up to the size of a wallet. They even make a Mini Pocket Blanket that’s even smaller. They’re great for a spontaneous picnic or the surprise rain shower.
Earplugs. Foam earplugs are my saviors on planes, in noisy airports, and in city hotels where street noise would otherwise keep me awake. They’re inexpensive and fit nicely into your pocket.
Earplanes. In addition to regular earplugs, I carry Earplanes, little plastic earplugs designed to equalize the pressure in your ears when you fly. If you get a cold, you’ll know why you need these. The pain on takeoff and landing with a head cold can be excruciating. With Earplanes, you just screw them in and you’re good to go. You can buy Earplanes at travel stores like AAA or at Amazon.
Water bottle. You can’t carry water through airport security, but you can carry an empty one. Filling up after you pass through security will save you $3-5 per bottle (and reduce waste). If you’re in an underdeveloped country where the water is questionable, buy bottled water and forget refilling.
Portable charger. With the spread of cell phones, it’s nearly impossible to find a free plug or empty charge station at airports. Don’t be left without power. A portable charger costs about $15 and myCharge Razor Plus makes one we like. These little beauties can make a difference whether or not you can stay connected. (See our review of myCharge Razor.)
International cell phone. While some phone companies offer international calling, oftentimes it costs a fortune and plenty of people have written to say they can’t believe how expensive their cell phone bill was after an international trip. T-Mobile offers a great international deal (unlimited data and text, plus 20 cents/minute). The offer is only good for trips of 6 weeks or less. Another solution is to get a World phone and SIM card. Our friend and money guru Clark Howard has an excellent article on Getting a Phone That Works Internationally.
Medications. It can be hard to re-fill prescriptions overseas. If you take medications, get enough for your trip. Your insurance company may not allow you to get more than a 30-day supply, so you may end up paying for it, but it’s worth it. Be sure to carry a copy of your prescription as well as your medications with your carry-on luggage (never check it).
Snacks. Plenty of travelers just wing it when it comes to food, relying on airports for meals and snacks. However, too often planes are delayed or flights are cancelled and you end up in an airport where all the food vendors are closed. I bring along nuts, dried fruit, dark chocolate, even small cheeses. Just remember, you may have to eat your snacks before landing as many countries won’t allow you to bring in food.
Travel and medical insurance. You likely won’t need it, but, if you have to cancel your trip or you become ill, you’ll be glad you sprung for it. When you’re spending thousands of dollars on flights, accommodations, tours, etc., it’s worth it to spend $75-150 on trip insurance just in case.
For medical insurance, check with your health insurance company before you go to make sure you’re covered internationally. If you have Medicare or other government-sponsored health insurance, you’re not covered out of the country. However, you can buy an international medical insurance policy, including emergency evacuation (which can cost something like $30,000 if you’re not covered and have to be evacuated from a distant land). A couple of great resources to investigate are World Nomads, a reputable company that sells travel insurance, and insuremytrip.com, a travel insurance site.
Happy travels! – Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor