Looking to take your first international trip? Even if you’ve traveled a lot on the continent, it can be difficult to know exactly how to prepare for your first experience in a foreign country. The rules are a little different, and not just culturally (though that’s a whole other post!) – you’ll be far away from everything you know and depend on, from 7-11 to your health insurance to your local law enforcement, and it’s important to be pro-active to ensure your trip is pleasant, even in the face of the unfamiliar. So if you’re about to set out on your first voyage, here are ten things you shouldn’t leave without.
1. Thief Proof Day Bag
In addition to any carry on or checked luggage you’re bringing (or in place of your “personal item” you should absolutely have a thief proof travel day bag if you’re going to need to keep anything on hand. Now I’m not just talking any tote here – look for something like Travelon Anti-Theft Messenger Bag that has slash-proof steel woven throughout the entire body of the bag, and a strap with an uncuttable steel cable core – the best ones will even have an additional cable to attach to your clothing or your seat to deter muggers as well as cutpurses. It’s always better to keep your most important documents out of reach, but if you do need a bag or purse, make sure it’s one that has a few extra safety features. As well, if you’re carrying an expensive camera, it can be extremely worthwhile to bring it in a discreet carrying case rather than a standard DSLR shaped bag which can attract unwanted attention.
2. Money Belt
Even if you have a thief-proof bag, and especially if you don’t, you should also have a Money Belt. These little pouches are like very flat fanny packs that fasten securely around your waist, directly against your skin and hidden beneath your clothing. This is where you should keep your very most important documents, and ones you won’t have to access very often, like your passport, travel tickets, at least one credit card, and a little spare cash in your local currency. That way even if your luggage gets lost or your bags get stolen, you won’t be completely up a creek.
3. Passport Case/Travel Organizer
This one is mostly for the in-transit part of your trip as opposed to the day to day, but it can be extremely helpful to have an oversized passport wallet like this Personalized Passport Holder that can hold all of your important documents – from your passport itself to boarding passes, train tickets, itineraries, and reservation information, as well as your credit cards, cash, and travelers checks. Once you get where you’re going, it can be a little safer to split some of these things up, but when you need all your documentation close at hand, they can be absolutely invaluable.
4. Plug Adapters/Power Converters
These days, unless you’re deliberately going off the grid, it’s hard to get anywhere without access to your technology. Problem is, not everywhere in the world has the same kind of electrical outlet, and not all outlets produce the same level of power. Translation: if you don’t show up prepared, you might find that your plugs don’t fit, and if they do, your electronics still might get fried. So long before liftoff you want to make sure you have at least a set of Universal Plug Adapters designed to fit the outlets for all the countries you’ll be visiting. Then, you want to look on the chargers of each of the devices you’re planning on bringing. If they say “Input 100V-240V 50 / 60 Hz,” you’re golden – if they don’t say that, or anything, you’re going to need to up the ante and get a Power Converter as well, which will ensure that higher levels of power coming from foreign outlets won’t fry your gadgets. If you have a lot of devices that charge by USB (phone, e-reader, camera, etc.), you might even want to opt for an International USB Adapter, which allows you to plug your usb device directly into the wall. A compact Travel Extension Cord can be handy, too, especially if you have more than a few devices.
5. TSA Approved Bag Lock
The TSA has a hate/hate relationship with bag locks – because they do spot searches of luggage, they have to be able to get into your checked bags, up to and including cutting off your locks. But if you’re concerned about the security of your luggage once it, well, makes it past security, you can buy a TSA-approved luggage lock like this one from Eagle Creek. These are designed to fit a master key carried by certain TSA agents so they can search your bags, then re-lock them so they’ll stay closed for the remainder of your trip.
6. A New SIM Card
A SIM card is a little chip that stores all the information in your telephone – from your contact list to the information that links you to your service provider. If you take yours out and put it in a friend’s phone, all your numbers will show up there, and any calls you make will be billed to you, not them. Now, where this gets interesting with international travel is that typically international calling will cost you an arm and a leg. But if you buy a SIM card with pre-paid minutes in your destination country, you’ll be able to make local calls at local rates, without racking up huge international and roaming fees – and if you have a smartphone, you can just use Skype to make calls home for free. Be aware that your phone has to be unlocked (and therefore able to link up to the prepaid service) for this to work, which can make it a little trickier to do with an iPhone (you’ll have to unlock it yourself and potentially get a SIM Card Caddy), but most other service providers will unlock the phone for free if you ask.
7. Important Medications
You want to make sure that you have an ample supply of all of your important medication for the duration of your trip, because trying to refill a prescription abroad can be a little tricky, especially if you have to deal with customs. For your flight, be sure to bring all your medication in their original bottles, NOT a Pill Organizer to get them past the TSA. Even if you regularly use a weekly pill box, bring it empty and make sure all bottles are clearly marked with your prescriptions. And even if you don’t take any medication regularly, you should take a few OTCs for your flight, just in case, specifically painkillers, anti-nausea medications, and laxatives, especially if you’re sensitive to travel or going on a long international flight.
8. Source of Clean Water
If you’re going to be doing a lot of walking on your trip – around the city or through some mountains – you want to be sure you stay hydrated, and should always always have a refillable water bottle with you. I like the collapsible Platypus Bottles because they’re so lightweight and compact, but any bottle will do. It can be a good idea to bring a water bottle with a built in filter if you’re traveling in a country with a questionable water source (though, honestly, slight changes in water treatment even in developed countries can upset your tummy, which can make this a very worthwhile item no matter where you’re traveling). If you’re really concerned about water quality, or are going to be out in the middle of nowhere, you might want to bring along Water Purification Tablets or even a Portable Water Filter just to be safe.
9. Waterproofing For You And Your Camera
There’s nothing in the world that can ruin a vacation quite so fast as rain. Before you head to any country where there’s even the remotest chance that you’ll see wet weather, make sure to thoroughly waterproof your shoes, bags, coats, and tent if you have one. A simple Spray, Gel, or Wax should do the trick, just make sure you get the right kind for the material you’ll be using it on, and test it on a discreet area before applying to the whole thing. It’ll take a little time, but trust me, when you step in that puddle and your socks don’t get wet, you’ll be really glad you did it. As well, you absolutely want to have a waterproof bag for your Point-And-Shoot or DSLR to protect the camera from the elements. Many of them even have built in clear plastic windows so you can take pictures with them still in the bag. And, if you expect rain, don’t forget to bring an Umbrella!
10. Maps And Guidebooks
This is one that might actually be worth buying once you reach your destination, as local maps can be a little cheaper than buying international ones from home. That said, if you’ve been planning your trip out of a Guidebook, it might be worth bringing the book with you, or at least the relevant sections. Some people even rip pages out of bigger books for a little lighter travel, but I prefer to photocopy and take only what I need, and leave the book at home intact!
For any big international travelers reading this, what else would you tell a first timer never to forget?