If you’re about to book a flight, this international travel checklist should be an essential part of your trip!
Around the time you see this post, I will be landing at Heathrow Airport in London after travelling for more than 24 hours, hopping from Da Nang to Hong Kong to London.
Before I get on that flight, I have a LOT to get organized.
It’s all too easy to forget a crucial pre-flight step that will compromise the comfort of your trip or keep you from travelling altogether. How do I know? Because Stephen and I have managed to screw up a lot of flights by forgetting the details.
These are just a few of our screw-ups:
- Shown up at the airport with expired passports
- Forgotten to get visas
- Missed our early morning alarm
- Neglected our travel vaccinations
- Gone to the airport on the wrong day
- Forgot to book veggie meals
The list is long and it goes on!
So I finally decided to create this international travel checklist to save me (and you!) hassle and headaches when flying internationally.
Here’s Your Pre-flight International Travel Checklist
Before you book the flight
Do your visa research
Before you book any international flight, check to see if you need a visa for that country. If you do, get the visa before you book your flight if you can. If not, at the very least, find out what the process is and find out how long it should take to get your visa.
Where to look for visa info
Wikipedia is a good first stop on your visa information search. Just go to wikipedia.com and search for Visa requirements for [your country] citizens.
You can also find useful information about visa and customs regulations on Lonely Planet. Just go to the following link and replace [country-name] with the name of the country you’re visiting.
Double-check your dates
It might seem unlikely, but it’s pretty easy to get confused about your travel dates, especially if your plans change during the planning process. Check the calendar carefully and make sure you book your departure and return dates correctly. We’ve screwed this up a few times and it’s a huge hassle (and expense) to change flights once you’ve already booked.
Check for special events
This is one step I always forget. If your dates are flexible, check online for any concerts, art openings, festivals, or other special events that might be happening at your destination. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve arrived only to discover that some amazing event happened the night before.
Check before you book your flight so you don’t miss out.
Where to find out what’s on at your destination
The local tourist board website usually features an events calendar on their website. I also like using Time Out if I’m visiting a city that has it.
Immediately after you book your flight
Book a hotel/hostel
Even if you’re travelling long-term, I always think it’s a good idea to secure a few nights accommodation in advance. When you arrive after a long flight, you’re going to be jet lagged and incoherent. Knowing exactly where you’re going to sleep the first few nights is a huge weight lifted. If you book early (like as soon as you know your flight date), you’ll get the best selection and price on your accommodation.
How to find great accommodation
I’ve been a long-time fan of Booking.com. I book almost all of my hotels, guest houses and hostels there. It seems to have a better selection of properties than many of the other booking sites, plus it’s easy to set your preferences so you only see hotels that fit your budget and other preferences.
Buy event tickets
If there are special events you hope to catch, or certain ongoing events you KNOW you don’t want to miss at your destination, booking your tickets in advance, from home, will save you time when you’re travelling. It might also save you money. Just be careful not to pre-book too many things. You want to keep your schedule flexible for spontaneous fun that might arise!
A few days before your flight
Double-check flight date and time
Again, it might seem like this is something you’d never get confused. But, trust us (!!), it’s easy to show up at the airport on the wrong day or 12 hours after your flight has already gone. Double-check your dates and times at least a few days before you fly!
Book special meals
If you’re a vegetarian, or have other dietary requirements, don’t forget to book your meals. There’s nothing worse than sitting on the plane at the beginning of 10-hour flight and realizing that you won’t be able to eat anything they’re serving.
One time when I forgot to book a veggie meal, the staff cobbled together a cheese and fruit plate from first class for me. It was far better than the veggie meal would have been but I doubt I’d get so lucky again!
Notify banks that you will be travelling
I know our banks are just trying to protect us from fraud but there’s nothing more irritating than being in a small town in India and having your ATM card refused. Yup, it’s happened to us! Before you travel, call your bank and let them know where you’re going and for how long. Otherwise you may end up cashless at your destination!
Send flight details to trusted friend
Before you hop on that flight, make sure your parents, kids, or someone close to you knows when you’re flying and what airline you’re on. Chances are they’ll never need that information but if something unspeakable should happen, you will save your family a lot of anguish if they know where you should be and when.
Decide how you’ll get to the airport
If you don’t have a ride to the airport organized yet, now’s the time to do it. Find out what time the airline recommends you arrive at the airport and leave extra time for traffic and other unexpected delays. It’s always better to leave a little early!
Final 24 hours
Yay! It’s almost time to fly. Go online and check in to your flight!
Get your boarding pass
After you’ve checked in, make sure to get whatever the airline provides as a boarding pass.
Bigger airports and airlines almost all accept digital boarding passes these days (which is why Passbook on my iPhone has become one of my most-used travel apps).
If you’re flying budget, you may need to print a boarding pass or a receipt. Some budget airlines will even charge you extra to print your boarding pass at the airport! Ridiculous, right?
For most flights these days, I have found that just showing up with your passport at the check-in desk is enough to get you on the flight.
Charge your devices
Ever cracked open your laptop on a long flight, ready to get to work, and realized that your battery is at 5%? I have. It sucks.
Charge your devices before you leave for the airport. Even if you don’t travel with a laptop, you’ll need your phone for things like boarding passes, directions to the hotel, and listening to music during the flight.
Most large airlines now have a USB charger at your seat for your device, so carry your charger on the flight for in-flight top ups.
You should also make sure you download any books, podcasts, or music that you want to have on the flight.
Set your alarm clock
In the flurry of last-minute preparations, it’s easy to forget to set your alarm. Don’t miss your early morning flight by making this simple mistake!
Decide how to get from airport to your hotel
When you arrive in a new city, jet-lagged and exhausted, the last thing you should be doing is trying to understand the bus network or negotiating taxi fares. Especially if you don’t speak the local language.
Do your research before you leave home and figure out exactly how you’re getting from the airport to your hotel before you leave home.
Trip Advisor has comprehensive guides like this one for getting to and from most major airports into the city center. They can be a little hard to find though. Do a search for something like:
Trip Advisor arrival and departure [name of airport]
Have your hotel details handy
Even if you’ve planned your transportation in advance, always have the name, address, and phone number of your hotel (in English and the local language) handy.
If you don’t speak the local language, chances are the taxi driver will not understand your pronunciation of the address. Many taxi drivers can’t read, which is why the hotel phone number is so important. If he can’t read, the driver will probably phone the hotel and ask for directions.
It can help to know the name of a landmark close to your hotel, too. You can direct the driver to drop you off there if all else fails.
Map your hotel
You should have the location of your hotel pinned on a map of the city. That way, you will know if your taxi driver is going the right way or where you should get off the bus.
For mapping, I use PocketEarth on my iPhone. It works offline, allows me to add my own pins, and the phone GPS shows me exactly where I am. I highly recommend it! No, they don’t pay us to say that but they should ;-)
Check the exchange rate
When Stephen and I hit the airport arrivals lounge in a new city, our first stop is usually the ATM. On the many occasions when we have forgotten to check the exchange rate, this step has bamboozled us.
How much money should we get out? I dunno. How much is 5,000,000 Vietnamese Dong worth?!? Save yourself from playing the ATM guessing game and check the exchange rate before leaving home.
Pro tip: If you do forget to check the rate there is a way to make a solid guess. The ATM usually gives you a range of amounts to choose from. Selecting the 2nd largest amount shown on the screen is usually a safe bet.
Right before you leave for the airport
Double check your wallet and passport
Don’t get caught up worrying about your rain jacket or if you have enough underwear.
There are only two things you absolutely cannot leave home without: your wallet and your passport.
My last step before leaving for the airport is always to double-check that my wallet and passport are in place.
Everything else can be bought at your destination.
I hope this checklist comes in handy on your next flight! I know I’ve been using it for the last few days to plan my trip from Vietnam to Europe.
♥ Happy adventures, Stephen & Jane
P.S. What’s your worst “Oops” moment when showing up for a flight? Is there anything we missed on the checklist? Tell us in the comments!