In the hectic rush of trip preparations, it’s easy to forget something. With several big trips under my belt, I now have a few items that I make sure to check off my list at least one week before I travel, but ideally two weeks beforehand.
These are the absolute essentials – things that I know will be nearly impossible to get when I’m traveling.
- Do I have enough? I count and make sure I have enough of my prescriptions to last the whole trip.
- Plus a few extras: Just in case. Sometimes my pill container has fallen open and pills end up in my bag or on the floor. A few extras never hurt!
- Call in refills ASAP: If I don’t have enough, I’ll submit a refill to my pharmacy right away so I have time to pick it up before I leave.
Tip: Eliminate this step by setting your to auto-refill. They’ll be shipped to your house for free! I switched my prescriptions to Walgreens and installed their phone app. Now my prescriptions are almost entirely on autopilot. It’s amazing!
- Bring extra contacts: Sometimes contact lenses fail you – they get cloudy, tear, or fall into the sink and are lost to you forever. I always travel with at least one extra pair – two if it’s a long trip.
- Back-up glasses: I don’t normally wear my glasses. So, I make sure to locate them before leaving. They’re important to have, especially in unfamiliar accommodations where I can’t easily navigate in the dark.
- Travel-size contact solution: Skip this step if you aren’t picky about your contact solution and can buy it anywhere. It just so happens that my preferred brand (Clear Care) is tricky to find outside the US. So, I like have at least one travel size bottle and lens case. If I don’t, I’ll order more on Amazon with Prime shipping. Oh, Prime shipping – what would I do without you?
Tip: Remember that your extra contacts and contact solution have to go in your liquids bag if you have a carry-on.
- Get a separate debit card for cash: I don’t like currency exchanges – they’re a ripoff. Instead, I prefer to have a separate debit card account for travel. Then when I reach my destination, I withdraw however much money I think I’ll need for that leg of the trip. (Post forthcoming on money management while traveling!)
- Get a travel credit card with zero foreign fees for other expenses: It’s important to have a credit card with no (or low) foreign transaction fees, preferably also with a chip so it can be used internationally where chip readers are more ubiquitous than ever.
- Set alerts on your cards: Closer to your travel date, go online or call your bank to set a travel alert. They’ll need to know every country you’re traveling to, even if you only have a stopover there and might only buy a coffee at the airport.
Tip: When it comes to travel credit cards, I like Capitol One Venture Rewards because it lets me “erase” travel expenses from my credit card statement. However, many other travelers swear by the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
These are useful to have before I go, but if I can’t find or order them in time I’ll most likely be able to get them while traveling – either at the airport, or somewhere else along the way. I’d prefer not to (after all, it might take time away from my trip), but it’s not a huge deal.
- What do you generally use at home? Aleve for mild aches and pains? Claritin for allergies? If you commonly use these medications, you may want to pack them for your trip. It’s not impossible to find similar ones when you’re abroad, but if I have a splitting headache I’d rather have a small bottle of Aleve on hand rather than having to go out.
Tip: In pharmacies abroad, particularly in Europe, medications are often behind the counter – you have to ask the pharmacist for them. When you go inside a pharmacy, you’ll often only see toiletries and other body care products. You have to describe your ailment to the pharmacist or ask for what medication you need. Sometimes this even extends to products like contact solution!
Chargers and cables
- Locate your important chargers: Cell phone, e-reader, laptop, camera, tablet, headphone, and other chargers. Don’t forget spare camera batteries if you’re a photographer.
- USB cables: Many cellphones, e-readers, and tablets use USB to micro-USB cables these days (unless you have an iPhone or iPad – then it’s their proprietary connector.) If so, double-check that you have enough cables to charge at least a few devices at once.
Tip: It really helps to have an external battery when traveling. You can keep your phone charged when you’re on the go or on a plane without outlets. I use the smaller battery from Anker that’s about the size of a candy bar, but there are ones that support charging multiple devices as well.
- Determine which adapters you need: Different countries have different power adapters, and they’re generally assigned a letter (e.g. “Type A”, “Type D”, etc.) Figure out what kind you need by searching online, “What power adapters are used in <country>?” For example, in Norway they use power adapters type E and F.
- Buy your adapters: I like to get mine on Amazon. Prime shipping is fast and the adapters are usually cheap. Just search for “Type <letter> adapter”. For example, here’s a search for “Type E adapter”.
- Are universal adapters worth it? Maybe. They can be more spendy than buying a multi-pack of adapters for a single country, but if you’re traveling to many different countries and need a variety of different adapters, a universal adapter may justify the cost for at least one or two devices.
Tip: If you forget to buy adapters, it’s not the end of the world. You can usually buy them when you get to your destination airport (though they may be more expensive). If you’re staying at a traditional hotel, they may provide adapters for you. Otherwise, local electronics stores may have some.
- Your daily essentials: If you’ve got sensitive skin or a must-use product, now’s the time to check if you have enough. Not when you’re in the midst of packing!
- Containers to hold them all: If you’re not checking your bag, you need 3 oz containers to hold your liquids, and a quart-sized bag (I use a Ziploc, but if you have a reusable bag for this, more power to you.)
Tip: I finally caved and bought the GoToob containers for my travel liquids, and my life is forever changed. They have suction cups so you can stick them to the shower walls, which is especially useful in tiny showers without shelves.
- Check the historical averages: What temperature is it usually? Do you need light layers to keep you warm or protect you from the sun? Do you need a sunscreen shirt? Just search the internet for “<city> weather in <month>” – for example, “Oslo weather in August” took me to this page on AccuWeather showing historical averages and predictions for this year.
- Then check the two-week forecast: Okay, they’re not the most accurate, but getting a general sense is still useful – like when we were planning for snow in New York and found out it was going to be a balmy 65 degrees instead. Oops? Time to put away the parka.
- Don’t panic: If you don’t have clothes on hand for a sudden change in weather, don’t worry. My emergency backup plan is to shop at an online store that offers fast, free shipping and returns (Zappos has repeatedly saved my life here), but you can also go somewhere in person if it’s last-minute (think: REI for outdoor gear, Target or Old Navy for inexpensive summer clothes, etc.)
- Bring a travel umbrella: Unless you’re going to the desert (okay, and maybe even then), consider bringing a travel umbrella. They’re small and fit well into luggage side pockets or purse water bottle holders. I like this one because it’s not too expensive and it’s nice and compact.
Tip: In the worst case scenario, you can buy clothes when you get there. If you get to Iceland and find out that the warmer-than-average weather has turned into a blizzard, the good news is that Icelandic clothing brands make very warm clothing. Fabulous! You’ll have a lovely winter coat for years to come.
Travel phone and SIM card
- Find that phone! If you have a special phone for travel, now’s the time to find it. If you can’t find it, some backup plans:
- Buy or borrow an unlocked phone for travel and use a travel SIM (or buy one at your destination airport)
- Rent a phone when you get to your destination airport
- Buy an international travel plan for your phone. (This can be the spendiest option, so definitely check the costs before you go.)
Tip: Now that I’m on T-Mobile I don’t use a travel phone anymore – I have free international data, free international texting, texting, and cheap international calls (score!) But I used to travel with an unlocked phone and a travel SIM card which I pre-loaded with minutes. If you have an old phone lying around, you might be able to use it for travel. Stay tuned – I’ll be writing a post on how to do this!
Consider what you might need on the plane and start making a list of your “plane essentials” bag. It’ll help you to think of it now instead of last minute, and save you money – airport items are expensive! Some of the items I pack include:
- Snacks: Grab some snacks with a good mixture of fat, protein, and carbs so you can stay full on the plane between meals. Trail mix from Trader Joe’s is a favorite here.
- Water bottle: Save money and plastic by packing an empty water bottle. You’ll thank yourself throughout the trip, too, when you have something to fill up as you’re walking around cities all day. Airports increasingly have water bottle fill stations after security. Just make sure it’s a leak-proof bottle, because the pressurized cabin can cause leaks!
- Reading material and movies: Have some magazines or books lying around the house that you haven’t had a chance to read yet? Now’s the time to pack them! If you forget to load up your Kindle, iPad, or other tablet, airports usually have free wi-fi so you should have a chance to do it at the airport.
- Gum: Skip the overpriced gum at the airport and grab some at your local grocery store.
- Eye mask and earplugs or headphones: Depending on your flight length and how sensitive you are to light and sound, you may want to consider packing these so you can get a bit of rest and relaxation.
Tip: Make sure these items are in a small bag that will fit under an airplane seat and will be easily accessible throughout the flight. You’ll thank yourself later!
These are my tips for smooth sailing before a trip. What are your pre-travel essentials?
P.S. I now have a print store with some of my favorite travel photography. You can check it out here! I don’t use sponsored links in posts like these because I want to share some of the things that I love – buying prints from my store is one way you can support this site! :D