Preparations Before Traveling Abroad, a Checklist

I'm on my way to the airport now, and tomorrow early morning I'm on my way to Crete, Greece. My amazing friend Vera, who is visiting her mom there from New Zealand, paid for me to fly there and get this much needed vacation, not to mention hosting me for an entire week. It has been a long time since I've traveled, a whole year since I went to Romania with my oldest son Lee, and even longer since I last traveled on my own. This is the first time that I'm going abroad (or on vacation at all, for that matter) since becoming a single mom, and since getting a dog, and because of that, this is a whole new thing for me and I've felt completely out of the loop, like I'm forgetting some huge things... For that reason I wanted to make this post for others who also may be traveling for the first time (in a while or in a new situation) and want to make sure they got everything done.

So here's my check list /to do list that you should review before leaving on your trip.

Early Preparations
1) Passports. Check that you have them, you know where they are, and they aren't expired and won't be expiring before you leave.
2) Visa. Check if where you are going needs a visa when traveling from your country.

If you don't have either of these, get on them. This should be done before you have the tickets ideally or at the very least with months to spare so you can renew /apply for a visa.

3) Find accommodations for your kids as well as figure out how they'll be getting from there to school or camp if needed.
4) Pets. If you have pets find a pet sitter for them or someone to come feed and walk your pet as needed. This is extra important if you have a new pet since it might be something you need to figure out for the first time. I literally didn't remember this until a few days ago. I made an assumption that the kids' dad would be watching our dog but didn't actually talk about it with him. Fortunately he agreed so I wasn't stuck... But don't leave this for last minute and/or assume the person watching your kids is also happy to take care of your pet.

5) Set a budget for your trip. Don't take a trip on credit card. Save up for this and have a budget that you stick to.
6) Figure out where you'll be staying, where the airport is located, how to get to your accommodations from the airport, and buy your tickets. These all go in the same line because these are all interconnected. Sometimes you'll be able to get really cheap tickets to a certain place... But that airport isn't where it's name would suggest it is, and transportation to where you'd plan on staying from the airport would be ridiculously expensive. For example, Frankfurt Hahn airport in Germany is over 2 hours by bus from the city Frankfurt, so before you buy a cheap ticket to Frankfurt Hahn airport make sure you figure out if it's still cheap once you have to pay for the bus to your intended destination. Alternatively some cities may be cheap to fly to but accommodations are expensive or visa versa. Sometimes it's cheaper to pay more money to fly to one airport once you factor in transportation and lodging.
7) Make plans for what you'll do on the trip. If your trip is short don't waste time on it figuring out what to do, do all this legwork beforehand so the actual trip time can be spent on your planned activities. Preparing in advance also makes it likely for you to find cheaper and better options so you get the most of your money's worth. Additionally, you should do this before booking your lodging, as your planned activities may take you away from your home base and you might end up wanting to sleep in other locations. Don't pay double lodging fares if you can help it. Plan your itinerary before booking hotels or hostels.
This trip, to be honest, I didn't do any of these because I left it all to Vera, but since we know each other from this blog, our itinerary is all planned with frugality in mind.

Getting Ready For Your Flight
8) Especially if you're in the process of divorce, or if you have any debt, make sure there aren't any travel restrictions on yourself before attempting to leaving the country. I don't know if this is relevant in other countries but in my country you can be stopped at the border. There's a number you can call or a website to check to make sure you don't have a stop order. Do this when ordering your ticket, but also do it periodically before traveling so that way if it does come up, you can take care of that (either with a lawyer or via other means) before you get to the airport and possibly miss your flight.
9) If traveling with your child, make sure you have a notarized note from your spouse /ex giving you permission to take him/her abroad. Even if you've traveled before without it and haven't had a problem, don't risk it. Bring it along.

10) Insurance. Buy travel health insurance and other travel insurance as needed. I choose to spend more on travel insurance that doesn't require one to lay out money and then get reimbursed, after having had an issue that sent me to the emergency room on my trip to the US and needed to pay for that upfront. If you don't have mounds of cash lying around (or a credit card that you want to put large amounts on) pay a little more for the guarantee that in case of emergency they'll pay it and not you. (My insurance that I use comes with a debit card that they'll fill as needed for medical expenses.) Don't rely on 'good health' and think you don't want medical insurance. Emergencies happen and you don't want to be stuck in another country without insurance and mountains of medical debt. Be safe. Take insurance.

11) Check luggage requirements and options. Make sure that the luggage you have fits those requirements. Additionally, cross reference the luggage you have with your plans. The suitcase that I have that fits my luggage requirements has a wheel that we replaced with a wooden wheel. The wheel still works but has worn down a lot. Since the last day of my trip I will be walking around a city after leaving my host's home, I didn't think that it would be comfortable for me to carry my current suitcase around all day. I checked and found that there are places where I'll be able to stow my luggage cheaply while I travel around the city. If I hadn't found that, I would have either paid for a professional repair of my suitcase wheel, or bought a new suitcase. But by checking my options I was able to prevent that.
12) Inform your bank that you will be traveling so they don't tag any credit card purchases in this foreign country as fraudulent. I forgot to do this when I was in Belgium and got stuck with only the cash I had on hand. Learn from my mistake. Also, up to you if you want to travel with cash or rely on drawing money when there. But if you do plan on using cash, I'd recommend exchanging it for the currency where you're going not at the airport since the airport is the most expensive place to do it. I go to a place in the nearby city and I get pretty good rates there.

13) Double check your departure dates and times. You do not want to be getting confused with this. Don't miss your flight because you didn't realize what day it was or what time it was. Especially if you have flights in the middle of the night, it might be confusing as to which day it is, so check this over very, very well. Also, depending on when the flight is, you might actually need to leave your home the day beforehand. For example, since my flight is Thursday at 7 am, and check in is at 4 am, and I am relying on public transportation to get to the airport, I have to leave on Wednesday to get to my Thursday flight. Prepare accordingly.

14) Use up your food in your fridge. Plan meals accordingly. Don't come back to a fridge full of rotten food.

Packing For Your Flight
Now it's time to pack. Honestly, I only really start packing a day or two beforehand, but I make sure that I have what I need to pack a week or so beforehand, so I'm not running around like a chicken with my head cut off hours before I need to leave.
15) Medicine. If you take any pills regularly, make sure you bring enough with you not only for the duration of the actual trip, but also until you'll make it home. Even though my "trip" is seven days, I'll have an extra full day, a morning and an evening where I won't be home, so needed to bring an extra amount of meds. In fact, better to bring even more, just in case you have an unexpected delay. Additionally, if there are medications you take occasionally and as needed, bring these with you, so you don't need to buy these while away. I have meds that my psychiatrist gave me to take as needed, and I realized I'll probably need these on the plane, so made sure to pack those as well, even though they aren't regular meds.
16) Do you plan on going swimming? Is there a possibility of going swimming if your plans change? Bring a swim suit with you, that way you'll have one that fits you well and you won't need to run to a store suddenly to buy one (that you don't really like and that doesn't really fit you well) like I did on my last trip.
17) Sim cards and/or preparations of how to manage without phone service. Decide if you'll be getting a sim card to use on your trip, or just rely on free Wifi as needed. Alternatively, you may decide not to buy a sim card at the airport but only get one in a city once you arrive. If you won't have cell phone service, or at least not immediately, prepare what you'll need until you arrive where there is guaranteed Wifi or until you get a sim card. (Sometimes there's supposed to be Wifi and it doesn't work, and sometimes you have a sim card and your 3G doesn't work even though it's supposed to, so best be prepared.) This specifically means printing out travel information, so you'll know how to get to where you're going even if you aren't able to use the internet or a phone (like if your phone dies and you don't have means to charge it en route). It also means saving phone numbers and addresses in a way that you won't need to access the internet to get them. You can also download maps from google maps to use at those locations without needing internet.
18) If you have any special dietary needs, or just want to keep things low cost, spending as little money as possible on eating out or expensive food abroad, you may want to bring foods with you. Though I do plan on shopping in Crete for groceries, I brought along gluten free bread that I bought cheaply, as well as cheese and jerky that I can eat without it bothering my stomach, as well as Snickers bars I bought on extreme sale. This way I don't need to pay airport pricing or even corner store prices when I could just bring along the things I bought cheaply, and just buy the perishables/heavy things there.
19) In terms of clothing, see if there are options for you to do laundry there. If you do, you can save weight and space with clothes and just bring a minimal wardrobe that you will wash as needed. But make sure to bring enough for at least a few days, and enough undergarments just in case. And if you're a girl, bring menstrual products even if you don't think you'll need, because traveling can affect your cycle. Don't forget socks and different types of shoes. Toothbrush, toothpaste (travel size), hairbrush, non spray deodorant, makeup if you want, jewelry if desired, hair stuff. Sweaters depending on where you're traveling. Raincoat if it rains where you're going. (Or you may decide to buy an umbrella there as needed.)
20) Bring things to do on the plane. I get anxiety on planes so I need distractions. I downloaded the next episodes of the show I'm watching on Netflix, and brought headphones to use (even though I hate them and rarely use them... because planes), so I can watch even without internet on the phone. Also bring books or ebooks, making sure to download them in advance. I brought my computer along and plan on doing some writing while on the plane. Bring gum to chew for takeoff and landing.
21) Boarding pass. Most airlines today give you the option of checking in online 24 to 48 hours before your flight, and many places give you a discount if you do so. (I'm not sure if you can do this if you're checking luggage, but I don't travel with checked luggage. It saves money on tickets.) Print these up in addition to having them on your phone, as some places won't let you use boarding passes on phones and charge you exorbitant fees to print them at the airport.
22) Empty out your pocketbook and backpack (if you use the same backpack all the time as what you're traveling with) to make sure there's no extra garbage or nonsense that you don't need with you. Don't take up valuable room with things like your daughter's drawings or random referral or prescription papers from your doctor, or your receipt from your last pair of shoes. Also make sure you don't accidentally have something like a pocket knife or even butter knife or a credit card knife which not only will be confiscated, but also can get you in trouble at the airport. Decide if you're taking a pocketbook with you or a money belt (I prefer the latter) and take out any extraneous things including your heavy key ring. Take just the keys you'll need between leaving your home and coming back. Keys and keychains are heavy and bulky. In my money belt I only have my passport, local ID, cash (both local and foreign), bus pass, insurance card, credit card, directions to where you're going, and boarding pass/ticket.

Leaving the House
23) Wash all the dishes, clean your sink, and do all your laundry including drying it (and bringing clothes in from the washing line if its outdoors). You don't want to come home to a stinky house filled with gross, stinky rotten sinks, or rotting wet clothes.
24) Take out your garbage. Don't want to come home to a house full of maggots if you leave your garbage there full the entire time.)
25) Move things from the fridge to the freezer as needed. (I moved all my left milk into the freezer.)
26) Shut off all your lights and electronics that you won't be using while away. If your fridge and freezer are empty, you can turn off all the electricity to your house if you want. But definitely don't do that if you aren't leaving an empty fridge/freezer. Make sure your fridge/freezer is all the way closed and plugged in. You don't want to come home to a defrosted freezer and destroyed food because it wasn't closed.
27) Lock up. Give a key to a trusted neighbor in case of an emergency, or even to stop in and check on things, to make sure there isn't for example something that trips the electricity and has your food rotting.

28) And then of course, there's traveling to the airport. Figure out how you're doing it, and enjoy.

Have a nice trip!

What is your checklist of things to do before going abroad? Anything you'd add to my list? Anything on my list that you'd disagree with?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


Thank you for leaving a comment on your blog. Comments are moderated- please be patient to allow time for them to go through. Opposing opinions are permitted, discussion and disagreements are encouraged, but nasty comments for the sole purpose of being nasty without constructive criticisms will be deleted.
Just a note- I take my privacy seriously, and comments giving away my location or religion are automatically deleted too.

  1. For some countries needs you must have passporrt expire for at least 6 mounth ahead

  2. That's a really thorough list!

    I'd like to mention two other things that are important when traveling abroad:

    1. Make sure that you don't need any vaccinations for the country/countries you're visiting.

    2. Check the requirements for your passport expiration date for each country you're visiting. For instance, if you want to go to Germany, your passport has to be valid for three months beyond the period of time that you're staying there.

    April :)

  3. Also when traveling to EU countries (like Greece), be sure that you don't have any liquids in your hand luggage, since that's forbidden (you can bring a few items that contain 75 ML or less, and then put it in ziplock bags, even things like mascara or lip balm).

    1. So from my experience, flying into greece liquid isn't a problem. Flying out it is.

    2. Maybe they are more lenient in this regard than other countries , but still it's an EU law so i'd rather be prepated to have a more 'strict' control on the airport (i share your experienve that it differs if you fly into EU or out, living in Africa myself). I'm going home in a dew days, after a long visit to my home country and i packed next to nothing that's liquid lol. I find it an annoying rule though.

  4. Something very important: car rentals! And, if you're traveling with your kid and they're on the small side, a booster seat. I know you don't use this, and we don't typically do this, but when we went to the polar circle last year it was definitely much easier to book flights to Kiruna and then get a car, rather than take an entire day on the train (yes, it would have been a 16-hour train ride). It cost only a little more, and gave us two extra days to spend looking for auroras. Car rentals are definitely expensive but can be worth it if you're going to be going to lots of different places.

    Also look up passport rules for each country you're passing through. Friends of mine got stuck in Amsterdam for 24 hours because her passport expired with less than three months to spare.

Previous Post Next Post