Hi, friends! Today, I’ll be flying to London to start a two and a half week adventure. My friend, Victoria, who shot a lot of my blog post photos while I was living in London, and I are going to be hopping around together to a few spots in the French Riviera, Italy and Greece. I am so excited to check a few places off of my Travel Lust List and also re-visit a couple of places I have already been to but wanted to see again or explore a little more.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been able to travel abroad quite a bit and, through those experiences, I’ve found that there are ten things that I always make sure and pack. I also have a few tips to share about each of them. Some of these will make your trip a little easier. Others will be ‘good to have’ just in case. And, the rest are just SMART to bring along.
Here we go!
Your passport is essentially the number 1 thing you CANNOT forget to pack or you won’t be able to board your flight.
• If you don’t have one, be sure to apply for one HERE at least 8 weeks before your trip. It typically takes 4-6 weeks to get but that extra two weeks will save you some stress waiting for it to come right before your trip! If you have some extenuating circumstances, go HERE to see what your options are.
• If you already have a passport, and it’s been awhile since you’ve traveled abroad, do not wait until the last minute to locate it. Take some time to do so WHEN YOU BOOK your trip. The reason being, you’ll want to check the expiration date to ensure you don’t need to apply for a new one.
The WEEKEND BEFORE travel ….
• Locate your passport again and put it out on the counter to ensure you won’t forget to pack it in your carry on bag.
• Make sure you have a digital copy of ALL of your important identification documents. You can simply take a photo of it or scan it to your computer, save it and email it to yourself so you have it in case you need it. THEN, PERSONALLY, I WOULD DELETE IT FROM YOUR COMPUTER / PHONE. Here is what I have found to be the safest, most secure way to travel with your digital copies:
I have a folder in my Dropbox app called ‘Travel Documents’ and have a photo of my passport, ID, TSA Pre-Check confirmation and numbers, etc. (all of which I have deleted from my Camera Roll). What I love about Dropbox is I can access it from my phone or laptop, and I will likely have at least one of the two with me anytime I need to reference any of those important documents. The other great thing about Dropbox is you can turn on a pass lock [in your settings] so that, if your phone ends up in the hands of someone other than yourself, they can’t go digging around in your folders.
• Print out a copy of your passport and leave it with someone you trust! You never know what could happen during your travels and knowing that someone at home could help you is a comforting thing, in my opinion. My assistant, my best friend, and both of my parents have a key to my apartment and know what file they can find copies of all of my important documents if I were to ever need their help with anything.
• Make sure you also have digital copies of all of your travel documents and itineraries, like flight, hotel and tour confirmations. I upload these into my Travel Documents folder in Dropbox, as well, but I create a different folder within the Travel Documents folder for each trip I take. See below:
This will save you time and stress when you go through customs at your destination and the customs agents are asking you questions about where you’re staying, how long you’ll be in the country, where are you going next, etc. Some countries’ customs agents are more strict and thorough than others, so the more prepared you are the better. How inquisitive they are also depends on how long you’ll be in their country. In my experience, the UK borders are extremely secure. I’ve been asked some pretty intense questions about why I’m entering their country and they always want proof of your answers. For example, when I arrived to London in August, and they saw how long I was wanting to stay, they asked me whether I had enough money to support myself for 4 months and, in addition, wanted to see proof of that so I showed them the balance in my bank account to prove I could live and support myself. It was a little unnerving but it’s because I wanted to stay for so long. And, you have to understand that, with the state of the world being what it is right now, they’re doing what they SHOULD be doing and it actually made me feel MUCH safer knowing that that’s the kind of screening they put everyone entering the country through. An Italian customs agent, on the other hand, barely even looked at my passport before telling me to walk through because I was only going to be there for a few days, I guess. So, again, be prepared just in case.
• Depending on the country you are traveling to and the length of stay, be sure to look into whether or not you need to apply for a visa. You should be doing this WHEN YOU BOOK YOUR FLIGHT to prevent stress before travel. Typically, you won’t need one if you’re spending a few days in each country you’re going to but … never hurts to know for sure that way you can get the process started early.
• Enroll your trip with the US government by creating an account and submitting it through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program [STEP]. The program makes the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate aware of your trip. If there is ever a safety or security issue in the city you have traveled to, they will text you to make you aware of what areas to stay away from. It’s also pretty comforting, in my opinion, to know they have access to my information and my presence in the area IF – heaven forbid! – there is an emergency and they need to try to locate me or notify my family of anything. The state of the world is a little scary right now, however, you can’t let fear cripple you from experiencing and seeing the world. There’s a risk with ANYTHING you do, whether it’s getting in your car or traveling to another country, so don’t let this scare you … just see it as a smart safety measure!
• If you are traveling with a pet, be sure to have all of their documentation and travel gear ready on the day of travel, as well. This is really a whole topic in and of itself, one I know quite a bit about after traveling to the U.K. with Fish, and I’m not going to go all into in this post but the thing you need to know more than anything is to be sure to DO YOUR RESEARCH MANY MONTHS IN ADVANCE to prevent stress before travel. [Although, I know from experience that you’ll be stressed no matter what.] It can be really confusing when you’re comparing notes between what the U.S. says you need to enter another country and what that country’s says you need for an animal to be brought into their country. My advice would be to tackle this endeavor with another person, whether it’s a family member, spouse or friend. Justine, my assistant, and I did research on how to travel with a dog to the U.K. separately and then came together to go through everything. We each had different takeaways and used the different online resources. She corrected me on some things and I corrected her on some, and it proved that two sets of eyes are better than one. Then, we took what we learned to my vet. My vet has a vet tech who is really, really experienced with preparing pets for travel and was SO helpful in getting Fish ready and making sure all of his documents were filled out correctly. We all made a lot of phone calls and did lots of cross-referencing and double checking. It was crazy but I’m so thankful that we did it as a team so, use other people to help you! It makes all the difference.
When I’m traveling, my phone dies within three hours of being out and about. It’s insane. But, if you think about it, you’re using your phone much more than normal to take photos, access confirmation documents, share on Snapchat or Instagram, request an Uber or Lift and figure out the best way to get from where you are to the next place you want to check out. When you’re in a foreign country, especially one where the primary language is not English, the absolute last thing you want is for your lifeline to die. So, I always travel with a Mophie Charging Case on my phone. If you have an iPhone 7, you can get charging cases HERE – just search by DEVICE.
I also bring a portable charger in my bag. You’ll need to make sure you remember to charge it the night before you leave. I do my best to NOT use it until I get to my destination. The Mophie Charging Case will give you ONE full charge and it’ll typically last me ALL day but I have had to use the charging block in the past. It’s helpful to have, just in case, and it doesn’t weigh a lot, which is nice. Here are some options to choose from:
When you’re doing your research, you may come across some app’s that will be helpful for you as a traveler in the city you’re venturing to. Helpful apps for travelers in (enter your destination) could be a really helpful thing to look into before you go. I know I was so thankful when I found TransferWise and CityMapper when I was living in London. WhatsApp, Viber and Skype are all great app’s that allow you to talk to people around the world for free. I use personally use WhatsApp and love it!
If I could recommend two very generic ones that could be helpful no matter what your destination is, they would be:
• GOOGLE MAPS: You can star destinations within the city you’re traveling to based on the tentative plans that you have made, or definite plans if you have booked tickets in advance, which will make it easy for you to find them on your map when you are there. You can also download routes from your hotel to a destination and it will be available when you are on your way and don’t have WiFi, which I thought was pretty handy. It will typically pull up different transit options for you, as well, whether it be the underground, bus, or walking options.
• GOOGLE TRANSLATE: This is a pretty obvious one but this can be helpful in those destinations where English is not the primary language. You should go prepared to speak the most basic phrases like “Hello, how are you?”, “Thank you”, “You’re Welcome”, “I don’t speak ___ well, do you speak English?” but if you’re unsure of how to say something in particular OR, even better, pronounce something … Google Translate is really helpful for that. TripLingo is another good app to consider for this, as well.
Have you found any others to be helpful during your international travels?
A lot of unexpected and inconvenient things can happen when you’re traveling but, for me, if I could name one thing that would quite seriously ruin a trip and make me freak out more than anything … it would be if I lost or ripped a contact and I didn’t have a back-up pair in my toiletry case. Reason being? I would legitimately not be able to function by myself. I am extremely nearsighted and my contact prescription is -10.0/-10.5 so, without my contacts, everything is extremely blurry. It would be like if you put Vaseline over your eyes and tried to see through it.] SO … I am very passionate about triple checking that I have at least two new pairs of contacts and two contact cases in my toiletry case before I leave home. If you wear contacts, I’d encourage you to do the same! I know not everyone has the same issue in terms of terrible eyesight as I do but what is that ONE thing for you? Is it medication? Is it an orthotic brace? Is it a particular pair of shoes that is most comfortable with your feet [my mom had bunyons, so I totally get that some peoples feet are more sensitive, especially when traveling]? Make sure you put them out a few days ahead of time and do your triple check before you leave!
Speaking of eyewear, I would recommend packing a pair of sunglasses to make sightseeing a little more enjoyable, especially in the summer.
If you’re traveling to a big city that is a tourist draw, be sure to travel with a mid-size tote bag that has a top zipper, like the Longchamp Small Le Pliage Tote. It’s important to keep your bag completely zipped up so as to avoid becoming victim to a pick-pocketer. They are super quick and swift. Most victims don’t feel anything.
Then, to add an additional layer of security, I pack a small-to-medium sized pouch to store my smaller belongings like card case, lip gloss, phone, etc. along with this travel wallet from Aspinal of London. It helps to keep everything really organized and concealed. These two items would be quite the feat for a pick-pocketer to grab if my bag was on my shoulder, which is why I carry them.
Here are some cute pouches I found available now:
Make sure all items that have a zipper are zipped up at all times, especially around big monuments, like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame in Paris, Westminster Bridge, Big Ben and the Eye in London, Trevi Fountain and the Vatican in Rome, etc.
I typically DON’T carry my passport on me when I’m walking around just in case something were to ever happen to my bag.
Another big tip in regard to bags is to leave your designer handbags at home. Well, okay … take at your own risk. How about that? [Because, I typically bring my big Neverfull from Louis Vuitton – just because it’s so massive but I pack smaller bags that zip-up in it!] They’re beautiful, of course, but it makes you a target in the big and busy cities in Europe, especially around the hot spot tourist destinations.
Seeing the world is a beautiful thing but travel, in and of itself, can be challenging. Unexpected, inconvenient and uncomfortable things can and will likely happen along the way and it’s okay to feel a little frustrated or annoyed or confused at times. You’re in a foreign place and you’re surrounded by people who are from different backgrounds and cultures so, it is understandable HOWEVER, you are traveling as a U.S. citizen and you are a visitor in the country you are venturing to. So, how you choose to respond to that annoying occurrence reflects back on our country and, while that might not matter to you at the time, put yourself in their shoes. Would you want a visitor from another country to act the way you’re acting if they were standing in front of you in America? So, remember to be patient in situations, respectful to other people, and do everything you can to maintain a positive attitude. Annoying things happen … you cannot let it consume you. You’re in a beautiful place. Don’t let your circumstances make you forget that.
I’ve totally been there, too … many times when I lived in London AND back in December when I was at Disney World. I lost a very expensive card case [which was dumb of me to bring with me but, alas..] that held ALL but one of my credit cards [business and personal] within the first 20 minutes of being at the park and spent upwards of two hours looking for it, reporting it to lost and found, and calling all of my credit card companies to cancel them all and request new ones to be sent out. It was NOT FUN and not what I wanted to be doing during my first trip to Disney in five years but … my friends can attest … I did not let it steal my joy of being at the happiest place on earth. You just can’t because it is what it is and there isn’t anything you can do about it than what you need to do to take care of it, you know?
When you’re traveling, there’s a good chance that you’re out there getting some serious steps in! I mean, you better be! That’s the only way you’re going to see the world! GET OUT THERE! Meandering is my favorite thing to do. I love to get lost and check as much out as I can. My feet definitely pay the heavy price and there are definitely certain types of shoes that I would recommend over others. However, it’s important to mention that there is not ONE shoe out there that will prevent your feet from feeling the slightest bit sore. You can be wearing the most comfortable pair of shoes and your feet will still be achy when you’ve been on them for 9-14 hours so, just keep that in mind.
I would say, though, I prefer to wear lightweight Nike sneakers when I’m traveling. Here are some of the ones I’ve worn in the past and a few pairs I recently ordered to check out before I leave on Thursday:
If you want to travel but you aren’t a planner, I would encourage you to opt to travel with someone who is. As previously mentioned, travel can be challenging and frustrating but nothing is more frustrating than when something happens that could have been prevented. When you decide where you want to go, talk it out with your travel companions, come up with a tentative plan in terms of where you’re going to stay first, second and third, etc. and, from there, keep asking questions and do research to find out the answers. Don’t let the fact that you haven’t traveled abroad stop you. There are tons of resources out there to help you with your questions. I always ask questions in Google and on Pinterest and have come up with some super helpful blog posts and articles!
Here are some questions to ask before traveling:
• Do I need a visa to visit this country?
• Do I need an international drivers license to rent a car in COUNTRY?
• What are the repercussions if I don’t get an international drivers license and still rent a car to drive in COUNTRY?
• Should I travel from this country to this country via plane or train?
Head’s up! Sometimes trains are cheaper and they’re typically much more pleasant.
• Do I need to obtain any vaccinations before entering this country?
• What is their currency?
• What is the tipping etiquette?
• What are the best ways to navigate this city? Is it public transport? Do they have Uber? What app’s will help me with navigating this city OR is Google Maps sufficient?
• What are the local laws and customs?
For example: In Italy, your shoulders and knees should be covered in churches and mosques.
• What are the popular areas to explore in this city?
• What are the must-see places for tourists in this city?
• I want to see (insert touristy destination like, The London Eye or Notre Dame, here) and (insert another touristy destination) within the city you are visiting. Do I need to purchase tickets for this ahead of time? How far away are they from each other? What else is there that I could see in this area?
HERE is an amazing resource to help you get started on getting these questions answered.
Finding out the answers to all of these questions will help you plan out your days in a much more efficient way and will allow you see more things. If you don’t do any research and if you don’t look at any maps in the weeks and months before your trip, you’ll be wasting a lot of time. You’ll also be wasting the money you spent to get to this travel destination, as well, so it’s important that you arrive prepared with prior research and a tentative plan.
Personally, I have never had great luck with adaptors. They’ve always made everything overheat BUT if you want to bring one anyway I’d recommend you purchase one ahead of time. Here are a few world travel adaptors that have great reviews:
This is what I do:
Since I always travel with my laptop, I purchased this World Adaptor Kit when I was in Paris last year. It works great. I plug my laptop in with whatever adaptor is appropriate for the country I’m in, then use the USB port on my laptop to charge my phone. The only other thing I need to plug in when I’m traveling is my curling wand and, personally, I would advise you find a cheap one to purchase in the country you are traveling to. In the UK, ‘Boots’ is the same as a ‘CVS’ or ‘Wal-Greens’ and they have good cheap ones available. I’m not as helpful with other countries, unfortunately, but spending a little bit of time figuring that out makes more sense to me because I’ve NEVER had a curling wand come back to America after using a converter in another country. So, I have two cheap curling wands for the UK and Europe, and I pack them based on my travel plans. The curling wand costs you just as much as the adaptor would, so I think it makes sense.
Most of us can’t travel internationally SUPER often so it’s important to capture these trips so you can look back on them whenever you need a little getaway! Be sure you have extra batteries, fully charged and ready to go, and camera cards with you.
A really great quality, lightweight camera that I’ve started using for travel is the Sony a5100
INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL TIPS TO CONSIDER
• Before you leave, call your credit card company to let them know the dates of travel. Some don’t require it but it will save you any annoyances that may occur while you’re abroad. Calling home is NOT cheap.
• Speaking of credit cards, look to see which one of your cards charges the least or no foreign exchange fees so you know which ones you will need to use the most while you’re there.
• Check with your cell phone company about what their international travel plans are. I’ve found that it’s cheaper to buy a SIM card when you’re abroad rather than opting to purchase an international phone plan while you’re gone. Some popular cell phone carriers are O2, Vodaphone and 3. Here is a FULL LIST. You can use it to reference the countries you’re going to see in order to see which carrier is best for you to venture to when you arrive. Vodaphone seems to be one available in most ‘high tourist’ countries. It’s important to note that you’re phone must be ‘unlocked’ in order to take your sim card out and put a new one in. The customer service person at your cell phone company can tell you more about what that means for you personally. It’ll be different for everyone.
• Write down the location of the nearest U.S. Embassy in the country / city you’re traveling to. Keep a copy in the small pouch in your handbag. Keep a copy in your suitcase in case your handbag gets stolen [not likely, but it could happen]. Store a digital copy in your Dropbox app.
• Pack all of your medication in your carry on.
• Pack an extra pair of underwear in your carry on.
• Don’t keep ALL of your credit and debit cards in one place. Keep one or two on you, another in your suitcase, and another somewhere else. This will prevent a huge headache if your wallet or handbag is stolen.
• Bring a typed medication list with you along with enough of each medication. Each medication should be stored in its original packaging in case you’re questioned about the medication you are bringing into the country you’re traveling to.
• Have your doctor write a letter stating you must travel with these medications for your health and well-being. Be sure to ask about generic equivalents of these medications in case you need to try and obtain some while you’re abroad.
• Call your health insurance company to see what your international healthcare coverage looks like. If you aren’t covered, you can usually buy a very small healthcare policy for pretty cheap. I did this when I was abroad last year. I was shocked at how inexpensive it is compared to what I pay a month.
• If you’re traveling to a country whose primary language is NOT English, I’d encourage you to know a few basic phrases in home language. In my experience, they can tell you’re American and will respond to you in English and treat you kindly for at least trying.
• If you have any allergies, purchase an allergy translation card.
• Carry a card or matchbook from your hotel in case you get lost, can’t remember the address or your phone dies [because you should have this information saved in Dropbox, remember?]
• Always connect to WiFi when available. Turn off your data when you’re walking from Point A to Point B unless you have an international travel plan and want to use it.
• Plan for jet lag. There are different techniques based on which direction you’re going and where you are located. When I’m traveling to London from Florida, they typically leave late in the afternoon and land early in the morning. So, I try to get up SUPER early the day of my flight so that I am reallllly tired when I board my long flight. Once I board the flight, I make myself go to sleep. You essentially want to go ahead and act like you’re already IN the timezone you’re going to. Then, when you get to your destination, stay up all day so that you’re second full day isn’t bad at all.