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Ultimate Travel Checklist: Complete List of Items to Pack Before Each Trip


Don’t know what to pack for your big trip and it’s just around the corner? Use our ultimate travel checklist so you leave nothing important behind.

Updated: 2019-11-18.

As I embark on each new adventure, I find myself worrying at the last few minutes before leaving my apartment for the cab to the airport about whether I’ve remembered everything that I needed and wanted to bring.

I never have used a physical checklist, but rather have checked things off in my head as I remember them. This is not quite a great idea, for if I haven’t remembered to add the item to my mental checklist, it is also probably not in my luggage. Below, I have tried to identify most of the general items needed, processes to start, and documentation to carry before your travels. If you are only traveling domestically, there may be parts of this that are not relevant to you.

ultimate travel checklist
Taken by G. Carstens-Peters via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

Entry/Exit Requirements and Processes to Start In Advance – About a month before your travel, you should start to prepare the more time-consuming aspects of your upcoming trip.

  • Passport – Must (usually) be valid for at least 6 months after the end of the trip. May need to renew if this isn’t the case. Check also to see if you have enough blank pages to accommodate a visa stamp as well as the entry and exit stamps, otherwise you may need to obtain extra pages.
  • Visa – Check the country’s visa requirements.
  • Vaccinations – Check to see if and which vaccines are required to enter the country.
  • Travel Insurance – Good to have, in case an unforeseen disaster takes place.
  • Medical Insurance – See if your medical insurance will cover you in your host country, and if not, it may be a good idea to obtain medical insurance from a travel company for the duration of your trip.
  • Hotel Reservations – Book in advance so you get good rates and less chance of no availability.
  • Car Reservations – Book in advance so you get good rates and less chance of no availability.
  • Tour Reservations – Book in advance so you get good rates and less chance of no availability.

For a complete list of advice and tips for taking a trip, check out our ultimate list of travel tips.

Arrangements – About a week before your trip, there are several more loose ends that you may have to take care of before leaving. Depending on how long you are away, proper arrangements may be necessary to take care of things back at home while away.

  • Animal Care – Arrange for any pets to be taken care of by a reliable person, or reserve a boarding room for pet.
  • Plant Care – If gone for a significant amount of time, plants may need to be watered as well.
  • Stop Mail – Stop/Hold mail until a few days after you are due back. A full mailbox may alert the wrong people that you’re not around and that your home is open for burglary.
  • Pay Bills – Pay any bills that are due before, during, and even slightly after your trip to ensure that nothing is amiss when you return.
  • Refill Medication Prescriptions – If taking medications, refill the ones that you need to take so that you have enough to last until after you return.
  • Notify Friends/Family/Coworkers – Helpful to remind these groups of people sometime in the week before your trip so that no one calls the authorities for worrying.
  • Hold Other Deliveries and Services – Newspapers, Cleaning Services, Exterminators, etc.
  • Car Parking – If you don’t have private parking, you may need to park your car in a garage while you are away, or get someone to move it for you, so that you don’t return to a towed car or numerous parking violations or even to smashed windows from theft or vandalism. I’m from New York City, my car would be long gone after the first few hours following my departure.
  • Cell Phone Arrangements – If you will be bringing your cellular, be sure to adjust for the international fees, so that you don’t get screwed. If you will be getting a SIM card upon arrival in your host country, make sure your cell phone is unlocked and able to accommodate it, or get a cheap one to bring with you for the trip.

Are you a travel hacker? Check out our complete travel hacking guide to get the best strategies and tips.

Papers/Documentation – PACK THESE ITEMS NO FURTHER FROM YOU THAN YOUR CARRY-ON, NEVER IN CHECKED LUGGAGE!!! When traveling internationally, there may be numerous forms of documentation that you may need to show various officials.

  • Passport – The most important documentation!
  • Plane Ticket/Itinerary – In our digital age, we may simply swipe a barcode from our mobile phone and access our seat; however, it is a good idea to have a printed copy handy, especially when traveling to countries that may be lacking in technological resources.
  • Hotel Reservation Confirmation Numbers – Like the plane ticket, it is generally a good idea to keep a printed copy of your reservation handy when checking in, and even while roaming about the city, in case you get lost.
  • Car Reservation Confirmation Numbers – Printed copy to hasten the checkout procedure.
  • Tour Reservation Confirmation Numbers – Printed copy to hasten the checkout procedure.
  • Vaccination, Proof of – Many countries may require that you have had the necessary vaccinations before entering. Again, printed copy!
  • Photocopy of Passport – Just in case, keep it away from your actual passport.
  • Credit Cards – Take the credit/debit card(s) that will be the most useful and have the lowest international fees. A photocopy of this card(s) wouldn’t hurt, either.
  • Cash – Good to have a little bit of your own cash on you for taxis, snacks, cigarettes, etc.
  • Foreign Currency/Travelers Checks – If you have a lower exchange rate at your bank or other place at home, exchange it there, but be sure to remember to pack it no further from you than your carry-on.
  • Maps, Guides, Language Resources – Pack these if you have them to brush up while on the flight over.

Clothing – Packing only the appropriate clothing will save you room in your luggage and keep you from buying new pieces while abroad.

  • Jacket – A properly-picked coat can be the most versatile piece in your traveling wardrobe. Carry one that is warm, but nice in both casual and formal occasions.
  • Unmentionables – Bring just enough undergarments to rotate.
  • Socks – A good pair of socks can make or break your trip; choose nice thick wool socks for those colder destinations, and thinner cotton socks for the warmer ones.
  • Shirts – A plain tee is always handy, as it can be worn alone for a comfortable, casual stroll, or worn under something else if it is cold. At least one good buttoned shirt is nice to have with you as well, in a neutral color like black.
  • Pants – A pair of jeans can be used for both casual excursions, as well as more elegant destinations, so long as you matched it up with the right jacket. Swimsuit, if it’s on the agenda.
  • Shoes – These take up a lot of room, as do all of the clothing options, so pick one that you can use in most of the situations you may find yourself in. A pair of semi-rugged boots may work for both casual and formal events, but you may need two pairs if your trip will see you rock climbing followed by a dance club!
  • Cold Weather Gear – Scarves, gloves, etc., if necessary.
  • Other Accessories – Belt, necktie, cufflinks, hats, etc.

Toiletry Kit – Your toiletry or shaving bag should be stocked with all the little luxuries and necessities to satisfy you until you get back home. For the rules of traveling with liquids (U.S.), see the T.S.A 3-1-1 website. Though I’ve never been stopped for using my regular shaving bag, they could, so better be prepared.

  • Toothbrush & Toothpaste – Bring a good toothbrush, and get a cover for it as it gets stored in the bag. Toothpaste should be under 100ml or 3.4 oz.
  • Shampoo & Conditioner – Maybe unnecessary, as these can explode at the flight’s high altitudes, while the hotels may supply them anyway.
  • Contact Lens or Glasses – Solution, case, spare contacts, etc.
  • Razor – A disposable razor and a bottle of shave gel less than 3.4oz. or 100ml.
  • Bar Soap – Packed in a travel container.
  • Aroma Enhancement/Maintenance – Deodorant, cologne/perfume, foot powder (under 100ml.), etc.
  • Hair Products – Gel, spray, comb/brush, etc. All under 3.4oz.!
  • 1 Qt. Clear Zip-top Bag – Though I’ve never been stopped for using my regular shaving bag, security officials are technically allowed to discard your liquids if they are not in a 1-quart sized zip-top bag that is clear. If you don’t want to use it, just leave it empty in a side pocket of your bag, just in case the security officials want to otherwise throw these things away.

Electronics – We’ve grown so accustomed to our electronic tools that they are, to most of us, as important as underwear on a journey.

  • Cellular – The one that you want to use abroad, don’t forget the charger!
  • Laptop – Don’t forget the charger!
  • Camera – Bring the case, memory card, and charger.
  • Mp3 Player – Load the music/videos that you want to listen to and watch while traveling.
  • International Power Adaptor – If necessary, you may need to transform the voltage, or at least the adaptor head.

Miscellaneous Items – These various items don’t seem to fit into any other category, but are still important if they are relevant.

  • Prescriptions/Vitamins – Sustain your health while away by taking your supplements, and please don’t forget any daily medications!
  • Gifts – Seeing anyone in particular while your travel? Did you get them anything, if you were supposed to? Don’t forget it!
  • Mini First Aid Kit – Bandages, alcohol pad, anti-diarrheal medicine, aspirin, etc. to get you by.
  • Appropriate Gear – Adventure travel? Got your rock climbing, scuba, or white-water necessities?
  • Business Cards – Create lasting relationships as you mingle and meet new people. Why not?

Last-Minute Processes – These things should be taken care anywhere between the night before the trip until the time you lock your door en route to the airport.

  • Turn Down/Off Thermostat – No use paying to heat/cool your digs while you’re somewhere else.
  • Recharge Electronics – Cell phone, camera, mp3 player, laptop, etc. so that you have enough juice to get there.
  • Water Plants – If gone for significant amount of time, perhaps add a nutrient stick to soil to sustain plants.
  • Discard Perishables – Milk, eggs, cheese, cold cuts, etc. should be discarded if you are going to be away for more than a few days.
  • Change Recording on Voicemails – On home/mobile/office phones to let others know that you are away, and when you will be back.
  • Set Vacation Auto-Reply on Email(s) – Unless you plan on answering them as often as you would back home.
  • Plane Reservation Check-In – Why stand in one more line? Check in online the day before to save you the time and confirm your seat. Paying for checked baggage in advance sometimes rewards you with discounts, as well.
  • Turn Off Lights, Unplug Appliances – Before walking out the door, turn off all electrical and gas devices. Set a timer for your lights, if you have that luxury, to discourage intruders by appearing to be home at night. Unplug Appliances.
  • Take Out Trash – Save yourself, as well as friends/burglars coming over while you’re away, from the stench of those discarded eggs, cheeses, and meats which will fester.
  • Secure Valuables – Jewelry, cash, etc. should be locked up in case of theft.
  • Lock Doors – Home and Car

Written by
Christian Eilers
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