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Top 10 must-haves for international travel

You probably have your own personal list of travel musts-haves — items that you always want with you when going on a trip. Mine include a travel packet of wipes, moisturizer with sun screen, essential meds plus prescriptions just in case, and my international service-enabled cell phone plus charger. There are other items on my list, but these items always go into my carry-on bag first.

But there are also items that should be included on every traveler’s list, no matter who you are or where you’re going. Similarly, there are certain items that, for the most part, aren’t worth the space they take up in your suitcase.

Today I want to share my list of top 10 must-haves for international travel, and I’ll follow it up shortly with items that you can afford to leave at home.

  1. Medication. You should always carry all of your prescription medication in your carry-on bag, not in your checked luggage. I find the containers that are marked with the days of the week to be the most helpful. Fill them up so that you have all the pills you need per day in each little container. If you need more than a week’s worth, fill up a second container. Ziplock bags make for perfect storage for these handy containers. If one of the compartments should open, the pills fall harmlessly into the plastic bag, safe and clean. Also, I recommend carrying a small assortment of other medication, including those to treat a cold, sore throat, or upset stomach. Even if you’re not sick when you leave, it’s better to have medication with you should something happen while away.
  2. Photocopies of your passport. It’s never fun to lose your passport, but the experience can be somewhat less frustrating if you keep a paper copy of it with you. You won’t be able to use the copy to get through security, but it will be very helpful when you go to the closest U.S. consulate to get a new one. Just be sure to keep the copy somewhere separate from your real passport, so you have less of a chance of losing both!
  3. Eyewear. Here is where it pays to exaggerate. If you wear contacts, remember contact lens solution, a case or two, and plenty of spare lenses should you rip or lose your primary pair. If you wear glasses, pack a back-up pair as well as a small eyeglass repair kit, which can be found in most drugstores and supermarkets. Finally, even if you have perfect vision, be sure to pack sunglasses to protect your eyes.
  4. Phone charger. Unless you have an international plan for your cell phone, you probably won’t be able to make calls for the majority of your trip. But many of us use our phones as our camera or music player, so be sure to bring along your charger. Even if your family and friends are already on your phone contact list, it’s helpful to tuck a paper list of family and friends’ telephone numbers in with your other travel documents so you (or others) can contact them if necessary.
  5. Inflatable neck pillow. Inflatable neck pillows are handy to have on a long flight or bus rides. Just blow them up and settle in for a light snooze, then deflate them for easy transportation in your purse or bag. They can help you feel refreshed and avoid neck pain that can put a damper on your vacation.
  6. Space-saver bags. These bags can help you better organize and pack your suitcase. However, I don’t recommend purchasing bags that require a vacuum (who wants to lug a vacuum on vacation?!). Instead stick to the ones that let you roll the air out of them. Also, being able to fit more in your suitcase doesn’t necessarily mean you can pack more because you still have to comply with airline weight limits. The idea of these ingenious little bags is to conserve space so you can carry a smaller suitcase or even get away with just a carry-on bag. If you’re taking a piece of luggage that will be checked, be sure to throw your suitcase on the scale before you leave for the airport to ensure you won’t have to pay extra fees for an overweight bag.
  7. Ear plugs. Who would guess that these small items would be such a lifesaver while traveling? They’re an absolute must-have and can be used almost anywhere – from the plane to the hotel to the bus you’ll probably be traveling on. I always carry extra earplugs as well in case my seatmate needs a pair — it’s a great way to make friends on a noisy plane or bus ride.
  8. Your camera and accessories. Toting your camera, charger or batteries, and extra memory cards is necessary for collecting ample photo documentation of your trip. The extra memory cards are an absolute must,  because they take up very little space physically, yet allow you to capture so many memories that you’ll treasure for years to come.
  9. Voltage converter and plug adapter. To plug your phone or camera charger in overseas, you’ll need a voltage converter and plug adapter to work in their outlets. You can pick up a good converter kit at an electronics store or on Amazon.com. A good model will cost about $25 or less, so it’s definitely worth the investment, and new versions are compact and easy to pack.
  10. Poncho or travel umbrella. This suggestion is especially relevant for those who plan on taking excursions, such as sightseeing, hiking, or biking, during their trip. Packing a poncho or travel umbrella could end up being a lifesaver if you encounter bad weather but still want to enjoy the great outdoors. You can pick up a very lightweight but effective plastic poncho at any dollar store for, you guessed it, a dollar!

We hope you keep this packing list handy for your next international vacation. By the same token, there are also some items that are unnecessary to take with you when traveling overseas. I’ll be following up with my list of travel leave-behinds in an upcoming post. Keep your eyes on the blog for that.

8 Comments

  1. Maggi Lunde

    ZIPLOCK bags in at least 3 sizes. They are good for everything. Keep some in your carryon luggage and put the rest in the bags you check. I take my meds in them, peeling off the med label and putting it on the ziplock bag. You can also use the daily med boxes but what i do is easier saves lots of space.

    Use them for electronics, chargers, converters, jewelry, snacks, etc. so you do not have to dig around looking for these essential things

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  2. Eileen Bolander

    Either take a pic or copy any visa you need, tickets, prescription or license.
    hand sanitizer

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  3. Del Duerr

    Thank you so much for the travel tips, I am getting ready for my first trip to Europe n your tips are great!

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  4. M Westerman

    I always take a 6″ or 8″ square Rubbermaid or Tupperware container, for any small or breakable souvenirs. I take it over packed with socks/underclothes, in my checked luggage, and bring it back, in my carry-on packed with souvenir jewelry/breakables. Nothing gets lost/broken or just plain “disappears.” I’ve brought back Murano picture frames, ceramic tiles, etc. I also spread out a roll of bubble wrap (Dollar Store), on the bottom of my suitcase to wrap olive oil/pesto/wine to bring back. If I don’t end up using it, I throw it away before packing to return home.

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  5. Lakeman

    1. Store copies of all documents, pass ports etc on line in for example, google drive, plus the copies mentioned
    2. Depending on country, time of year, latitude, a good breathing rain jacket is your friend. Of course above mentioned items as well. The good, notice good, light weight rain coat can easily become a light weight ski jacket with some layers. I learned this the hard way.
    3. A small roll of duct tape, and mini travel tool, with sizzors and pliers, in checked luggage.

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  6. K Mesler

    1. When traveling, I too, always pack Ziploc bags in various sizes, but also take some 13 gallon trash bags for dirty or wet clothes.
    2. When taking along medications, I always pack enough for a few extra days for those unexpected times, like when a flight is cancelled because of the weather, a loved one becomes ill and you need to stay in the country a few extra days before traveling, etc.
    3. I am also careful to pack any cable connection that I may possibly need to download photos, hook up to a printer, or charge my electronics. They are not heavy and you sure wish you had them when they are not there.
    4. If you are headed to any type of organizational conference, it is also advantageous to have business cards along, as well as pre-made return address labels for easily signing up with a vendor to receive mailings or raffle prizes without wasting your time filling out your information.

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  7. Nan Pad

    (1) Eyeshades. I use silk shades, with the color black on the inside. (2) Earplugs: take at least three as one in a pair is inevitably lost along the way. (3) Band-aids and cold medicine, in case you need them in the middle of the night on a Saturday–many pharmacies and stores are not open on Sundays. (4) Small foreign language dictionary.

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  8. Kat Carlson

    I make photo copies of my credit cards, drivers licence, passport. Copy both sides so the #800 is showing, keep a copy on you and at home with a loved one.

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About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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