You want to maintain a sense of spontaneity to keep travel feeling light and liberating. But staying organized and prepared is key to a successful trip abroad. So what's the best way to balance both? Having all the tools you need along for the ride so you're ready for anything — just in case. To that end, you should always travel with this documentation and data you'll need when everything goes as planned — and when it takes a sudden turn out of whim or necessity.
Duh, right? This tool of international travel seems so obvious that you just might be inclined to forget it while you mind other details. Don't let that happen. (It's scary.)
Visas can be confusing: If you are going to just one country, you can very easily go to the state department website and search that country to see if you need one and how to get it. But what if you want to leave the airport for a layover?
And if you are just bopping around the world, you'll find it's not always possible to get a visa to some countries while you are already abroad. Another pro trip: When you flight hack, think about visas! Let's say you are going from NYC to Singapore. To save money, you get clever and book two separate flights — like NYC to India, then India on to Singapore. Well, you have to collect your luggage, exit, and re-enter security to check-in when you do this. That means you have to go through immigration and without a visa — that can't happen.
3. Medical paperwork
You are legally required to show records of shots for various countries. Example: You cannot go to Uganda without showing evidence of a yellow fever vaccination, which will be stapled into your passport along with your visa. But beyond just the practicalities, you should have your own personal medical information in case anything happens. Keep your insurance card with you, along with a list of all the medications you take and their doses. Also jot down any medical conditions you have, as well as any allergies. Keep this info log somewhere safe, like tucked into your passport cover.
4. Extra passport photos
When you travel in some countries in Asia, you might need two-by-two-inch passport-size images for little things like getting a SIM card. It's easier to just have these ready, as they're so light to travel with. Did you know in India, you can't see the Dalai Lama unless you give a two-by-two image at the door? Now you know.
5. Travel insurance data
It's a must! Keep a copy of your insurance confirmation and the number you should call if anything happens. If you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel, so in-the-know travelers say.
6. ATM card backup info
There are times when your ATM card is "lost" but you know it's not stolen: You dropped it in the ocean, or you sliced through it with a machete while opening a coconut on a remote island (oops) — at times like this, a savvy traveler's trick is not to cancel the card, but to use the numbers to make online bookings. When you are abroad, it can be a huge challenge to get a new card in the mail; your bank could send it to a stateside address, from where a trusted contact could FedEx it to you, at significant cost. Instead, if you know your card number, expiration date, and the three-digit code on the back, just book big things like hotels and flights online without issue. And then scoop up your new card when you're back in the U.S.
Pro tip: You can also use that card number to get cash via Western Union. Just set up an account and send the money to yourself. Viola, instant ATM!
Beyond that, of course, bring a backup credit card or ATM card and hide it somewhere safe.
7. Photocopies of your travel docs
Many countries make you hand over copies when you stay at hotels, required by law. Most often, these places have a copy machine on hand — but when you are traveling in developing countries, you might find that they send you off to make copies yourself. It's much easier to just carry some with you. Of course, doing so also supplies you with redundant copies of your most essential travel documents as backups for your originals — and that's key.
8. Driver's license
You never know when you might want to rent a car or a scooter and go for a ride!
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