Last-minute packing tips for international travel

You’ve got your sunscreen packed and your hiking boots broken in, but is there anything you’re missing?  Here are some last-minute packing tips I’ve figured out (mostly by learning the hard way!) to consider before your next trip abroad.

1.  Call the issuing bank for your credit/debit cards:  If your bill suddenly shows a lot of charges in another country, most banks see that as suspicious behavior (i.e. identity theft) and are apt to shut down your account in order to protect you.  To avoid this, just give them a ring to let them know where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone.

2. Write down your bank’s 24 emergency number:  I like to write down my bank’s phone number and keep that in a separate place from my wallet, just in case my wallet’s stolen, etc.

3. Bring a water bottle: Yeah, you can buy bottled water when you’re there, but plastic trash is a massive problem in developing countries.  Help out by bringing a nalgene or metal bottle to re-fill —  lots of hotels nowadays have water coolers for that very purpose.

4. Make a copy of your passport and laminate it: This is a really important one, at least the copy of the passport.  If it’s stolen, you will have to provide a copy of the passport to the consulate or else suffer through long days of trying to prove your identity.  I also recommend laminating that extra copy, which is useful if your stuff gets thoroughly soaked

5. Test out your camera and battery re-charger: I recently traveled to Patagonia and discovered, to my horror, that my camera’s battery charger was kaput.  Now I only have 4 photos, sent by kind travelers in my group, of myself in Torres del Paine.  To make things worse, I was posing like an idiot in every one . . . don’t let this happen to you.  I could have saved myself a lot of heartbreak by testing out the charger (oh, and not posing like I was drunk in everyone’s photos).

6.  Pack your most valuable shoes in your carry-on: I’m not saying to lug around your Manolos, but the most valuable shoes for your upcoming trip.  When going to South America, I usually wear my tennis/hiking shoes and carry-on the flip flops.  In the unlikely event that your luggage is lost on your international flight, one really tricky thing to replace while traveling is your footwear.   We once had some Galapagos travelers in this situation who wound up in high heels for most of their tour!

7.  Buy some travel insurance: Remember that obnoxious Icelandic volcano that taught us all the valuable lesson about travel insurance?  Not to terrify anyone about travel (hey, the world’s a crazy place even if you stay home), but natural disasters and political strife can happen anytime.  No one wants to spend a week stuck in Heathrow airport and have to spend an extra $3000 to get home.

8.  Bring a few tasty snacks:  If you’re a total grump without Reeces Pieces, bring along a pack or two.  Believe me, it’s pretty impossible to find your special brand of chocolate 2 days into a Kilimanjaro trek.  Just don’t try to get cheese or fruit through customs, it doesn’t work.

9.  Bring your own small travel alarm clock. The hotel’s alarm clock never works.  Never.  And don’t rely soely on the front desk for a wake-up call, I’ve made that mistake a few too many times!