Planning for international travel can be a daunting task and even with enough time, it always seems as though you’re still never fully prepared. Personally, I am a procrastinator and have certainly threaded the needle a few times, but there a few things I would HIGHLY recommended doing ahead of time to avoid travel disappointments. These are the Top 10 things that I believe are a MUST DO when traveling and will make your international travel experience a lot better.
1. Global Entry and TSA Pre-check – For $100, global entry is totally worth it. It allows you to skip long lines when entering back into the U.S. and it also includes TSA pre-check in which you can use for any type of travel within the U.S. I don’t personally have this, but if you are an American Express Platinum member, you get reimbursed for global entry, so basically it is FREE. I appreciate having Global Entry but I absolutely LOVE having TSA Pre-check. With TSA-Pre-check, not only do I not have to arrive to the airport super early, but it allows me to get to my gate at the airport that much faster.
2. Always check-in early – I try to never check-in at the airport even if I do have bags to check. You never know what may happen in the event of an emergency while traveling to the airport. Many times at the airport there are “Bag Drop” lines which are shorter and can be used if you are already checked in. You never want to get stuck in a long line to check-in when you could have done it the night before in the comfort of your bed.
3. Buy a luggage scale – I purchased a luggage scale from Amazon for about $12 and it has saved me time and money. You never want to be that person at the airport that has to constantly remove items from your luggage because your bag is overweight. With a scale, you can rest easy knowing your bag is under the allotted weight. (On another post, I’ll show you my overweight bag hack)
4. Bring snacks – You never want to fly without your personal favorite snacks. By bringing your own snacks, it will save you money (airport stores can be extremely overpriced) and time (as lines at airport stores can be rather long). There is no limit on how much food you can pack in your carry-on luggage, but if you do not have TSA pre-check then you may have a TSA agent pull your bag at security to check the food. While this isn’t the end of the world, if you are already running late, you just may miss your flight. (If you’re good with just eating snacks, feel free to skip tip #5)
5. Bring meals – For most people, when traveling internationally, you want a hot meal. I suggest grabbing something at the airport once you pass through security as many times airline food is not that good unless you are flying business/first class. If this is the case, then meals are included in your ticket.
6. Ask about an upgrade at the gate – I always try to dress nicely and wear clothing with recognizable logos on them. You would be amazed at how much more accommodating gate agents will be by you simply dressing the part. And for those who would rather travel more relaxed/comfortably, still ask. I always tell myself, “the worst thing they can do is say no.”
7. Travel with a BLACK ink pen – Believe it or not, this can save you SO much time at your destination airport. Most of the time, airlines will provide you with a travel declaration document to fill out (basically so the country you are visiting knows your location in the event that there is an emergency). You can ask someone around you to borrow their pen but I’ve run into issues with language barriers or them not having a pen themselves. (I’ve also heard stories of individuals having to redo their travel declaration form because they used a blue ink pen instead of black)
8. Ask about hotel accommodations – At the hotel, ask “What is included in the stay?”, especially shuttles, beach towels, breakfast, vouchers, etc. You can save yourself money and time by asking the right questions and utilizing what you’ve already paid for. Always get the most out of your stay.
9. When returning to the US, get to the airport early – Remember, TSA is an agency of the U.S. which means that it is not supported in other countries. Different rules apply in foreign places. I try to make it a rule to have my bags dropped at the airport at MINIMUM 1 hour before boarding time. That is a rule of thumb I’ve created for myself after missing a flight from Brazil in 2019. I haven’t missed a returning flight since that time (I’ve had a few close calls though).
10. Get up early – I do not like traveling internationally with anyone who likes to sleep in. Depending on your travels and time of year, sunset may be earlier in a particular country and you may miss most of the day. Arriving late to attractions will have you waiting in long lines, which allows you to get dramatically less out of your day.