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The Ultimate Guide to Preventing Travel Disasters

When you’ve traveled as much as me, you get pretty methodical about preventing travel disasters.

The days leading up to a trip are always so hectic. Running errands, packing, making sure every last work project is buttoned up so you can fully relax once that plane starts lifting into the air (or an hour before that at the airport bar. No judgment!). Before I leave on any trip, there are a lot of things I like to check off my to-do list.

1. Create a Travel Must-Haves List

No matter where you’re going, or whether you’re jetting off for business or pleasure, there are a few things you 100 percent, absolutely need. Precisely why I always double and triple-check on the following things leading up to the trip.

And on my way to the airport.

And again when I am waiting security.

Make a list of the things that would ruin your trip if you left home without them. Then make sure you don’t. Some examples:

Identification
You’re not getting through security without it. Make sure your license is in your wallet. If you’re traveling internationally, double-check that you have your passport and that it’s up-to-date (do that second part a few weeks before you leave). Even then, if it’s within a year of expiring, most places won’t let you in unless your passport is good for another 6 months.

Credit Cards/Cash
It’s going to be real challenging to get by without any way to pay for stuff. Make sure you have a credit or ATM card in your wallet (not stuffed into the pocket of, say, the coat you walked the dog in yesterday!) and some emergency cash. I always bring $100 US dollars as my emergency cash that I store separately from my wallet.

Necessary Medications.
Do you have medication that regulates your heart or diabetes or something else that’s keeping you alive and healthy? Don’t forget that at home, and don’t pack it in your checked luggage that could go missing for your entire trip.

Necessary Travel Documents.
Visas, medical documentation, whatever. Make sure they’re packed (make copies, too!) and kept somewhere safe. Maybe  even scan and email to yourself.

Smart Phone
We couldn’t imagine going to the supermarket, let alone Rome without one. And yet we did it all the time in the 80’s and 90’s!

Event Attire
Are you traveling for a special event, like a wedding? Make sure you have your bridesmaid dress/shoes/jewelry or tux/suit/dress socks/shoes! The wedding won’t be ruined if you don’t match the rest of the attendants, but the bride may make you feel that way.

If you have all of this stuff, you can almost guarantee anything left at home can be purchased at your destination (or you can live without it for a few days).

2. Create a Necessary Packed Items List

There are a few items that always seems to get left behind. Double-check that you’ve packed the following things:

Chargers
Phone, eReader, computer, tablet,  FitBit, camera, GoPro… pretty much anything techie you might want on the road needs to be charged. Be sure you’ve got all the right chargers (and memory cards with ample space for cameras and video equipment!). I travel with at least two outlet adapters, as well as a small USB charging station because so many devices need to be charged overnight.

Toiletries
It’s pretty easy to find a drugstore on the road. However, it’s usually not until you’re checked in to your hotel room and in your PJs that you realize you forgot your toothbrush, toothpaste, cleanser or anything else required to wash off a dirty day of travel. Make sure you have all the goods before you leave for home. If you travel a lot, keep a set of travel toiletries separate from your regular stuff and always keep it well-stocked.

I also travel with a small pouch that is my “medicine cabinet” pills for headaches, stomach issues, aches and pains. Trust me, you never get sick at a time it’s convenient to make it to a Walgreens.

Stuff  You Always Forget
Underwear, socks, workout shoes (or a pair of nice ones for dinners out!), swimsuit, jacket… I always seem to forget one of these items and end up buying some version on the road. Run through the scenarios of what you might be dressing for as you finish packing. And always double-check the underwear and socks. Even if you know you packed some.

Emergency Snacks
Hunger makes travel (and people) intolerable. Throw some ready to mow snacks in your bag. My go-tos are peanut butter, almonds, granola and protein bars. Plus, tea bags just in case I need a caffeine boost or calming chamomile moment.

How do you prevent travel disasters? Share in the comments!

This Post Has 22 Comments
  1. spare underwear at the very least for the carry on; if we travel with the kids, i carry for all of them! tee shirt and leggings if there’s room, because you never know!

  2. After traveling to Croatia from the states I would also recommend the following:

    My mother’s wallet was pick pocketed out of her purse so take a picture of all cards with you and write down international numbers in case stolen or lost. Also, don’t carry all with you and have an extra credit and debit card in a separate place.
    Rent a car from your hotel if you are departing on a very early return flight. We had to return the day ahead since we had a 6:30 am flight and the rental car place didn’t open until later.
    Bring a hand held fan to prevent heat stroke.

  3. Travel insurance and if international destination I make sure I have travel medical insurance. Print out and bring copies of the policies and that 800 number for assistance while traveling. Also I bring more than one credit card just in case your card number is hacked just before your trip or during and charges are refused.

    I swear by compression knee high stockings to keep my legs from feeling overly tired on long travel days… Not just for the elderly!

  4. For cash, take smaller bills, vending machines, porters, a quick cash conversion in a foreign city, or a quick stop at a cafe or convenience store. And don’t forget to make sure you have the chip n pin version of your credit/debit card if you’re going to Europe. It’s not necessary for Canada, but will make it easier.

    1. Hey Todd, when you say “chip n pin” you mean chip and pin, right? I’m going to Europe at the end of the month and I have cards with chip and PIN numbers. I’m a little worried about it all! ????

      1. Jennifer, in Europe they have pin numbers for their CCs that have chips in them. The US does not have that simply because the credit companies were uncomfortable about people trying to remember pin numbers and therefore, ours are less secure without the pins.

      2. Jennifer – I just got back from Switzerland and Italy yesterday (with a side trip to Germany). They prefer chip cards with PINs, but they readily accepted my Visa card without a PIN. Just be sure to notify the credit card company that you’ll be traveling so they aren’t surprised by the charges.

  5. It’s a pretty good idea to hard copy your itinerary re flights, trains, car rentals, etc. Anticipate that when you really need to access your email to check these, the battery will be stone dead. It’s a law of physics.

  6. Go thru your wallet or purse and leave behind any credit cars that you will never use on a cruise or trip; such as department store credit cards, expired bank cards, library cards, etc. Take only ones you can actually use on your trip. If you purse is stolen you only have to report those you took with you.

  7. When you check into a hotel the front desk always gives you two copies of your door key. Put one in your pants pocket or outfit that you would quickly through on if you have to leave the room such as an alarm for a fire even if it may be a false alarm. If happened to me and many people were stranded without their room keys after we were told the fire alarm was a false one.

  8. I once left home for a business trip and since it was the next day, traveled quite casually to get there. I packed everything for that trip, except pants to go with the rest of the business attire I had remembered to pack. Now before I leave, my husband asks as I head out the door – do I have everything? Do I have pants? Etc. My tip is, having someone help remind you of the little things ( or in this case it hadn’t been so little).

  9. I kept my hotel/shiproom key on a lanyard at all times, to be sure not to end up locked out of my room. We were only given one key card.

  10. In a lot of hotels you need to put your room key in a reader by the door in order to turn on the lights… Just remember to grab it on your way out the door..

  11. When I go on any trip longer than 3 days, I use index cards and write out every outfit ,underwear, shoes,gowns (formal wear), swimwear and place it in the luggage so I know which outfits and what days to wear them. *works really well for cruise ship vacations! It also helps me to know if I forgot anything.

  12. In addition to having a list of things to pack, also have a list of things TO DO before you leave: i.e.: notify credit card companies of your intended travel. Most let you do this on line now. Suspend mail and paper delivery or arrange for them to be picked up. Pay bills so you won’t have to use unsecure wifi for on line banking on the road. Return library books. Email itinerary and other important info to yourself, loved ones, your job. Arrange for a global data plan, look into buying a local SIM card at your destination or decide you’ll only use your phone when there’s wifi available. Everyone’s list will be different, but sit down and think about what should be on it at least a week before you leave so you’re not running around like a headless chicken. I confess to a few too many pretrip all-nighters.

  13. I have a question. When traveling in Europe, would my American car charger work in any European rental car? Just worried about using my smart phone or tablet to google directions on the road and that app seems to use up the battery charge quite quickly.

  14. New Item for your I phone; a solar powered battery charger so when you are in a country and you do not have an adaptor you can charge your phone; the sun shines everywhere.

  15. Some things I have forgotten: Dark socks to match dress pants (Which I seldom wear!). A dress belt to wear for the dressy night. Small flashlights – to find your way for that middle of the night bathroom trek. A multi-outlet small plug to plug all those charges into. It’s also a good idea to place a copy of your itinerary in each checked luggage. If lost, the airlines may be able to send your luggage on to your next destination. Bon voyage!

  16. If you own a car in the US, take a copy of your proof of insurance. It will save you buying rental car insurance.

    Make sure the travel outlet extender is also a surge protector.

    The company Lush sells bar shampoo. Less liquids in your bag.

    S2O are laundry soap impregnated wipes that are for pre-spot, laundry soap and dryer sheet in one and are not considered a liquid. Put a few in a ziplock bag.

    Carry a mini bottle of Fabreeze. Really helpful for long trips.

  17. ListWrangler. Its an app you can make your own checklists and then check them off as they’re packed. I travel every week and its amazing the things I would have forgotten if not for this app.

  18. I travel often and would never even think about packing without a check off list. I divide it into sections: Travel Necessities (carry on), Travel Necessities (pack), Toiletries & Clothing. I’ve never forgotten anything (knock on wood!).

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