Hop-scotching the globe is a traveler's dream. But far-flung locales require a bit more prep work than domestic ones. I've recently bopped from Cairo to Cartagena to Beirut to Mexico to Abu Dhabi to Papua New Guinea. And in the process, I created a hard-won and fool-proof pre-flight check list to ease that inevitable packing stress and ensure my adventures go off without a hitch. (Or at least with fewer hitches than usual.)
Here are the top 10 things to do and gadgets to grab before you go off the grid:
Shoot 'em Up!
First order of business before an exotic trip? Check the CDC Traveler's Health website to determine vaccination requirements for your destination, keeping in mind that some immunizations require a series of shots several weeks before you depart. Make an appointment with your G.P. or a travel clinic and get those out of the way as early as possible (to save on costs, ask your doctor if the appointment can count as a simple nurse's visit).
For any trip—even within the U.S.—it can't hurt to stay current on your tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis (Td/Tdap) booster, and flu shots. Tuck a copy of your updated inoculation record in your passport.
A Couple of Apps
Travel apps abound, but there are two essentials I never leave home without: Google Translate (language barriers? what language barriers?) and Dropbox (for seamlessly accessing all my travel docs and photos on all my devices).
Get Thee to a Pharmacy
Before a far-away adventure, I ask my doctor to write me a better-safe-than-sorry prescription for a course of Cipro (useful for treating intense stomach bugs, respiratory tract infections and UTIs), in the unlikely event I become very ill and am unable to reach a doctor in my destination. Obviously you should be under a physician's care before ingesting prescription drugs, so ask your doc if they're willing to consult by Skype should you become ill while traveling. And don't forget to fill the prescription before your flight!
Also, stock a Ziploc bag with these over-the-counter items: anti-diarrhea meds, pain/fever reliever, cold reliever, Benadryl, Band-aids, sunscreen, Dramamine, and insect repellant (depending on your destination). I consider this "medicine bag" to be my talisman against sickness on a trip. Trust me, you'd rather be a walking pharmacy than walking death when you're far from home.
Do I Really Need Travel Insurance?
We get it. You're an intrepid adventurer. But vacation is not the time to be a hero. If you're veering far off the map, particularly in areas with limited medical facilities and transportational challenges, shelling out a few bucks for insurance may save you from calamity. At a minimum, I advise purchasing a medical and evacuation policy. For $37, Travel Guard, offers a per-trip MedEvac plan covering $50,000 in medical expenses and emergency evacuation to the hospital of your choice. For annual plans or insurance that covers trip cancellation as well as medical expenses, comparison shop at InsureMyTrip.com.
Let Hillary Clinton Know Where You're Headed
Before you wheel your suitcase out the door, give the State Department a heads up about your trip. Register with their Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, and the U.S. government will be better able to alert and assist you in the event of a lost passport, a natural disaster, political unrest, or, you know, an impromptu marriage with a hot foreigner.
Who wants to waste precious daylight plugged into an outlet while on holiday? Bring a portable battery pack for juicing up smartphones, cameras, iPads, and Flip cams on the go. It'll give you the freedom to stay on your adventure—untethered—all day long. My pick is the iGo Charge Anywhere, which boasts two USB ports, a dual-voltage rating, and enough power from one charge to restore your iPhone's life twice.
Also, make sure you've got all the vital power cords packed: phone, camera, Kindle, iPad/laptop.
Check Off the Essentials
High-tech items are helpful, but these classic packing essentials really save the exotic day:
1. Kleenex and hand sanitizer. (These will be your new best friends in areas where bathroom facilities are iffy.)
2. Sleeping mask. (Jetlag's only known enemy.)
3. Pen and paper. (Don't know how to say "airport" in the Tok Pisin tongue? Sketch a plane; problem solved.)
4. Cash. Lots and lots of cash. (You may be used to paying in plastic, but cash is still king in many parts of the world. Even in spots where credit is accepted, foreign transaction fees pile up fast. So bring more cash than you think you need... and then $50 more than that.)
4. Business cards/calling cards. (How else will you invite the new friends you make to visit you back home?)
5. Granola bars. (Or insert emergency-blood-sugar-saving-snack of choice here.)
Call the Three "C"s
Dial your (c)redit card company, your (c)ash/debit card bank, and your (c)ell phone provider to alert them of your travel dates and destinations.
While on the line with your mobile provider, consider purchasing a pro-rated global data plan to cover email and web browsing abroad. If you'd rather not fuss with counting megabytes for a temporary plan, turn off your smartphone's data capabilities before departure, or risk paying the equivalent of Ivy League tuition in roaming fees. Another option? Rent a temporary phone or purchase a prepaid SIM card once you're on location.
Be a Copy Cat
Pack photocopies of your passport, visa, credit cards, travel insurance policy, your AAA card (you'll be shocked at number of remote cities it still conjures a hotel discount), and extra passport photos. Stash these copies separately from the originals in your wallet, and leave a duplicate set at home with a trusted pal.
You Made It!
You've done all the hard work of preparing for the worst and planning for the best. The only thing left to do is enjoy your exotic adventure! (And maybe pack just a few more pairs of socks and undies—you never know.)