No matter how many times I go through a mental packing checklist, I’m bound to forget something. This past trip to Portugal and Spain was no exception! I came up with a short list of must haves for any international destination so that doesn’t happen to me or anyone else again.
1. Travel plug adapter: You’ll need to charge your devices, and the type of outlet varies by region of the world. We realized as soon as we touched down in Portugal that we forgot to pack one, and then proceeded to buy the wrong kind at the airport… We eventually found the correct adapter at our next stop and randomly found a plug strip outside a business and was able to plug in and charge for a few minutes. Felt a little sketchy, but hey, when you rely on your phone for maps, it is necessary. Below is the one we left at home, which has plugs for almost every country.
2. Portable charger: If you’re renting a car, pack a USB charger to stay powered up while on the road. Google Maps comes in handy because you can leave the directions going even after switching to airplane mode. I wouldn’t rely 100% on a mapping app after our pedestrian-only alley incident, though. More on that later. Another useful option is a power block in case you’re low on juice when out and about without access to a plug. We failed to bring a car charger, and somehow brought an uncharged power block. Super useful.
3. Paperclip: Sounds odd, but you’ll need this to open your smartphone to change out SIM cards. If you’ll be using any data outside of spots with wi-fi, a SIM card from that country is very useful and usually reasonably priced. I used a SIM card for data only, although you could get voice minutes if needed. I communicated with AirBnB hosts through WhatsApp, so no voice minutes were needed. It was also handy to have internet for searching maps for food, tourist attractions, etc. In Portugal, a 30GB card from Vodafone went for about 20 euros, but I was told it was only good for use in Portugal. In Spain, a 3GB card from Vodafone went for about 15 euros, and worked in both Spain and Portugal. I heard that EU regulations are changing to no roaming fees, so those SIM cards should work in multiple countries very soon, if not already. Of course, I did not pack a paperclip, so upon landing back in the U.S., I was not able to switch out my SIM card. Interestingly, the Vodafone SIM still worked for data! Do keep in mind that when your SIM card is out, you cannot receive texts or iMessages via your phone number. Apparently those messages are stored on your carrier’s server temporarily, but if you have the card out for more than a few days, the messages are lost into cyberspace. This seems far fetched, but both Verizon and Apple confirmed.
4. Black or blue pen: Often, you’ll need to fill out a customs form on the plane to use when arriving back in the U.S. It’s a hassle to borrow someone else’s, and the flight attendants don’t have a stash to pass out. I did remember to pack one this time, and didn’t need to use it. Typical.
5. Hand sanitizer: dirty planes, knobs, etc. Yuck!
6. Lotion and Chapstick: Keep these accessible on the plane to combat the dry air. Chances are you’ll never find them squirreled away in your bag once you’ve been seated, so plan ahead and put them in the bag you tuck under the seat.
7. Snacks: no one likes a hangry traveler. Pastrick favorites include RXBars, nuts, nut butter packets, protein shake powders and Mighty bars (meat). I also bring an empty water bottle to the airport to fill up for the ride and in cities with safe water. Once in town, we usually stop at a grocery store to pick up a few food staples. Sometimes grocery runs make for the best meals! You really can’t beat local charcuterie and good cheese for dinner. Plus, the price of Spanish chorizo IN Spain is far cheaper than back home.
8. Global entry! I won’t leave home without it now. Bypass massive security lines and go through customs quickly. It also includes TSA pre-check, so you can go through the shorter security line and remove less clothing/items. Another trick is to see if you’ve got an electronic passport. There’s an icon on the front of newer passports that looks like a rectangle with a circle inside. This means you can again bypass standard customs lines and go through the expedited electronic passport line, where available.
What are your must haves for travel? Anything I missed?