Bring your passport - and make sure it has at least 6 months validity before the expiration date. Also, make a copy or two of your passport and airline tickets and keep in a separate place.
*Some airlines make you present the credit card you used to purchase your airline ticket or they won't let you get on the plane. Make sure to bring that credit card with you!
*Download Mobile Passport Control (MPC) which allows U.S. citizens and Canadian visitors to use the Mobile Passport app to expedite their entry process into the United States. It is the first app authorized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for eligible travelers with a smartphone or tablet to submit their passport information and answer CBP inspection-related questions prior to CBP inspection.This app allows you to get through customs a lot more quickly on your return home. As of this writing, the app costs $14 USD a year to use but well worth it so you are not waiting in long lines in customs. There is a free option but with this, you would be required to scan your passport, enter all the informaiton once you land and being tired it can be stressful. The free version gives you 4 hours from the time you land to enter all this information before going through customs.
*There is also GOES (Global Online Entry System). Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports. At airports, program members proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card, place their fingerprints on the scanner for fingerprint verification and complete a customs declaration. The kiosk issues the traveler a transaction receipt and directs the traveler to baggage claim and the exit. Travelers must be pre-approved for the Global Entry program. All applicants undergo a rigorous background check and in-person interview before enrollment. https://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry
*When at all possible, FLY DIRECT and take a carry on only so there is no chance of your luggage getting lost.
*To avoid having your luggage getting lost check out this helpful link: http://www.cheapflights.com/news/how-to-avoid-losing-your-luggage/
*If checking bags, ALWAYS bring some clothes in your carry-on in case your luggage gets lost (i.e. undergarments, swimsuit/coverup, flip flops, pajamas, an outfit or two, small toothpaste and toothbrush)
*For a very thorough list of what you CAN and CANNOT BRING in your carry on (or checked bag) Click Here
*Bring all valuables (jewelry, MEDICINE, important paperwork, valuables, etc.) in your carry on - if your luggage gets lost you will be in trouble if you don't have your prescription!
*Make a list of everything you have packed so in case your luggage does get lost and you need to provide a value to the airline, you will have an accurate idea of what you are owed
*Pack lightly!!!! To avoid over packing, check to see if the accommodation has a hairdryer, iron, shampoo, soap, etc. Ladies, do you really need 8 pairs of shoes???
*Speaking of shoes, always bring comfortable, "already-broken in" footwear. Don't make the mistake of bringing brand new shoes! Ladies - never bring high heels - they will certainly get stuck in the cobblestones in the small villages. Remember, many of these European villages are very hilly with rocky textures
*If you are going to a beach destination, find out if the beach is sandy or rocky - if rocky, make sure to bring beach shoes so you can easily walk on the rocks.
*Laundry services can be very expensive overseas so if you want to pack lightly, bring some Woolite to rinse out clothes in the sink.
*If you have allergies/sinus problems, don't forget medicine/spray for the plane since the air pressure when descending can be very painful.
*Check the weather forecast of the country to which you are traveling on weather.com prior to leaving. Also, bring a light jacket and a small umbrella.
*Bring sunscreen, a sunhat and an insect repellent to protect yourself against insect-borne diseases (i.e. Zika Virus, Tickborne Encephalitis).
*Avoid wearing open toed shoes on the plane, but if you do make sure to bring a pair of socks to keep your feet warm during the flight.
*Make sure you bring an extra pair of sunglasses.
*Don't forget your laptop hardware, chargers (for cell phone, digital camera, etc.) and a CONVERTOR set (hairdryer, electric shaver, etc.).
*If you want to check your email while away and don't have a laptop or smartphone, remember to bring your email access website information (i.e. www.mail2web.com - you will need your username and password). Check to see if your your phone service provider offers international access.
*Always pack a swimsuit - even if it's winter, you'll never know if there might be a heated pool or Jacuzzi!
*For those die hard shoppers, always bring an extra, collapsible suitcase for those precious purchases!
*Expanding on the previous note, if you wish to purchase art/home decor while away, always bring the measurements of that area of your home (i.e. table measurements for tablecloths, bed measurements for linens, etc.)
*Bring your address book - you may want to send postcards!
**Make sure to bring complete addresses and phone numbers of the place(s) you are staying so in case your luggage gets lost you can provide the driver who is delivering your luggage to you with the correct information.
Always bring your ATM card with you. You will be charged fees by your bank each time you withdraw cash from an ATM machine (my bank charges 3% of what I withdraw plus a $5 transaction fee - most banks charge $1.50 - $5.00 per transaction). Just remember to withdraw a few larger amounts as opposed to daily, smaller amounts to avoid numerous bank charges. Also, depending on the kind of ATM card you have, you may be able to use it in restaurants/stores if that place of business accepts Visa/MC. It will automatically come out of your checking account. In this case, you won't be charged the bank's normal transaction fee... Warning - many small villages do not have ATM machines, so plan accordingly. Never go to the exchange store fronts on the street - you will be charged a hefty fee. **When withdrawing money from the ATM, if it gives you the option to accept their conversion rate, you can quickly check the math to see what exchange rate they will charge as as their exchange rate will most likely be higher than what your bank will charge. I usually decline their rate and seems that my bank gives me a better exchange rate, closer to the present rate.
*Very Important: Call your bank or go online to their website to alert them you are going abroad so you will be able to use your ATM card and also bring the name and phone number (the direct line) of your banker just in case you need funds made available while abroad. Also, for security reasons, your bank might ask what the amount of your last transaction was so make sure to bring this as well. If your card has a chip you may not have to do a travel alert.
Credit cards are probably the best option since you will get that current day's exchange rate, but only if they don't incur an international transaction fee that most credit card companies charge usually between 2-3% so check with your credit card company prior to your departure. Capital One does not charge this fee. Credit cards are widely accepted at hotels, restaurants and shops. It is a good idea to bring two different types (Visa or MasterCard and American Express) in case one is not accepted.
*Very Important: Remember to call your credit card companies or go online to their website before you travel abroad (usually the fraud department) to make them aware that there will be charges from a different country so they won't put a hold on your card. Also, bring their international phone number with you so if you need to call them you will have it ready. (800 numbers don't work!). If your card has a chip you may not have to do a travel alert.
It is not advised to bring traveler's checks. Most restaurants and stores do not accept them because of currency fluctuation but you can exchange them at hotel front desks and banks.
In some countries like Italy, you can also change money in the Post Office. They often have better exchange rates and are open Saturday mornings.
If you want to get euros before you leave home, you may also think of purchasing euros at Triple A since their exchange rate seems to be better than going to a bank.
*Make sure to confirm rental car reservation prior to your departure. There is nothing worse than getting to the counter after a long journey and finding they don't have a car for you!
*Don't forget your driver's license - check with your insurance company to see if you are covered for collision while traveling abroad. In most cases you will be and the extra, very expensive coverage that the car rental companies try to talk you into are unnecessary.
*Most foreign countries have a lower tolerance for driving under the influence so do not drink and drive.
*Rent diesel/manual when possible since diesel fuel is more economical as is renting a manual transmission.
*Spending the extra money on a GPS is worth it. Getting lost is never any fun, especially in a foreign country.
*Most people don't use paper maps anymore, but if you are old school, bring both a regional and country map of where you will be visiting (i.e. Tuscany and Italy, Languedoc-Roussillon and France). When driving in the villages, use the village names as landmarks as opposed to route numbers.