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The Ultimate Travel Checklist You Need Before Your Next Trip

Keep these essentials in your suitcase and on your mind as you plan your next trip away from home.

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A printed itinerary

“My itinerary lays out everything from flight times to transportation plans, hotel information and dinner reservations—I keep those types of things all on one sheet of paper (or two) as a reference document to guide me,” John Hahns, CEO of Imagine! Print Solutions and frequent business traveler, says. Hahns says his printed itinerary is a crucial part of his travel checklist each and every time he gets on a plane—which currently amounts to about 175 times per year. He also keeps a digital copy of his itinerary on his iPhone for quick and easy access. There are the 13 things you need to know to keep your home safe while you’re away.

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Your passport

Regardless of whether you’re traveling stateside or overseas, you can’t go wrong with a second form of ID. If, however, you are traveling internationally, “make sure your passport is valid through six months following your return,” Dana Olsen, travel manager at Travel Beyond, says. “Most people are unaware that many countries won’t consider your passport valid if it fails to meet this requirement.”

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Important legal documents

“If you’re traveling abroad, make sure you’re aware of the visa requirements for each country you plan to visit,” Olsen continues. “Some visas are available upon arrival but some must be purchased prior to departure. Again, this information is essential to know beforehand as consequences may include denial of entry. Visit travel.state.gov for more details.” She also suggests making color photocopies of your passport and visa(s)—both for you and a family member back home—to keep in the case of an emergency. Find out the best time to renew your passport.

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Personal toiletries and prescription medication(s)

“Make sure in advance that where you’re traveling has a great hair dryer, quality shampoo, conditioner and lotion,” Tracy Adams, frequent traveler, says. Adams currently travels about 20 times per year—primarily for leisure purposes—but worked in the cruise ship industry for eight years. “If not, pack your own quality supplies.” Store your toiletries in your carry-on bag, in case your checked luggage is misrouted. You can handle an extra day or two without your favorite sweater—but you don’t want to put your personal hygiene on hold for more than 24 hours. “Have a complete duplicate of necessary toiletries,” Chris White, Executive Vice President at Imagine! Print Solutions, says. White, like Hahns, travels frequently throughout the year—about four to five times per month. He recommends keeping an entirely separate stash of personal toiletries for trips ahead of time as part of his travel checklist. “Don’t pull the stuff for travel from your medicine cabinet—you’ll forget something,” he says. Here’s how to pack the perfect toiletry bag.

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Set of comfy clothes

“I always bring a casual outfit, even when I’m traveling for business,” Lizzy Shay Kaler, associate and frequent business traveler, says. “You always want to have the option to slip into some jeans and relax if there’s a team outing or a long travel day home.” Plus, if you’re smart about what you pack, this outfit can double as a pajama set or workout attire. Consider a light sweatshirt and pair of joggers or leggings on your travel checklist.

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Plans for ground transportation at your destination

Determine, at a minimum, how you plan to get from the airport to your hotel before your plane touches down. It’ll save you ample amounts of both time and stress once you land. “I always take Uber,” Kaler says. “It’s so much easier to keep track of electronic receipts, and I also feel some security with mobile tracking of my ride in new places.” If you do choose to go the Uber or Lyft route, consider the pickup location for ridesharing services at your destination’s respective airport. Some airports have specific places where cars gather—others don’t. Here are the Uber hacks you need to know.

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A bottle of water

“Always buy a bottle of water before you board a flight sitting in economy,” Kaler says. “It will keep you refreshed for when you land and prevent you from worrying too much about when the flight attendant will make their way down the aisle.”

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Take out cash and call your bank

“Research tipping guidelines for destinations you’ll be visiting and carry small bills for tipping in your carry-on bag,” Olsen says. “If you’re going abroad, call your bank to inform them of your travel plans to make sure your card(s) won’t be canceled.” Check out our tipping 101 guidelines for an easy way to catch up.

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Check the weather

“When you’re selecting your trip online, be sure to check out temperatures, along with sunrise and sunset times,” Adams says. “This will also direct you to pack as needed for evening footwear, a light jacket or sweater, etc.” White agrees. “Whether you’re traveling for leisure or business, know the weather forecast where you’re going,” he says. “I like to know dress codes at my destinations.”

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Empty your pockets

“Over the years, I’ve learned that the biggest timesaver is knowing how to manage the TSA process effectively,” Hahns says. “So when I’m standing in line at security, I throw everything into a specific pocket in my briefcase. It’s the same pocket every time. I flash my ticket, license, and I’m through—done.” Both Hahns and White suggest investing in TSA Pre-Check or Clear, if you can. They say the time-saving benefits are completely worth it.

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Double up on carry-ons

“For the plane ride, put your purse inside a larger shoulder bag that can double as your ‘tourist bag’—the one you can take with you to the beach, to the pool, to the golf course etc.,” Adams recommends. “Carry all valuable jewelry with you inside this bag.” Olsen also says your carry-on bag is the single and only place you should pack your most valuable items before a trip. “Pack all important travel documents—including your itinerary, valuables, prescriptions (in their original container(s)) and cash in your carry-on bag, not your checked luggage,” she says. Follow these tips to pack your suitcase in less than 30 minutes.

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Be flexible and keep an open mind

“The most fun and certainly the most rewarding projects I work on are multi-generational trips,” Olsen says. “It’s not unusual for grandparents, kids, and grandkids to come to us for help with planning their family adventure. These trips have many moving parts, but hearing from these clients upon their return—how profoundly their lives and relationships were impacted through traveling together as a family—makes every effort worthwhile.” Olsen’s own experiences as a young traveler in her twenties are a testament to this exact virtue—after traveling with her grandparents through China, Korea and Japan, she says she came home with an unmatched appreciation of those parts of the world, simply because she allowed herself to be open and learn from their wisdom. “Seeing those unfamiliar lands through the eyes of two people who lived through events I had only read about in history books, offered me a far richer experience and a more meaningful understanding of the destinations we explored.” Learn the 16 air-travel tips to know before your next flight.

Lauren Bettenga
Lauren Bettenga is a contributing writer for Reader’s Digest covering Culture, Advice, Travel and Home Improvement. Her work has also been published in Country Living, The Pioneer Woman and Business Insider, among other outlets. She earned a BA in Journalism from the University of Minnesota and is a graduate of the NYU Summer Publishing Institute.