While going to a new place is always exciting, the actual transit and unexpected problems can be stressful and overwhelming - especially if you're trying to orient yourself in a country with a different language and distinct customs.
Luckily, a little bit of planning can go a long way in making sure these things don't take away from your adventure. Here are 5 things you should always pack when you travel abroad:
1. PASSPORT & PEN
The first may seem obvious - but you'd be surprised the number of people who arrive at the airport and realize they left their passport at home. Always double check your passport is in your carry on where it's easy to access. And having a pen is always a good idea so you can complete any entry or customs forms (which will either be handed out on the plane before landing or made available in the arrivals terminal) - this way you're not scrambling to try and find a pen as the rush of people are pushing through Customs Control.
2. PRINTED COPIES
... of your passport, visa(s) or entry documents, and itinerary. Thanks to smartphones and mobile apps, its easy to have everything from your plane ticket to your email confirmations saved on your mobile device. But what happens when you arrive at your destination and you need to explain to the taxi driver where to go but he doesn't speak any English? You try to pull up your email confirmation from the hotel but it won't load. This is where printed copies save the day! It's always good to have your flight and accommodation information on hard copy so you can refer to it even in situations where you can't get online. Plus, in the event that you run into any problems at the local Customs and Boarder Protection agency, you'll have proper documentation of your stay that you can provide them. And a photocopy of your passport and entry documents (e.g. tourist visa) will save you a world of hurt if you lose your passport while abroad!
3. LOCAL CURRENCY
While going to get your currency exchanged ahead of time may seem like a hassle, it can also make life a lot easier upon arriving to your destination. Though most cities now accept credit cards or have ATMs/currency exchange businesses available in the arrivals terminal of the airport, keep in mind that this varies from country to country - and even depends on the time of day you arrive. Once on a trip to Costa Rica my flight arrived at 11:30pm on a Sunday night. I had planned to take a taxi straight to the hotel only to realize that the taxis in San Juan didn't accept credit card (unlike most taxis in the States do). Because it was late all the currency exchange kiosks were closed and there were no bank machines in my terminal. I was stranded with no way to pay for anything. Luckily, I was able to contact the hotel and they were kind enough to pick me up - but I learned my lesson and always carry at least enough cash to get me where I need to go. Even if you don't use it right away, you inevitably will spend it on food or souvenirs later on.
4. PHONE + PHONE CHARGER + ADAPTER
Though you shouldn't rely on your mobile device to access your itinerary information, it's always a good idea to have a way to communicate while in country. Because you never know where or when you'll need it, try and keep it adequately charged. Be sure to pack any adapters/converters you may need in your carry-on. This ensures that if your checked bags get lost, or you have an extended layover/delayed flight, you'll be able to charge no matter where you are.
5. TRAVEL HEALTH KIT
This is the one thing you will want to pack with the hope that you will never need to use. Nothing can ruin a trip faster than a bout of the runs or an itchy rash that won't seem to go away - especially when they happen at the beginning of the trip or when you're about to go on a much-anticipated expedition. In addition to any prescription medication you take, it's a good idea to pack a few extra medications that might help save the day - like antidiarrheal medication, antihistamines, anti-motion sickness meds, acetaminophine/asprin/ibuprofen and hydrocortisone cream. It may seem like these are things you'd be able to pick up in any big cities - but again, you never know where or when you'll need it so it's best to be prepared. On the same trip in Costa Rica, my travel partner at the time woke up at 3:00am with violent Montezuma's revenge (the irony was we were actually in Montezuma, Costa Rica). We were staying in a beach house that was a 20 minutes walk from town and we had no choice but to wait until morning to go to the local store. Luckily they did carry medicine and we knew enough Spanish to make sure we got the right ones - but he spent the entire night in extreme discomfort. Now I never go abroad without my health kit!