Take a Totally Stress-Free Vacation: Countdown Checklists to Get Your Life in Order Before You Travel

published Apr 4, 2016
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(Image credit: Nicole Crowder)

Some of the best things about traveling are the pleasant, unforeseen surprises that come through embarking on new experiences in unknown places. But some travel surprises really dampen the fun, like having a credit card frozen and spending hours trying to call your bank with a cell phone you thought would work—but doesn’t—to unfreeze it. Here is a checklist of things to do in the months and weeks before your big trip so that travel hiccups are minimized and you’re free to enjoy the delightful unexpecteds.

Before you book:

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  • Make sure your passport is up-to-date, if you need it.
  • Make arrangements for any visas or other travel documents you may need.
  • Research any special vaccines you may need to obtain.
  • Check any travel advisories or warnings.
  • Begin researching your route and airline rates.
  • Make informed estimates about your total travel costs and make sure your plans fall within your budget.

When you book the trip:

  • Arrange transportation to and from the airport at home and at your destination.
  • Book a rental car or purchase rail tickets as necessary.
  • Check carry-on policies for all your flights.
  • Begin researching your destination in more detail; decide, for example, what you definitely want to do, where you want to eat, etc.
  • Book any additional reservations where applicable (local sights, restaurants, guides, excursions, etc.).
  • Make arrangements to obtain prescription refills or attend to other medical needs as necessary (vaccines, contact lenses, extra glasses, etc.).
  • Start learning common phrases in the language of the country you will be visiting. Look into social/cultural norms, expectations, and niceties of the country you will be visiting so you can be a considerate guest in a foreign land.

One month out from travel date:

  • Make arrangements for pets.
  • Make arrangements for your household (housecleaners, landscapers, someone to water your plants, etc.)
  • Make lists of what still needs to be done and what items you need to purchase.
  • Check the weather at your destination.
  • Purchase any larger ticket or possibly difficult-to-find items, such as luggage, specialty outdoor gear, or electronics accessories (SD cards, adapters, portable chargers, etc.).
  • Let your bank know that you plan to travel so they don’t freeze your account for suspicious transactions; make sure you have a 4-digit PIN so you can use foreign ATM machines. If you forgot your PIN or need a new one, have your bank mail it to you.
  • Obtain an International Driving Permit if you’ll need one.
  • Contact your cell phone carrier to find out about unlocking your phone, international charges, obtaining a chip, etc.

Two weeks out:

  • Pay bills that will be due while you are away.
  • Put a hold on your mail.
  • Shop for any items you may need, such as additional clothes, travel-friendly toiletry accessories, etc.
  • Download useful apps and make sure you have access to a guidebook.
  • Give your detailed itinerary to family or friends and let them know how to reach you if necessary.
  • Make copies of all your travel documents. Take pictures and store them locally on your phone so you can access them even if you don’t have internet service.

Week before:

  • Do all your laundry.
  • Finish up any perishable food and/or make arrangements to give leftovers away.
  • Make detailed lists of what still needs to be done and what you plan to pack.
  • Begin setting aside items that you will need to pack.
  • Download e-books and other entertainment for your flight.
  • Double-check your reservations and your flight times.
  • Check travel advisories and warnings again and take note of contact information for American embassies or consulates at your destination. Fodor’s recommends enrolling in the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Plan.

Day before:

  • Do your final packing, which should be easy because your laundry is done and you’ve been setting things aside.
  • Check in with pet and house caretakers.
  • Pack your personal carry-on item with entertainment, snacks, an extra layer, travel pillow, etc.
  • Confirm transportation to airport.
  • Empty the refrigerator of any perishables. Empty the garbage.
  • Program your thermostat for while you’re gone.
  • Clean up as much as possible so you come home to a clean and inviting space.