I’m not obsessive about packing lists. If I forget anything, I can buy it. Of course, I would cringe, knowing I have the same item at home, but I would survive. For me, it’s the pre-packing list that’s essential. It ensures that I, my family, my cats, my house and my car are ready for the trip ahead. Not just ready, but optimal!
If you believe in “winging it” when you travel, you may want to skip this post!
Here is my completely non-spontaneous travel planning process. I haven’t included planning for camping or adventure travel, learning a new language, registering with embassies, or getting immunized. Just middle-class, first-world travel… I included some notes about either bringing children and pets, or making arrangements to travel without them.
6-12 Months Ahead: Deciding on a Trip
Choose a destination and think about timing: Base a trip around a family event, a work conference, a concert, a life-long wish?
Check rates. For example, we can get cheaper direct flights to London from May to August, so we wouldn’t plan a trip between September and April.
Think about the year at work. Would I miss out on a milestone at work or a new job opportunity if I travelled then? (This year I am involved with a library renovation so won’t be able to travel in June or July).
Check children’s school and activity calendar. Would they miss a performance or playoff during the vacation? Of course, exams can’t be rescheduled. Otherwise, check school policy on missed time – and negotiate!
Decide on luxury level. Hotel or hostel? Kitchenette or fine dining?
Set a budget. Get ballpark figures on flights, accommodations and entertainment.
Decide on things to do. What is a “must see” and what is optional?
Save money. I only travel when I’ve saved enough for the whole trip – nothing on credit. If that means some years without a vacation away, so be it.
3-6 Months Ahead: Early Plans
Plan cash flow. Payments will start now!
Book it! Book flights, accommodations, tickets for entertainment and attractions, travel health insurance, childcare, pet sitting.
Check documents. Apply for or renew passports and visas.
Calm worries. Make house and car repairs that would worry you if they flared up during your vacation.
Be well. Keep up on health and dental appointments for self, children and pets – to ward off travel emergencies!
Mooch! Start asking around to borrow luggage, pet carriers, a travel stroller or other equipment.
The Month of Travel
Take care of self. I like my hair cuts to be 1-2 weeks old when I travel! This is also the time to fill prescriptions, break in new shoes, keep up on work at the office, and put in some extra time at the gym.
Do house and car chores. I keep up on yard work so I don’t need to whack down a forest the day before I leave. If making a road trip, I get the regular maintenance done, and stock an emergency kit.
Notify the kids’ keepers. It’s time to inform the school, childcare centre, soccer team, and other activities about the kids’ absence. Some will have policies about paying for missed time (for example, one daycare Link attended allowed us two weeks off per year without paying to reserve their place).
The Week of Travel
Don’t get sick. OK, I can’t really control this, but I can avoid the obvious culprits. I try to eat well, sleep well, and don’t get so run down that I need to spend the trip recuperating from everyday life.
Cut back a little. Eat a little less and work out a little more, in the hopes of fitting into the same clothes after the trip!
Confirm everything. Confirm all travel arrangements and store copies on smartphone and/or print tickets, itineraries, maps and directions.
Meet with caregivers. Provide instructions and routines for taking care of children, pets, house and garden. Leave contact info, keys and alarm codes. Arrange for mail, flyers and newspapers to be held or picked up.
Review money. Pick up cash/currency at least for early part of trip. Pay bills that are due during vacation. Notify credit card issuer of travel plans so they don’t flag the card for unusual activity!
Check weather. Forecasts will be getting more accurate now.
Do laundry. Set aside a travel outfit including coat/jacket and shoes/boots.
Test pack. Show kids how much they can bring in their carry-ons and how heavy it will be.
Deck out devices. Load up e-books, movies, TV episodes, music and games on tablet or smart phone.
The Day or Night Before Travel
Charge ‘em up. Charge smart phone, tablet and camera; bring devices and chargers.
Assemble docs. I put them in a pouch in my carry-on.
Pack. Pack suitcase and carry-on. I bring a backpack on flights, and put an empty purse in my suitcase to use when I arrive.
House check. Dishes clean? Litter box scooped? Garbage out? I love a clean house when I get back!
Drop offs. Do children – and pets – need to be dropped off with their caregivers the night before?
Goodbyes. Cuddle and reassure children and leave confidently. Enjoy the last few minutes of soft fur and dog kisses. Call Mom!
Early departure. Set two alarms!
The Day of Travel
Last minute items. Pack last minute essentials like the toiletries you just used in the shower, and your toothbrush.
Nausea and panic. Does anyone take travel meds?
Secure the house. Check locks. Set timers for lights. Set “away” temperature on thermostats. Unplug appliances and turn off power bars.
Hop into getaway vehicle and go!
In the interest of thoroughness, I made a more complete list and have uploaded it below as a PDF. If you don’t have kids or pets and are wondering what it would be like to travel with them, check it out! There are only an additional 50-75 steps…
An Exacting Life’s Travel Ready Checklist
What are your top travel tips?
Well, you’ve picked the right name with “exacting”. I don’t plan this thoroughly. But then I don’t get to pick my holiday times. And have never travelled without my kids – until they turned 17. Now they stay home but are given strict instructions regarding the pool and garbage.
I do most of this stuff without thinking about it too much. I did a fair amount of business travel child-free. Your kids are not party dudes, then?
Oh, we’ve had some “gatherings” as apparently the youngsters call them now. But my neighbours keep and eye and ear out. And my boys know it would be THE END if they had something that got too big and caused damage. They had one, once, where a couple of people got out of control but they learnt from that and now when we are away only have their regular friends over. I know them all, as they are regular visitors. So they wouldn’t do anything that was disrespectful. Too much alcohol and a bit of vomit in the garden I can handle but not breakages or stealing stuff.
My travel tip that I would add to this already thorough list is to plan for food the week before you travel. Eating everything in the fridge and planning a healthy meal to eat the night before is important for me. I hate wasting food so I like to cut back on grocery shopping and try to eat up all perishable food. I usually find myself scrambling the night before vacation getting last minute items taken care of so I like to plan for something healthy to eat so I don’t end up with take out that will make me feel lousy when I wake up the next morning.
Good advice. I hate wasting food, too, and knowing I won’t use everything up before I leave. I don’t like getting take-out before travelling either, knowing I’ll be eating out every day during the trip.
Opps, forgot my top travel tip. When going on a road trip, pack a thermos of tea. We always stop for a cuppa.
Right, mine would be coffee!
Dar – thank you !!! You are a lifesaver. I’ve been trying to do a lot of this in my head for our trip (amidst a chaotically busy work schedule yet again) and it’s causing me to wake up in a cold panic in the night.
You have seriously made my next few weeks so much easier. Thank you!!
Thanks, Fiona – you’ll have to let me know your best tips afterwards – anything you added – especially for kid stuff!
I have a very difficult time committing to plans, whether a lunch a week from now or a cruise a year from now. Obviously, this makes travel planning rather difficult! I admire the thoroughness with which you approach travel planning. There are always so many details to wrap up prior to leaving sometimes I think it almost is more trouble than it is worth. Then again, it might be old age settling in as I used to be a very avid traveller and as I grow older I notice the urge lessening and think I’m becoming a homebody. Has anyone else noticed this?
I don’t really have the travel bug like some people; I like visiting faraway relatives and seeing new places within a certain comfort level, but I am always glad to return home!
Oh yeah, my travel tip is to cook and freeze a meal so that upon your return you don’t have to run out to the supermarket immediately. I sort of stock the house in preparation for our return. Some frozen veg, a casserole and a loaf of bread in the freezer, long life milk…
And to clean the house prior to leaving, who wants to return to a unkempt home?
I was happy to have some frozen homemade pasta sauce after returning from my latest trip. And definitely liked coming home to a clean house!
I am a big planner, but Donna thrives on spontanaeity. I book the flights, a place to stay on arrival, and then we wing it from there. This initially drove me crazy, but now I know that Donna views an itinerary as something to deviate from, not to follow. If there is something I absolutely must do on the vacation, I make it clear that it is non-negotiable. We try to travel slightly off season so that we can find decent accomodations – mostly at clean, quirky, inexpensive guest houses. We spurge once on each trip for beauty not fanciness. We picnic/park lunch when we can (I love shopping in markets so this is actually a treat for me). Travel is important to me/us so we budget it in along with the mortgage (my pal Ann says that being middle class is about choices, you can do anything you want but you can not do everything you want).
The computer has changed how I travel, I know I can access all the websites for train schedules, city maps, lodging. Access to information comforts me. I keep copies of my passport and documents on an Adobe file on my gmail server, along with all of our medical information. Although I am not a big fan of Rick Steeve’s travel books, his website has a lot of good information on budget travel for independent adults – including a very good packing list for how to travel only using a maximum legal carry-on. If you tend to over-pack it is a good stripped down list.
We usually travel somewhat off-season too because when visiting relatives, it doesn’t matter so much. I like to splurge on concerts and plays that I wouldn’t get to see near home. I like to store attractions, maps, schedules etc as well. I don’t mind deviating from a plan, but I don’t like “wasting” a vacation day through indecision or being lost! I will have to check out that packing list. But I don’t dress up or use any fragile fabrics, so I don’t fuss much.
I love planning for travel, however I have rarely ever done it more than a few months in advance. In the past, my husbands or my work would not accomodate such advance planning, also I just can’t seem to think that far into the future.
My random travel tips are:
1) photocopy your passport at least 2 times. Leave a copy at home with someone and then carry the other with you, but separate from your passport in case of loss.
2) take a travel mug, plate, and cutlery – to save some cash on longer trips we like to eat lunches from items picked up at the local grocery stores or markets.
3) remember headphones for the plane! Travel is not exactly environmentally friendly at the best of times, but the ‘disposal’ headphones on planes really aggravates me.
Good idea about the passport copies! And you are right, although I often get a room with a mini fridge and microwave, they never have dishes. On the other hand, I never travel without my precious noise-cancelling headphones! I would just be irked to pay for the airline ones!
Another good travel tip is to email a copy of your passport and important details to yourself. Depending on where you are traveling, it can be fairly easy to access an email account should you lose or get your passport stolen.
I like that idea, too!
I have a similar list…I mean right down to all of the details! While I don’t have “don’t get sick” on my list I probably should add it (a friend of mine is a doctor and she wears a mask with her patients for two weeks before she leaves on vacation just so she won’t catch anything and ruin her vacation) and I don’t have nausea and panic on my list either (think I’ll leave that off, it doesn’t sound like fun). Great post!
Thanks. I will actively stand away from sick people at work before vacations! We don’t have nausea or panic problems either but I know a lot of people who do. And I have cleaned up after a carsick kid a few times!
Wow, this is a nice resource! Lots of good advice! Hubby and I don’t plan or prepare this throughly – we book the big stuff like flights and hotels ahead of time and scope out a few attractions, but the rest we leave open. This has made our more recent vacations much less stressful than the first few we took together 🙂 Thankfully we also have family living close by, and usually my brother will stay at our place while we’re gone to take care of the house and cats. So I do come home to a slightly messy house but it’s well worth it to have no worries about home while we’re away.
My sister and I have been trading cat sitting duties and it works out well. I suppose I like to schedule vacations more since I live in a small city and like to go to big cities for vacation. We usually try to go to a concert, play or show of some kind most days because our access to them is more limited at home. I would be seething if I didn’t check, and found out afterwards that a favourite band was in town, or they were sold out – not going to let that happen 🙂
YUP – definitely some fabulous tips here. Going to pin it onto my ‘wanderlust’ board!
Thanks, Holly! I suppose the more often I visit a city (I’ve been to London and Toronto many times), the more I plan, because we’ve seen all the obvious attractions and we want to do things that are interesting or new to us.
Really thorough great list! Don’t get sick–lol–love that. I also have an airport parking lot tip– photograph the sign with what floor/row you are parked so you have a stab at finding your car on return.
Excellent tip! I should do that at the mall, too 🙂
I do that too – we’ve ‘lost’ our car far too many times in the past lol
Way more detailed than me! I don’t worry so much about hair cuts, but in a similar vein, usually get a leg wax and if time permits (it didn’t this time), a spray tan. At Christmas I planned (and photographed) outfits, and this time I wished I had. Just makes it a little easier than rifling through the bag to know I bought that to go with that!
And I’m always into the mad cleaning, but of course, with a day here and there between our two trips, I spent today (again!) cleaning. SIGH!
I planned and photographed outfits for one trip as a “blog exercise,” and although I haven’t done it since, I am better at keeping outfits in mind, instead of mismatched pieces.
Wow, what a list! I have a short list – empty trash, water plants, eat up food.Although I do put a lot of planning into the actual holiday booking. We have a trip schedule for the next five years – spontaneous I am not!
Five years! Maybe that needs to be my next plan….
Great tips – I could have used this post before I Packed up my house and took off to europe for 5 months.. Ee!!
Hi Bec, I have never done that. More power to you! I visited your blog – great recipes!
What a good list. Although I’m not planning on taking any hols there are a lot of handy tips here for people I know and some are really good to check off before going into hospital for example.
I didn’t think of that!
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