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…
What are your top travel tips?