The Organized Traveler’s Checklist

Here’s a step-by-step guide to accomplishing the essentials in the weeks, days, and hours before you leave on vacation.

Eight Weeks Ahead

  • Start your vacation checklists — What to Pack, What to Buy, What to Do Before Leaving, What to Do in the Final 24 Hours — in a notebook or on your computer. As you think of items and tasks, add them to the lists.
  • If you’re going out of the country and don’t have all of the documents you need — whether passports or original birth certificates — now is the time to get them. If it looks like the documents may not arrive until the last minute — or even late — show your airline tickets to personnel at the government agencies from which you’re requesting documents. Ask them to put a rush on your application.
  • If you’re traveling abroad, contact a travel health specialist (your health-care provider may have a travel department, or your doctor may be able to recommend a specialist), or contact your local health department to ask about immunizations and preventive medicines.
  • Arrange your car-rental reservations and reserve a child car seat, if necessary, through the rental company.
  • When it comes to what to take with you — be it luggage, sports equipment, camping gear, or clothing — now’s the time to assess your needs. You can save shopping time and hassle by buying from catalogs; order now so purchases will arrive before your departure date. Here are some things to consider:
  • Do you have the right luggage? Think ahead to the places you’ll be carrying your baggage so you can decide what you need. If you’ll be negotiating lots of stairs, for instance, you’ll probably want backpacks or shoulder bags. If you’ll be flying in a small commuter plane at any point, you should be aware that many carry-on bags may not fit in the overhead compartment.
  • Families headed to the great outdoors should check appropriate equipment. If it’s been a while since you put up your tent, do it now, checking for rips, broken poles, mangled zippers, or other damaged parts. Check the batteries in lanterns and fuel supplies for camping stoves. Have the kids try on life jackets to make sure they still fit properly. If you have child-size sleeping bags, test them, too: children have a habit of growing.
  • If you’re planning a sports-oriented vacation, look at your family’s equipment. Take skis to be tuned, and have bindings set properly for each child. Check the condition of fishing gear. Clothing is important, too. Campers need good hiking boots, rain gear, damp-resistant warm layers such as fleece vests, and possibly gloves and hats. Going to warm weather in the middle of winter? Your children may have outgrown bathing suits and sandals since last year. Skiing? Be sure last year’s ski clothing still fits. Note items in short supply — socks, underwear, shorts, pants — and stock up.

Six Weeks Ahead

  • If you don’t belong to an auto club and are about to use your car on a trip, join a club now so you can take advantage of member benefits. These usually include trip-planning services, maps, guidebooks, discounts at accommodations and attractions, and roadside emergency help.
  • Join an airline’s frequent-flier program too — it’s free. Make sure the names on your tickets and on membership forms are identical, or you won’t get mileage credit for your flights. Give frequent-flier numbers to your travel agent.

Four Weeks Ahead

  • Airline seats are generally assigned and confirmed 30 days prior to departure, so call now to get your desired seat assignments and to make certain your family is seated together. Another call to make is to a kennel or other facility if you plan to board a pet during vacation.
  • Buy any home security and automation devices you’ll need. These might include timers for lights and TVs, an alarm system, automatic plant-watering systems, and pet feeders. Figure out how they work now so you won’t be scrambling to set them on the day of departure.
  • If anyone in your family wears glasses or contacts, order a spare pair today so they’ll be ready by the time you go. At the very least, get an up-to-date prescription so you can take it to a quick-service optical store if glasses are lost or broken. If you need prescriptions or checkups, make those appointments now.

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