The Organized Traveler’s Checklist

Step-by-step guide to vacation preparation.

By Christine Loomis

Two Weeks Ahead

  • Write down your doctors’ and pharmacist’s phone numbers in case you need information on the road.
  • If you’ll be driving your own car, have a reliable mechanic check it from top to bottom.
  • Plan the route now: Do it yourself with good maps and trip-planning software, or use your automobile club’s trip-planning service. Clubs like the American and Canadian Automobile Associations (AAA and CAA) require two weeks’ notice to provide this service to members.
  • You will want to carry a moderate amount of cash, as well as traveler’s checks and credit or debit cards. Automated teller machines (ATMs) are handy because you don’t have to take as much cash with you, but check with your bank to see if there will be ATMs where you’re going. Buy the traveler’s checks now, and be sure to keep the records detailing check numbers separate from the checks themselves.
  • If you’ll need a babysitter during the vacation, call the hotel to arrange for one now. Ask whether the hotel can provide cribs and strollers; if they can’t, ask where you can rent such items.
  • Check camera equipment. Clear out memory space and put the charger aside.

One Week Ahead

  • No need to pack yet, but get everything ready. Gather toiletries, medicines, shoes, clothes, first-aid supplies, toys, and activities. Wash clothes and add to the pile. Make a separate pile for carry-on items.
  • Unless taxis or airport shuttle buses are available in your area, arrange a ride to the airport. You can call a car service or radio taxi, or ask a friend to take you.
  • Arrange for your lawn to be cut, your mail to be held or picked up, and newspaper and milk delivery to be suspended. If you’re expecting deliveries from a parcel service, make arrangements for those too.
  • If any bills will come due while you’re away, pay them in advance. You can also prepay some bills if you’ll be gone a month or longer. Make arrangements with your utility, telephone, and cable companies, or any others that may tack on late fees or interest if you don’t pay on time.
  • Call your child’s school if it’ll be in session while you’re gone. Give the office your travel dates, and talk to teachers about making up assignments. Also talk about travel-related work your child can do to make up for missing school.

48 Hours Ahead

  • Plan to meet with a friend who will hold on to your house keys and a detailed itinerary with telephone numbers where you can be reached. Also, give the friend a list of the serial numbers for your traveler’s checks, photocopies of airline tickets, and copies of any passports or birth certificate you’re taking along. If you lose these, your friend can fax or email copies to you.
  • Finish laundry now. You don’t want to be washing clothes at the last minute and worrying about whether everything will be dry enough to pack.

The Final 24 Hours

  • The day before you leave, stay home from work if possible — or at least try to come home early. Sacrificing one vacation day is worth it to reduce stress.
  • Once you’re packed and organized, order dinner in instead of cooking, and use paper plates so that you won’t have to wash up afterward. Before bed, load packed bags and any camping or sports gear into the car, leaving one bag indoors to hold last-minute items. If someone will be driving you to the airport, set everything by the door.

Last-Minute Details

  • Walk through the house and take care of everything that needs attention. In the kitchen, wash dishes, throw out the coffee filter, unplug appliances, and make sure the oven and stove-top burners are off. Adjust the refrigerator to an energy-saving setting, and toss out perishable foods. Take out the garbage. If you have canceled garbage pickup during your vacation, bring last-minute trash to a neighbor’s house or with you to dump elsewhere.
  • In the living room and bedrooms, unplug TVs and other devices not on timers. If it’s summer, turn the air conditioning off or to a comfortable setting for pets staying behind. If it’s winter, turn the heat to the lowest temperature that will keep pets warm and prevent pipes from freezing (ask your local utility company for the ideal setting). Close the fireplace flue to save heat and keep out animals.
  • Turn off the water to the washing machine. Clean pets’ cages and litter boxes; leave care instructions if they’re staying behind and you’ve asked someone to look in on them. Activate control systems for security, lawn watering, and lights. Before leaving, secure windows and doors.

Become more interesting every week!

Get our Read Up newsletter

Sending Message
how we use your e-mail