The Organized Traveler’s Checklist

These travel tips are crucial for your next vacation exploration.

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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 (we recommend the fold-up Paravel Backpack) 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.

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.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest