I consider myself a pretty good traveler. It doesn’t take me that long to pack, I’m not usually bothered by kinks in the road, and, hell, I started a travel blog to share the things I’ve learned. Still, nearly every time I prepare to go out of town for any reason, I get overwhelmed by the long list of things I need to do before I leave. The night before we leave, I’m always up late scrambling to get ready, which is never a good way to start a vacation.
I recently realized that whether I’m leaving for several weeks or just a few nights I do most of the same things to get ready to go. This became very clear this past weekend when I was getting ready to leave for a quick, three-night visit to Los Angeles. Our house wasn’t going to be totally vacant–Kevin would be home at night, but he’s been working very long hours, so I knew he would be coming home only to sleep. He wouldn’t be going into the kitchen at all AND our dog would be going to stay with a friend, still I somehow had just as many things to do to prepare for this trip as I would a long vacation. And as usual, I was up late the night before frantically packing and cleaning.
To help me (and you!) get organized and plan for future vacations, I decided to put together a travel checklist of things to do before you leave on a trip. I sorted the list into things I do a few days (to a week or more) before I leave, things I do the day or two before, and things I do the morning I leave. With very short trips (or if you don’t have pets) you’ll have to do fewer of these things and with very long trips you may need to add some more, but this is a good place to start.
Use this list to create a list of your own so that you can reduce the anxiety of planning your next trip. (And leave a comment below to tell me what other things you would add!)
Things to do a few days before you leave:
- Write out your packing list–include everything you want to bring with you: clothing, accessories, personal care, etc. Need ideas? Click here to check out my one-bag carry-on travel packing list.
- Do laundry. It’s important to do this early so you have everything you might want to pack. Far too many times I’ve stayed up late the night before I leave waiting for a specific item of clothing to dry.
- Start to eat any produce and perishable food you currently have in the kitchen. Try to limit your purchases of any new perishable foods.
- Get out your suitcase and start to throw things on top of it that you want to remember to take.
- Make sure you’ve contacted anyone you want to meet up with during your trip and make arrangements for when you may be free to meet. Make sure you have their contact information written down or saved on your phone.
- If you have pets, make a plan for their care while you are away.
- Try to wrap up projects you need to finish for work. If at possible, say no — don’t agree to take on additional projects or obligations or attend events in the days leading up to your trip.
- If you will be traveling internationally, contact your bank and credit card company to let them know what countries you will be traveling to. Most banks let you do that online–log in and look for an option called “travel notification form” or “submit a travel notice”.
Things to do the day before you leave:
- Make transit arrangements for your trip from home to the airport — figure who will be taking you and agree on what time they’ll pick you up or call to reserve a taxi.
- Call the hotel or AirBnb you will be staying on the first night of your trip and find out the best way to get there from the airport. Save that information and any itinerary in a notebook in your carry-on (I always carry one of these little notebooks) or a smartphone itinerary management app like Tripit.
- Eat, throw out, or give away any perishable food you won’t be able to eat. I cut up any remaining fruit, vegetables, or cheese and put it into baggies to take as a snack on the plane.
- Pull together all remaining things you want to pack and spread it all out on your bed so you look at it all together. When you have collected everything you want to pack, go through it and try to remove as much of it as you can before finally packing it into your suitcase. (Need some tips for packing light? Here’s my carry on-only packing list)
- Lay out any clothes you’ll be wearing the morning you leave for the trip.
- Leave a note next your suitcase to remind you of anything you need to remember to pack the morning you leave (eye glasses, retainer, water/snacks from refrigerator)
- Clear off and reformat all memory cards for your camera.
- Clear all the photos off your phone and sync it to back up the data–that so important, especially in case you lose it!
- Charge camera/laptop/phone and all spare batteries.
- Pack chargers for each device.
- Pack your pets’ things if they will be going somewhere. Include a few day extras on food and medications (in case your trip is delayed) and contact information for your vet. If your cat is staying home (to be cared for by a friend stopping by), leave out an extra full bowl of food and an extra bowl of water. Empty and clean out the litter pan.
- Arrange for care for your pets (drop them off, schedule a time to meet, etc.)
- Wash all dishes in the sink and run the dishwasher.
- Clean off all the kitchen counters and clean out the sink to be sure there is no food in the drain that could rot or attract bugs.
- Take out garbage/recycling/compost from every room in the house
- Do any pre-travel personal care routine you have (do your nails, eyebrows, etc.)
- Water all plants
- Get some cash out of an ATM, so you have it for last-minute travel needs.
Things to do the morning you leave:
- Pack up any last-minute things you need to take (eyeglasses, retainer, water/snacks from refrigerator)
- Turn off all power strips/unplug any electrical devices you won’t be using. This protects your electronics from power surge and reduces the energy use.
- Turn off the heater/air conditioner if you live somewhere temperate. If the weather may be freezing or if you have any pets staying in the house, set the heater to maintain a temperature comfortably over freezing (50F or higher). If it’s hot and you have pets in the house, set the AC to cool the house down if it rises above 85F.
Additional things to do before a long or international trip:
- Ask neighbor or friend to keep an eye on your house and give them the information to call you or landlord if anything is wrong. Make sure a neighbor or friend has a spare set of keys to your house in case of emergency.
- Call your bank and credit card company to let them know you’ll be abroad.
- Put your mail on hold (unless you have someone coming over to check in on the house/pets/plants)
- Study the exchange rate of the country you are going to and write down how much money in local currency you want to take out when you go to a local ATM upon arrival.
Other pre-travel resources on EIT:
- Looking for tips for packing light? Check out my carry-on only packing lists
- Packing for winter travel or outdoor adventures? Check out my winter travel/outdoor photography packing list
- Having a petsitter come to stay? Check out my tips for preparing your house for a housesitter
- Will you be traveling with your pet? Check out these tips for traveling with your dog (most of them apply to other pets)
Want to save this checklist for your next trip? Click here to pin it on Pinterest:
Photo credit: flickr/Chiew Pang.
I’m very similar to you – I pack fast and I’m not usually bothered by kinks in the road. I always try to pack lite and organise things in my backpack so it’s not too heavy. Great tips. I always make sure (three times before leaving) that my phone, laptop and camera are fully charged.
Cassie Kifer says
Thanks Agness, you’re exactly right — if my camera or laptop isn’t fully charged when I leave I always regret it! It’s so hard to find a charge when you’re in transit.
Your list is very thorough and I look forward to adding your suggestions to my ‘trip list’. I have a few tips for pet care: I leave a Pet Care Instructions document with my petsitter, with all pertinent information. Since I saved this doc on my computer, I can just update it with the next trip’s details, instead of having to re-write it completely. Most of the pet and house care info stays the same.
Also, when my dog travels with me, in addition to vet/vaccination and chip ID registration info, I carry a large photo of my dog. Heaven forbid I should ever have to use it, but it’s easier and faster to show someone what he looks like than to describe him. (I got this idea from photographing my luggage in preparation for an international vacation– which came in handy when I had to file a lost luggage claim!) I suppose giving my petsitter a copy of the photograph, too, couldn’t hurt.
Cassie Kifer says
These are great tips, Cathy! I have the contact info scribbled on a sheet on the refrigerator (that I then leave on the counter for the petsitter). I should type it up, so that I can email them a copy, too.
Janet H says
For pet sitters and house sitters: I always email and hand-deliver a hard copy of my itinerary and contact info to them prior to our departure. Here’s why …. one time, my hubby gave the pet sitter (a friend of a friend’s teenager) the house key and left all the details on the kitchen table. Turned out, the key he gave them was NOT the house key and our pet sitter had no way to reach us. Our black lab was in the house for a full weekend ….. you can just imagine! I wish the pet sitter had broken a window to get into the house. The dog was fine; the carpet … not so much!
We do most of the list also. One more thing we do is turn our water off inside the house at our main water service valve below the water meter.
The reason for this is to avoid a flood and water damage if a hose gives loose or breaks on the washing machine or toilet etc. My husband works in the industry and has seen first hand cases of this happening and causing a lot of damage and costly repairs.
It only takes a few seconds.
Cassie Kifer says
That’s a wonderful tip, Shelley! I’m not sure I even know how to do that! I need to go down to the basement and see if I can find that valve. Thanks for sharing this important lesson!
Caroline Brown says
We always do this as well.
I make lists too, but you had some things on yours that are really good. Thank you!
Cassie Kifer says
Thanks, Pat! Happy to help!
Mary Ellen Montague says
I suspend my mail and newspaper before my trips.
Cassie Kifer says
Great idea if you don’t have someone stopping by to pick those things up! Thanks for sharing, Mary Ellen!
Make sure to turn off your land phone ring, nothing like a ringing phone to alert bad guys there’s no one home.
Cassie Kifer says
Good one! Thanks, Dianne!
Nicole Dixon says
I try to set automatic timers in various places in my home to have lights come on or turn off, one turns on the radio. And I close all window blinds. You have such great tips! I never realized that where I get hung up is with all of the details that I do before leaving. Packing is no problem, it’s the other stuff. Thanks for my epiphany!
Melanie Kay says
Great list!! Here is my list of add on ideas.
1*** If you are leaving close to tax day, make sure you mail it before you leave!!! We sat in a airport listening to a
couple (well…they were pretty loud with their discussion) arguing who was supposed to mail their letter to the
IRS!! They went through quite a complicated plan to get it done before the plane left. It played out like a
suspense movie, as they went through all of their options to solve the issue. I think everyone around them
were holding their breath waiting for the final outcome. They finally solved their problem just minutes before
the plane was ready to take off!! I felt like everybody should of cheered 🙂 !!!
2 Do any bills before you leave (kind of goes along with the above story)
3 Clean your house in addition to the dishes and laundry……it’s always nice to come home to a clean house
especially after having maid service while you were on vacation
4 I go through my purse and thin out what I only need for travel to lighten the load
5 I bring a small coin purse with quarters for meters. When going to many citys you will need to do meter parking
6 I grocery shop for snacks for the trip
7 I program my phone with pertinent numbers to the place I will be traveling.
Rebecca Gardner says
It was helpful when you explained that we should include extra food and medications when we drop our pet off just in case our trip is delayed unexpectedly. My husband and I are planning a trip to visit his family in another state this summer. We have two dogs we’ll need to find a pet boarding service for, so we’ll be sure to follow your advice to avoid potential issues!
Janan safi says
I do still pack some actual books. They’re marked with post-its, flags, highlighting, etc. I just don’t find it as easy to flip through travel books on my kindle or ipad. And I am not the least bit anti-e-book. I am someone who reads almost 100% ebooks now, except for travel books. As for everything else you said, I mostly agree, with one small caveat. I generally bring two pairs of shoes, BOTH of which are comfortable, with one that can pass as a dressy shoe. The reason I like both to be comfortable was perfectly illustrated by a trip to Scotland this summer. We went kind of off the beaten path to see if we could travel through time through some standing stones by taking an illegal shortcut through a field that turned out to be boggy. Our shoes were COMPLETELY soaked through, thoroughly drenched. So I switched to my other comfortable shoes until the first ones were dry, which actually took more than a day. There is nothing more miserable than wet or aching feet. I was kinda shocked to stay in an Airbnb that didn’t provide any soap, shampoo, etc. this summer, but in general, they provide that stuff, and if not, I like visiting the local shop to pick something up. I generally don’t bring anything that I can easily buy at my destination. I definitely don’t buy designer bags, the baggage handlers don’t treat it delicately, but I do try to buy suitcases with a distinctive pattern or color, even if kinda ugly. Makes it easier to find your bag on a luggage carousel and makes it less likely that you’ll take someone else’s luggage or that someone will take yours. I pair it with a distinctive luggage tag to make doubly sure. A generic black bag is dangerous. Someone took my mother’s bag once, and it took a day to get it back. The same thing happened to a friend of mine, except he took someone else’s.
For some people especially traveling in the summer months: yard and garden care and/or house plant care for extended trips ( longer than a week or so).