It’s easy to get caught up in the fun parts of planning for a vacation; booking flights, deciding what clothing to pack, where you want to go and what you want to see, and spending time daydreaming about the incredible adventures that you are going to have. These are the great parts of travel, the things that we look forward to and that inspire us to want to head for the horizon and find somewhere new to explore - and they are certainly things that everyone should spend some time doing before they leave!
However, there are some slightly less exciting things that every traveler should remember to double check before they leave home. Even if these things aren’t thrilling, they’re the things that make sure every part of your next trip goes smoothly. From getting into the country to staying healthy and safe while you are there, to making sure that you have places to stay, money to spend, and everything you need, these are the things that will cut down on any travel stress or worry… and that means more time spent just having fun! Even veteran travelers can miss some of these (or think that they aren’t important), so make sure you are doing everything you can to make sure your next vacation is all smooth sailing.
20 Make Sure Your Passport Is Valid (8 Weeks Ahead)
This seems obvious, but lots of travelers have found themselves stuck at the airport without a valid travel document, so double-check that expiry date!
A US passport can take up to 8 weeks to renew, although there are ways to expedite that process… for a fee, of course.
And remember that it’s not enough to just have a valid passport on entry. Many countries require visitors to have a passport valid for at least six months, and it’s not worth trying to cut it close. Check that you have enough free pages to get any necessary stamps, too.
19 Visit The Doctor (4-6 Weeks Ahead)
Many countries require specific vaccinations to be up to date, so make sure that you double-check if you need to roll up your sleeves and get any booster shots (or first doses!). No one wants to get sick while on the road, and while few people really enjoy getting stuck with a needle, it’s not worth the risk to skip this one. Give yourself plenty of time, too. Some vaccines require multiple doses, given a few weeks apart, and others need to be given a week or two in advance in order to be fully effective as soon as you arrive.
18 Make Sure You Can Drive That Rental Car (4-6 Weeks Ahead)
If you plan to see the country you are visiting from the driver's seat of a rental car, make sure that you are legally allowed behind that wheel. Most countries allow drivers to use a foreign license for a limited period of time (usually a few months), but there are usually some limits. You may need to be over a certain age, or have held the license for a specific amount of time. Usually, only full licenses are accepted (so any new driver coming from a country with a graduated learner's permit may run into issues). And of course, the license has to be valid and in date!
17 Get Any Visas You Might Need (2-4 Weeks Ahead)
While many countries don’t require travelers to get a visa before they arrive (some don’t need them at all, and others will allow you to purchase the visa on arrival at the airport), there are still plenty of places where you need to apply for a visa before you arrive. Many of these will only take a few days (and being able to apply online speeds up that process immensely), but some can take up to a few weeks, so double-check this one in plenty of time! Don’t forget to make sure you have visas for anywhere you might have to stay overnight while in transit, if you aren’t able to spend the night in the airport, too.
16 Confirm Your Bookings (2-3 Weeks Ahead)
After a long flight, all you want to do is put down your bags, collapse on a hotel bed for a few moments, and regroup… which is only possible if the places you are staying know that you are coming!
Especially if you have booked online through a third party website, it’s a good idea to call the hotel where you are staying and make sure that the reservation is confirmed (and double-check car rentals, too).
If there is a problem, doing this a couple of weeks ahead will give you time to figure out a solution, and make sure that there’s a mint on the pillow waiting for you.
15 Get A Hold Put On Your Mail (1-2 Weeks Ahead)
This isn’t going to be necessary for everyone, but it’s definitely something to think about if your mailbox is visible from outside the house, or if you have a particularly small mailbox (and are going on a longer trip). File with the Postal Service (up to 14 days in advance) to hold your mail while you are away to avoid making it obvious that you are gone to any potential burglars. If you are going to be spending a significant amount of time away, you can also get mail forwarded to the address where you will be staying - especially important if anything vital is on the way.
14 Buy The Correct Adaptor (1-2 Weeks Ahead)
You don’t need to do this a couple weeks in advance, but planning to will save you having to rush around in the days right before your trip - or searching for something overpriced at the airport! As well as making sure that you have chargers for all your travel electronics, make sure that you have the right adaptors (and double check the voltages) so that you can plug them in at your destination… and make sure that they aren’t accidentally fried. If you plan to bring multiple electronic items (kindle, laptop, phone, camera), consider picking up more than one, or adaptors that can handle more than one USB input at a time.
13 Get Medication Refilled (1 Week Ahead)
If you are taking daily doses of medication (or weekly doses, for longer trips), make sure that you have enough to get you through the trip itself, and at least a week after you get home. No one wants to try and navigate a foreign medical system (especially in a language you don’t speak), or end up with the unexpected expense of having to refill a prescription far from home. And even if you have just enough to tide you over till your return, it’s a good idea to get a refill on the prescription anyway, so you don’t have to rush to the doctor the moment you get back (or miss a dose if a flight is canceled).
12 Register With The Embassy (1 Week Ahead)
Like travel insurance, this is the kind of thing that savvy travelers will do, even if they hope that they never have to actually deal with an embassy while abroad. Register with your country’s embassy in order to make sure that you are notified of any emergency situations and issue instructions in (for example) a natural disaster. This also means that if there is a major emergency while you are away from home, the government will be aware that you are in the country and should be accounted for. Finally, this can make it easier to deal with smaller emergencies, like stolen or lost passports.
11 Set Your Bills To Autopay (1 Week Ahead)
You’ve probably already made a careful budget for the time that you are away, but don’t forget to check that your money at home is taken care of as well.
Double-check the payment due dates on any bills, and either pay them before you leave, or set them to autopay (if you are waiting for a paycheck to hit your bank account while you are gone).
This way, you won’t come home to find extra charges, or (yikes) a service that has been cut off for non-payment because you forgot about it while lying on a beach for a few weeks.
10 Exchange Some Money (1 Week Ahead)
While most places you visit will be able to accept credit cards (and often debit cards as well), it’s useful to have at least some cash on you when visiting somewhere new. Being able to tip, pay for cabs, buy street food and make small purchases is definitely helpful, so make sure to exchange a portion of your budget ahead of time. Stay away from airport exchanges, though - these usually jack up the fees far more than any other exchange! The further in advance you start to look at this, the better the exchange rate you can get, too, although as long as you get some cash a few days before departure, you should be fine.
9 Call Your Bank (1 Week Ahead)
If you are planning to use your credit or debit card while on vacation, make sure that your bank is aware of where you will be. Even if you aren’t planning on it, this is a good step to take in case you have to use a credit card for an emergency!
Most banks have safeguards in place to prevent fraud, and that includes flagging unusual transactions - like one in a totally different country.
If you don’t let them know where you will be, you may find yourself with your cards locked. Checking fees is a smart move, too.
8 Book Transit From The Airport (1 Week Ahead)
You’ve probably figured out how to get to the airport, but don’t forget to make sure that you know how to get from the airport to your accommodation on arrival. Not all airports (even major international ones) have free or easily accessible public transit, and those that do may not run throughout the night for people who arrive on late flights. If you are renting a car, book it well in advance, and if you intend to get a cab, make sure you know roughly what it should cost, so you don’t get taken for a ride (at least, not the one you wanted!).
7 Check The Weather At Your Destination (3-5 Days Ahead)
Hopefully, you will have made sure before you booked that you aren’t going to be landing in the middle of monsoon season when you wanted to sunbathe, but it’s also a good idea to check the weather a few days before you arrive - and before you pack! This way, you’ll know if it’s a good idea to pack a waterproof jacket, bring a couple sweaters, or otherwise add to your suitcase. Checking the day before you leave is also smart when it comes to deciding what to wear on the plane, so that you are comfortable when you land.
6 Take Out Travel Insurance (3-5 Days Ahead)
Everybody hopes that they will never have to actually use their travel insurance, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to skip taking it out in the first place. Check with your credit card providers, roadside assistance, and any brokers that you have other insurance products with (car, home, or life insurance) - many of these will offer discounted rates to members when it comes to travel insurance. And if you travel a lot, think about just purchasing insurance for multiple trips over the year, so that you don’t have to buy some every single time.
5 Make Copies Of Your Passport (2-3 Days Ahead)
Although it’s not possible to return with just a photocopy of your passport should you lose it while abroad, it’s still useful to make a few copies before you leave. Some hotels or other accommodation may ask for a copy (yes, even though they could just scan it), and it’s always helpful to have a couple on hand just in case. Carrying a copy also means that if the worst happens and it needs to be replaced, having that (and even bringing a couple passport photos with you) will make it much faster and easier to get a new one.
4 Make Copies Of/Print Out Your Tickets (2-3 Days Ahead)
While you are making copies of your passport, there are a few other things you may want to print or photocopy.
Copy credit cards, just in case you lose them (having the card number can make it easier to cancel them on short notice), and make sure you print out copies of your return plane tickets or (at the very least) your travel confirmation.
This is important because you may be asked to prove that you intend to leave the country before being issued an entry visa on arrival, and digital copies of an itinerary aren’t always accepted.
3 Weigh Your Bags (2-3 Days Ahead)
Make sure that you are aware of the luggage policies for the airline you will be flying with (or for any other mode of transport you’ll be taking)… and know that just because you could take a specific bag as carry-on with one airline, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be okay for all of them! As well as checking carry-on limits, make sure to weigh any checked bags, and know what the weight limits are for checked baggage to avoid being stung with extra fees at the check-in desk.
2 Take Note Of The Local Emergency Numbers (1-2 Days Ahead)
One final precaution in case of emergencies is to make sure that you are aware of the emergency services number for the country you are visiting. It should be obvious, but it’s not 9-1-1 all over the world!
Program the local emergency number into your phone, as well as any other useful numbers you might want to use throughout your trip: the embassy, your hotel(s), your airline, your credit card company, your travel insurance, etc etc.
Like many other items on this list, you’ll hopefully never have to use them, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have them, just in case.
1 Clear Out The Fridge (1 Day Ahead)
This is one of those little things that is often forgotten, but makes a big difference when it’s time to come home. Clear out anything that is going to go bad or start to smell while you are on vacation; run the dishwasher, if you have one, clear out perishables in the fridge, take out the trash the day before you head to the airport. That post-holiday glow is going to fade a lot faster if you get back to find colonies of mold and strange new smells waiting to greet you!