A checklist and "The adventure begins" mug in front of a beckoning road, trees and lake

Trip Planning Step 3: Count Down with Your Ultimate Checklist

This post is about getting you from BOOKING that perfect vacation to getting OUT THE DOOR on the most amazing trip EVER. So that means the ultimate checklist … one that’s nice and easy, but thorough: things to do three months before your trip, one month before, one week before, one day before and – of course – the morning of your trip.

We all fear THAT moment, don’t we? Your heart freezes, panic-stricken because you forgot your wallet at home. Or to water the plants. All that hard work planning the best trip ever … and now the plants will die. 

This is the FINAL STEP of this simple but thorough 3-step trip planning process. By now, you’ve defined your perfect experience. Built out at least the framework of your itinerary and booked the critical pieces. Now you’re ready. It’s GO-TIME!

In case you missed them (or want a refresher), check out:

Here we pull in all the loose threads and tie them up in a tidy little bow. And when the heat is on, there’s nothing like a great checklist to give you confidence that you will get there.

Trip planning 3-step process: infographic

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CONTENTS: 

But first, an explanation of why I built this out the way I did …

The best way to prepare for your trip: Vacation checklist philosophy

It’s a bit silly calling this a philosophy, but when I use other people’s checklists, they often don’t match up with my style. 

I find that too many checklists leave too many things to the final hours. This only works if you don’t work full-time or don’t have little ones making everything take a million times longer. If you realize only two days before your trip that you need a new camera battery or swimsuit, you’re spending those valuable final hours in a store (possibly with a screaming child). Instead of on truly last-minute things, like laundry and mentally switching gears.

The main tip I have for those final months leading up to your trip is to deal with things on your vacation checklist that can be done ahead of time. 

Now, we don’t have to be ridiculous with this, for those of you who hate trip planning. But the point is to go at a leisurely pace in knocking things off your list, so that the overall experience is less painful. The result is a less-stressed, more excited you that’s mentally switched over and ready for the BEST trip ever!

Remember to SHARE this 3-step trip planning process with your TRAVEL COMPANIONS!

3 MONTHS before your vacation: Checklist of things to do

Three months before your vacation, triple-check that your identification and destination requirements are good to go. This allows time for figuring out where you need to go, waiting in line, government processing and things to get through the mail.

The other important thing to do at this point is figure out care for kids and pets. Some lists leave this for later, but in major centers during peak season, three months is minimum.

Identification and destination requirements:

  • Confirm your passport, driver’s license and credit/debit cards won’t expire before you return from your trip. Renew anything that does.
  • Apply for a travel visa, if necessary. I recommend starting your investigation at your government’s website; search “traveling abroad” and you should find information on whether you need a travel visa for your destination and how to get one. You may need to (securely) mail in your passport, so get on this soon. Generally, getting a travel visa can take from two weeks to two months.
  • Check for vaccinations you should get before going to your destination. Some vaccinations must be given in a specific timing sequence to be effective, and sometimes before being exposed. Some countries also need proof of vaccination before they’ll let you in. So, this is another thing you should give yourself time for.
  • Book car rental at your destination, if applicable.
  • Get international driver’s license, if applicable.

Kids and pets:

  • Arrange for babysitters and/or pet boarding, either back at home or at your destination. For example: if you’re going on a cruise, you can usually reserve spots in the nursery and kids club about three months before your sail date.
  • Find an emergency contact who can pick up your child or pet, if necessary.

1 MONTH before your vacation: Checklist of things to do

Tidy closet full of clothes and luggage

Do a quick inventory of travel essentials. Photo credit: Burgess Milner from Unsplash.

The last month before your vacation will be busy! If you can take care of some of these things earlier, I recommend it.

One month before your vacation, you should work through three main things:

  1. Booking any final activities and hotels you’ve been meaning to book;
  2. Doing a quick inventory of everything you need for your trip so you can replace whatever you need to, with plenty of time before you start packing; and,
  3. Getting your travel documents together.

Final bookings for your trip:

  • Book any remaining hotels and activities you’ve been meaning to book.
  • Book car parking at the airport, if this is how you’ll get to the airport.
  • Book airport shuttle at your destination hotel, if applicable.

Electronics inventory check:

  • Check outlet plugs at your destination; buy/order any adaptors you need.
  • Check your camera cords, memory cards, batteries and chargers. Clear memory cards; charge batteries; replace anything you need.
  • If you’re driving to/at your destination, get a GPS (either buy one or include it with your car rental) and a current map of your destination. I recommend a GPS over your phone if you’re worried about data being eaten up, battery draining quickly, or losing data connection (i.e. in rural, remote areas).
  • Start building your trip soundtrack, if you’re going on a road trip.

Pre-packing inventory check:

  • Check your luggage to make sure it’s still in good shape.
  • Scan your wardrobe for anything you may need to replace, and especially things you haven’t used in a while. Like a sunhat, swimsuit, rain jacket, flip-flops, water shoes, hiking shoes.
  • Check toiletries for any liquids/gels you need travel sizes for. Also check for anything you need to replace, like sunscreen, bug spray, first aid supplies, lip balm, contact lenses/solution.

Safety and security arrangements before your trip:

  • Arrange for someone to check on your house and pick up your mail while you’re away. (Look into your property insurance to make sure you follow their requirements. You may not need physical checks if you turn off your water.)
  • If you’re going on a road trip, check any car maintenance that should be done before you go. This includes replacing windshield wipers and broken lights, getting winter tires on, oil changes, interior cleaning, etc.

Travel documents to prepare for your trip:

  • Scan or take a picture of your identification (passport, driver’s license, travel credit cards).
  • Create an online folder you can access from all your devices to store electronic copies of your vacation documents. These documents should include: your identification, itinerary (map and calendar with details of flights, hotels and activities), all booking confirmations received from the booking source, travel insurance, child babysitting/pet boarding information, and emergency contact information. I like using encrypted sites like mega.nz for this. Share the folder link with your emergency contacts.
  • Print a paper copy of your critical vacation documents (to put in your carry-on). These critical documents include: identification, itinerary (map and calendar with details of flights, hotels and activities), travel insurance, and child babysitting/pet boarding information. Print a copy for your emergency contact.

1 WEEK before your vacation: Checklist of things to do

Euro currency displayed in an envelop

Pick up your destination’s currency. Photo credit: Markus Spiske from Unsplash.

The week before your vacation is about notifications and gearing up for being away. Think: security, mail and bills. Plus, this is a good time to buy the local currency of your destination.

Pre-trip notifications and drop-offs:

  • Drop off your key with whoever is checking it while you’re away.
  • Put a hold on mail, packages and newspapers. (It’s still a good idea to have someone check on your place, just in case the hold gets messed up.)
  • Notify your credit card company and bank about your travel destination and dates.
  • Notify your alarm company when you’ll be away.
  • If you have a landlord, notify them when you’ll be away.
  • If you have school-aged kids, notify their teachers of their upcoming absence.

Pre-trip finances:

  • Pre-pay bills that’ll be due while you’re away or soon after you’re back.
  • Buy destination’s local currency. The amount depends on your destination, itinerary and spending plans; I usually do about $500 per week, assuming I use my credit card where possible and can top-up with my debit card at a bank machine.

Household prep:

  • Prioritize eating things that will spoil while you’re away.

Packing prep:

  • Start packing your suitcase with things you won’t need that week, like your swimsuit.
  • Check medications you may need to top up before you go.
  • Check amenities at your hotel, so you know what not to pack (like hairdryer and beach towels).
  • Download movies, music and games to your device.

1 DAY before your vacation: Checklist of things to do

Tidy packing of a suitcase on a bed

Start packing! Photo credit: Brandless from Unsplash.

It’s almost go-time! The day before your vacation, your checklist will focus on three things:

  1. Prepping for your flight or road trip;
  2. Laundry and packing; and,
  3. Getting your house in shape.

If your kids or pets are staying behind, it’s helpful to drop them off the day before. This is especially helpful if you’re leaving early the next day or expect some teary eyes; you can linger a bit longer over your farewell and give in to some sad emotions … before mentally switching over to the BEST vacation ever!

Pre-trip prep:

  • Check into your flight.
  • Book your taxi or other transportation to the airport (if not parking there).
  • Check your car’s tire pressure, fuel and other fluid levels.
  • Empty your wallet and purse of anything you won’t need on your trip.
  • Fully charge your electronics.

Packing for your trip:

  • Wash any remaining laundry you want for your trip.
  • Check the weather at your destination. Set out your travel outfit that’ll work for both your departure weather and destination weather.
  • Pack those bags! Everyone has a preferred packing method; mine is rolling to save space and sorting like-items together so it’s easy to live out of my suitcase. LifeHacker.com tested 5 methods and concluded that the best method is a combination. So there you go! Generally it’s good to pack a variety of tops and bottoms you can change up for a variety of outfits, plus a few warmer options for early mornings and evenings.
  • Travel documents: put these in a safe, easily accessible pocket in your carry-on. Include your identification and confirmations for airport parking, flights, first hotel, destination shuttle and car rental.
  • Your carry-on: pack your important travel documents, any valuables, an extra change of clothes, medications, sealed snacks, power cords for devices and camera, flight entertainment, and liquids/gels (under 100ml). I keep my liquids/gels together in a ziploc bag, so it’s easy to pull out at Security.
  • Things you might forget to pack: nail clipper; luggage lock; lint roller; extra contact lenses; earplugs; hand sanitizer; ibuprofen; tums; eye mask; travel belt.

Kids and pets:

  • Drop off your pet where they’re boarding. Remember things like: collar/leash, bed, food, medicines, treats, toys and instructions.
  • Drop off your kids at their babysitter’s. Remember things like: special blankets, pillows, nighttime toys, books, sound machines, extra soothers, treat money. Plus maybe a family picture … I wonder if this would help with missing you, or make it worse?

Household prep:

  • Water those houseplants!
  • Toss anything in your fridge that’ll go bad while you’re away.
  • Clean and tidy your house. Don’t stress yourself by going overboard, but make it welcoming and easy to sit and relax when you get back.

MORNING OF your vacation: Checklist of things to do

Tidy and welcoming couch with pillow and blanket

Leave your home welcoming for your return. Photo credit: Taylor Hernandez from Unsplash.

Oooooh … SO exciting!! The morning you leave can be the most exciting, but also the most stressful. This morning checklist is all about last-minute to-dos.

Last-minute trip prep and packing:

  • Check for any travel warnings or flight delays. Plan to arrive at least 3 hours before international flights and 2 hours before national flights. (I missed a national flight when I arrived 1.5 hours before; if lines look long and you’re unsure if you’ll make it, ask one of the agents floating in the check-in area.)
  • Grab last-minute toiletries; sort into liquids/gels going in your carry-on and then everything else.
  • If your kids are coming, too, or you’re dropping them off, remember to grab their favorite bedtime blankie, stuffie, book, etc.
  • If it’s a road trip, you’ll likely want to bring your pillows and a few lap blankets.
  • Triple-check you have your phone, wallet/passport, sunglasses and medicines.

Last-minute household prep:

  • Run your dishwasher, at least on rinse. Handwash anything you use last-minute.
  • Tidy up as you finish in rooms.
  • Take out the garbage.

Right before you walk out the door:

  • Turn off your water. (Usually a metal knob on your hot water tank.)
  • Turn down your thermostat (I usually put it around 60 fahrenheit/16 celcius) and turn off your air conditioner.
  • Turn on light timers and motion detectors. Turn off all other lights.
  • Unplug electronics. I unplug pretty much everything that isn’t a major appliance.
  • Lock windows, close blinds and curtains, and close doors.
  • Lock the doors.

Aaaand … you’re out!

CHECKLIST ADJUSTMENTS for trips longer than 1 month

If you’re leaving for longer than a typical two-weekish trip, then you should consider a few adjustments to the checklists above. These include:

  • Investigate getting a travel-friendly credit card and debit card that don’t have international transaction fees.
  • Automate all of your bills.
  • Definitely arrange for someone to look in on your house often, but at irregular days and times. I also suggest contacting your property insurance company to make sure you know their requirements for long-term absences.
  • If you have school-aged kids, plan how you’ll keep them caught up on schoolwork.

Have other items made it on your pre-trip checklists? Please share!

Summary and Resources

A helpful checklist walks the line of being simple yet thorough. One way that makes it simpler is to break tasks down by timing; another, to use subheadings to keep my eyes from crossing. I hope this has been helpful to you, too!

If you haven’t checked out the first two steps of this trip planning process, please do!

In all your planning and packing craziness, remember to keep one thing in mind at all times. Your answer to the #1 most important question: When you’re back at home, what will make you say, “Now THAT was a fantastic trip”?

Yes – this even applies to your countdown checklist! Part of it being a fantastic trip is having everything taken care of back home, while you’re on your trip, and when you get back. Let the total experience you’re looking for be your compass to guide you in all your planning and decision-making, including when you do things!

My favorite resources for your vacation countdown checklist:

  • Booking final pieces: I generally prefer to book hotels with Booking.com and activities with TripAdvisor.com. But, don’t forget to check out hostelworld.com and glamping.com; you might just snag some pretty great finds.
  • Replacing electronics, luggage and wardrobe needs: There are few places that can beat the inventory and home delivery convenience of Amazon.com. But obviously go where you’re happy!
  • Online storage of travel documents: My favorite spot is an encrypted site like mega.nz. You can share the folder link with your emergency contact. Just don’t lose that password! Since it’s encrypted, there’s no way to retrieve documents without that password. I use Gmail and Google Docs as a backup for everything except my identification.
  • How to pack your suitcase: My favorite organizer is Marie Kondo from Apartment Therapy – she shows how to pack a suitcase in this video. Plus, here’s her super-short video on adapting this when packing for a family.

Remember to SHARE this 3-step trip planning process with your TRAVEL COMPANIONS!

Trip planning 3-step process: infographic

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