You’ve scrimped and saved, studied and planned, researched and purchased. You know when you’re going, where you’re going, where you’ll be staying. You have bus/train/plane and motel/hotel/resort/Air B & B reservations, a lighter than usual checking account, and higher than usual credit card bill. It’s what vacation is all about! And you are SO READY to go. But are you really ready? Our last blog contained a handy checklist to help you get your home vacation ready. Now we’ll focus on getting you ready with these pre-travel trip checklists essentials for general travel, international travel, and baggage.
Pre-Travel Checklist: General Trip Essentials
Rx. Make sure you have enough prescription medication to last for your entire trip. It’s a good idea to have a bit more than you need, just in case there’s an unforeseen delay. The Allianz Travel 24-hour assistance hotline can help you refill prescriptions overseas, but you must purchase their travel insurance.
Cash. Always have some cash on hand, and make sure you have some small bills for tipping.
Bank balances. Ensure your bank account and credit card limits are sufficient to handle your vacation spending.
Schedule a ride. If traveling by bus, train, or plane schedule a cab, Uber, Lyft, or ride from a friend/family member in advance to ensure you arrive on time. Downloading the Uber or Lyft app in advance can save time when you arrive at your destination. If you already have one of these apps, make sure your payment method is current.
Check in. Download the app for your airline, train, or bus. Check in online to save wait time at the terminal. Pre-pay for checked bags whenever possible.
Charge. Be sure all your electronics are fully charged as you never know for certain when or where you’ll be able to recharge. Since travel inevitably means waiting, you’ll want fully-charged devices to keep you busy – especially if there are delays. Pack all chargers in an easy-to-access spot like a purse, backpack, or carry-on that stays with you. That charger won’t do you any good if it’s in a checked bag! Consider buying a portable charger if you’re not sure when you’ll be able to plug in. I once had a late flight which allowed me all day to explore the city, but using my GPS (and with location turned on for photos), used up my charge quickly! Fortunately, I found a shop that sold fully-charged portable chargers, but boy did I pay a premium for it. If you’re traveling by car, be sure to have a charger that works in the cigarette lighter (if your car doesn’t have a USB port), and that you have a phone holder if you are the driver.
Download. Download apps for navigation, transportation, and translation. Apps for guided meditations are helpful if you stress while traveling. Audible has books and podcasts that will greatly help to pass the time. You can even download movies or TV shows from your favorite streaming service for travel amusement.
Clearance. Consider enrolling in a TSA clearance program such as TSA PreCheck ($78 for 5 years. Good for foreign travel originating in the US, but typically not on the return flight. For that, consider Global Entry), or CLEAR (Start your enrollment here and finish at any CLEAR airport location next time you travel—no appointment needed, just remember your government-issued I.D. $189/year. Not available at all airports.)
Pre-Travel Checklist: International Trip Essentials
Boarding passes & itinerary. Double check all dates. Remember that if you are traveling abroad, dates may appear differently: May 12, 2023 could be 12/05/2023 instead of 05/12/2023.
Destination travel requirements. Your destination country may require certain vaccinations, visas, an arrival tax, a specific number of free pages in your passport, or for permissible passport expiration times. Learn the requirements for your destination here.
Passport. Always keep your passport in the same place. You don’t want to be frantically hunting for it right before your departure. Passport renewals are taking some time these days with seven to nine weeks minimum for expedited and 10 to 14 weeks standard.
Print. Sounds old school, but do print all of your travel info/documents. If you rely solely on your phone or other device for directions, reservations and other crucial information, you’ll be in trouble if the battery dies or your electronics get stolen.
Scan/photograph. Scan or take a pic of your passport, driver’s license, proof of vaccination, and credit cards. Store in the Notes section of your phone, pinned to the top. This can help you get replacements more quickly, should you lose the originals. Carry copies of your traveling partner’s documents as well.
Travel insurance. Consider purchasing to protect yourself and your trip. I’d purchased a cruise for April 2020. Thank goodness I had travel insurance to protect this paid-in-advance trip when it was cancelled due to COVID. The world is a pretty volatile place these days, even in the USA, and travel insurance is a small price to pay for peace of mind. You can purchase travel insurance any time before the date of your departure, although your plan choice may be limited if you wait until the last minute. If you want a plan that includes valuable trip cancellation and trip interruption benefits, as well as benefits for existing medical conditions, you’ll want to purchase travel insurance as far in advance as possible.
Read. Okay, no one likes reading the fine print, the terms and conditions, or the instruction manual. But you need to know what’s covered and understand how to file a claim.
STEP. STEP is the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, run by the U.S. Department of State. Sign up in order to help the local embassy reach you in an emergency.
Pre-Travel Checklist: Baggage Essentials
Photograph. Take a pic of the contents. This makes it easier to file a baggage loss/delay claim, if anything happens to your stuff.
Tag. Be sure your luggage has a tag and contains the correct info. What should you include on the tag? Travel & Leisure advises to include your name (first initial and last name if you prefer to keep your orientation private), email address, and phone number. International travelers should also include the name of their hotel or residence in case the bag is lost. You can also purchase a smart tag luggage tracker.
Identify. Is your suitcase easy to spot on the baggage carousel? So many bags look alike! I once saw a woman walk off with my bag and had to chase her down! Her bag was identical to mine and she neglected to check the tag. I was very fortunate to have seen her, or I’d have been without luggage in a foreign city (not that that’s never happened to me before, but that’s a tale for another day). Here are some ideas to make your bag stand out:
- Tie a ribbon around the handle.
- Buy a ridiculously large luggage tag.
- Choose a different color / patterned suitcase. Solid black, navy blue, and red are the most common.
- Purchase an identifiable luggage belt.
- Decorate your bag with stickers.
- Invest in handle grips.
Inspect. Look in all the pockets of your suitcase, carry on, and personal items. A forgotten pocketknife, corkscrew, or “liquid” over 3.4 ounces may mean a TSA delay and/or confiscation. I had a 5 oz. unopened jar of expensive body cream – still in its factory-sealed plastic shrink-wrap – confiscated. I thought liquid meant pourable. Here’s what TSA thinks are liquids.
Weigh. Weigh your checked bag. If it’s more than 50 pounds (40 pounds on some airlines), you may be charged an extra fee. Check the luggage restrictions for your particular airline.
Spin it. Can you lift your suitcase and lug it upstairs? Test it before your find out the hard way that there is no elevator from the subway to street level. Yep, been there.
Measure. Measure your carry-on. Airlines are strict about size and, of course, they vary by carrier.
This seems like a lot, I know! But being well-prepared is essential for true travel enjoyment. Remember that you can replace almost anything you forget. As long as you have money, identification, travel documents, and travel insurance, you’ll be fine. Bon voyage!