It’s an exciting time. You finally picked a destination, and your flights are booked. Yay! Now the planning really starts. There’s a ton to get done before your trip. Don’t worry, we’ve put together everything you need to prepare for your trip in this easy pre-travel checklist. Useful for both domestic and international travel, these 24 essential things will help get you ready and organized for a great trip.
You may find it helpful to bookmark this page in your browser’s Travel Planning folder so you can find it easily when you need it. Also, we’ve included a handy printable version you can download at the bottom of this post. Happy trip planning!
1. Check ID Expiry & Passport Pages
First things first, no one is going anywhere with expired travel documents.
If you’re traveling internationally, check your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your return flight date. Most countries won’t honor a passport with less than six months validity.
Some countries are picky and require a full clean passport page, especially for visas. Therefore the U.S. State Department recommends having at least two blank pages in your passport. And trust us, they won’t use the endorsement pages in the back.
2. Research Visa Requirements
A biggie for international trips on our pre-travel checklist is to completely understand visa and entry requirements. As many visas take weeks to sort out via an embassy, you’ll want to look into this straight away.
Even if a visa is not required, check if a Travel Authorization is necessary. For example, both Australia and the USA require authorizations for visa exempt travelers before boarding.
This caught out a friend of mine. Unaware of the US ESTA requirement, she was turned away at the gate for her flight to Hawaii. Once the ESTA was granted, she had to re-book on a later flight, at her expense. Yikes!
3. Book Accommodation
It’s rare we book accommodation for our entire trip, as we don’t tend to stay in the same area too long. However, we always sort where we are going to lay our heads that first night.
When traveling there’s so much that can go wrong. We’ve had situations where delay after delay put us at our destination very late at night. Boy, were we grateful to know where we were going when we finally got there.
Booking.com makes searching for the best price across a range of accommodation easy. We’ve been using them since 2008.
4. Arrange Travel Insurance with Medical Coverage
There’s nothing more heartbreaking to your travel spirit than having to cancel a trip, except canceling a trip you still have to pay for.
Travel Insurance is a life saver, literally. Not only can it help financially with cancellations, delays, and lost luggage; the right insurance can help with unexpected medical bills. Most domestic insurance plans don’t provide help with overseas medical care.
When looking for travel insurance, make sure it has healthcare coverage that includes medical and emergency repatriation.
5. Refill Your Meds and Check Local Laws
Obviously, you want to make sure you have enough of your prescription to make it through your trip. However, did you know some prescriptions and even over-the-counter medications can be illegal in other countries?
You may need proof of your prescription with you on your travels. In some cases, you may even need to get prior authorization to travel with your medication. Speak with your destination’s embassy to find out what they require.
6. Get Up to Date on Vaccinations
The new talk is about potential Covid vaccination passports. However, travelers to certain areas of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South America know vaccination requirements are already a thing.
Not only should you be up to date with all the standard vaccinations, when traveling internationally check what other vaccinations your destination requires. These may depend on where you live, where else you’ve traveled, and how long you will be there.
Also, consider getting the recommended vaccinations for the area. For example, Hepatitis A & B are rarely required but strongly recommended for most developing nations. Check your government’s travel health advisory (i.e., CDC for US residents, NHS for UK residents) for specific guidance on where you want to travel.
Don’t leave this one until last minute either. Some vaccinations need to be done at least a month before travel.
7. Decide How to Get to the Airport
Will you drive or take an Uber? If you’re driving, check parking fees. Will you park at the airport or at an off-airport lot? Is there a discount for booking early?
Though the US has websites to find discount parking at airports, we’ve personally not found any better deals than just pre-booking directly with our local airport.
However, in the UK we loved yourparkingspace.co.uk, where locals advertise parking spots on their property. Often, it’s much cheaper than parking at the airport.
8. Getting Around Your Destination
Since we are already talking about transportation, the next item on our pre-travel checklist is to work out how you’re going to get around at your destination.
Are you going to rent a car or use public transportation? Do you need to arrange an airport pick-up? Are you going to use any long-distance buses or trains? Usually, you’ll find discounts when you book between 1 – 3 months before your travel.
In the US and Europe, we’ve always had great luck using Rentalcars.com to book our car hire.
9. Get an International Driver's License
If you’re going to drive overseas, you’ll likely need an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) to accompany your home country’s driver’s license.
Honestly, I find these things a bit silly, since there’s no test, it’s just another fee to pay. However, without it most countries won’t recognize your license and it does help translate your license into some languages. Though, not all countries recognize an IDP, so check before you buy.
You must buy an IDP in the country where you hold a valid driver’s license.
- US driver’s license holders can purchase from AAA.
- UK driving license holders can purchase at most post offices.
- Canadian driver’s license holders can purchase from BCAA.
10. Sort Your Money
This is one of the most essential items on our pre-travel checklist. If you’re traveling domestically your biggest concern maybe ATM fees, especially if you use a local bank. However, if you’re traveling internationally there’s a lot more to consider.
- Find a card/bank without foreign transaction fees nor ATM fees.
- Make sure the card(s) you plan to use are accepted at your destination. Not every country readily uses credit cards. Even when they do, brands like American Express and Discover are not widely accepted.
- Always having some local cash on hand will make sure you don’t get stuck. Keep in mind, if you need to order foreign currency, this could take up to a week with your bank.
11. Inform Your Bank and Credit Cards
Yet another one we learned the hard way. Make sure your bank and credit cards know where you’re traveling and your travel dates. This is especially important if you don’t travel often, or you’re traveling to a high-risk area.
When we were in South America, we tried using Jeremy’s credit card for a rental car. He hadn’t let the bank know ahead of time, so the bank rejected the transaction and locked the card. When he called to explain the situation, they required him to come into a local branch to verify ID. Of course, this was impossible and super unhelpful. We would have been in real trouble if we didn’t have my card as a backup.
12. Buy an Adapter
Before heading overseas, check which plug type your destination uses.
If you plan on bringing any electronics that need to plug in, like a phone or battery charger, you may need a plug adapter. These inexpensive gadgets are often challenging to find once overseas. We use a worldwide adapter, similar to this one on Amazon.
Also, check your destination’s voltage. These days, most travel items, like laptops and cell phones, have 95-240 VAC compliant plugs. However, it’s important you check. A plug adapter is not a voltage converter and using the wrong voltage can literally blow up your electronics.
13. Make Copies of Your Documents
We make three copies of our travel documents, including passports and driver’s licenses.
- One hard copy we keep hidden on us for emergencies.
- A second copy we give to a trustworthy friend or relative.
- The third is an electronic copy we keep in our online cloud storage.
We also make a list of emergency contact numbers, including credit cards, banks, and the closest embassy or consulate.
Finally, we keep hard copies of travel tickets, even when we have tickets on our cell phones. What happens if we can’t access our email, or the phone glitches? We’ve also had situations where the airline/train company, etc., wouldn’t accept a digital ticket.
14. Arrange Pet Sitting
Obviously, if you don’t have pets, this isn’t something you need to worry about, but with three cats, this is high on our pre-travel checklist when planning any trip.
For short trips, we use an in-home pet service. For longer trips, we use a kitty condo boarding service. It’s pricey but worth the extra peace of mind they won’t be getting into anything while we are away. These may look like sweet faces, but trust me, it’s just a cover.
15. Prepare Your Home
When we lived in an apartment it was so easy to take off for a few weeks; we’d turn off the gas and water, and off we’d go. However, living in a house is very different. Newspapers and mail pile up and the lawn grows out of control. To ensure the house doesn’t look like an easy break-in target we have to arrange these things to be managed before we go.
For a full list of items to check through, see our article on Preparing Your Home for Your Trip.
16. Consider Your Safety
Traveling to an unfamiliar city or foreign land is extremely exciting; though, it can also be dangerous. The best way to stay safe is by staying informed.
- Research crime rates, specifically tourist crime, and which areas to avoid.
- As a U.S. national, I also register with the US State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This program registers my trip with the local embassy in my destination, in case of a natural disaster for instance. They also send me safety updates for my destination.
- Give a loved one your itinerary. Even if we can’t give specifics, which is usually the case, we give general timelines on where we’ll be.
- Consider letting your accommodation know where you’re going and when you should be back. We only do this for remote adventures. For instance, I vividly remember getting lost in a Borneo jungle. It was somewhat comforting knowing the small guest house owner knew where we were. Luckily, it all worked out and we made it back before causing any concern.
17. Figure Out How to Stay Connected
Will your phone work where you are going? Does your carrier have an economical international plan, or do you need to buy a SIM card while you are there? Does your phone allow tethering, or will you rent or buy a mobile hotspot?
How readily available is Wi-Fi? Will it be available in your hotel or at nearby cafes? If you plan on using public Wi-Fi, you may also want to bring your own VPN to keep your data safe.
18. Work Out Your Must Do List
Okay, so now that we’ve worked out all the serious stuff on the pre-travel checklist, let’s get down to the fun stuff! What do you want to do while you’re there?
Though we are not advocates for planning every detail of a trip, we like to have our minimum “must see list”. Remember, it’s easy to miss what you don’t know is there. Do your research ahead of time and mitigate any traveler’s remorse.
19. Research Photo Spots
This one is for my fellow photography addicts. To get those great shots it takes a little more research than just putting something on a “must see” list. To make the most of your trip, figure out the best sunrise and sunset spots. Plus, work out the best time of day for lighting at your “must see” attractions.
20. Consider What to Pack
I have a love-hate relationship with packing.
The part of me that loves it, enjoys the planning side. Okay, fine, it’s actually more the shopping side of the task I love most. But, a lot of planning goes into shopping, am I right? I have to consider the climate and what gear we already have. It’s a lot of work.
The part I don’t care much for is the actual packing. To reduce the stress of packing, we use a packing checklist. Here you can grab a free copy of our Couples’ Weekend Away Packing List.
21. Decide on Luggage
Now you know what you need to pack, the next thing on our pre-travel checklist is to decide what bag(s) to bring.
Depending on where we are going and how we are traveling, determines what bag we use. Also, we always check baggage allowances early. If the bag we want to bring won’t work for the trip, then we have time to buy another one.
To see our favorite travel luggage, check out our post Right Bag for the Right Trip.
22. Learn a Few Basic Phrases
When you’re going someplace where you don’t know the local language, it’s always useful to learn a few key phrases.
At the very least, bring a phrase book. I personally like point-and-speak phrase books, like Yubisahi’s English to Japanese point-and-speak book. By far this was the most useful book I had with me living in Japan.
If you’ll have internet service on your phone, set up the free Google Translator app. Use the camera function to translate signs and menus. So helpful!
A few phrases to know by heart include:
- Hello / Goodbye
- Please / Thank you
- Sorry / Excuse me
- Yes / No
- I don’t understand
23. Download Some Tunes
Traveling is stressful, especially dealing with airports. One way to keep chill is by listening to your favorite tunes. Create playlists for the airport, something to sleep to on a long flight, something for lounging at the pool, and of course an anthem for the road trip.
I love to road trip to 90’s tunes – give me some Wallflowers, Smashing Pumpkins, Sound Garden, and Matchbox Twenty, traffic just fades away. What’s your favorite music to travel to?
24. Plan the First and Last Day
Often overlooked, the last item on our pre-travel checklist is so important.
Have a plan for your first day. You should know where you’re staying and how you’re getting there from the airport. Also consider what time you can check in. If you arrive before check in, is there a safe location to leave your bags as you go out and explore?
On your last day, consider what time you need to check out of your hotel vs when you actually fly out. Can you get a late check out? Is there a safe place to leave your bags?