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Ultimate Pre-Travel Checklist: Important Things To Do Before Travelling

Planning a vacation? There is so much to think about before actually heading out on your adventures, but preparing for your trip doesn’t have to be stressful. Our Ultimate Pre-Travel Checklist will help make sure all the important things are done before travelling. So you and your family can relax and enjoy your vacation, knowing everything is well in hand.

The Pre-Vacation checklist covers everything from booking hotels, packing and bringing meds, to all those last minute details of making sure you’ve brought your toothbrush and phone charger, secured your home and the housesitter is confirmed and settled.

While it is organized into what to do 3 months, 1 month, 1 week and less before your trip, if you have less time, just adjust the time frames for the time you have left. It’s never too late to organize!

Our Ultimate Pre-Travel Checklist Free Printable has all things you definitely don’t want to miss, when planning your trip.

Ready to plan? Let’s get prepping.

Disclosure: Please note that this post contains affiliate links. If you click one of the links and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Thank you! See full disclosure and disclaimer policy here 

Pre-Travel Checklist: What To Do Before Leaving For Vacation

Table of Contents

Research Destination & Pre-Trip Planning

Every trip starts with a little (or in my case a lot) of research. It is good to get an idea of what you will be looking forward to or any challenges your family may face. Here are a few things to consider before booking your destination. Then you’ll be all set to go through your travel preparations checklist.

Weather

What type of weather are you looking for? Are you looking for a wintery ski destination,  some fun in the sun, or mild fall foliage road trip tour?

It’s a good idea to research the average weather and temperature of your destination beforehand, because you definitely don’t want to fly somewhere expecting sunny, hot beach weather, only to find out once you’ve landed that it’s too cool or stormy to hang out on the beach, and you don’t even pack a sweater. 

Travel advisories and warnings

Take a look at your government’s travel advisories for your desired destination. They’ll have the latest info on what you need to be aware of from security to healthy risks, recommended vaccines and more.

This is especially important in the time of COVID, as rules, and entry requirements change rapidly. 

Rules, etiquettes and cultural norms 

Get a sense of the rules, etiquettes and cultural norms of your travel destination. This will help prepare you not only to be a more respectful  global citizen, it can also help guide what you need to pack. 

Activities & Tours

Many popular tours and activities require advance bookings. Doing a little research ahead of time will avoid the disappointment of missing out on bucket list items, and can even save you money.

Get your kids and partner involved in the dreaming. Ask what they are interested in doing, and have them to help with the research. Watch some YouTube Videos on hotels, activities, things to do in the area you are traveling to. 

Language 

Learn what language the majority of locals speak. While in tourist destinations you will find most people tend to know at least a little English, people appreciate it when you at least try to say a few words in their language.

Take a class, or brush up on a few common words you can use. We like to take a few courses before we travel and brush up on a few helpful phrase like Hello, Thank You, Where is the Bathroom and How much does that cost?

Rosetta Stone offers popular and affordable language classes you can do from home (or on the road); Try it out here.

Local Transportation Options

Check out the local transportation options. Many places, especially in larger cities, have great public transit or taxi systems, which are easier to use  than driving a car.

Or is it a place where you need or want to rent a car, because it’s safer, need to use a carseat, or you plan on doing road trips? This is good to know ahead of time.

Compare rental car prices and options, auto insurance requirements, and see if there are any discounts available to you through your credit cards, CAA / AAA, professional organizations. 

Currency 

Different currencies are always a fun challenge. Research what currency you’ll need, the exchange rate, and how easily you’ll be able to access your money abroad. 

For most places this is not a problem. However, our trip to Cuba was the exception.

You can’t exchange Cuban currency beforehand, and all research pointed to bringing all the cash you needed. Accessing money while down there through ATMs or the bank can be difficult, so it would have been a stressful situation once we arrived, if we didn’t know all this beforehand.

Loyalty Programs

Sign up for loyalty programs for hotels you like to stay at, airlines you like to fly with and travel points credit cards. Often there are sign-up bonuses, that may even land you a free flight or an extra night or two at no extra cost.

Budget 

Working out a budget beforehand can give you an idea of where and how long you can travel for. Planning ahead with a budget can ultimately lead to less stress down the road.

Then you won’t have  to pay off a high interest credit card bill, for an expensive vacation you couldn’t afford. 

Make sure to include not only the big ticket items like flights, resorts, and  hotels, but also factor in meals, snacks, water, tips, souvenirs and activities.

We like to budget out  3 or 4 more expensive items per trip separately, such as special tours, a concert, or fancy meals. Then have a daily per diem to cover food, and miscellaneous daily expenses like bus tickets, tips, water and the like. 

Check out how to build a vacation fund for simple ways you can save money for your next family vacation.

Kids School

Check with your child’s school and teacher, to see what the rules are around taking a family vacation. A couple of things to consider. Is it an excused absence? Will your child need to catch up on any missed homework or assignments?

Read Is a family vacation an excused absence from school for all the considerations in pulling your kids out of school.

Photo of travel items; a map, phone, money, camera, map. The words say Overwhelmed by travel details? Pre-Travel Checklist plus Free printable, for stress free planning.

Book Your Vacation

Now that you have settled on a fun holiday destination, now it is the time to book your trip.

  • Make reservations for your accommodations – hotel, airBnB, VRBO, castle, cruise, resort or wherever you are staying. 
  • Book your transportation – flights, taxis, airport shuttles, buses, trains, transfers between cities and/or hotels
  • Book activities & tours  – some activities and tours  book up quickly (like certain rides at Disney), so if there are certain ones you know you don’t want to miss out on, book ahead. 

For all reservations make sure you read and clearly understand their cancellation policies BEFORE booking. 

Grab your copy of our complete pre-travel checklist template, ready for you to use on your next vacation.

Tips and Resources

Booking Your Trip


Finding a cheap flight: Check out Skyscanner or Momondo or Google Flights Explore. Search engines that scour the web and airlines for best flight deals.

Booking accommodations: Booking.com is a great option for finding cheap accommodations around the world. We also use AirBnB to find more unique, home away from home type places to stay.

Travel Insurance: Travel Insurance is important for everything from illness and injury, to trip cancellations or delays and theft. It’s peace of mind and protection should anything go wrong. 

World Nomads is a favourite amongst travellers, however like many other companies, they are limiting (or eliminating) coverage related to trip cancellations and medical insurance for COVID expenses. Read the fine print on any insurance policy you buy.

Picture of an Asian Family looking at a world map, planning a vacation.
Preparing for Travel
Photo: “istock.com / torwai”

Pre-Trip Checklist: What to do 3 months before Travel

While you may not always have your vacations planned out 3 or more months in advance, it’s a good idea to give yourself as much time as possible to prepare, especially if you are travelling internationally. 

Just move these items to the top of your to do list, no matter how much time you have left to travel. 

Check Travel Advisories & COVID Testing Requirements

As noted above, it is imperative you check for health advisories, travel warnings and entry requirements.  While this is true anytime, with COVID it is especially important to keep up to date on the changing situation around the world.

You will want to check back regularly leading up to your departure date, to make sure your trip is still possible, and if entry or exit requirements have changed.

Keep an eye on COVID testing requirements for not only leaving your country, but what is also required on your return.

Research government approved testing sites at your destination as well. Being prepared will give you peace of mind and help ensure you aren’t stuck on holiday longer than anticipated. For more info:

Case in point, Canada recently announced increased measures on entry into Canada with two weeks notice.

They include a requirement to take another COVID test on arrival, and a 3 day booking with certain hotels until you receive the results. This will add an additional $2,000 to a travellers trip, plus the possibility of being denied boarding if you don’t have the hotel booked. Less stress if you keep on top of the rapidly changing situation.

Photo of Pre-Travel Checklist with the words Free Pre Travel Checklist. Take back hours in your day, and make trip planning easier. Gimme Gimme!

Pre-Travel Checklist – International Travel 

Passports

If you are travelling internationally, or use your passport as ID, check to make sure all travellers passports are not expired, and will be valid for at least 6 months past your return date, with at least one blank page.

Double check with your destination’s embassy website,  to make sure they don’t have any other passport or entry requirements.

Visas

The embassy’s website for your destination will have a lot of helpful information. Look to see their entry and visa requirements. 

Make sure you have an idea of how long the process for getting a Visa will take, and if there are any special requirements.

In some cases, you may need to send your passport to the foreign consulate for processing of the visa, so make sure you will not need it during that time. You’ll also  want to make sure you have enough time to get all your documentation in order before your trip. 

If you are planning on a longer visit, determine requirements at least 6 months in advance, as some types of visas require extra steps (like visiting the consulate in person), and may take longer than expected. 

Check back in frequently to make sure visa requirements haven’t changed.

Vaccinations

Are you up to date on your vaccinations?

Visit your government’s travel advisory website (linked above), as they will have all the latest recommendations for safety, travel advice, including vaccine requirements for your destination. The World Health Organization (WHO) website also outlines recommended vaccines based on destination.

Follow up with your local travel clinic, to discuss what vaccines,  and precautionary measures may be best for your family. Some vaccines require multiple doses over time, so book well in advance.

Health and Travel Insurance

Extended medical insurance is a necessity when travelling outside the country. Make sure to add this to your list of things to do before travel.

Many employers and credit cards have insurance plans that cover emergency travel and health expenses while abroad. Call for all the fine details. Research and choose an insurance plan that will fit your family size, holiday activities and destination.

Double check the fine print around trip cancellation policies, and coverage for COVID related expenses. Many insurance plans are decreasing and changing coverage due to the pandemic. You don’t want to be caught in an unfortunate situation. 

Picture of things to do before travel. Shows insurance papers with passport, and small toy plane on top. A hat, toy car, sunglasses and starfish are in the corners.
Things To Do Before Travel – Don’t forget Insurance
Photo: “istock.com / photobyphotoboy”

Keep your valuables safer when travelling, with anti-theft gear.

Pre-Travel Checklist – Things To Prepare Before Travelling (Anywhere)

Pet and House Sitters

Arrange a house sitter and either a pet sitter or  book a kennel or boarding situation for your beloved pets, that won’t be travelling with you.

Sometimes these services are in high demand, especially around popular vacation times like Christmas or Spring Break, so book  well in advance. 

It will give you peace of mind, knowing your home is safe and your furry family is well taken care of, in your preferred boarding situation.

Create your Packing Lists

Make your packing lists and check them twice. Don’t forget all the essentials!

While it may seem a bit overkill to create a packing list so far in advance, if you have to buy off season clothes or gear for your trip, it can make prepping, and saving money for and on purchases much easier.

Feel free to move this to one month before your trip  if you have most or all the gear you need.

Before creating your family’s packing list, there are a few things to consider:

  • Check on luggage allowances – Does your airline, cruise, train have limits to the weight, and number of luggage pieces you can bring? Are there any extra costs, and are you ok paying them? 
  • Decide how much you want to pack.  Are you a carry-on only family? Do you want one suitcase for the kids, one for the adults, or each their own?
  •  Decide on your style of bag: Do you prefer a duffel bag, backpack, suitcase, or maybe a combo. This will also dictate how much you can pack.
  • Consider your type of trip: Take into consideration the length of stay, weather and planned activities for your family trip. 
  • Decide about laundry: Are you planning on washing your clothes while away, or bringing everything you need? Will you have access to a washer / dryer or laundry service?

Most Common Items People Forget To Pack For Vacation

Here is a list of some common items people forget to pack, so make sure they are on your list. These also all happen to be items I have missed a time or two myself.

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Swimsuit
  • Soap
  • Phone, kindle, ipad,  chargers
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • First Aid kit or supplies
  • Prescriptions and medications
  • Travel adapter
  • Copies of travel documents
  • Warm layer (sweater, light jacket) for sunny destinations
  • Laundry Bag – I like to keep dirty clothes in a separate mesh bag.

If you forget a few things, don’t panic, most destinations have plenty of options to buy any items you may have forgotten. Cuba however was one destination where you needed to pack everything you needed, as there weren’t a lot of options once you get there.

Buy Essentials Before Your Trip

Planning ahead can save you time, money and headaches. 

Here in Canada, finding warm summer clothes, even online, is difficult in the winter months.

Our trip to the Carribean was case in point. Not a lot of options to buy once we arrived, and not many options before we left. If I hadn’t bought a couple of end of summer sale items, we would have been out of luck.

Purchasing a few essentials beforehand can help get your trip off on the right foot. It can help save you money, as you have time to keep an eye out for deals and don’t have to pay exorbitant resort prices to purchase these items.

It can also help save time, if you need to special order anything online.

Some items you may need / want to buy ahead:

For the Kids

  • Snacks
  • Travel Entertainment: Activities, games, crafts, small toys, books
  • Kids tablet / iPad – load up with fav movies, TV shows, books, podcasts
  • Weather appropriate clothing & gear (snorkels, rashguards, sun hats, skiis, snowsuits etc.)
  • Extra diapers, wipes, bottles, 
  • Travel car seat and travel stroller
  • Travel Booster Seat – We love our compact MiFold Grab and Go Car Booster Seat for travel with older kids (must be at least 4yrs+, 40″ tall and 40lbs)
  • Infant travel bed
  • Travel potty & toilet seat (2-in-1 awesomeness)

Toiletry items

First Aid Kit  or items

  • Pain relievers ( examples: Paracetamol, Tylenol, Ibuprofen). If travelling with kids, pack some for them too. 
  • Bandaids, blister pads, gauze, surgical tape, & antiseptic wipes
  • Tweezers & small scissors (don’t bring in carry-on!)
  • Antihistamine & anti-bacterial creams
  • Loperamide tablets – emergency anti-diarrhea medication
  • Rehydration Tablets or packets – Pedialyte, Nuum
  • Motion sickness meds 

For the Adults

  • Weather appropriate clothing & gear
  • Magazines, books, e-reader subscriptions (and download beforehand)

Pre-Trip Checklist: What To Do 1 Month Before Travel

Get a copy of our free pre-vacation checklist, to make sure you have all the things you’ll need to do in one handy document.

Confirm All Reservations And Bookings

With so many things to prepare before travelling, you don’t want to forget to confirm your bookings.

Now is the time to confirm / reconfirm all reservations, and bookings you made.  Look to see if any times or schedules have changed.

We tend to do this 1 month up to 2 weeks before we leave, depending on the travel destination, and the requirements of the various companies.

  • Flight Times
  • How you will get to the airport & Pick up time ( friend, taxi, shuttle etc.)
  • Transportation to lodging
  • Accomodations
  • Car Rentals
  • Bus / Train Reservations
  • Activities, Tours, & Dining 
  • Pet and House sitters

If you haven’t made any activity, tour or dining reservations yet, do so now. Check discount sites like Groupon, Travelzoo, or local travel sites for deals.

Also confirm any special assistance or requirements, you and your family members may need. Often they require more than 24 hours notice. Double check the amount of notice that is required with your airline, resort or hotel. 

Pre-Book in advance:

  • Special meals – for kids, vegetarians, vegans or any special dietary needs
  • Assistance at airports – such as porters or transport between terminals 
  • Special Bedding / Room requirements – extra cot, playpen, adjoining rooms, non smoking or smoking rooms, rooms away from the pool etc.

Make A Hard Copy Of Reservations and Bookings

While most reservations are online, and on our phones these days, it’s a good idea to make a hard copy of all bookings, reservations, itineraries. Add emergency numbers, contacts and nearest hospital / clinic.

You never know when you may lose access to the internet / your phone, and need your passport or other info.

Keep a copy handy and  in a safe place while you travel, and leave a copy with a trusted friend or family member at home. Taking photos of all important documents is a good backup strategy as well.

Also program “In case of emergency” numbers into your phone, both for your home, and destination.

I like to have the number for police and ambulance, as well as the nearest hospital or clinic mapped out, so in the unlikely event of an emergency I don’t have to scramble for the info.

Car Maintenance

If you are taking a road trip, now is the time to have a little maintenance done on your vehicle. Make an appointment for the car to get checked over; oil change, tire pressure, fluids, windshield wipers.  

It is also a good idea to find some ways to save money on your road trip. You don’t want to spend more than you have to.

Medications and Prescriptions

A key item for your pre travel checklist is your medications and prescriptions. Make sure you have enough of your usual medications and prescriptions to last the entire trip plus a week or two extra if possible.

Pharmacies at your destination may have different meds than you are used to, and language may be a barrier. 

Here are a few tips to be prepared:

  • Talk to your doctor prior to your trip, and let them know you will be travelling, and for how long
  • Ask your  doctor to write a prescription for all your medications, preferably renewable for up to a year (or however long you will be gone). Most prescriptions can only be maximum a year.
  • Make sure they write the American and generic name, doses, amounts etc. 
  • Bring a hard copy of your prescription with you.
  • Pack your medications in the original containers and place in  a one-quart, plastic bag near the top of your carry-on baggage.
  • Divide the rest into different pieces of luggage, so if one piece of luggage is lost, you won’t have lost all your meds.

Cell Phones & Data Plans

Planning on texting or skyping friends and family back home, browsing the interwebs or streaming a few movies or videos for your kids? Most cell providers these days have fairly competitive international roaming packages for out of country usage. 

You definitely want to call your provider and set it up before you leave, so you don’t get an outrageous, surprise international roaming bill on your return home. That’s not the type of souvenir we are looking for!

With so many electronic devices and cords these days, it can be difficult to keep track of it all. Hands up if you’ve ever left a charger at a hotel or a Kindle in the pocket in front of you on the airplane, never to be seen again? No, just me…..ok maybe not.

It’s wise to invest in a small storage pouch, or electronic organizer case like this awesome, affordable Bagsmart electronic organizer. It’s a life saver (or at least an electronics saver).

Pre Travel Checklist – What to Do One Week Before Travel

Exchange Currency

Exchange some currency. It is a good idea to have at least a week’s worth of local currency on hand when you arrive at your amazing destination. Be sure you have some small bills for tipping your taxi or porter at your hotel as well.

Often you’ll get a better exchange rate at your home bank, than at your destination airport anyway.  Plus you won’t have to wait in line, exhausted after your days travel, with a bunch of cranky kids, spouse, friends in tow. 

Check Pre-Travel COVID Test Requirements & Where To Get One Done

Alot of destinations these days require proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours of boarding.

In the US, visit your state, territorial, tribal and local department’s website to look for the latest information on where to get tested. If you are in Canada, visit the government’s website for more info.

Pay Bills

Before you leave, make sure all bills are paid up, or that automatic payments are set up, with enough money in the account to cover any expenses while you are away.

Electronics Prep – Download Music, Games, Movies, Books, Travel Apps & Offload Photos

To make those long flights and travel days smoother, especially with kids, download the music, games, movies, podcasts, books you want to keep everyone entertained.

Download and familiarize yourself with any new Travel Apps you want to try out. 

If you use your cell phone as your camera, make sure you have enough storage, or delete / save old photos off your phone to make room.

Prepare Your Home 

Of all the things to prepare before travelling, home prep is one of the most important, and often overlooked tasks.

Now that all the travel details are under control, you’ll want to start prepping your home. I love returning home to a clean home, with freshly washed sheets and nicely made beds, Don’t you?

Many of these items can be done one week before, right up to the day of travel:

  • Clean your house; mop floors, clean bathrooms, wipe down counters, vacuum
  • Run the dishwasher & empty the dishes
  • Wash and dry clothes, then pack or put away.
  • Clean your sheets, and make the beds with freshly laundered linens
  • Empty the garbage and compost bins
  • Empty out your fridge of perishable items
  • Water plants
  • Set your thermostat
  • Check the heating fuel level (Don’t want to run out in winter!) Arrange for a delivery while you are away if needed

Prepare your House Sitter

I like to have my house sitter and pet sitter over at least the week before we leave on vacation, to go over any routines, expectations and to give them a house tour.

If you have a house sitter looking after your home: 

  • Write out and leave your list of do’s & don’ts
  • Let them know which room they will be staying in
  • Leave emergency contacts & how to get a hold of you
  • Identify any quirky house items they need to look out for
  • Make sure they know where any emergency shut off valves are (for the furnace, water, propane tank etc.) 
  • Leave the schedule for garbage, compost, recycling, and watering days
  • Prepare your home for them; clean up, put fresh sheets on their bed, buy some grocery staples, leave the WIFI password

Prepare Your Pet Sitter

If you have a pet sitter:

  • Leave a detailed note about your pets routine, including feeding amounts and times and walking schedule
  • Note the contact details for the vet, and dog walking or doggy day care services if you use those
  • Provide enough pet food and supplies for the whole time you will be away. 
  • Put pet supplies out where they can be easily found; food, leashes, toys, treats

Security Measures: How To Keep Your Home Safe While On Holiday

Before leaving on vacation, you’ll want to take some extra security precautions to make sure your house is safe and looks lived in while on holiday. The best way to do this is to hire a housesitter (or friend) to stay in your home while you are on vacation.

If that is not possible, here are a few things you can do to make sure your house is more secure:

  • Arrange for a trusted neighbour or friend to collect your mail, water the plants & check up on the house.  Ask them to vary the hours they visit, so it’s not predictable. 
  • Put your mail,  and newspaper subscription on hold
  • Set your lights to a timer
  • Set sprinklers, and watering systems to automatic
  • Mow your lawn before you leave, so it looks well kept
  • Lock all your doors and windows
  • If you have a security company, let them know you will be gone.

Things To Do Before Travel: 3 Days to 24 Hours Before

Preparing for travel. Picture of a family of five sitting, resting their legs on top of their suitcases.
All packed and prepared for check-in
Photo: “istock.com / dorian2013”

Pre-departure Check-in For Flights

Once you’ve  received the  email from your airline, complete your pre-departure check-in.  

  • Complete your pre-departure check-in
  • Choose seat selection
  • Double check baggage allowances
  • Make sure mileage account number has been added to each person’s ticket if appropriate.
  • Print boarding passes

Read and confirm the details of  the flights, and that your connections  are correct. 

You don’t want to end up like the poor woman who thought she was going to Australia and somehow ended up in Newfoundland, Canada. Not that Newfoundland isn’t an awesome place to visit (It is!), just a slightly different experience than the expected Australia. 

Choose your seat selection if you haven’t already. We highly recommend if you have young kids, doing this when you book your flight. Most airlines will allow free seat selection for at least one parent to sit with their child.

Check your baggage allowance, and pay for any extras up front. It is often cheaper this way, and means less to worry about at the airport.

COVID Tests

Alot of destinations these days require proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours of boarding. Make sure to get one done from an approved testing place.

Buy Snacks

Take a trip to the grocery store and buy some filling snacks for your travel day. Ask your kids what they would like too. Less whining = happier parents. 

If you have a special diet, or special dietary needs,  it’s also a good idea to bring extra so you know you have some safe food to eat on your trip.

Some crafty ways to pack snacks:

PACK!

Now comes the fun part of actually packing. I always feel like this makes the trip more real. It’s a good idea to review your packing list and cull any unnecessary items (especially if it all doesn’t fit in your suitcase). 

  • Pack your main luggage and carry on items
  • Don’t forget to pack your face masks, hand sanitizer and proof of negative COVID test
  • Check off the items as you put them in
  • Use packing cubes. They are a space saver and a life saver. Tip – Have each traveller use a different colour packing cube, to keep clothes organized, and easier to tell apart. Get the ones we use here
  • Make a list of those last minute items that need to be added right before you leave

Ready to Go! Last Minute Things to Do before Travelling 

Make sure all those last minute things are done before you head out.

  • For a road trip; fill up car with gas, check tire pressure, clean out car, load it up and put out a garbage bag for the trip
  • Check the weather 
  • Lay out travel clothes for the next day
  • Charge electronics & pack chargers in an accessible bag
  • Make sure thermostat is set
  • Double check doors and windows are locked
  • Empty garbage cans and compost bins
  • Check the house for any forgotten items, and pack last minute items
  • Use the restroom

Conclusion: Pre Travel Checklist – Things To Do Before Travel

While there are a lot of things to prepare before travelling, having a Pre Travel Checklist will keep you organized and hopefully stress free before your vacation.

Have we missed anything on our Pre-Trip Checklist, or do you have any helpful tips to share? Let us know in the comments below, or connect with us on social media. We’d love to hear from you!

Related Articles: Looking for some travel inspiration?


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