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Travel Planning 101 – Ultimate Travel Planning Checklist

While many people like to fly by the seat of their pants, we both like to create structure around the trip-planning process. Before heading out the door, review your plans, double-check key reservations and ensure you have the gear and documents you need. Using the Travel Plannign 101 – Ultime Travel Planning Checklist is a simple step that can save you costly mistakes, major headaches and reduce overall stress in the final days before a trip.

This list might feel a bit daunting at first; don’t panic! This covers a lot of scenarios. We have broken this down into sections so you can skip to what you need for your trip. This pre-trip travel checklist is perfect to review a month prior to your trip and again the last few days before you leave.

We don’t think being over-prepared is a bad thing. If you’re still in the planning stages of your trip, we recommend reading 13 Essential Travel Preparation Ideas first, as well as How to Plan a Trip Itinerary and Things to Consider When Planning a Girls’ Trip if you’re traveling with others. If you’re driving, check out our list of things to include in your emergency road trip kit.

Don’t forget the “before you walk out the door” travel checklist!

Table of Contents

Air Travel Checklist

  • Set up a frequent flier account for every airline you fly on your trip. Even if it’s your first flight on an airline, those points could eventually add up.
  • Verify that all information is correct on your reservation: name, date of birth, passport number (if applicable), known traveler number (if you have one) and emergency contact information. Your name on your reservation must exactly match your issued ID. I once used my daughter’s maiden name on a ticket, and that was a costly mistake.
  • Download the airline app. This typically allows you to check in online and get digital boarding passes. Turn on notifications to get a heads-up about flight and gate changes. 
  • Ensure you know when to be at the airport you’re departing from. Leave enough time for travel, parking and transport to departures. 
  • If you don’t have a ride to the airport and will be parking, check costs and make arrangements ahead of time, especially at large airports. Remember, getting from the parking lot to the departure hall can take quite a bit of time at larger airports. (See our Instagram Highlights for Denver International Airport tips.)
  • Measure and weigh your bags to ensure they’re the right size and weight for all airlines you’ll be flying. These parameters change from airline to airline, especially internationally (and a bag that will be fine for your departure airline may be too big for the next leg).
  • Double-check your dates and times — I’ve gotten within two weeks of a trip, only to realize I booked it for the wrong month.
  • If you have dietary restrictions or allergies, let the airline know.
  • If you’re checking luggage, make sure you have a luggage tag on the outside of your bag. Place a copy of your personal information inside in case your tag gets lost during your trip. Using AirTags is a great way to keep track of luggage.
  • Your personal item must fit under the seat in front of you. While it’s tempting to take the largest possible bag, remember you need room for your feet too. 

Car Travel Checklist

  • If you’re taking a road trip, make sure your car is in good working order. Get an oil change and inspection; ask the service shop to top off your fluids.
  • Double-check their work when you get home; our family has found that various shops have left off the oil cap or the tire valve stem caps. 
  • Make sure you have a spare tire, jack and tire iron. Many new cars do not come equipped with spare tires.
  • An air compressor is handy for slow leaks until you can fix your tire.
  • A power inverter is handy when charging multiple appliances or traveling with several people. 
  • Sign up for a roadside assistance program if you don’t have one already.
  • Restock your road trip emergency kit. 
  • Download road trip apps that work without cell service — Airstream has a good list.
  • Google Maps can be downloaded to be used when offline.
  • Stock up on extra snacks and beverages, as well as bags for trash and recycling. 
  • If you’re not taking your car and will be gone for a long time, leave the keys with a trusted friend or neighbor and ask them to start your car occasionally. 

Car Rental Checklist

  • Read our favorite rental car tips first!
  • Make sure to rent your car ahead of time.
  • Many travel credit cards have rental car insurance coverage; if you use one, take it to pay for the car.
  • Be sure that you decline the car rental company insurance if you decide to use your travel card insurance, and be sure that the name of the person on the card and the person listed as the renter are the same. 
  • Screenshot your reservation and keep it handy.                                                             
  • Sign up for the loyalty program if there is one available.
  • Check with your car insurance company and see whether they have a rider for rental cars if you don’t have a credit card that will cover it.

Accommodation Checklist

  • Double-check all of your bookings and make sure you have the dates correct.
  • If you’re headed to a remote area or are traveling out of your cell service area, write down the hotel information so you have the address in case you can’t get cell service.
  • Download the app for the hotel; in many cases, you can check in, request amenities and unlock your room with the app.
  • Sign up for the hotel’s rewards program, if applicable. Here again, those points can add up or sometimes can be used for other travel perks.
  • If you’ve booked through a third party, such as Hotels.com or Booking.com, consider calling ahead to be sure your reservations haven’t changed. 
  • If you’ve booked through Booking.com, check your messages. Most places you book will communicate with you before arrival. Make sure you haven’t missed vital information.
  • If staying in a hostel make sure you know what you need, such as toiletries, a lock for luggage storage, noise-canceling ear plugs, etc. 
  • When booking an Airbnb, read all of the details carefully, such as what you need to do when you leave not to incur fees.

Tours and Attractions Checklist

  • Purchase tickets to major attractions you want to see in advance. (Make sure they’re open on the day you want to visit; read more about this in our Planning an Itinerary blog.)
  • Download any apps associated with your tours, such as Viator, Get Your Guide or Trip Advisor and make sure your digital ticket is easily accessible — or take a screenshot and keep it in a file on your phone.
  • Print a copy of your reservation and payment in case you run into issues upon arrival.
  • Determine whether you’ll need cash for tours or tips.

Cell Phone and Cell Service Checklist

  • If traveling outside of the country, know what your international data and call costs are.
  • If you plan on getting an e-sim, do so ahead of time. We highly recommend an eSim if your phone is compatible.
  • If picking up a physical sim card upon arrival, determine the best location — at the airport or in the city. 
  • Your phone will need to be unlocked if you plan to use a sim card for another carrier. 
  • Using an e-sim or sim card for a foreign carrier saves you a lot of money, but it changes your number. Be sure to text your family or contacts with your temporary new number.
  • If you have an old phone, you can take it as a backup in case something happens to your current phone.
  • If you share a cell plan with your family, ensure that you’re an admin on the plan in case you need to get other help from afar.
  • Write down important phone numbers and cell phone plan information and keep it in your suitcase.
  • If you’ll be near water, bring a waterproof case or bag to stash your phone in so it won’t get damaged. (See our blog on backing up your phone on a trip in case you drop it in the ocean as Julianne did.)
  • If you are going to be in remote areas make sure you have downloaded local maps or pick up a paper map.

Safety and Documents Checklist

  • Get travel insurance (not just a free cancellation option). If you travel frequently, we recommend an annual travel insurance plan. If you travel once or twice a year, an individual trip plan may be your best option. We both use Allianz.
  • If you’re traveling internationally, read the State Department’s page about the country you’re visiting and be sure to register your trip with the State Department as well. 
  • Hopefully, by now, you’ve gotten any vaccines you’ll need for your destination. (Another reason to read the State Department website well in advance.) If not, see how soon you can get an appointment with your doctor or a travel clinic. Your local health department may also offer a majority of vaccines you might need.
  • Make sure you have a copy of your state-issued ID and your passport on your phone. A printed copy kept in your suitcase, as well as a copy on a flash drive or in the Cloud, are good backup solutions.
  • Check the expiration date of your passport and ID. You must have at least six months left on your passport to travel with it. (Some countries require more.)
  • If your destination requires a visa, keep it with your ID and passport, and make copies.
  • Make sure you have any safety-related gear you might need for your trip.
  • Review the area you’ll be traveling to or staying in so you have a basic understanding of the layout.
  • You can download sections of Google Maps to your phone so you can view when offline.
  • If you have time to get them, order printed maps from the area’s visitors’ bureau.
  • Familiarize yourself with the public transportation options where you’re going and download any relevant transportation apps.
  • Buy a card/pass for the regional public transportation card if you don’t have a car or are not renting one.

Money Checklist

  • Domestic Travel
    • Always carry some cash for tips, emergencies or transportation.
  • International Travel
    • If the destination you’re traveling to isn’t credit card friendly, it would be good to get cash in that country’s currency from your bank before you travel. Allow at least two weeks prior to travel in case your bank doesn’t stock the currency. Some countries are very particular about the state of paper money, so make sure any bills you get from your bank are without tears or too worn. 
    • Take your debit card in case you do need to get cash out while you are abroad. I like the Charles Schwab debit card which doesn’t charge ATM fees, will reimburse you for fees charged by out-of-network ATMS, does not charge for currency conversions and offers a decent conversion rate. The Capital One 360 card is also a good options, but they do not reimburse you for out-of-network ATMS.
    • Most major credit cards and banks don’t need to be alerted when you’re leaving the country; however, if you’re using a local bank or credit union, it would be good to check.
    • A travel credit card such as Chase Sapphire Preferred or Capital One Venture is best for international travel; they do not charge foreign transaction fees.
    • When paying for items or getting money from an ATM, pay in the local currency. Do not have machines do the conversion, the rate is typically not good. Let your credit card or bank do the conversion on their end. If asked, just say no to conversion and pay in local currency. 

Health and Wellness Checklist

  • If you take prescription medication, make sure you have enough to get you through your trip.
  • Put it in a safe interior space in your personal item, not in your checked luggage. 
  • If you need to take medication during your flight or drive, keep it on your person.
  • Leave your medications in the bottles they were dispensed in or take photos of your prescription bottles in case you get questioned at security. 
  • If you wear contacts, pack some extra sets in case you lose or tear a contact. 
  • If traveling internationally, pack a few over-the-counter medications you might regularly take such as stomach aids, cold medicines, allergy medications or painkillers. They are not always readily available and in many countries, you have to see a pharmacist even for general medications we get over the counter in the US. 

Travel Prep for Shopping

  • Take reusable bags for trips to the grocery or for shopping. Some cities, states or countries do not provide bags. I love Baggu bags!

Secure and Prep Your Home Checklist

  • Leave your pet/house sitter with good snacks. 
  • Have a plan for your mail if you live alone.
  • Water your plant babies.
  • Have a friend pop in once or twice to make sure nothing catastrophic happens while you’re away.
  • Nothing is better than coming home to a clean house and sheets with a few meals stashed in the freezer!
  • See also our checklist for preparing your home for vacation

Technology Checklist

  • Charge all of your batteries! Cameras, battery packs, phones, headphones, Fitbit or Apple watch, Kindle … whatever you are taking, make sure your batteries are full when you leave.
  • Bring along chargers for each device, as well as any necessary adapters or converters.
  • Download podcasts, TV shows and movies to your phone so you can enjoy them even if you’re in a non-service area.
  • Put all of the apps you will be using for this particular trip in one folder on your phone to make them easy to find, especially apps you downloaded specifically for a trip to a certain area or country.

With a travel checklist, you can ensure you have the essentials and calm anxiety knowing that you’ve done everything you can to get your trip off on the right foot.

Now go have a blast!


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