Frugal Travel Begins Before the Trip: Vacation Preparation Checklist

Beach Vacation Photo by Anna Cervova

Merriam-Webster defines the word “vacation” as “a respite or a time of respite from something”. Well, if that “something” from which one is taking a respite is “peace and quiet” then I would have to agree with the definer. Otherwise, gathering from my 2 recent “vacations” (one to Disneyland, one [working] vacation to Las Vegas from which I have just returned), vacation seems more like a respite from peace and quite to me.

Anyhow, I thought I would put together a pre-vacation checklist to help all you other poor vacationers prepare for your vacations, because if there is one thing I have learned, vacations are costly – and I am not just talking about transportation, lodging and amusements, but all the little everyday necessities – and the only way to travel frugally is to travel prepared. Also, the better prepared you are, the better the time you will have on your vacation; knowing that everything back home is taken care of and that you are prepared for most common travel mishaps will allow you to enjoy yourself to the utmost.

And yes, I am the extremest of Type A personalities, but admit it, sometimes it is handy to have someone who has the bases covered. You’ll certainly be glad to have one of us along when the unexpected happens because we’ve planned and prepared for it (or at least have given some thought to it beforehand so as not to be caught by surprise). 😉 This isn’t a list of what to pack (toothbrush, underwear, etc.) but rather more of a pre-departure to-do list to help prepare for your trip. I’m not saying you need to do everything suggested, but hopefully a few items will prove helpful or relevant to your circumstances.

Prevention is the best medicine

Just because you are on vacation, it doesn’t mean everyone else is. This goes for utility companies, burglars and your own plumbing and wiring. When you come home from vacation, you want to make sure you still have an intact home to come home to, and aren’t met with a mountain of additional expenses. Therefore before you leave, you might want to try some of the following:

(These checkboxes are check-able, so feel free to come back and use it.)

Home and Business

Schedule (online) or mail all your bills that are due during and a few days after your vacation in case of travel delays. You never know if there may be technical difficulties that prevent you from accessing your accounts while you’re away. Better to pay early rather than pay late fees.
Library Books
Return or renew library books. Libraries often offer a vacation extension loan period if you want to take a few books with you. It might be a good idea to bring a few books if traveling with children who might need an occupation at airports, on flights, etc. If taking library books, just be sure to count the number of books you take and bring them all back.
Windows & Doors
Secure and lock all doors and windows, including any in the garage, and draw blinds or curtains.
Appliances & Faucets
Unplug all appliances including computers, TVs, lamps, hair dryers, etc. Check that all faucets are securely shut off and not dripping or leaking.
Request a Mail Hold with USPS if you’ll be gone for more than 3 days (this can be done online). This way any packages that arrive while you’re gone won’t be left outside your door and stolen or blown away.
If you have a neighbor or two that you can trust, let them know that you will be away and ask them to help keep an eye on your place for you. Offer to do the same for them the next time they will be away. A small thank-you souvenir when you return probably wouldn’t hurt.
If you have houseplants but would prefer not to have people entering your home, consider asking a neighbor if he/she wouldn’t mind keeping and watering them for you at their home while you’re away.
Leave at least one light on that is visible from the exterior of the house. If you will be gone more than a few days (or even for a few days), it would probably be worth the money to purchase an automatic timer that switches a lamp on and off at certain times. Using energy efficient bulbs would definitely help cut costs.
Business Email
If you have a business, be sure to set up an automatic Vacation Reply for your email(s) to let customers and clients know that you are away and that you will get back to them as soon as you return.

Travel Arrangements

Credit Cards
Make sure you copy down the customer service numbers printed on the back of your credit cards so that you can immediately call and cancel your credit cards in the event of loss or theft. (My Spanish professor warned me before I went to Spain for my work experience to never take my eyes off my bag. In fact, he told me that, while very unfashionable, the fanny pack is safest way to carry your passport and money while traveling in Europe.)
Foreign Currency
Depending on where you are going, you may need foreign currency and/or traveler’s checks. Many destinations probably accept credit cards these days, but smaller businesses in less populated areas may only accept cash. Don’t wait to exchange your currency at the airport or your hotel, as their fees are often higher. Rather, try a larger bank either at home or in your destination country. Many American banks require that you have an account with them in order to exchange foreign currency, but this may not be the case with some foreign banks. If you take traveler’s checks with you, be sure to sign on all the “Sign immediately upon receipt” fields right away. And don’t keep all your money (cash, checks, credit cards) in one place in case of loss or theft.
Backup Funds
If you don’t have a credit card, I would recommend getting one as a backup source of funds for an emergency, especially if traveling out of the country. Tip:If you do a lot of traveling, using an airline mileage or hotel rewards credit card could help save you money on future travels.
If traveling internationally, check the expiration date on your passport. Renewing a passport can take a month, and express processing (at considerable charge) can take 2-3 weeks. Some countries require that your passport is valid for at least 6 months beyond the dates of your trip. American travelers, check the U.S. Department of State website for more information.
Travel Visas
Some countries require a visitor’s visa for stays over a certain number of days. If you are planning a trip abroad, make sure you look up the relevant information for your citizenship and destination. (Americans traveling abroad can refer to the U.S. Department of State International Travel webpage.) If you need a travel visa, be sure to apply early to avoid rush fees and unexpected delays. Tip: You may need a few extra passport photos for your visa application.
Car (Road Trips)
If you are taking a road trip, check your tires and have your oil changed if it is almost due for a change. If it’s been a while since your last tune-up, it might not be a bad idea to get one before leaving.
It doesn’t hurt to confirm flight, cruise and/or hotel reservations at least a couple of days prior to leaving for your trip in case of technical errors, especially if you booked your reservations online. Tip: It isn’t always cheaper to book your reservations through a referral site such as Expedia. If you find a hotel you like, be sure to check the hotel’s own site first; sometimes you will find that booking directly on the hotel’s site costs less than through a referrer site.

Better to be Safe than Sorry

You never know what can happen on the road, and when it comes to health and safety, it is infinitely better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. Therefore,

Allergies and Health Conditions
If you or someone in your group has allergies (especially food allergies) or a health conditions, and are traveling in a foreign country, looking up and taking down a vocabulary list of foods you cannot have or terms relating to your condition in the country’s language could save you some trouble and time in case of an emergency.
Health Insurance
Make sure you have all health insurance identification cards and documents.
Doctors & Hospitals
Look up and print out a list of health insurance plan approved doctors and hospitals in the area where you are staying with address and contact information. If office hours are available, it wouldn’t hurt to have that information in case you need medical attention after hours or during weekends and holidays. Driving directions to a hospital from your lodgings may help save time in the event of an emergency.
Travel Medical Protection
If your credit card offers travel medical protection, be sure to have any necessary documents with contact information.
First Aid Kit
Pack a first aid kit with basic first aid supplies.
Emergency Supplies (Road Trips)
If driving long distance, make sure your car is equipped with emergency supplies such as an extra blanket, first aid kit, drinking water and food in case of a breakdown in a remote area. A car fire extinguisher wouldn’t go amiss either.

Well, this may not have covered all the bases, as everyone has different situations, but hopefully this list proved helpful in some ways. Bon Voyage!

If you’re traveling with your pet, check out my next post, Guide to Safe and Smart Traveling with Pets,

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