Going on vacation is super fun, but it can also be super stressful—especially if you’re traveling with your family. Here are some of the essential things to take care of before you head out.
Check Passport Expiries, Visa Requirements, and Travel Insurance
A friend of mine, let’s call her Skye, was flying from the US to Australia, via Europe. Since she’d never been, she thought it might be a good idea to stop off in India. On arriving at immigration in Mumbai, she was politely informed that no, her American passport didn’t grant her access to India, she needed a visa—which she had to get before she left. It took no small measure of begging, but eventually, she was deported and put on a flight bound for Sydney, rather than returned to London which is strictly what should have happened.
Travel, especially international travel, is bound by lots of rules and regulations. Run afoul of them and your vacation can be ruined. The most important ones are around your passport and any visas you need.
A few weeks before you leave, make sure you (and everyone you’re traveling with) have a valid passport. Check the expiry date requirements too: some countries, including the US, require passports to be valid for a minimum of six months from the date of your arrival. Just because it’s still technically in date, doesn’t mean you’ll get in.
Also, check if you need a visa and, if so, what kind you need. Some countries offer E-Visas or visa waivers that take a few moments to fill in online, while others require you to send your passport off to an embassy or consulate. A site like Do You Need Visa is a great place to start, though you’ll want to double check any information with the official site of the country you’re visiting. It can change with zero notice. If this is your first time thinking about visas, check out our short guide to visas to familiar yourself.
At the same time, check what sort of travel coverage your health insurance gives you. Some plans offer emergency care when you’re abroad. If you’re not covered by your health insurance or want some extra protection for flight delays and your baggage getting lost, think about travel insurance. You might need to buy your own plan, or you could be covered by one of your credit cards. Just make sure your trip meets all the requirements for coverage.
Secure Your Home
The last thing you want after a relaxing week on the beach is to come home and find your house burgled so before you go, you should take steps to secure your home.
Call your alarm company and let them know you’ll be away. That way, they won’t assume a false alarm if your alarm goes off. Similarly, if there’s a neighborhood watch in your community, let them know you’ll be away. You can even notify the police if you live in a tiny town.
Either get a hold put on any mail, package, newspaper, milk, and other similar deliveries, or ask a trusted neighbor or friend to call by your house and bring them in. Nothing screams EMPTY HOUSE like leaflets building up on the porch.
If you have any smart lights, or even smart blinds, it’s a good idea to randomize their behavior while you’re away. It can give the impression that your house is still occupied.
Make Things Nice for Your Return
After a nice trip away, you don’t want to come back to a filthy home. Before you head, make sure things will be welcoming when you get back:
- Clean out the fridge throwing away any perishables.
- Empty any indoor bins.
- Run the dishwasher.
- Clean all the bathrooms.
- And, most importantly, put fresh sheets on every bed.
Future you will thank past you.
Sort Your Finances
You don’t want any financial concerns getting in the way of your vacation so, in the week or two before you go, make sure nothing’s going to crop up.
Check what bills fall due when you’re gone. If you don’t have them set up for automatic payment—which you really should—then pay them in advance, or otherwise set the payment up now.
If you’re traveling internationally, call your bank and let them know. My brother continually forgets to do this and, the first time he tries to use his debit card every trip away, his bank puts a hold on it. It takes 20 minutes of phone calls to get his card back working. Do it before you go.
Check the currency of your destination and what the exchange rate is. As long as you’re not charged ridiculous fees by your bank, the best way to get cash usually is just to use an ATM at your destination.
Also, research what payment methods are commonly used in your destination. For example, even though debit and credit cards are widely used, AMEX cards aren’t accepted in most places in Europe. In other countries, cards will only be accepted in high-end restaurants and hotels; everywhere else will use cash.
Pack the Essentials
My favorite hack for stress-free travel is simple: realize you need a lot less stuff than you think you do to have a good trip. I’m serious; you could make almost any trip work with just your phone, passport, and credit card. You might need to buy some cheap clothes or borrow a charger at your destination, but it’s not the end of the world.
Now, traveling with just your phone, passport, and credit card, is a bit ridiculous, but the full essentials list isn’t that much longer:
- Your smartphone. It’s your gateway to all your booking information, insurance details, and everything else. Here’s how to prep it before you go.
- Your smartphone USB cable and charger, to keep your smartphone juiced up.
- Your passport. It’s what gets you through immigration.
- Your boarding pass or ticket details. It’s what gets you on the plane.
- A credit card. If you forget your sunglasses or swimsuit, you need a way to replace them.
- A spare change of clothes in case of spills or lost bags.
- Enough of any essential medications to last the whole trip. You don’t want a trip to the ER because you forgot to fill a prescription before you left.
I recommend you pack everything on this list a day or two before you leave when you’re not stressed. Just knowing that you have everything necessary to make your trip happen in a bag ready to go, takes a huge amount of pressure off. Then you can put your mind to packing sunscreen and swimsuits and everything else.
Vacations are epic—as long as you do them right. Follow the steps above before you go to set yourself up for a good time.