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  • Haley Serra

Important Things to do Before your Vacation

Updated: Apr 8, 2022

We all get scatter-brained before a big vacation, and worried that we are going to forget something important, so we create lists, and we hope that we still didn't forget anything! Well here is the ultimate list of things to do BEFORE you leave on vacation!

First of all, make sure you will HAVE a passport with plenty of time to spare, before your trip begins (this process can take up to several months if they get back logged! But usually it's about 6-8 weeks), and if you already have a passport, check the expiration date to see if you are in need of a new one.

With six (6) months left until expiration, your passport is actually, pretty much, already considered expired. Most countries will not allow you to enter unless you have MORE than 6 months left on your passport (the rule is, at least six months after the final day of travel). The reason behind why that rule is enforced is because nations do not want to risk having travelers and tourists overstaying their passport validity. There are a few countries that are a little more lax, such as Canada and Mexico, the two most commonly traveled countries, that now often enforce the passport validity rule of only 3 months validity needed for each.

Be sure to check your passport prior to making those travel arrangements, because if you don't, and you try to go on that trip with a nearly expired passport, you may only make it as far as the airport. Also, expedited passports can get really spendy really fast!

Certain destinations require a Visa to enter, as well as fees to be paid prior to entering that country. Other countries require a Visa and a Sponsor (you need to be part of a special tour group or guided travel to enter) if you want to travel there, such as Cuba, North Korea and Iraq. Other countries require proof of funds, proof of departing tickets, and other pertinent information to verify that you will not be staying beyond your designated time.

Need Help Renewing Your Passport, Expedited Passport Services, or Visa Applications?

Purchasing travel insurance is a very important part in protecting your travel investment, as well as yourself. Travel insurance can cover your medical costs should you become ill or injured (your personal medical insurance may not work internationally), it can compensate for missed, delayed or canceled flights, missing or delayed luggage, car rentals, emergency transportation in case of natural disaster or war, among many other benefits, depending on the policy you choose. Just make sure you purchase it within two weeks of your initial deposit of your vacation to take advantage of the "pre-exsinting condition clauses."

Fun Fact: I am a Travel Advisor, and if you have any questions, or need any help finding the right Travel Insurance Policy, please feel free to contact me.

Recommended Travel Insurance Companies:

Certain destinations require vaccinations that are not required here, and it's very important that you protect yourself from those diseases, such as bird flu, chikungunya, dengue, malaria, typhoid fever, or zika. This is more common when traveling to third-world countries, but be sure to not leave this until the last minute either, as some vaccinations need a week or two to fully kick in.

Where to check to see if your destination requires any vaccinations:

First, you should check with your cell phone carrier to see what kind of international plans are available, then from there, you can decide if you want to go that route, or if you want to get a SIM card while you are abroad. Just make sure your let your carrier know so that you get your phone unlocked, otherwise your phone might not work with the new SIM card. If you don't want to use either of these options, you can always keep your phone in "Airplane Mode" or make sure the "Data Roaming" is turned off, and just connect to WiFi when it's available!

But don't just use your phone abroad unless you know the fees associated with it, because, depending on the carrier, that bill can add up really quickly, and you could be stuck with an extremely large and unplanned expense!

More Information on SIM cards:

Most banks require you to alerting them prior to international travel, that way they know those charges on your account aren't fraud, but are actually you! The last thing you want is to be stranded in another country with your cards turned off and no way to access your funds!

Story Time: Our bank card was shut off one day in the middle of our vacation while we were in London, even thought we alerted our bank, apparently, we used our card to many times in the Tube (certain times of day it's more expensive and we were using it a lot!) and the bank suspected fraud and deactivated our card...of course it was the only card we grabbed for the day, and we had just spent all our cash but 5£. We were also doing the phone off, connect to WiFi-only, when available, so it was a LOOOOONG walk back to our hotel to make that phone call to get our card reactivated!

So, be sure to inform all your banks, both credit and debit card companies that you will be bringing along with you on your travels. Most institutions have a form available online, making it easy and convenient to fill out. And some banks no longer require it!

Unless you have a large, lockable mail box, or a PO Box already, please, don't forget to put a hold on your mail! The last thing you nee while your on vacation is identity theft, or a missed bill, either can be highly annoying! Thankfully, this can be done easily online, or you can still fill out the form in the post office, whichever way is the most convenient for you.

Bonus Tip: Don't forge to put an "Out of Office" notice on your email!

Where to go to put a hold on your mail and packages:

Here's the fun part! Researching your destination! Check out there area's top attractions, the hidden gems, the local favorites, the exchange rates, local dishes, top restaurants in all budgets and common phrases to help you communicate.

Narrow Down Your Top Choices and Must-See/Do List

Once you have an idea of what you want to do, familiarize yourself with the city's lay out, their transportation system, will is be easier to walk or ride places. Plan your days so that what you want to do will be near each other, that way you're not just flying by the seat of your pants, and wasting time getting from one place to the other, due to poor planning.

Really studying the city's map beforehand will help you acquaint yourself when you are actually there, landmarks orient you and it makes it harder to get lost, and easier to find your way back if you do get lost. Knowing your route will help reduce a lot of stress while there as well, because you will feel secure knowing that once you find a certain landmark, you can find your way anywhere again!

Prior to my travels, I always map my course from one destination to the other, whether it's city to city, or attraction to attraction. I usually know the city layouts like the back of my hand, and I feel comfortable and secure, and I typically only need my map to figure out the minor details on how to get from point A to point B!

Story Time: I recently returned to both Nuremberg and Würzburg, Germany this last November (2021), and I hadn't been there since March of 2017, and prior to travel to each location in 2017, I had those cities memorized like the back of my had, I know where all our attractions were located, the city layouts, where to eat and much more. Going back, nearly five years later, after spending maybe a 2 days in each city, I STILL remembered each cities layout, and felt so incredibly comfortable in each place. It almost felt like greeting an old friend! Second time around, we didn't even need to consult the maps, except in once instance in Nuremberg where we ventured into a new part of the city for a new museum to visit! And, if you know me, I am directionally challenged in person. I can read a map like no other, but my natural instincts are usually always wrong, so it always feels good to be confident knowing that even if I am "getting lost" I am never truly lost!

Just keep in mind, getting lost can sometimes be half the fun, you might find or see something you never would have if you would have "stayed course." Also, plans can change on a dime. Attractions can close suddenly, transportation stops can be closed for repair, or the workers could go on strike, if you plan on take a taxi somewhere, traffic could be heavy, and you miss your designated time slot. Travel is messy, always plan for contingencies!

Culture Shock

Another good reason to thoroughly research your destinations, is culture shock! You can experience this even in going somewhere as simple as a few states away! But you really see it in international travel, and nothing is more embarrassing or unnerving as not knowing how to act or respond in certain situations. It's also important to try to assimilate the best you can in a new environment, when traveling you really want to blend in, it really makes the experience of travel and learning that much more enriching. Plus, as a traveler, you are a representative of your community, and you don't want to be unknowing disrespectful, rude, or inconsiderate to your hosts.

If the people in the country you are visiting appear to be rude, or nasty towards you, possibly, you are offending them, and you might not even know it, because you didn't do you research thoroughly enough, or they could just be a more stoic, straight-forward, no-nonsense type culture, one we are not used to, and we perceive it as being "rude." Knowing this kind of information beforehand can, literally, change your entire experience while traveling!

Fun Fact: I am a Travel Advisor, if you need help researching your destination, or have trouble with any part of your travel logistics, contact me, that's what I am here for!

Do you need help planning your itinerary and transportation:

If you're planning on traveling outside of the North America, and parts of South America, you'll probably need an adapter for sure, and possibly a converter.

What's the Difference Between and Adapter and a Converter

Adapter: An adapter simply allows you to plug in your devices into an outlet that is different than our own. You would use an adapter only for devices such as your cell phone, computer, iPad, Kindles, or any device that has duel voltage (110-120V and 220-240V), and most digital devices come with dual voltage as a standard. Beware, some dual-voltage devices have an external switch that you need to manually move to make it work at that current, such as some hair devices.

Converter: A converter is a device that you plug into the outlet, and then connect your small appliance change the electrical current, allowing you to use your decide. Most likely you'd use a converter for hair devices such as curling irons and straightener (most converters are not recommended to hair blow-dryers, so just leave those at home, most hotels have them available for use), steamers, irons, or any other small, short-term use appliance or electronic device, that isn't dual voltage.

How to Check: All electronic devices list their voltage somewhere on them. either on the back, or the handle. the US uses 120V, so you might see devices read anywhere from 110V-130V. Those electronics would need a converter. If, for example, it reads 120V - 220V, then you are okay to use it in both the US and abroad, with out a converter, just check to see if there is a switch you need to move, and be sure it's one the correct switch before you use it!

Dual Electronics / Purchasing in Country: If you don't want to have to worry about packing converts, and you plan on traveling more than once. It might be a good idea to invest in either a dual voltage device, such as a straightener or curling iron (because even with a converter, they sometimes are finicky and don't always cooperate), or you could consider just buying one once you arrive, then you even eliminate the need of an adapter to use said electronic!

Story Time: I recently purchased a heating pad in Switzerland, because I suffer from back pain, and I didn't want to buy a small converter for one item, or bring my older, bulkier (multi-plug) converter, for one item. So, for about the price of a converter, I just purchased a heating pad, and now I have one when I travel to Europe, and I don't have to use one of my adapters on it either! On a side note - trying to find a heating pad in Europe has been hard, I've actually been looking for awhile, and I think I've just been going to the wrong stores. I ended up finding this one in a department store in the home section...not the pharmacy/health section, which is where I had been looking in the past...the more you know!

Resources for Adapters & Converters:
Suggested Adapters

(My recommendations: I do not receive any monetary gain, or free products in return)

Suggested Converters

(My recommendations: I do not receive any monetary gain, or free products in return)

Make copies of your travel documents, including your passport, itinerary, travel insurance policy, emergency phone numbers, and any tour confirmations.

This is essential! Anything can, and will, happen while traveling, and you don't want to get caught with your pants down! Keep digital copies of all you documents in a secure file in your iCloud, encrypted email, or some sort of secure, online storage that you are able to access from anywhere, on any device. It's also a good idea to keep a printed copy with you, and one at home with someone you trust.

You want to be able to access your passports, visas, hotel confirmations, transportation tickets, pre-paid excursions tickets, cruise documents, or whatever travel documents you need at anytime in case your original documents get stolen or your cell phone, iPad, or computer get stolen, because if any of these items or devices get stolen, it's a lot easier to get replacements of the tangible documents, such as your passport, or photo I.D., if you have copies.

Where to go if you lose your Passport Abroad:

This one is especially important for those who rely in prescription medication. First of all, make sure you have an adequate supply for your travels, and for a few days after you return, until you can get back to the pharmacy for a refill.

Secondly, and equally as important, depending on where you are going, you need to make sure your medication is allowed in the country you are visiting. Certain Anti-depressants, ADHD/ADD (stimulants) meds, pain medications, sleeping pills, and even certain over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines are not allowed in certain countries, period. Please take this seriously, some countries will arrest you on the spot if they find any illegal medications in your luggage, even if it's legal here, and you have a doctor's note, that particular country may have a no tolerance policy! Saudi Arabia, Greece, and Japan come to mind...just sayin...

A Few Rules to Follow
  • Keep medicines in their original, labeled containers. Ensure that they are clearly labeled with your full passport name, doctor’s name, generic and brand name, and exact dosage.

  • Only bring enough medicine to last your whole trip, plus a little extra in case of delays.

  • Bring copies of all prescriptions, including the generic names for medicines.

  • Pack a note on letterhead stationery from the prescribing doctor (preferably translated into the language understood at your destination) for controlled substances, such as marijuana, or any of the medications listed above, and injectable medicines, such as EpiPens and insulin, and that describes the medical condition and why you require that medication.

  • Always pack your medications in your carry-on!

Pack a Travel First Aid Kit

This is essential for travel. I can't tell you how many times this has come into play! I actually carry two with me! A big one I keep in my larger carry on, and a smaller one I bring with me in my personal item and then out and about when we are exploring the town. Of course, I have had to buy medicines in local pharmacies as well, and that can be an adventure all on it's own, especially with a language barrier. What should be included in the Travel First Aid Kit:

  • Stomach Meds: Antacids, Anti-diarrhea, Laxatives or stool softeners, and Motion Sickness Meds

  • Pain Relievers: Aspirin, Acetaminophen, Naproxen, and/or Ibuprofen

  • Allergy & Cold Meds: Antihistamines, Cold/mucus relief medication, & Cough suppressant

  • Basic First Aid: Band-Aids, Antibacterial and/or Antiseptic Wipes, Small Scissors (TSA Approved), Self-adhesive wrap, Gauze, and Tweezers

  • Foot Care: Nail Clippers, Blister Band-Aids, Moleskin

Resources for Checking your Medication:

Whether you decide to board you pets, or hire a house sitter, please don't forget this important step! Sometimes we get so wrapped up in getting ourselves ready, we forget we still need to make arrangements for our fur family!

This is helpful so you know what to pack, and what weather events might be approaching; will the weather affect your travel, or will any of it need to be diverted, changed, canceled. It's good to have an idea of what possibilities could happen so you can get a head of it, and not be surprised.

Weather Resources:

For some people this is the worse part of the whole travel planning process, for other, it's their favorite! This is also where you have to decide if you will be bringing two carry on items, and no checked bags, or your two carry-on items and checked bags. Personally, I try my hardest not to check any bags, on my way, when flying internationally. Coming home is a whole other story!

Once you figured out if you'll be checking a back, or trying to fit everything between your carry-ons, I suggest starting with packing your carry-ons early, as it tends to consist more of items you don't necessarily use everyday, and that way you can tinker with it to get it just right.

Check Your Airline's Luggage Rules & Restrictions

Each airline has their own rules and restrictions for luggage, and even within that, every ticket class has it's own rules as well. Be sure to check your airlines's rules, how many bags you're allowed to take, the costs of bringing extras, the sizes allowed, and the weight restrictions. Be sure to check it for all airlienes you are flying with. You might be starting with one company who has a generous policy, and then switching to another airline who's policies might be much stricter, and you might be forced to then check a bag. Always follow the strictest airlines policies and you won't have any issues.

Finding your Ideal Bag(s)

Finding what works best for you, and makes your life most convenient, is ideal, but there are so many choices out there, how do you know what's best. Sadly, some of this is from trial an error. What works for some, doesn't work for everyone, that's why there are literally thousands of products, blogs, influencers, etc all trying to convince you that their way is the best way. But you really just need to find what works for you. My husband prefers to carry a backpack and a carry-on sized rolling bag, my daughter and I use a Rick Steve's EuroFlight bag that I swear by, and I am (seriously!) on my 5th carry-on sized rolling suitcase. All my other rolling cases (and yes, some claimed to be "the best") have failed. The wheels have broken, the zippers have broken, handles have broken, and other weird things. No, I don't over pack them, and I don't abuse them, I was just getting about one, maybe two uses out of it, and every time I HAD to check the suitcase, it came back broken. My husband and daughter are still on their original ones, cheap ones we found at TJ Maxx, so who know?

So, to sum it up, just find out what works for you, and go with it. The expensive ones break, and the cheap ones break. Just find a suitcase that is functional, and easy to organize, and a carry-on that's easy to access (that's why I love the Rick Steve's Euro Flight Bag!). Also, look for light weight technology, trust me, you'll thank me later...and so will your back.

Preparing your Carry-On

Most airlines allow you to bring two carry-on bags, typically one is the size of a very small suitcase, and one that can fit under the seat in front of you. If you choose to bring two carry-on items, what should go where?

  • Under the seat in front of you: Quick access items, such as medications, electronics, snacks, purse/sensitive documents/money, neck pillow, entertainment, minimum beauty products, or anything else you may need while in transit, during your flight

  • Overhead Carry-on: Items you don't need during flight, or immediately, in case your item needs to be gate checked, such as clothes, shoes, souvenirs, beauty products/supplies, etc.

  • Liquids/Gels: Remember you're only allowed to bring a quart sized bag full of 3.4oz bottles or less. Anything larger must go in your checked luggage. And a liquid is considered anything that can be squeezed through a hole!

  • Electronics: Be sure to charge all your electronics and pack extra battery packs, memory cards, batteries, etc.

Preparing Your Suitcase (Carry-on or Checked)

Again, check you airlines rules and restrictions, and try to not go over the limits, especially the weight limit, those fees add up quickly and are expensive!

  • Suitcase: Try not to over pack, when traveling internationally, and especially to multiple cities, you'll want to be as light and free as possible.

  • Clothes: Try and pack clothes that you can mix and match, and layers if it'll be cold. Stick with neutral colors so it's easier to mix and match, and possibly clothes that you are able to wear a few times before washing, or you can wash easily in your hotel room and they will dry quickly (if your staying somewhere long term, and have access to a washing machine, life is much easier when it comes to packing!). Try packing clothes that are more wrinkle resistant

  • Shoes: Depending on where you're going, and what you are doing, you will most likely only need one, or two extra pair of shoes. Two can be comfortable, and supportive for sight seeing, and one for a special occasion.

  • Packing Cubes: Pack you items in packing cubes, period! It keeps them organized, clean, you can actually fit more items in your suitcase, and they are just overall amazing!

  • Roll vs. Fold: Roll your clothes. Just roll them! You can pack more into your luggage, and it does help prevent wrinkles as compare to folding your clothes.

Packing Resources | Videos, Articles & My Favorite Products:

Make sure you know how you're getting from place to place. Are you going to use a taxi, Uber (is it even available where you are going?), public transportation, trains, planes, car rental, walking, rickshaw, etc...It's good to have a transportation plan a head of time so you don't feel overwhelmed.

It's also good to research the costs difference to see which means of transportation would be the most beneficial for your group. It usually doesn't make sense, cost wise, for a solo traveler to take a taxi in London, whereas it might be more cost effective for a group of four or five to take a taxi vs. public transportation in the same city. Also, do you need to purchase transportation tickets ahead of time, or is it cheaper to buy a weekly pass transportation pass in a particular city, online vs. in person? Just some extras to be aware of. Not all transportation requires pre-purchased tickets, but it is good to have a plan and know you costs.

It's also good to just double check / verify your reservations for your accommodations. Nothing is worse than showing up, and they lost your reservations, then place is full, and everywhere else is booked as well, and you are now out of accommodations!

Fun Fact: I am a Travel Advisor, if you need help with booking accommodations of transportation, or have trouble with any part of your travel logistics, contact me, that's what I am here for!

Do you need help booking transportation or accommodations:

We did it! If you've made it to this step, it mean's it's pretty much time to go! These are the last minute steps to complete to leave you home as safe and secure as you can, before you leave on your amazing vacation! Here are the things I like to make sure to do before I leave my home:

  • Pay any up coming bills / set up auto pay

  • Water all plants / Set up water timer: Indoor and Out

  • Remove all food from fridge that will spoil while your away

  • Take out all the trash

  • Adjust your thermostat, as needed

  • Turn off or unplug any unnecessary electronics

  • Turn off all unneccesary lights

  • Turn off water, where you can

  • Wash the dishes

  • Change you Sheets

  • Hide your valuables

Whether you like to travel on a whim or regimented, at the very least, I suggest having a plan for the first day of arrival, that way you can help combat jet lag, and not have to think while you're fighting it!

What are you travel planning rituals? Let me know in the comments!


If you need any help along the way, please feel free to reach out to me, and I'd be glad to help you in any stage of your travel planning process!

To learn more about working with Haley or Next Vacation Travel Agency:

Need a Check List?

Feel free to download this one to help!

Important Things to-do Before you Travel

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I would never recommend anything I don’t personally love, and the income goes to keeping this site updated and free for everyone!

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