Travel is meant to enrich your life in more ways than you can imagine. A pre-travel checklist can be life-giving in its own way if you let it be.
I left my corporate job in July 2019 to travel full-time. For the nine months leading up to that fateful one-way ticket, I systematically created and completed this trip checklist.
Don't let the length of this travel checklist discourage you. My goal in sharing this isn't to brag about how organized I was (that would be a joke, friends!) or to overwhelm you to the point of swearing off travel for good (please don't!).
It's to do all of the heavy lifting for you. Half of the battle is figuring out what you need to do before a big trip, especially if it's outside of the way you typically travel, so I've got that part covered.
I couldn't find a travel check off list this comprehensive when I set out to travel long term, so I had to make my own. You shouldn't have to.
This pre-travel checklist should be helpful if you're leaving on a one week vacation to the beach or a yearlong round the world trip.
You may be able to cross some things off that aren't worthwhile to you before you even begin. In fact, I encourage it. Make this list your own and adapt it to your specific travel needs.
Getting yourself ready for a trip doesn't just mean packing, although you'll find a detailed packing list for vacation at the end of this post. It also means tackling your finances, organizing documents, dealing with housing, managing all of that stuff you own, organizing technology, getting your health in order, and tying up loose ends at work.
I know. It's a lot. I've broken down this travel check off list into nine trip checklist categories to make it easier to digest.
I guarantee that if you spend the time waiting for your departure date in a productive way, you'll feel freer to enjoy your travels fully. You might even be able to extend them for longer or have a more meaningful travel experience because of it.
This financial section of the pre-travel checklist will help you get your finances in order before you take your next trip.
Create a financial overview
Get an overview of your loyalty programs/frequent flyer programs
Pay down your debt
Minimize or cancel your monthly subscriptions
Cancel or freeze any costs that you won't use while traveling
Create a pre-travel budget
Create a travel budget
Find a way to motivate yourself to save
Set up auto-payments or alerts
Call your bank to let them know of your travel plans
Call your credit card companies to let them know of your travel plans
1. Create a financial overview
It might sound daunting, but the first step in financial health is knowing what you're working with. Go through every single account you have and get a snapshot. Do this on a monthly basis if you can. You'll be more motivated to save for your next trip if you do.
2. Get an overview of your loyalty programs/frequent flyer programs
In the same vein, do a review of all of the loyalty programs, frequent flyer programs, and credit card loyalty points you "own." They may not actually be currency, but for travelers who are eligible (generally Americans), they're as good as real money when traveling. If you know how to find cheap airfare, you might have enough to book your next long distance flight!
3. Pay down your debt
I'm not a financial advisor so take this with a grain of salt, but I would guess that most people would encourage you to pay off your debt before you travel or plan to continue paying off your loans as you travel. It's not a fun task on this travel check off list, but it might be the one that feels the best to check off.
4. Minimize or cancel your monthly subscriptions
Paying for a handful of monthly subscriptions has become the norm in today's world. Don't let that stop you from taking a really hard look into if they matter enough to you to keep you from traveling sooner.
5. Cancel or freeze your gym membership
If you pay for a gym membership, or any other repeat costs that you won't be able to use while you travel, consider pausing it for the time that you'll be away. Checking this off of your travel checklist might be as simple as a quick phone call before and after your trip.
6. Create a pre-travel budget
You knew I'd be using the "b" word, right? As daunting as creating and sticking to a budget is, they really do work. Give yourself enough leeway to actually stick to a budget for the weeks or months leading up to your trip. Keep it visible to remind yourself of this all-important trip checklist item.
7. Create a travel budget
It's easy to get into vacation mode when you travel. It may not be the most fun to stick to a budget on the road, but it will help you save money while traveling, stay on the road longer, and return home in a happier state.
8. Find a way to motivate yourself to save
We don't all think the same, so we shouldn't all save in the same ways. Use the time before your trip to get to know yourself better. How can you best motivate yourself to save? In asking myself this question, I discovered the power of the checkbox for me. For every $100 I saved into a separate travel account, I could fill in a box with a fun colored pen. Simple, but effective for me!
9. Set up auto-payments or alerts
When you travel, it's really easy to forget about your financial responsibilities. Double check that you have auto-payments set up for your expenses you'll have to pay while you are away like credit cards, insurance, and utilities.
10. Call your bank and credit card companies to let them know of your travel plans
I've been known to check off this item on the pre-travel checklist while sitting in the airport before my flight. I wouldn't recommend waiting that long, but do give your banks a call to let them know of your travel plans. If you don't, you risk them freezing your accounts leaving you to deal with the fallout from abroad without access to ATM cards or credit cards. A very important item on this travel list checklist.
The Worldpacker's pre-travel checklist: transportation
Transportation is a big one both before and during your travels. Let this travel needs checklist guide your transportation related preparation.
Clean your car
Get an oil change (if needed)
Put your car in storage
Change your car insurance to "storage mode"
Or sell your car
Book your flights
Book trains, buses or rental cars if needed in advance
Find transportation to the airport
Schedule or research transportation from the airport to your first destination
1. Clean your car
I'm guilty of leaving this task unchecked on my personal pre-travel checklists. Learn from my mistakes and give yourself the joy of coming home to a clean car.
2. Get an oil change (if needed)
The last thing you want to deal with after returning home from a trip is a car that isn't working right. Get your car to a mechanic before you leave to make sure everything is in working order.
3. Put your car in storage
If you're traveling long term or heading to a long work exchange, you may not need your car for months at a time. Find a place for it to be safely stored while your away. That might mean asking a generous friend or family member for space in their garage or it might mean factoring in a monthly storage cost into your travel budget. Do your research to figure out what will work best for you.
4. Change your car insurance to "storage mode"
Evaluate the level of car insurance you're paying for and consider putting your car in "storage" mode during your trip. It may save you hundreds every month. Again, I'm no financial or insurance expert so do your own research to make sure this is the right decision for you. It may not be available in all states or countries.
5. Or sell your car
If finding storage and adjusting your insurance sounds like unnecessary costs to you, considering selling your car. It might be a bigger upfront hassle, but so is paying for a car you don't need.
6. Book your flights
For most trips, the first thing you'll book for your trip are the flights. They might also be the most expensive part of your trip so take your time in completing this task off of your pre-travel checklist.
7. Book trains, buses or rental cars if needed in advance
Book your overground travel ahead of time if they tend to book up or get more expensive.
8. Find transportation to the airport
It's easy to forget about little details like this when planning a big trip. Will you Uber or convince a friend to drop you off? Don't wait until the last minute to ask if you want to come home to a healthy friendship!
9. Schedule or research transportation from the airport to your first destination
Chances are that you'll be exhausted and jet-lagged when you arrive to your first destination. Do your future self a favor and research public transportation options or book private transportation to your first hotel, hostel, or work exchange ahead of time.
The Worldpacker's pre-travel checklist: housing
Most pre-travel checklists focus on what to do with your house before you leave. They're usually pretty basic, but hopefully this housing-related travel needs checklist will give you some new ideas.
Clean your house
Clean out your fridge
Take out the trash (especially in the kitchen)
Stock your pantry with ingredients for an easy meal after you return
Adjust your thermostat
Lock your house
Set up house/pet sitters if needed
Consider giving up your house
Give your roommate(s) notice
Find someone to sublet your room/apartment
Give your landlord notice/sell your house
1. Clean your house
I know, I know. That's what they all say. They all say it for a reason. Cleaning your house before you head out on an adventure means coming home to a to-do list of absolutely nothing.
2. Clean out your fridge
Give yourself the luxury of returning to a house that doesn't smell like old food and mystery meats.
3. Take out the trash (especially in the kitchen)
See above. The smells will just strengthen while you're away, so don't let them.
4. Stock your pantry with ingredients for an easy meal after you return
The last thing you want to think about after a day of airplane travel is grocery shopping. Stock your pantry with non-perishable ingredients to make an easy favorite meal after you land. You'll be less likely to make rash food decisions (McDonald's on the way home, anyone?).
5. Adjust your thermostat
Your home doesn't need to function the same way it does while you're home. Save some money for a future trip and adjust your thermostat to function minimally without you.
6. Lock your house
You'll find this one on every pre-travel checklist, and for good reason. Lock your house to keep everything you hold dear safe.
7. Set up house/pet sitters if needed
If your home requires special care, or if you have pets, be sure to set up your sitters early and check in often. While you can always ask friends and family, you could also use websites like Trusted House Sitters or Nomador and allow a fellow traveler to watch your house/pets while traveling through your country.
8. Consider giving up your house
If you are planning on traveling long term or participating in a longer work exchange, consider going rent and mortgage free by living nomadically. It certainly isn't for everyone, but you may save thousands of dollars a month towards a travel lifestyle if you can live without a home base for a while.
9. Give your roommate(s) notice
If you are going the "move out" route, give your roommates, if you have them, plenty of notice. You're making a very big life decision, but it will majorly affect them too. Let them decide if they'd like to stay and find a new roommate or move to a new location too. These decisions take time, so be sure to tackle this task on the travel check off list early.
10. Find someone to sublet your room/apartment
If you don't want to completely vacate your house or apartment, consider subletting or renting it out on a shorter term basis if your lease allows. Start searching for prospective renters early to eliminate any financial woes.
11. Give your landlord notice/sell your house
This is perhaps the most daunting task on this pre-travel checklist. If you rent, you'll have to give notice to your current landlord by the dates specified in your lease. If you own your home, you'll have to get your home ready to sell and put it on the market. It may be a lot of work now, but it could also be a major way to fuel your travel lifestyle.
The Worldpacker's pre-travel checklist: material things
We've covered what to do with your house when you go away on vacation or for long term travel, but the stuff inside of the house requires just as much preparation.
What should you do with all of the material things you own? This pre-travel checklist will help you discover that for yourself.
Create a personal inventory
Have an online garage sale (or a real one)
Donate things you don't need
Take photos of nostalgic things, and then kindly throw them away.
Research storage options
Shop for any travel must-haves
1. Create a personal inventory
The first step is to figure out what you really own. It may seem like overkill, but creating a personal inventory will show you what you have, what you use, and what you don't. This is helpful even if you aren't going to move out of your apartment or sell your home to long term travel. It can be used for insurance purposes in case of an emergency. You can also use it to stop yourself from over-purchasing in the future.
2. Have an online garage sale (or a real one)
If you've created a personal inventory, you've probably realized that you own a lot of things you rarely use. Consider selling items that are in good condition online on sites like E-bay, Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. If technology isn't your strong suit, go old school and host a garage sale.
3. Donate things you don't need
Even after you've sold some of your unused things, you're sure to have plenty more. Donate anything that you don't use to charity.
4. Take photos of nostalgic things, and then kindly throw them away
This might be a controversial task on this pre-travel checklist. If you plan to travel long term and live out of a suitcase, it might be necessary to truly eliminate unnecessary items. Memorabilia is the hardest type of item to get rid of, but ask yourself if it's worth spending money on storage for (or cluttering up a generous family member's home with). Would you be ecstatic to unpack it after your travels are over or would it just be more clutter? If the answer is the latter, take a photo of it in case you want to look at it someday, and send it on its merry way.
5. Research storage options
If there are items that you just can't bear to part with, or items that would be too expensive to replace, look into storage options. Leave no stone unturned. Does a friend have a corner of her basement you can keep a few boxes in? Does your Grandpa have a spare room? Ask around. If you can't find a free solution, look into monthly storage options. It might be a recurring cost you have to factor in while traveling, but could save you a lot after you return.
6. Shop for any travel must-haves
I know this seems a bit counterintuitive considering we've just crossed off many tasks on this travel checklist relating to minimizing the material things we own, but sometimes there is necessary travel gear that you'll have to buy. Luggage, for example. Make smart, well-researched purchases based on your upcoming travel plans.
The Worldpacker's pre-travel checklist: health
Our physical space isn't the only thing that requires preparation before a big trip. I've also created a health-related pre-travel checklist to make sure your body and mind are ready for the adventures you're about to have.
Buy travel insurance
Get a check up
Go to the dentist
Get a haircut
Get your nails done or clip your nails
Pick up your prescription drugs
Photocopy and digitally store prescriptions that you'll be taking with you
Tell your friends and family about the trip
Check in with yourself (or a professional) mentally
Give yourself a mental break
1. Buy travel insurance
I'm no insurance advisor, but most seasoned travelers recommend getting travel insurance and I do too. You never know when you'll need it.
2. Get a check up
Go to the doctor before you set out on a vacation, big or small. That way, both you and your medical professionals know of any health risks you are taking.
3. Go to the dentist
Dental care may not be up to the same standards where you plan to travel. If you haven't been to the dentist in a while, consider making an appointment before your next trip.
4. Get a haircut
Have you ever tried to describe the hairstyle you want in a language you don't speak? You might not want to risk that game of charades going poorly. Plan to freshen up your cut before your trip to avoid the hassle.
5. Get your nails done or clip your nails
If your trip is short, you can avoid having to pack nail clippers if you cross this task off your pre-travel checklist before you leave. If not, it's still nice to leave for a big adventure without hangnails bothering you.
6. Pick up your prescription drugs
Make sure that you have all of the medications that you need while you're away or know how to get them while abroad.
7. Photocopy and digitally store prescriptions that you'll be taking with you
Especially when traveling internationally, be sure to have copies of all prescriptions that you plan to pack with you. I also like to store these digitally in case something were to happen to the hard copies.
8. Tell your friends and family about the trip
This might seem like a strange task to put in the "health" category, but our relationships need to stay healthy as we travel too. Telling your friends and family about a big trip, particularly if it's different than the type of travel they are used to, can be a mental challenge. Confide in close friends and family early and often. Their opinions might be very valuable to your trip, and sharing your travel hopes and fears can bring your relationships closer.
9. Check in with yourself (or a professional) mentally
Travel, whether it be for a quick vacation or long term travel, often brings a lot of mental stress. We tend to put a lot of pressure on making sure our packing lists are flawless and every minute of our travel experience is life-changing. Check in with your own mental state and expectations around your travel plans before you set off. It will help you avoid the exhausting mental pitfalls that occasionally come with travel.
10. Give yourself a mental break
Find something that helps you turn off the ongoing to-do lists running through your brain before travel. Anticipation is part of the fun, so give yourself some time to appreciate it before you set off on your next adventure.
The Worldpacker's pre-travel checklist: work
You're taking a break from work. Regardless of if it's for a week, a month, or a year, you need to prepare your boss, coworkers and clients for your absence. This pre-travel checklist for work will help you leave in good graces.
Tell your boss
Train your coworkers
Create a frequently asked questions guide
Email your most important clients to let them know
Write an official resignation letter
Gather contact information
Gather work for your professional portfolio
Set an out of office or forwarding email
1. Tell your boss
This is step one of the travel check off list for work. You need to either ask your boss for permission to take time off or let your boss know that you're leaving indefinitely.
2. Train your coworkers
Even if you'll only be gone for a short time, give your coworkers or boss a heads up on what might be required of them while you're gone. If you're leaving your job for good, try to help train the lucky person that will replace you.
3. Create a frequently asked questions guide
An easy way to train your coworkers to do your job while you're away is to create a FAQ sheet for your job. That way, they'll know exactly where to look if they're stumped and you'll feel like you can truly unwind rather than check emails constantly.
4. Email your most important clients to let them know
Let your biggest external contacts know that you'll be gone and who to contact instead. They'll appreciate the heads up.
5. Write an official resignation letter
If you plan to travel long term, you'll probably need to quit your job. You might be able to work remotely or convince your company to give you a sabbatical, but more often than not, you'll probably need to write an official resignation letter.
6. Gather contact information
Your coworkers will be your best advocates when you're on the job search again. Be sure to get their information prior to your departure.
7. Gather references
If you are leaving your position, consider asking for references up front. It's much easier to do this before you leave on long term travel versus when you get back.
8. Gather work for your professional portfolio
Again, something you should do if you plan to leave your job to travel indefinitely. Gather the work that you're most proud of before you say goodbye for good.
9. Set an out of office or forwarding email
It's so easy to forget to check this off of this trip checklist. It takes two minutes, but it's important to let the world know that you'll be out of the office for a while (or forever!)
The Worldpacker's pre-travel checklist: documents
Travel documents are some of the most important things to get in order before you take a trip. Be sure to check these off of your travel needs checklist before you go.
Create an itinerary
Send your itinerary to your friends and family
Check your passport expiration dates and renew early if needed
Photocopy your passport
Get an international driver's license (if needed)
Photocopy your driver's license
Apply for visas (if needed)
Photocopy health insurance and travel insurance
Digitally save emergency phone numbers
Create a document with all loyalty usernames/frequent flyer numbers in one
Send yourself an email with all important documents and confirmation emails in one
Pause the mail or forward to a new address
1. Create an itinerary
Actually gather all of your travel plans into a single itinerary. Be sure to include booking numbers, confirmation numbers, and flight numbers. It's a simple way for you to quickly find a confirmation number or check a booking when you really need it.
2. Send your itinerary to your friends and family
This is an especially important item on the travel needs checklist if you plan to travel solo. Be sure that a few of your friends and family have your travel information. It's much easier when you've already created an itinerary as suggested above!
3. Check your passport expiration dates and renew early if needed
Your passport is probably the most important item in your suitcase. Be sure that it's up to snuff. Some countries won't allow you to enter with a passport that will expire within the next six months. If you're close to that date, renew your passport with plenty of time to spare.
4. Photocopy your passport
In case you lose your passport or your passport is stolen, it's helpful to have a copy of your passport. Keep it stored separately in your luggage (consider this part one of the detailed packing list for vacation coming your way later).
5. Get an international driver's license (if needed)
If you'll be traveling to a country whose official language isn't the same as your home country, you may need an international driver's license to rent a car. It's usually an easy process, but an important step if taking the wheel abroad is in your plans.
6. Photocopy your driver's license
Like photocopying your passport, this may get you out of an unfortunate bind.
7. Apply for visas (if needed)
Research whether or not you need a visa to travel to your country of choice. If so, research how to apply and when.
8. Photocopy visas
Some visas require you to show certain paperwork upon arrival, like proof of health insurance or proof of sufficient funds. Get this paperwork in order early.
9. Photocopy health insurance and travel insurance
Always have copies of your insurance handy in case you actually need to use it.
10. Digitally save emergency phone numbers
How many phone numbers do you have memorized these days? If you don't have many or any (guilty), write down a few key phone numbers somewhere you'd be able to access without your phone (like in an email to yourself).
11. Create a document with all loyalty usernames/frequent flyer numbers in one
If you'll be traveling regularly, it might be helpful to have a single document with all of your travel related loyalty programs all in one place. You'll thank yourself when you don't have to reset ten passwords the next time you want to book a flight.
12. Send yourself an email with all important documents and confirmation emails in one
Treat yourself like your own travel agent and gather all of the possible information you'd need into one simple email. You'll be glad you did when you see a fellow traveler searching through their purse for the right piece of paper.
13. Pause the mail or forward to a new address
Even if you're going on a short vacation, be sure to let the postal service know. That way, you won't return to an overflowing mailbox (or worse, alert burglars that you're gone).
The Worldpacker's pre-travel checklist: technology
The modern traveler carries a lot of technology with them whether they're traveling for a week or a year. This pre-travel checklist for technology will have you and your gear ready to go.
Ask your cell phone provider about international coverage
Download photos from your camera's memory cards
Backup your phone
Backup your computer
Create a new playlist and download it to your phone
Download a show or movie to your phone/computer
Download a new book to your kindle or phone
Charge all electronics
1. Ask your cell phone provider about international coverage
Do your research on how to stay connected when you travel abroad. Your cell phone provider may have free coverage abroad. You may only have to pay a small fee. You may also need to purchase a SIM card when you land in your destination to stay online. If that's important to your travel experience, do your research early.
2. Download photos from your camera's memory cards
You really don't want to get to your destination and realize your camera's memory cards are full of photos from your last travel experience. Download your memory cards and get them ready for new memories.
3. Backup your phone
The same goes for your phone's storage, especially if you tend to take a lot of photos and videos when you travel.
4. Backup your computer
While you're at it, backup your computer (you know you need to).
5. Create a new playlist and download it to your phone
There is nothing that transports you to a destination like a playlist. Make yourself a modern mixtape of songs that fit the adventure you're about to embark on.
6. Download a show or movie to your phone/computer
Sure, many airlines provides inflight entertainment but can you really trust it? Many streaming platforms allow you to download content to your phone or computer for free. Take your pick and don't stress if the plane you board is older than dinosaurs.
7. Download a new book to your kindle or phone
Movies and shows aren't the only thing that can keep you entertained on long journeys. Download a book to your Kindle or phone (or buy an actual book if you've got the space). Bonus tip: the Kindle app is completely free even if you don't own an Amazon device.
8. Charge all electronics
Charge everything from your camera's extra batteries to your phone. You'll be happy you aren't the one frantically searching for an open outlet in the airport.
The Worldpacker's pre-travel checklist: packing
We've finally made it to the packing portion of the best travel checklist ever. It's a detailed packing list for vacation, but it can also be used for long term travelers or digital nomads. In fact, Worldpackers offers a comprehensive article on what to pack for long term travel, as well as a detailed digital nomad packing list!
Decide what you'll wear to the airport/on the plane
Decide which bag(s) you'll use
Pack your carry on bag
Pack outerwear and shoes
Unpack 20% of what you just put in
Weigh your bags and adjust
1. Decide what you'll wear to the airport/on the plane
You won't need to pack the clothes on your back, so figure those out first. This outfit should have a lot of layers and be made up of your bulkiest or heaviest items.
2. Decide which bag(s) you'll use
Your luggage is one of the most important parts of this luggage packing checklist. Decide if you'll travel carry-on only or check a bag. Will you wear a backpack or roll your luggage? It's a big decision to make as part of this travel packing checklist.
3. Pack your carry on bag
Start packing your bags as part of this luggage packing checklist. I like starting with the carry on. You'll be packing the most important things into this bag, like all of your technology and a change of clothes. Keep in mind that you may have only this bag if your checked bag winds up missing in action.
4. Pack outerwear and shoes
These items tend to be your bulkiest and heaviest, so start with them. Be selective here!
5. Pack clothing
This makes up the bulk of your luggage packing checklist. Pack the clothing that you need, and remember that you can always do laundry at your destination.
6. Pack toiletries
Instead of packing these, you may want to buy toiletries when you get to your destination to save weight. If not, pack the items you just can't live without.
7. Unpack 20% of what you just put in
If you're anything like me, you overpack. Take out a handful of the items that you just added, especially if you added them "just in case."
8. Weigh your bags and adjust
If you are traveling on a budget airline, you might be subjected to paying high fees at the airport if your bags are overweight. Use a scale to weigh them ahead of time and adjust accordingly.
Congratulations. You've made it to the end of this incredibly comprehensive pre-travel checklist. Now, breathe. You'll get there eventually.
Read over this travel checklist weekly leading up to your trip (or even daily if you're ambitious) and ask yourself "what can I check off today?"
Not all of the tasks on this pre-travel checklist are boring or time consuming. I mean, "make a playlist" is one of them. How bad can that be?
Just do what you can today and you'll thank your globetrotting self tomorrow.
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