Before You Go

Even if you’re the most organized person on the face of the earth, you can run into brain overload when you’re getting ready for a trip.  In my new “How To Travel” category, I’ve come up with checklists for my packing systems.  The first one is called, appropriately, “Before You Go.”

Here’s my list.  It will always be in the ‘How To Travel” category, and there’s a printable version at the end.

Itinerary and confirmations.
I keep all relevant paperwork in a file folder that I can just slip into my carry-on bag when it’s time to leave. 

Visas and vaccinations.
Check this website well in advance of any exotic international travel to make sure you obtain the necessary visas and vaccinations for that country. It can take some time, so plan ahead.

Mail delivery.
Fill out this form to have the Post Office hold your mail, or ask a kind neighbor to collect it in your absence.

If you take prescription medication, ensure that you have enough for the extent of time you’ll be traveling. Always take prescription medication in your carry-on bag, just in case you get separated from your suitcase. 

Call credit card companies.
If you’re traveling internationally, notify your credit card companies ahead of time so they don’t block purchases made overseas. 

Copy passport and credit cards. Make copies of your passport and credit cards so you have a record in the event that they are lost.

Cash Passport card.
If you want to use the public bicycle system in Europe, or buy train tickets with an automated machine, you will need a credit card with a chip and a PIN. Travelex offers a reloadable debit card with the chip and PIN, so you can have access wherever you go.

Luggage tags.
A lot of suitcases come with “built-in” luggage tags, but adding a colored leather one can help identify your suitcase among the sea of identical suitcases in the airport. 

Ship your luggage ahead.
I’ve never done it, but having seen suitcases lying in the middle of the tarmac at Charles DeGaulle Airport, I can understand why it might be preferable to checking luggage. This company will pick up your suitcases and ship them ahead of you. Priced according to weight and distance.


In addition to extensive internet research, there are three travel guides I like to consult before going to a new place.

Wallpaper Guides. Concise content with unique recommendations not usually found elsewhere.

Knopf Mapguide.
Divided by neighborhoods, I find these to be invaluable, especially for the maps. In each section is a map of a specific neighborhood with recommendations for restaurants, shops, and attractions.

Lonely Planet Encounter guides.
Small guides that present the highlights for every major city.

Make your own travel guides.
No guidebook or website will contain each and every restaurant, museum, and shop you want to visit. I type everything out from all sources and then arrange on the page by neighborhood, color-coding restaurants in purple, museums and attractions in green, and shopping sources in blue. 

Print out each neighborhood separately on card stock, and you’ve got your own personal travel guide to carry with you. You’ll not only avoid carrying a heavy load of guides with you, you’ll avoid missing anything.


Whenever I go somewhere new, I try to learn at least a few words of the language: hello, goodbye, please, thank you, do you speak English, and I don’t speak (insert language here) very well.

Earworms learning.
I download this “rapid learning” audio program from iTunes a few weeks before I go. With the use of rhythm, music, and repetition, the words are literally burned into your brain, and you’re off with some basic words.

Lonely Planet phrasebooks.
I’ve looked at what’s available, and these are the best phrasebooks out there. They’re small (3 1/2” X 5 1/2”) and lightweight, but if you don’t want to carry around the whole book, the front and back covers have the basic vocabulary you need to communicate. (If you don’t want to tear the cover off, copy it before you go.)

Make your own cheat sheet.
If you’re going somewhere where they speak a language that isn’t available in a phrasebook, go online and find translations for some basic words and print them out on card stock. 

[Download a printable BEFORE YOU GO checklist]

3 responses to “Before You Go”

  1. Judy Bergquist

    Nice – you are so organized – thanks for the information and suggestions!

  2. Evelyn Thomas

    No wonder you have such effortless-appearing joy and adventure in travel, and it’s so obvious why you prefer to travel alone!  I like a no-compromising-necessary existence myself.

  3. Nancy Goldsholl

    Wow…I knew you were organized but this is beyond!!