Holiday Travel Checklist to Make Preparing More Nice & Less Naughty!

For many, holiday travel is right around the corner. Whether you’re driving, flying, or taking the bus or train, it’s never too early to start putting together those pre-travel to-do and packing lists. While we’ve posted before about the importance of packing light, here are some more tips that will help that to-do list start your holiday travel off on the right foot, whether you’re traveling for a week or a weekend.

Around the House

  • Cancel garbage pickup and mail, newspaper, and food delivery. No need to pay for things you won’t be using while you’re away!
  • Automate watering and lights. Use a hose timer for lawn and/or gardens (if you’re lucky enough to live in a sunny climate!) and a lamp timer on a few indoor lights to give your house that lived-in look.
  • Turn your water heater off. (Consider asking a neighbor to turn it back on the day before you get home to avoid a welcome home cold shower.)
  • Schedule a house- or pet-sitter. We typed up some notes for our housesitters long ago, saved them on our computer, and tweak them before each trip if necessary. The notes contain our contact info, tips about our pets and our house, and emergency contact numbers in case water leaks into the basement (again).
  • Turn down the thermostat. The couch won’t mind cooler temperatures while you’re gone.

Before You Pack



  • Charge up any electronic devices (cameras, phones, tablets, etc.) as well as any extra batteries. Although it’s getting easier, finding an outlet in an airport can be quite a challenge.
  • Invest in extra batteries and extra memory cards for your camera. Missing that awesome travel photo because you ran out of juice or memory card space isn’t worth saving $10 or $20, especially considering that your trip may cost 100 times more than that!
  • Consider buying a portable USB charger that will power up a device when you can’t or don’t have time to plug it in. It’s about the size of a pack of gum, and at about $25 is well worth the peace of mind it brings.
  • Download books to your e-reader while you have a reliable Internet connection — at home! We love to check out CD audiobooks from our public library and then transfer them to our iPod so that we can listen to them on road trips. Putting some of them along with some of your favorite music onto your smartphone can eliminate the need to pack your music player altogether.
  • Buy some items at home rather than at your destination. If you’re checking luggage, packing sunscreen purchased locally might be cheaper than buying it at the gift shop on the beach. Pain relievers, other over-the-counter medicines, and even travel snacks like granola bars, dried fruit, snack mix, candy, and gum are bound to be cheaper at your local grocery than at airport kiosks. We’ve packed (plastic) jars of peanut butter and dry pasta to save money (note: peanut butter is considered a liquid!). Stock up before you go, slap on the sunscreen you bought at home, and use the money you saved to pay for a piña colada on the beach!
Cheaper than buying beverages on-the-go

Cheaper than buying beverages on-the-go

  • Toss in some silverware and water bottles. Filling your heavy duty (metal or Nalgene-style) bottle with free tap water and ice (on road trips, we often fill them at convenience store fountain drink dispensers) saves $ compared to buying beverages, and your reusable (heavy duty plastic or, if you’re checking luggage, cheap metal) silverware can turn a grocery store stop into a picnic. Some of our best travel meals have been al fresco, eating local groceries with our cheap travel silverware while sipping water out of our well-traveled bottles (and yes, we drink the local water wherever we go!).
  • Pack a few travel games. As mentioned in a previous post, are free ways to pass some time before dinner, sitting poolside, hanging with the extended family, or while waiting for a delayed flight.
  • Consider shipping holiday gifts. Rather than paying checked bag fees to pack a suitcase or two full of gifts, look into shipping them via UPS, USPS, or FedEx. It might be both easier and cheaper.

Long Before You Leave

  • Invest in some travel guidebooks. Check out our post about travel guidebooks — they are a very worthwhile investment in a trip. Also consider looking into books –fiction or non-fiction– about your destination. The National Park Mystery Series books are a must for us when traveling with our niblings.
  • Traveling overseas? Check the US State Department’s handy Tips for Traveling Abroad website. complete with vaccination information, well in advance of your trip. Contact your doctor (even better, most HMOs have a Travel Clinic) to schedule necessary vaccinations or prescriptions.
  • Update your will. It may seem morbid, but since this is something that is off most people’s radar screen most of the time, this is as good a time as any to make sure that your estate isn’t still going to the vegan rollerblading co-op ant farm that you were really into back in the ’90s. Think of it much like you might think of changing your smoke detector batteries every New Year’s Day.

Sometime Before You Leave

  • Download smartphone apps pertinent to your trip. Most airlines have handy apps that allow you to track your flight reservations, and most will send you a message if your flight is delayed, etc. Travel apps abound: subway, bus, and metro maps & schedules; sightseeing and hiking tips; walking tours; photography tips; guides to national parks; and travel games such as the license plate game and geocaching.

Shortly Before You Leave

Our countdown app -- not overly practical, but fun!

Our countdown app — not overly practical, but fun!

  • Confirm your reservations for hotels, car rentals, activities, and flights. Besides the obvious benefit of being assured of a place to sleep and a car to drive, reconfirming that you have seat assignments for your flights is the single most important pre-travel confirmation you can makeRechecking often-fluctuating rental car prices might be worth it, too — we’ve frequently found a much cheaper rate closer to our travel date, and there’s no penalty for cancelling a previous reservation.
  • Make a folder containing printouts of your reservation confirmations. We have a well-worn travel folder complete with plastic sleeves that we slip this confirmations into. No digging through backpacks or suitcases or purses to find our important travel info — we know that it’s all in our blue folder!
  • Plug your road trip destinations into your GPS, or do it online using the maps feature that Mapquest and other websites offer. Print out those directions and add them to your travel folder — just in case the GPS fails or steers you into a lake.
  • Call your credit card company and let them know where and when you’ll be traveling. Our overly-diligent credit card company has, more than once, put a hold on our card because it’s being used in an unusual geographic location. Of course, we are actually in that unusual location, and have found out about the hold only after our card was denied at a gas station or restaurant. A phone call always sets things straight, but it’s a hassle we now prevent with a phone call before we leave home.
  • Tell yourself that you’re leaving a day before you’re leaving. Travel guru Rick Steves advises two. Even if you’re up late packing the night before your false deadline, the day or two before your trip will be much less stressful. Plan a nice dinner the night before your trip and you’ll be starting your trip a day early. Traveling with kids? Have them adhere to the false deadline, too. A fun family activity the night before the trip begins sets the right tone for the upcoming travel week or weekend.
  • Prepare kids for the inevitable differences between life at home and life on the road, too. Food, beds, schedules, weather, and perhaps culture may be radically different than at home. Best for kids to be aware of this before a meltdown at a restaurant over the lack of ice cubes in their beverage or the absence of mac & cheese on the menu.
  • Get a pedicure. (So Erin says, anyhow.)

    Ready for the beach!

    Ready for the beach!

Whether your holiday trip is for a week or a weekend, we hope these tips save you a few headaches, help make your trip less stressful and more enjoyable, and even save you some money that you can either set aside for your next trip or use to enjoy this one! And looking at this list, it looks like we have a little work to go do to get ready for our trip! Happy travels and happy holidays!


4 thoughts on “Holiday Travel Checklist to Make Preparing More Nice & Less Naughty!

  1. A very good list for travels! I like that you’ve typed up a list for your house sitter, too. If you need a list once, you’ll need it again. I need to work on the get ready ahead of time when traveling. We usually end up scrambling at the last minute….
    Happy holidays, Happy New Year, and happy travels in 2015 ~

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