Best Travel Planning Guide

Before you even unzip your suitcase to start filling it, consider the 19-point travel checklist in this travel planning guide to ensure you are as prepared as possible to travel with confidence.

Essentials

Passport Expiration

Check your passport expiration date. Most destinations require a minimum of six months until renewal to enter the country. If you need to renew and you’ve already booked your flight, you can typically request a “rush delivery” to ensure the new passport arrives in time. This only applies if you are traveling to a different country!

Luggage Allowances

With a quick look at an airline’s website, you can find weight limits for checked luggage. If you are flying with multiple airlines to different places, be sure to check each airline as their guidelines may differ, and a bag that has followed you through one leg of the trip, may not be permitted to follow you the rest of the way! Along the way, you can consider storing extra items in airport or train station lockers, or with your hotel’s luggage check – only if you are traveling back through and can retrieve them of course!

Travel Advisories

Check the federal government’s website for travel advisories, for each destination you will visit. Advisories are often issued to warn about conflict zones, disease, and vaccine recommendations. Ask your doctor which vaccines are recommended for the destinations you are traveling to. If you’re pregnant or traveling with babies under 1, there are certain countries that your doctor may advise against visiting at all.

Insurance

Insurance is one of those things that you don’t need…until you do. Many plans offer basic coverage for the cost of a large pizza. Should the unexpected happen in a foreign country, you’ll want to be taken care of, without breaking the bank! This is especially important if you’re planning to hike, skydive, or take part in any other high-risk activities.

Mobile Phone

Using your phone during a trip is so convenient. To do this consider either a roaming package or purchasing a SIM card on arrival in your destination. Many mobile phone providers offer roaming packages with a fixed daily rate, which makes it simpler to estimate the cost. From our experience, we have found the SIM card option to be the cheapest option in many countries, but you cannot beat the convenience of a roaming package from your current provider.

Events

Local events are a great way to immerse yourself in the culture of your destination. Events like concerts, sports, and exhibits can be found on local travel websites which will give you an in-depth look into what’s happening during your visit. Major events can also indicate heavy traffic, crowded transit, and general congestion which could alter your plans or make getting around difficult.
Sign and fireworks in Toronto

Weather

Checking the weather patterns for the last few years, for your destination and desired dates, can help you to decide on the exact dates you’d like to travel, what kind of activities to pre-book, and especially what type of clothing to pack. Check the yearly average weather for your destination when planning, and check the 7-day forecast when packing, and deciding whether to bring your rain jacket or not.

Currency

Start searching for currency conversion options as early as possible, so that you can shop around for the best price. Many foreign exchange centers have commissions built into the price (including banks), so shop around for the exchange with the best rates. If you plan to exchange your currency at the airport or in your destination, you’ll likely be charged higher fees.

Alternatively, consider a more secure option like travel credit cards, or other cash-less alternatives that your bank may offer.

Get to Know Your Accommodations

Check your accommodations’ features and amenities. Here are some examples to look for:

  • Shampoo & Conditioner
  • Towels
  • Hairdryer
  • USB ports
  • Coffee Maker
  • Kitchenette
  • Restaurant on-site
  • Convenience Store on-site

If the information is not available on the website (and even if it appears to be) calling or e-mailing ahead of time will ensure you have the most accurate information about what to expect when you arrive. This information will also help you decide what to pack and what you can leave behind.

From personal experience, you should always call or email and explicitly ask, if possible. Before our trip to Iceland, we found out (by emailing) that our hotel offered baby cribs for our twins, which made a huge impact on what we ended up packing!

If you are staying in a city or town, food and other supplies will likely be available to you at all times of the day. However, if you’re staying in a more remote location, carefully consider what you will need. For us, we often bring our french press to avoid any risk of missing our morning coffee!

Luggage

Suitcase and Carry-on

Your suitcase is arguably the most important item you will bring with you on a trip, it controls how much you can bring with you, how smartly you can pack items, how much weight you have to work with, and of course how easy it will be to walk around with.

Heavy case with padlock

There are great cases for both sides in the hard vs. soft debate and we are not going to contest either at this point. Simply make sure that your suitcase works for you and what you usually bring with you on a trip. And that your case:

  • is comfortable and easy to maneuver,
  • has locks that comply with TSA,
  • comes with a good warranty,
  • is of good quality so that it can accompany you on many more journeys.

Always make sure that your luggage is tagged with your name and address, for both checked and carry-on luggage. In the unfortunate event that your bags go missing, the chances of them being returned to you are much greater if they are tagged.

If you like a black or navy suitcase, you will soon find that the rest of the world does too. So we suggest that you add a little something to your suitcase to make it easily identifiable on the luggage carousel. A pop of color somewhere is your best option, but we have found that a red ribbon around the handle is almost as popular as the black suitcase itself. Consider other eye-catching colors like orange, pink, or yellow.

To avoid the luggage carousel altogether, see if it’s possible to travel with only your carry-on bag and personal item. The biggest factor to consider is the limited liquids you will be able to bring, the 3.4oz that TSA allows. It is incredibly satisfying to walk off a plane and start your journey with your nimble spinner, without waiting around for your checked bag. It won’t always be possible, but once you’ve skipped the carousel, it’s difficult to go back.

Backpack

Again, we will not be discussing which is best or settling any debates about top vs. side loader backpacks. No longer just for the nomadic wanderer, backpacks have become an increasingly more popular choice for all types of travelers. A smaller backpack can, of course, serve as your carry-on alongside your larger suitcase, but it could easily be your only bag too.

Even larger backpacks can act as a carry-on if they can fit into the airlines’ size checkers. And if you need to bring more liquids than are allowed, you can simply check your backpack too. A worthy argument for the soft sides is that they take the shape of your items, instead of your items having to take the shape of your hard side luggage for easier packing.

With the unlimited design and color choices available, a family could each have a backpack for traveling, a business traveler can still look professional, and a young couple could have matchy-matchy backpacks.

Plan

It’s only a couple of weeks until you leave for your trip. With all of your essentials covered, let’s look at what else should be done in advance.

Your First Route

Plan how you will be getting to the airport, or train or bus station. How long does transit take? Is anything planned on that day that will affect your journey – like maintenance works or a marathon? Can you rely on your friend to pick you up at 5 am like they said they would?

Our local airport offers various rates for park and fly services. For a minimal fee, we can drive ourselves there, and home again when we return. It’s great to have your car nearby in case you realize you don’t want to take a certain item with you, you can leave it in your car. However you plan to get there, be sure to arrive at the recommended time prior to your departure.

Generally 3-4 hours for international and 2-3 hours for domestic flights.man in airport taking photo of planes

Food & Drink

Getting food and drink for your trip in advance is a great way to save money. Staying well-fed on your day of travel is very important as you won’t notice how much energy you’re using and you’ll feel much better throughout the day. Make sure that anything you plan to take through airport security is allowed. We also recommend two insulated bottles to keep things hot and to keep other things cold – make sure they’re empty when going through security.

Some foods that we recommend that will keep you full and are easy to pack are:

  • Protein/energy bars
  • Packs of nuts and seed mixtures (sealed)
  • Packs of dried fruit mixtures (sealed)

Tech

Download content that you will use on your trip, like movies, travel apps, and offline maps for your destination. Look around the app-store for other things that can add to your trip. There are even apps that offer app-guided walking tours in different places. Having all of these things loaded onto your phone before you go is much better than trying to access them through the wifi at a coffee shop at your destination.

This next point is not exactly tech but it helps with the use of your tech and that is power adaptors. We always rely on our universal travel adaptor, we have yet to visit anywhere that it did not work for us and the best thing about it is the two USB plugs that it has. So not only does it work anywhere, it also allows us both to charge our phones at the same time. It’s easy for some reason to lose track of your phone on vacation, but in today’s world, it is your best friend when traveling, so keep it charged!

Toiletries

A tip that brings a calm wave over me when I am packing our bags (it’s always my job) is having a ready-to-go toiletries bag that I can put straight into the suitcase. In it, I have deodorant, refillable sample-size bottles of shampoo and body wash, toothpaste, a toothbrush, hair product samples, and a comb. If I need to add anything to it for a particular trip then I can easily do so, but the important thing is that I am not waiting until I have showered and brushed my teeth on the day we are traveling to pack my toiletries bag.

In this same way, if you travel regularly enough, keep your basic items beyond toiletries in your backpack or smaller travel bag. It’s easy to forget the basics, especially if you are leaving in a hurry. This way you won’t forget them and you’ll save time packing too!

To keep the amount of liquid you bring down, bring samples of your favorite products. Stores are happy to offer you product samples. Try to collect all that you will need for your trip and like the ready-to-go toiletries bag, they can be packed at any time.

Fashion

You have looked up the weather forecast during your stay, now it’s time to assess if your current wardrobe will work for the expected weather. It’s important to think about the type of clothing you will need on your trip. We don’t live in a particularly warm climate and wearing flip flops is not a common thing for me, my pair double up as sanitary sandals when I shower at the office and the gym. If we were heading to a hot climate with laid back plans, I would definitely be investing in a good pair of flip flops. And that goes for any type of weather, is your current wardrobe ready for rain, unpredictable winds, the rainforest, staying warm in a tent overnight, meeting with clients in a much warmer climate or lounging on a beach?

Clothing that can work in multiple ways is great to take traveling. A scarf, for instance, can warm you, accessorize you, or add a splash of color to an outfit. A buff can be worn as a scarf, a warm hat or a face warmer. Take this opportunity to get some good quality pieces to serve you on this trip and to last through this and future endeavors.

Travel Comforts

Beyond what you will be wearing, the forecast can mean needing other items, along with the time of year and the culture you are exploring. Much more basic than all of that though are some essentials no matter where you are going:

  • Earplugs – find comfortable ones that you could actually sleep in
  • Face mask – along with the earplugs, recreate a still night time scene wherever you are
  • Sunscreen – I am an advocate for sunscreen all year round, but certainly when vacaying
  • Lip balm – often forgotten, always needed
  • Ibuprofen – you don’t need a headache accompanying you on a long journey

As mentioned, refillable sample-sized bottles are great for travel, they keep your liquid oz. down, let you take your favorite products, and can be bought at your local dollar store and can be used over and over again. Don’t go too cheap on these though, you don’t want them to break and spill.

My last travel comfort is light, yes your phone can give you light or you may be visiting a fully connected city, but having a source of light handy adds an extra layer of comfort. We always seem to need extra lighting at some point when we travel, and usually not when we expect to need it, so a flashlight or headlamp for your day pack is our last recommendation.

Packing List

While you’re busy getting together everything you will need for your trip, it’s important to note down everything you want to take with you so that nothing is forgotten. I usually make a note on my phone that I can add to whenever I think of something. This is a great way to ensure you have everything you need with you on your trip.

If you travel frequently, it’s great to have a packing list to cover the type of trips you are doing. For instance, we often go to visit my in-laws every few months, one is a 2-hour ferry ride away and the other is an 8-hour drive away. These trips require some very different things to take with us and we rely on our preset packing lists to ensure we are not forgetting anything during the flurry of packing. When making these lists it’s great to know what’s at your destination, for instance, one of my in-laws has a ton of baby toys, and the other does not so we plan accordingly.

We also have an article covering our recommendations for your travel list, no matter what type of packer you are or where you’re heading!

Traveling for Business

I have found that my laptop is the best place to keep documents flat when travelling. Just make sure that you have somewhere safe to keep them when you are working on your laptop in transit. I have managed to keep important contracts flat only to have coffee spilled on them during a train ride.

Fortunately, I had scanned those contracts and e-mailed them to myself as back-ups – another tip that I never leave for business without doing this. I find this to be the most seamless method but with anything more than a few documents, I bring my flash drive along as my backup.

Three more quick tips:

  • Suitcase straps can keep garments flat and wrinkle-free
  • Pack your blazer inside out to prevent wrinkles
  • For anything beyond a jacket and pants: garment bag.

Got all that? Now get packing!

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