Your vacation will be more carefree if your exit from workday life doesn't feel like you're getting out of dodge. This easy step-by-step guide will take you from home to holiday without breaking a sweat.
T-Minus 3.5 Months: Book Flights
Flying to your destination and wondering when to book your flights to get the best price? A study by CheapAir.com determined that the prime booking window was between 3.5 months and three weeks of your trip. Start monitoring prices at 3.5 months so you get a baseline price, then watch for dips. The cheapest fares were available, on average, 54 days out for domestic flights.
The prime booking window is considerably earlier for international flights. For example, the best time to buy cheap airline tickets to Latin America averaged out to 96 days in advance. For the Caribbean, it was 144 days or almost five months ahead. For flights to Europe, it was 276 days, or about nine months in advance. For Asia was 318 days or about 10 months out.
T-Minus 3 Months: Check Your Passport
If you're traveling outside the United States, be sure to locate all your family members' passports and check the expiration dates. Many countries require that travel is completed more than six months before the passport will expire. U.S. passports are valid for 10 years for adults and five years for children age 16 and under.
Keep in mind that obtaining a new passport or renewing a child's passport requires a visit in person to a passport office. It can take four to six weeks to obtain a passport for the regular fee. You will pay significantly more if you choose the expedited service, which shortens the window to two to three weeks.
T-Minus 2 Months: Get Necessary Vaccines
Is your family up to date on your shots? Does your destination require specific vaccinations? To find out, check the Centers for Disease Control's Travel web site. From the dropdown menu, select your destination and click the "traveling with children" button.
If you discover that your family is missing some vaccinations, make an appointment with your primary care physician for at least a month before you leave home.
Create an Itinerary with TripIt
Where did you put that rental car confirmation number? What's your hotel's address? Do you find it hard to keep track of all your important travel details?
TripIt is a genius mobile app that simplifies your travel plans with zero drama. Just forward the confirmation emails from relevant providers—hotel, airfare, car rental, and so on—and Tripit magically converts them into a concise, chronological trip itinerary with all the important information in one place. Use it once and you'll never look back.
T-Minus 7 Days: Review Your Health Insurance
If you're leaving the United States, it's important to know whether your health insurance will cover you if someone in your family gets ill or is injured.
T-Minus 4 Days: Pause Newspaper and Other Deliveries
Newspapers on the front step can signal robbers that nobody is home. Many newspapers require at least three days' notice to stop delivery.
T-Minus 3 Days: Schedule Bill Payments Online
Got bills to pay while you're away? Even if you'll have access to wi-fi on vacation, it's not a good idea to pay bills on a public hotspot. It's much safer to schedule your payments before you leave home to prevent identity theft.
Refill Prescription Medications
A few days before you leave on vacation, be sure to refill any prescription medications your family may need to cover the duration of your getaway. Pack them in a resealable bag along with your preferred brand of aspirin or pain reliever, including children’s medication. If you are flying to your destination, these should be kept safely in your carry-on luggage.
Pro tip: Snap a photo of your essential prescription bottles, including the name of the medication, dosage, your physician, and Rx number. If you should lose your medication when you're away, you will be able to replace it more easily in another pharmacy with this information handy.
T-Minus 2 Days: Ask the Post Office to Hold Your Mail
Don't let an overflowing mailbox tip off neighbors and passersby that you're away. It just takes a minute to complete the US Postal Service's online hold mail request form. The post office can hold your mail for between three and 30 days, then deliver it to you or hold for pickup.
Notify Local Police of Your Absence
If you live in a small or medium-sized town, police department will often make a point of patroling past your home if you leave for more than a few days. If your neighborhood has a watch program, you may want to let them know, too. Be sure to mention if you've given some people—neighbors, dog walkers, relatives, or family friends—permission to enter your home during your absence so that there are no misunderstandings.
Contact Your Credit Card Company
Before leaving home, it's a good idea to let your credit card company know that you'll be traveling out of state or out of the country. It will prevent your card issuer from sending out a "suspicious activity alert" and blocking your card while checking the legitimacy of your charges. Ask for your account balance and request that no holds be placed on your account during the dates of travel.
Leaving the U.S.? Switch to a Wireless International Plan
You can certainly use your smartphone overseas without racking up exorbitant roaming charges and calling cards, but you need to modify your plan before leaving home.
Going to Mexico or Canada? Verizon's TravelPass lets you use your existing talk, messaging and data plan for just $2 more per day, per line. Traveling further? The extra cost is $10 per day when traveling to dozens of countries in the Caribbean, South America, Europe, and Asia. AT&T offers international passports and cruise packages, too.
T-Minus 24 Hours: Check in For Your Flight
Bypass the check-in line at the airport by snagging your boarding passes early through online check-in. You can either print them out at home or have them sent to your phone via email or text. At the airport, just scan the bar code at the security checkpoint and departure gate. (Note: Some smaller airports can only process paper boarding passes.)
T-Minus 24 Hours: Pack and Prep
Don't leave packing until the last minute. Setting ample time aside to select what you'll need for your trip will help you feel more organized and less stressed. You'll also want to prep your house for being away. Here are some tips:
- Tidy up
- Change sheets, make beds
- Wash and dry last load of laundry
- Run last load of dishes and empty dishwasher
- Draw blinds
- Set timers on lights
- Unplug major appliances and electronic devices
- Turn off the main water supply
- Toss perishables from your fridge
- Set the thermostat to an economical temperature
- Take out the trash
- Lock all doors and windows
T-Minus 24 Hours: Prime Your Contact List
Very often, being prepared for the "what if" scenario boils down to having the right phone number at your fingertips. Think through your itinerary and bolster your phone's contact list with the customer service numbers you may need if things go pear-shaped. For example, you should load the contact numbers for your:
- auto insurance company
- rental car company
- cruise line
- travel insurance company
- neighbor/friend who can take care of an emergency back home
- pet sitter
- home alarm company
If your flight is cancelled or significantly delayed, speed-dial your airline customer service while everyone else crowds around the airport help desk. Not going to arrive at your destination until late at night? Let your hotel know so they will hold your room. Yes, you can look up these numbers on the fly, but you'll be happier if you have them ready.
Avoid Publicizing Your Trip on Social Media
As tempting as it may be to tell your Facebook friends that you're heading away, consider this: Every time a friend likes or comments on your status, all of his friends can now view your post. Do want your friend's work colleagues and gym pals to know your plans? Does your teen's entire school need to know? No, they do not. Second- and third-hand visibility means that oversharing increases your risk of home robbery when you're away.
Make it a family rule to wait to share photos of your vacation until after you've returned home.