The definitive pre-trip plan of attack

Here’s the only pre-trip travel checklist you’ll ever need.

couple preparing for travel

SJ is a regular travel contributor to YourLifeChoices. Her plane essentials include noise-cancelling headphones, a solid Spotify playlist, sleeping tablets, an eyemask and a large scarf that doubles as a blanket on cold flights – i.e. every flight.

There's no disputing that if you're lucky enough to be going travelling, you're privileged.

That said, the lead up to a trip away can be downright stressful and not so fun. Trying to tie up loose ends at work and home while packing, attending to last-minute appointments or shopping may make you question if it's all really worth it?

Let me firstly reassure you that yes, your trip will be entirely worth all the organisation that precedes it. Secondly, see below the pre-trip plan of attack I have created and refined after spending circa three years jumping on a plane every other week. You're welcome!

The definitive pre-trip plan of attack


  • Pay for your seats and check luggage restrictions in case you need to buy extra baggage capacity.
  • Supply any advance passenger information required.
  • Check in if you can. If not, diarise when check in opens with a reminder so you don't end up sitting down the back next to the toilets - easily the sh*ttiest seats!
  • Add your flights to your calendar and print any boarding passes as well as saving them to your phone.



  • Book your accommodation and print out the confirmation.
  • Make any requests for early or late check-in or specific room requirements.
  • Make a note of any additional money to be paid and the payment methods accepted.
  • Google how to get to your accommodation from the airport.


  • Decide how you're going to get to and from the airport in your home city and book/organise it.
  • Print any transfer documentation.
  • Decide the best way to get to your accommodation from the foreign airport and book it.
  • Print any transfer receipts or tickets.
  • Add all transfers to your calendar or itinerary.
  • Make a note of timing of pick ups/transfers and how much time you need to allow prior to them to ensure you don't miss the car/bus/boat/train.

Travel insurance

  • Research and book travel insurance if you don't already have it.
  • Print documentation and save electronically where it can be easily accessed including international contact numbers in case of emergency.


  • Research and book any activities/meals etc. 
  • Add to your itinerary. Print documentation and save electronically where it can be easily accessed.


  • Do you have dependents such as small children, animals or plants?
  • No? Please proceed to the packing section.
  • Yes? Now is the time to work out where they will go to be fed and watered while you are away - assuming they are not coming with you.
  • Research and book/organise their accommodation for the time you are away.
  • Decide how they will get there and back and organise or factor this into your pre-departure plan.
  • Print any documentation they may need.
  • Pack the belongings they will need for the time you're away as well as any notes (i.e. becomes aggressive if not fed) for the temporary caregiver.
  • If the aforementioned caregiver is not a paid person think about an appropriate thank you gift or reimbursement for their troubles and purchase.
  • Organise for a very kind friend to water any plants if needed. Ensure they have instructions to access your property to do so.
  • Reward them accordingly based on how many of said plants are still alive on your return with wine or their preferred form of hydration.

On the home front

  • Advise neighbours (you trust) of your absence and give them a spare key for emergencies (raiding your cellar not included). If you have trust issues, swap neighbour for close friend or hide one somewhere smart - read not a fake rock.
  • Suspend any deliveries such as newspapers - nothing screams rob me like a house with newspapers strewn all over the driveway.
  • Ask neighbour to collect your mail for you. Bribe them with exotic food upon your return and notify them they are free to pay any bills they may wish to.
  • Eat way through remaining food in fridge. Tip: almost everything can be made into a frittata.
  • Dispose of anything you can't eat, or give to neighbour as a thank you for collecting mail/keeping an eye on your place.
  • Dispose of any flowers around the house.
  • Empty all bins in house.
  • Do a quick vacuum/clean to ensure you don't come back to dust bunnies galore.
  • Wash and change bed linen so you come back to fresh sheets. Non negotiable...
  • Put away any clean and dry washing.
  • Set lights to timer if possible or decide which ones to have on/off.
  • Ditto for blinds open/closed to make house appear as far from empty as possible.


  • Dust off your chosen suitcase.
  • Find your passport and check it has at least six months left until expiry.
  • If it does not, descend into mad panic and book an emergency fast track appointment to get a new one. Race to chemist and get awful new passport photo.
  • Put passport in front pocket of suitcase so there is no possible way you can forget it.
  • Start packing everything you'd like to take at least a week out.
  • Put half of it back in your wardrobe. Or in a 'maybe' pile.
  • Wash anything that isn't clean and return to relevant pile.
  • Check all levels of toiletries and medications.
  • Make a list of anything you need to buy in the following headings; chemist, supermarket, department store, speciality stores.
  • Slot in time to go and buy all items.
  • Back up any electronics in the unfortunate event they should go walkabout.
  • Don't forget about underwear, socks, bathers, pyjamas or a towel if necessary.
  • Check the weather at your destination. Make any necessary adjustments to your planned packing.
  • Put your sensible cap on and pack your bag as though you are going away for a weekend rather than moving countries. Opt for items that have the maximum ability to be mixed and matched and that are on high rotation in your wardrobe. Put the sequin jacket you've never worn back in your cupboard.
  • Choose your carry-on bag and pack it making sure you have read our helpful guides to what you should always carry on and creating an emergency carry-on beforehand.
  • Charge all devices and don't forget their cords and an international adapter if appropriate.
  • Decide on travelling attire and put out next to bags.

On the day

  • Check the status of your flight/train/boat and adjust any transfers if necessary.
  • Check for passport/all tickets, documentation etc.
  • Grab any last minute snacks for your journey.
  • Shower and brush your teeth. Travelling is a tiring and dirtying experience.
  • Get dressed. Close and lock bags.
  • Wash any final dishes.
  • Turn on any light timers/radios/alarms.
  • Be ready and waiting for your transfer at least five minutes ahead of time.
  • Get in transfer and immediately banish thought 'what have I forgotten?'
  • Bon voyage!

Do you have anything to add to the above checklist? If you know someone travelling soon, be sure to share it with them too.



    To make a comment, please register or login
    16th Sep 2017
    I make a very comprehensive list of what I take on a local journey (for at least a week), then expand this for my 12 week journeys overseas.

    PASSPORT - expiry must be at least 6 months from DATE OF RETURN, not the date of your forward journey. Don't go to chemist to get photos, as most don't do them these days (or at least not where I live). You can get them @ the Post Office for $16.95. Go online and do a passport renewal. No 6 pages of details, just 1 page. Get appointment @ the Post Office or Passport Office, then rock up with your application, photos & $277 (currently) and you're just about done. Then you'll have your new passport in around 3 working weeks. No need to panic.

    While you're doing your passport, make sure that the expiry dates on your cards aren't during the time of your journey. Make sure you have plenty of time left on them before you leave.

    I start my searching for great fares at least 2 years prior to my wanting to go, then I can see the fluctuations in prices and when it's the best time to book.

    I start my time line in October for a July departure - yes, I know it's 9 months out from my departure, but now is the time to be checking my passport expiry, that I've got the right luggage & clothes, as I'd be just taking my summer gear out of winter hiding. If there's anything that needs replacing, now is the time to do it, not in the 2-3 weeks before departure, as it's winter then, and there's no summer clothing out in the stores.

    The other suggestion is to replace your worn clothing during the end of season sales in late January/February.

    When you're looking at your luggage and find it's not as good as it used to be, purchase new gear and make sure it's got a lock on it where the ends of the zip go into a capture bar and is locked by a 3 wheel combination and has a TSA approved lock. I have 2 large & 2 small hard shell cases with these locks and haven't had any signs of tampering, as when the zip pulls are in the lock, and the tumblers are turned, it's locked. This then should put and end to the 'get a pen & get into the zip' idea, as you can't just pull the zip ends around and re-zip the zipper, as they are locked in place.

    As for the safest place for your passport, if you luggage doesn't have any outside pockets, put it into an internal zippered pocket some have inside the bag, not forgetting to take it out prior to final packing & placing in your carry on bag.

    If you're going on an extended trip, use one of those day planner diaries and make up your diary from the note pads you can purchase. On each page, have the following information ready to print: Date, Day number, Spending, Where you're travelling that day, Where you're staying, and daily mileage (if you're hiring a car). Do a full page front & back for each day. If you're travelling around, like I do, once you've received your accommodation confirmation, put each onto a separate page to be inserted into the diary at the appropriate date. On these confirmations, have the accommodation name and address, including any postal code, or GPS/Sat Nav information, the confirmation number, and any directions to get there. If you've booked Wi-Fi, add the code for this, also.

    Lastly, if you use it at home, don't forget to take it - eg mobility aids, foot stools (collapsible), walking stick, etc.

    Always scan all your documents. Passport, tickets (usually PDF already), travel insurance (usually PDF already if you purchased it online), your ID and cards you're taking, so that you've got all the information to give to the bank, etc.

    Don't get fooled into trying to use your local Visa cards without having to pay through the nose for exchange rates. Get a pre-paid travel card. There are Global Wallets that come with your Frequent Flyer cards from QANTAS & Virgin Australia, even from ANZ - these ALL COME WITH YOUR NAME ON THE CARDS. The other ones don't and you can't use the pre-paid cards for any rental car deposits, even if you've used it to pay for the rental here at home. The agencies want a 'Credit' card - one from your home bank, but if you're a pensioner like me, the banks don't issue us with credit cards if we have no income to be able to pay for them in the first place. UNLESS you have one from before you left work, and is still valid.

    That's all folks!
    16th Sep 2017
    Fairly comprehensive. As I said below NEVER PUT YOUR PASSPORT INTO A BAG OF ANY SORT. A lost passport will ruin a holiday and may see you back home early so ALWAYS carry on your person. My wife is in charge of passports and she has one of those under jacket pouches where passport and the bulk of cash is stored.
    You are wrong about using a local Visa card. Best way to access funds is with a Citibank debit card, which is a Visa card. Just load it up a couple of weeks before you leave and try it at coles or woolworths to make sure it is operating ok.
    Exchange/foreign currency conversion charges are less than 0.5%. Try getting that any other way. The real bonus is that the card has a chip in it and you can eftpos purchases as well as get cash without being ripped off like all other foreign currency exchange methods. I fail to understand why travellers do not get this product as it is a no brainer. Maybe people have too much money to burn though.
    16th Sep 2017
    I'll second the Citibank Plus Account and Debit Card.

    Best thing I ever did.
    17th Sep 2017
    I agree re Citibank...currently in process of applying.
    read about it through Scott Pape (finanance guy known as the Barefoot Investor)..this young guy talks a lot of sense and I always listen when he gives advice.
    16th Sep 2017
    I can always tell who has done this before. Your list sounds suspiciously familiar. The only thing I would say is to never put your passport IN your suitcase. Maybe on top of your bags but then on your person when you leave, where this should remain during your trip. Second thing is to avoid wasting your money on travel insurance as this is free if you hold a platinum credit card. So why bother to buy? Ok, you are advertising for a sponsor. Fair enough.
    You are correct about the stress and effort which goes into planning a trip Sue. Not for the feint hearted but worth it if all goes off smoothly, which it mostly does. Seasoned travellers live by the motto 'when you fail to plan you plan to fail'. Having said that there is always something that goes wrong but then that's life. Ours earlier this year was getting into a hire car which had a heap of gadgets our own car does not have and a GPS...which we also do not have in our own car. No fun when you are learning to use GPS in a strange city. That aside just do it!
    16th Sep 2017
    All you really need to 'pack' is your passport in order, travel insurance (however you get it) cash and back up card, tickets and hotel confirmation if appropriate. All else can be replaced whilst on holiday.
    If you must stress about what to go in the suitcase tell yourself whatever you pack you MUST wear. A two does not need 10 pairs of shoes even if your name is Imelda!
    17th Sep 2017
    I could not believe all the rigmarole written in the opening post. It would put many people off travelling.

    Agree with what you have said KSS.

    Commonsense tells a person to never pack anything in your suitcase that is of value and especially your passport/money and other documentation and medication.

    As for free credit card ravel insurance..make sure you are covered as there are age restrictions and you may NOT be covered for the period leading\UP to your departure.

    When you pay for travel insurance you are covered from that time on. Anything can happen healthwise in the lead up period...especially for seniors. I want peace of mind knowing that if I should fall ill I will not lose all my money.

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