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Countdown to Travel.

How do you prepare for a big trip?  I've made about fifteen different lists, mental and otherwise, and would love to share what I've learned!  Let's get all this logistical stuff out of the way quickly and painlessly so we can all get on to the real fun!!

T-6 Months

1. Make sure your passport is current.
Your passport probably needs to be valid for a few months after you return home.  Look up the rules for your destinations, and renew your passport if necessary.  Some travelers even choose to request a second passport so they're not without one when mailing in the other for a visa.  Speaking of visas, if you are renewing your passport, now's a great time to stock up on passport photos, as many visas will require them.

2. Investigate visas.
Different countries have very different visa requirements.  Sometimes you don't need one, or can buy one easily at the airport.  Other times you need to mail your passport in months in advance.  If you're from the US, you can find all of this information on the State Department website.

3. Buy any plane tickets you can.
Lately I have saved money by buying my tickets far in advance, and paying the change fee if my plans change.  Check your route and your change fees, of course, but it can't hurt to look early!

4. Budget.
If you need to save up for travel, it's never too early to start!  See this post I wrote for Tour Amigo for my suggestions!

5. Arrange high-demand accommodations and/or tours.
It's still too early to plan most of these details.  But if you have some popular high-season non-negotiables on your wishlist, secure them early!

6. Get in shape.
If you will be lounging on the beach in a hammock, ignore me.  But if you want to have the option of active travel perks like hiking at elevation, get your body ready!

7. Learn the language.
English-speakers are so lucky that we can get by so easily in so many countries.  But if you want to respect the locals and get even more out of your trip, try to learn as early and as much as you can.

8. Purge.
This isn't exactly a requirement, but packing for a long trip is always a great reminder of how little we really need.  And if you'll be moving out of your home, the more you get rid of now, the less you'll have to move later.  I'm lucky enough to be able to return to my apartment after my trip, but it will still feel so good to come home to less junk -- and more room for souvenirs!  I kept myself motivated by playing the "minsgame" for the month of June!

9. Get travel-friendly bank accounts and credit cards.
I love Charles Schwab and Capial One 360 for checking -- both of them charge $0 to use any ATM anywhere in the world, and they'll even refund the local ATM fee.  I actually have both cards in case one is stolen or frozen.  I also recommend the Capital One Venture credit card, although it's worth comparing various cards based on your own spending habits, to make sure the rewards outweigh the costs.  I like traveling with two to three credit cards, just in case.  If you choose cards with fees and rewards geared toward travelers, the temporary ding to your credit caused by opening a few new accounts is nothing compared to the savings!

T-3 Months

1. Start looking for housing coverage.
If you'll be renting or subletting your home, you can start looking now.  Many tenants won't be ready until 3-6 weeks prior, but if you can find someone early, it feels really good (and informs your budget!) to know your housing costs will be covered!

2. Talk to a travel doctor.
Three months is more than enough time to get your prescriptions in order and get all your immunizations.  But scheduling appointments can get tricky, particularly ones that need to happen exactly 7, 14, or 28 days apart. Starting this process early gives you room to schedule all this amongst your other obligations.

3. Shop for specialty gear.
You can buy so much on the road.  So much.  Pack light, and plan to buy extra while you travel if you need it.  Most of the time you won't even need it.  However, some specialty items are hard to find on the road.  For example, it is really hard for me to find pants that are long enough for my legs.  If you know you have any similar special needs, start shopping.

4. Go paperless.
Now is a good time to drastically reduce your paper mail.  Every time a piece of mail comes in, check with the sender to make sure those communications will be electronic in the future.  There are solutions when this is not possible, which we'll get to later, but it's much more efficient (and eco-friendly!) to stop the problem at the source.

5. Look into travel insurance.
I like to use AirTreks for my flights, and they automatically include travel insurance with ticket purchases.  But if you don't already have this covered, start comparing plans now to find one that's right for you.

T-1 Month

1. Finalize flights and accommodations.
Securing accommodation in advance is certainly optional if you have a spontaneous backpacker style.  But if you prefer to plan your accommodation in advance, now is the time to confirm that everything is good to go.

2. Deal with postal mail.
You've been transitioning to paperless for two months now, so you probably have very little postal mail left.  But it's good to have a backup plan in case of the odd bill or check or urgent notification.  I love Traveling Mailbox.  For as little as $15/month, they will open, scan, and shred all your mail at the click of a button!  But don't delay setting this up.  You need to complete some government forms and even visit a notary in order for them to legally open your mail.

3. Find storage.
If you will be moving out, look for public storage options.  Make sure to comparison shop up to an hour or two away from your home.  You will only need to visit the storage unit twice, once for dropoff and once for pickup.  No need to pay significantly more for a convenience you won't even need!

4. Cancel subscriptions.
If you have magazine subscriptions, Netflix, anything you won't use, cancel it now!

T-1 Week

1. Notify banks.
Call your banks and credit card companies so they know you're traveling.  Many will not allow you to extend a travel alert more than 30, 45, or 60 days in the future.  In this case, set a reminder on your phone to create a new travel alert as soon as you can.

2. Scan and copy passport and cards.
Make digital copies of your passport, visa picture, bank cards, and credit cards.  Don't forget the backs of the cards, so you know the phone numbers to call in case they go missing!

3. Make cell phone arrangements.
If you're not using your cell phone while you travel, call your carrier to make sure you don't overpay for service while you're gone.  Depending on your carrier, you might be able to pay a very small fee to maintain your phone number upon return.  Otherwise, at least downgrade to the cheapest plan.  Or give up your number, of course.

4. Pack.
Many people advocate packing even earlier in anticipation of inevitable overpacking.  Pack one day, then go through and discard half of it the next day.

5. Document your valuables for insurance.
Take photos and record serial numbers of anything valuable for which you might need to submit an insurance claim in the future.

6. Say goodbye.
This is by far the hardest for me.  But please make time for your loved ones now.  If you're too busy running around accomplishing the rest of this to-do list, you'll miss out on important quality time that you can't get back!!

7. Accept that you probably forgot something.
I'm mostly talking to myself here.  Deep breaths -- it's ok, we can buy it there.


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