Ultimate Pre-Trip Checklist – all the things to do before going on vacation

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Looking for a list of things to do before going on vacation? This handy pre-trip checklist is designed to help you prepare your home and yourself for travel.

Several years ago, we embarked on one of our first 2-week long international trips. As newbies to the international travel world, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. We had a wonderful two-week holiday in Europe, and returned home jet-lagged yet eager for our next overseas adventure. We walked into our house late at night after 16 hours of air travel and multiple connections. The house felt like a sauna because we turned the air conditioning off before our trip, and to our surprise, it smelled wretched! Although we had cleaned the refrigerator and taken out the trash prior to our trip, we had forgotten to start the dishwasher. So, for two weeks our dirty dishes sat in the dishwasher in the blazing heat, growing moldier and smellier each day.

After that trip, we quickly learned the need and importance of a pre-travel checklist. Now, each time we plan a trip, we double check this easy travel to-do list to make sure all the things to do before going on vacation are done. So, whether you’re taking a week-long vacation, or an extended holiday in another country, this pre-trip checklist will help ensure everything at home will be fine in your absence, and you will return to a clean home instead of a science experiment.  

Woman travel planning while sitting on floor with luggage and a map
Planning for a trip doesn’t have to be stressful. Our pre-trip checklist makes all the things to do before vacation a breeze! – Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

Things to do before going on vacation – an easy pre-trip checklist

Our pre-trip checklist is designed to help you prepare your home before a trip. This handy list of all the things to prepare before traveling is easy to follow. Just scroll through and make sure you have completed all of these travel preparations before you leave for the airport or pull out of your driveway for a road trip. To make it even easier, we have included a free, printable pre-vacation checklist at the bottom of this article that you can download,print at home, and use over and over again. 

Things to do before a trip to keep your house from smelling

Here are a few pre-travel household tasks that will keep your home smelling fresh while you’re away.

Clean house

No one likes returning home to a dirty house. There is something incredibly relaxing about coming home from a trip and not having any household chores to do. In anticipation of your trip, spend the days leading up to your vacation cleaning your house, so you return home to a stress-free environment instead of an unmade bed, dirty floors, and a layer of dust building up on everything.

Cleaning mini blinds
Cleaning your house is one of the most important things to do before vacation. – Image by Simon Kadula from Pixabay

Run dishwasher / Wash dishes

Dirty dishes will start to smell after just a few short days. And after a week or longer away, your whole house will be consumed with the smell of the old food molding on the plates or the reminisce of milk left souring in a glass. Whether you have a dishwasher or wash dishes by hand, be sure not to leave any dirty dishes in the sink or stacked in the dishwasher while you are gone. 

Clean refrigerator 

Not only will food left on dirty dishes begin to sour, but food left in the refrigerator can also go bad while you are away. In the week leading up to your travels, use up any perishable items, like produce, milk, and eggs, that might expire while you are away. And before your trip, clean out any leftovers or food that will go bad.   

Take out the trash / rubbish

This should be one of the very last things you do before leaving the house for a vacation or holiday. Empty all trash or rubbish bins around the house, whether in bathrooms, the kitchen, or elsewhere. Take your trash bins to the curb for collection or to the dumpster. If moving your trash bins to the curb, ask a neighbor to put them away for you after collection. Nothing says no one is home like trash bins left out at the curb 6 days after collection!

trash bin at the curb of a house
Taking your trash out is one of the easiest things to do before going on vacation to keep your house from smelling.

Do laundry

When returning home, you will have a whole suitcase worth of clothes to wash, dry, fold, and put away. So, make sure all other laundry is done prior to your trip. I also like to wash our bed sheets as part of our travel preparations. This minor travel tip will make recovering from jet lag, much easier, because your bedding will smell clean and refreshing.

Leave your washing machine open

If you do laundry in the days leading up to your trip, be sure to leave the door to your washing machine open. Washing machines can mildew quickly if left closed, especially front-loading machines. But, if you leave the door open, it allows air to circulate and any moisture left in the machine to dry out. 

washing machine door open in laundry room to prevent mold growing. it is one of the things to do before going on vacation.
Leave your washing machine door open to prevent mold from growing inside it while your gone.

Seal boxes of dried goods

Living in Oklahoma, we are no strangers to critters. 🙂 More than once, we have found creepy, crawly things in our house that are not welcome inside. Animals, like mice, are always looking for an easily accessible food source. And your pantry offers that, should a mouse be able to access it. Whether you live in a more country setting, like us, or in an urban area, no home is immune to bugs, insects, or even rodents. One mouse or bug can quickly turn into an infestation while you are away, so be sure to seal up any boxes of dried goods. This will not only help them stay fresh longer, it will hopefully keep unwanted pests away. 

Run Garbage disposal

This is one of those things to do before vacation that is often forgotten. But it is a good idea to run your garbage disposal prior to a trip to rid it of any food scraps still lingering in the sink drain. Prior to a trip, I also like to pour a little vinegar or lemon juice in the garbage disposal while running it to ensure the sink smells fresh when we return.

Clean out your coffee maker

We have a habit of leaving our coffee filter and used coffee grounds sitting in our coffee maker until the next morning when we make a new pot. But if you make coffee the day of a trip, you do not want to leave the used, moist coffee grounds sitting in your coffee maker while you are away. Spoken from experience, it will begin to mold!  

Water plants

All living things require water. So, if you are leaving for even a few days make sure to water all your plants prior to your trip. Personally, we have spent a lot of time and energy into turning our backyard into an oasis. It is a place where we can always feel like we’re traveling even when we can’t. And our plants are a big part of that oasis. With so much effort and money put into creating a beautiful space, we don’t want to leave for vacation and come back to a house or yard full of dead plants. So, not only should you water your plants as one of the things to do before going on vacation, but if you plan to be gone for more than a week, you should probably recruit someone to water your plants while you are gone. 

watering plants is one of the pre-travel checklist items to keep plants alive while you are gone
Watering all plants inside and outside is one of the pre-travel checklist items to keep plants alive while you are gone. Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay

Things to do before going on holiday to keep your house safe

While the travel checklist above will keep your house smelling and looking nice while you are on vacation, the following travel tips will keep your house safe while you are gone. 

Arrange for mail collection

An overflowing mailbox screams “we are not home!” To give the appearance of someone being home at all times, have a neighbor, family member, or friend collect your mail at least every other day. If you are going to be away on an extended vacation, you can also request for the post office to hold your mail rather than deliver it. 

Leave contact info, itinerary, and lodging information on the counter

No one ever wants to think about something bad happening while you are on vacation, but it is better to be safe than sorry. If there is an emergency at home, it is good to leave some key information in an easily accessible place inside your house. This information includes your contact information and the contact information for an emergency contact who is not on the trip with you. It is also good to leave your itinerary and hotel information.That way if someone needs to get a hold of you or a family member nearby who can make decisions on your behalf in your absence, they will be able to reach someone quickly.

Arrange care for pets

Our pets are our family members, but unfortunately, those family members rarely get to travel with us. If you are leaving on a quick weekend getaway, you will want to make sure your pets are well cared for. Admittedly, our dogs are pretty spoiled, so we board them at a facility where they get plenty of interaction with other dogs and humans. But even pets, like fish, that don’t require as much attention, will still need to be fed while you are away. So, make sure you have a pet sitter or boarding facility lined up well in advance. 

dog sitting on couch
One of our 4-legged family members. As part of your travel preparations arrange care for your pets.

Mow the lawn

If you don’t want to be “that neighbor” on your block that lets the grass begin to look like a jungle, some last minute yard maintenance is a must. Mowing the lawn a day or two before your trip is one of those necessary things to do before vacation that will keep you on good terms with the neighbors when you return. If you plan to be gone for more than two or three weeks, it may be worth paying a neighborhood teenager to mow your yard once while you are gone.

Set lights on a timer

Over the years, we have invested in a few products to have transformed our house into a smart home. Our interior and exterior lights, televisions, thermostat, security cameras, and even our robotic vacuum can be controlled from our phones. But you don’t have to have a fully decked out smart home to set your lights on a timer. You can purchase an inexpensive timer for your lights, plug a lamp or two into it, and set it to go on and off at certain times. Doing so will make it look like someone is home. 

exterior light turned on at a house
Setting your lights on a timer gives the appearance that someone is home. – Image by 윤구 최 from Pixabay

Notify a neighbor of your absence

Letting a friendly, trusted neighbor know that you are going to be gone is one of the most important things to do before going on vacation. Your neighbor can watch your house and look out for any suspicious activity while you are away.

Lock windows and doors

Prior to traveling, it is a good idea to walk through your home and double check all windows and doors to make sure they are closed and locked. It is particularly important to check windows that you open frequently, as they will be the most likely to be unintentionally left unlocked.

Set alarm

Be sure to set your alarm right before you leave for vacation, if you have one. If you don’t have an alarm you can invest in Google Nest Cams and Doorbell Camera. That way you’ll be able to get notifications on your phone if one of the cameras spots a person on your property. Remember, if you hire anyone to feed pets or water indoor plants while you are gone, leave the alarm code with them and give them instructions on how to arm and disarm the alarm.

Leave key with neighbor

Finally, just in case of an emergency, leave a spare key with a neighbor or family member. You might forget something and need someone to go into your home and overnight it to you, or forget to do one of these pre-trip checklist items and need someone to run in and do it for you.

house key in hand
Leave a key with a trusted neighbor or family member in case of an emergency. Image by Schluesseldienst from Pixabay

Travel preparations that will save you money

The majority of items on our travel planning checklist are intended to keep your home safe, however there are a few things to do before you leave for vacation that will also save you money.

Adjust thermostat

Perhaps the most obvious travel preparation that will save you money is to adjust your thermostat. We don’t recommend turning off your air conditioner or heater entirely, but adjust it to let your house get about 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer or colder than is comfortable for you. If you have a Nest Thermostat, you can adjust the thermostat from your phone the day of your return so your home will feel pleasant when you walk in. 

Unplug small appliances

Coffee pots, toasters, televisions, and other small appliances can be unplugged to save money and energy. Even appliances that are plugged in but turned off are still using small amounts of energy, so unplug them to save a little bit. 

Close blinds or curtains

Another easy way to save on energy is to close your blinds or curtains while you are away. The less sunlight coming into your home the cooler it will stay and the less time your air conditioner will have to run. 

closed curtains pre-travel checklist item
Closing your blinds, shutters, or curtains is not only a safety precaution, it will save you money on your energy bill. – Photo by Dids from Pexels

Pay any bills coming due soon 

Planning for a trip is exciting. So exciting, in fact, that little things you would not ordinarily forget can get skipped. Paying bills is one of them! As you pack your bags, you may not be thinking about the water bill that isn’t due for another two weeks. But if you go on a 2-week vacation, by the time you are back, that bill will be past due! Not only will you accrue late charges, but you risk returning home to utilities shut off if your bill goes unpaid for too long.

Things to prepare before traveling out of the country 

Finally, now that we have covered all the things to do at home before going on vacation, there are a few things you will want to do to make sure you are also ready for your trip. These pre-travel checklist items are particularly useful if traveling to another country.

Inform your bank where you will be

Several years ago, we arrived in the Dominican Republic excited for a relaxing beach vacation. However, stress occurred the moment we got off the plane and had to pay tourist taxes. The taxes had to be paid in cash, so we had to visit an ATM at the airport. However, our bank had no idea we were in the Dominican Republic, assumed the transaction was a scam, and froze our account out of an abundance of caution. From that trip on, we now inform our bank when we are leaving the country. Many banks have an online form you can fill out to let them know about any international trips.

Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees

If traveling overseas, bring a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, and plan to pay for most things on your credit card. This saves you the stress of trying to figure out currency conversions. If you travel a lot there are some great travel credit cards that offer great perks, like airport lounge access and a credit toward Global Entry or TSA Precheck. Our personal favorite, and the card we use the most, is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. If you need cash during your travels, we recommend visiting an ATM rather than doing a currency exchange at the airport when you arrive at your destination.

a credit cards and cash, both things you will need as part of a pre-trip checklist
A credit card with no foreign transaction fees is a must if planning an international trip. Image by wei zhu from Pixabay

Check your health and car insurance policies and consider investing in travel insurance

A trip to the hospital or a car accident in a foreign country can quickly ruin a trip and drain your bank account. So, double check your insurance policies to see if you are covered should anything happen. Consider buying travel insurance to protect you financially from unexpected events. 

Download any necessary travel apps

Your airline app, a navigation app, Uber, or Google Translate. There are a variety of apps that make traveling easier and less stressful. Many of these apps may only be used when you’re traveling, so if they are not already installed on your phone or have been deleted, be sure to install them before you leave.

Set your out-of-office responder on your email 

Every family should occasionally travel off the grid. If for no other reason, it forces you not to check your phone or your email. But remember to set an out-of-office auto responder, particularly on your work email account. And then seriously, enjoy your trip and let all work matters wait until you return from your trip. 

Pack!

Now to the fun part: packing for your trip! Don’t wait until the last minute to pack your travel bag, or you will forget something! If traveling with a baby, we have created a handy baby travel essentials packing list to help you pack efficiently for your little one, as well.   

Download our pre-trip checklist

Now, you should officially be ready for your trip! If you are the type of person who needs a printable list rather than a digital one, we’ve included all of these things to do before a vacation on a PDF you can download and print at home for reference. Just subscribe to our newsletter to get it!

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Have a question or comment about our pre-trip checklist? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts in the comments below. And if there is anything else you think needs to be added to our vacation checklist, let us know!

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