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Trip Preparation - Phase One

This seemed like the best forum to post my trip preparations and to see what others do. For me, the trip planning (and packing) are all fun parts of the whole experience.

We’ve had to cancel some major trips over the past several years so I’m particularly looking forward to our big planned trip this year - a trip to South Africa. So the these preparations are for that trip, but of course, many of my preparations are the same.

  • Make deposit on trip and arrange airfare
  • Purchase travel insurance within guidelines to cover pre-existing conditions. I only purchase the amount to cover the current, non-refundable costs. I will add and pay for the additional insurance coverage as I make any non-refundable payments or arrangements.
  • Start haunting sites like this one :) So many people generously post ideas and thoughtful questions and I get a lot of pleasure and great ideas from reading what others do.
  • I use the free version of the app TripIt to electronically keep my reservations and details as the plans progress. It works okay for me, with some extra inputting and rearranging.
  • We enjoy trying new foods so I start researching local foods. I look at a lot of reviews and restaurant websites (and pictures of food!) to get an idea of meals and also costs.
  • I start using a currency calculator to become familiar with the exchange rates.
  • I add the cities where we will be, in order to start becoming aware of the weather. Also, it helps me to think about the time zone changes.
  • I create a trip specific packing list on the app AnyList. I love this app for meal planning and recipes but it’s list function is also great. I have a general packing list that I copy and then add and subtract things from that.
  • I start “shopping” in my own house. I’m trying harder to reduce, reuse, and recycle so I want to make very deliberate choices when I buy something. I really want to go out and purchase new bags, clothes, toiletries, etc. , but I’m going to spend a good bit of time sorting through what I have.
  • I start looking for fiction books and TV shows and movies written and/or produced in the area. I freely admit that I stay on the light-hearted side of these things.

There are many more things that I do when planning a trip so I will add more later. FYI - this trip takes place in early June 2023. All of the above are things that I’ve been doing for the past two months.

What things do you do to start preparing for your trip?

Posted by
2929 posts

Sounds like good preparation to me. I do a detailed list as well. I know you mentioned light-hearted fiction books for South Africa, but I highly recommend Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela. You will know so much more about the country you are visiting and it is a great read IMHO. We loved our trip to South Africa in 2016!

Posted by
7 posts

Dear Wanderer,
your list is very useful for me, thank you for posting it!! Aren't the people wonderful in the Travel Forum?! I am planning my first trip to Europe for spring of 2024 and have been given great tips and ideas,

Posted by
35 posts

Don’t forget the many vloggers on YouTube. They supply a first hand look of the area of cities and even smaller villages. Information is much more reliable then blogs and books.

Posted by
613 posts

That's a great list!

A few things that I do to prepare:

  • Learn at least a little of the local language.

  • Scout around for interesting and unique things to do during free time on the trip.

  • Make a list of local foods I want to try.

  • Use weatherspark to look at temperatures and weather conditions in past years.

  • I used to weigh all my clothing items, but I stopped doing that a few years ago. I now know pretty much what to avoid.

  • I am a photography nut, and so I always get the sunrise and sunset times for each city. Sometimes I will also scout around on Flickr to see if there are any oddball focal lengths or other photographic things I should be prepared for. I don't care especially what clothes I pack, but I will obsess over the photo gear up until the day I leave.

Posted by
1972 posts

I’m a spreadsheet person, but I might have to try one of those trip planning apps. I’m deep into planning a 3 week road trip through Europe this June with my family of four, plus my sister and her husband. I have everything booked at this point. For each destination, I have a loose list of things we will do/see. Subject to weather, of course. I have a list of restaurants researched using various sites. I’ll make reservations for one dinner the first night at each destination for all of us.

I have a packing list, and I just practice packed last night. Down to all the “misc” things that tend to take up so much space. My husband thinks I’m crazy. He’ll pack the night before we leave.

I have a list of household to-do items: mail hold, pre-pay utilities, light timers, notify credit cards, schedule a taxi to/from airport, etc. I’ve researched my international cell phone options.

Posted by
12589 posts

@Rhonda - good idea to start a "Master List" in whatever format you like. I previously had just used WORD or EXCEL. Now I've migrated it over to Googledocs so I can access it on my phone or iPad Mini easily. From the Master List, I then do a Trip (or location) specific list and save it differently. For instance, I go to Yellowstone every year and have a specific list set up for that location which includes things I don't need for any other travel.

@Wanderer - I usually start the same way, either with a kernel of an idea (Christmas Markets?) or a tour and work from there.

  • I don't really start comparing money/exchange rates - my trips cost what they cost. I'm not extravagant and not a shopper. Last Fall on my RS Best of Italy trip I tried to use ApplePay for everything so it all went on a card instead of me paying cash. For my trip in April I will do the same in Netherlands, France and England. Last spring I wound up spending 42E for lunch one day, lol....apparently the 2 glasses of rose on the terrace in the sun broke down my defenses, haha...but skipped dinner as I was still full so it evened out.

  • I so far have just been formulating an itinerary in Googledocs although a friend uses TripIt with good success. I also use Googledocs for my list of days Paris Museums are closed, for some yoga program and workout notes that I do without needing a video so I am in and out of that app a lot anyway.

  • I download apps for all the train companies I am booking on as well as for museums I am visiting. As I purchase tickets I load them in to Apple Wallet immediately (if available) as well as adding to the Notes function on my iPhone and also taking a screen shot and adding to an album in my photos app. I'm covered at least 2 ways if not 3. I do this after each purchase so I don't lose track of things. I keep the ticket emails marked by a * in my email folder but should not have to access it with the other back ups I have. I managed fine last Fall without printing anything out which was a 1st for me as usually I'm a paper back-up gal.

  • I start looking for specific museum exhibitions I might want to go to and check out the ticket situation. I have gone ahead and booked some in Paris and some in London because the situation with the Vermeer exhibition freaked me out. I KNOW there is no other exhibit like the Vermeer and no need to worry about things being sold out but just didn't want to think about some of the things any more. I've still got a number of days in both Paris and London that are only less confirmed.

  • Yesterday I started my process of packing even though I'm 52 days out, lol. I inventoried my 3-1-1 ziplock, my pouch for OTC meds, my pouch for toiletries and my electronics/tech organizer and compared to my Master List. Did post-it notes on what was there and what is needed. Dropped in to Rite Aid today to get some missing items and I think that is mostly done except Jean, our local organizer for our Rick Steves meet up group has asked people to bring their packing cubes to our next meeting so I might have to "unpack" some, lol.

  • I've got some youtube videos cued up to watch about Vermeer as I'm going to the big exhibit in Amsterdam. I'm reading one book about Alienor d'Aquitaine and I have a bunch of light fiction on my Kindle app on my iPad Mini that relates to Yorkshire where I'll be visiting.

  • I'll check the waterproof-i-ness of my rain jacket and respray as needed. I'll have to wait until it's warmer as I like to hang it outside to air out after spraying.

  • I've got shoes and will use the same capsule wardrobe I've worn for 3-4 years. I've got the 2 scarves I will take washed and folded, ready to pack/wear.

  • I'm deciding on which tote bag to take for my personal item. Have it tentatively packed in a new Longchamp Le Pliage and it feels very lightweight. Will probably trial things in my Baggallini tote as well and see which settles better.

I'm ready to go!

Posted by
6158 posts

Here’s some random additions in no particular order:

Check your passport expiration date to make sure you have sufficient extra months as required by the countries you’re visiting.

South Africa - any shots needed? And sign up on-line for the US government STEP notification.

Check your suitcase size if planning to carry on. Each airline is a little different in their rules.

Does your travel insurance cover medical evacuation - not just travel expense reimbursement?

Have a supply, plus a couple of extra weeks of any prescriptions. Sometimes you need a doctor’s approval to obtain them earlier.

Besides doing a trial pack of your clothes, try on every item to make sure there’s no seam tears, etc. or gasp! don’t fit anymore! ; )

I order about $300 of the local currency ahead of time from our bank. Be sure to store it in a secure money belt. I don’t like to do an ATM transaction when I arrive with jet lag.

I ordered a bracelet that looks like the rubbery type kids wear. It has a metal engraved plate that has my emergency contact and international phone number on it. (It’s good to wear out biking or running at home, too!)

I’ve used an Excel spreadsheet for years for my planning & printed itinerary, and for the last four years I also used the TripIt app. The TripIt app is nice because I can forward my reservations, and it also auto populates restaurant and museum websites and addresses. But, during the trip, I’m mostly just doing a quick glance at the Excel sheet. While at home doing the trip research, I just use a huge one month calendar I make out of paper. Each day is a normal size Post-It. I can write on those, move them around to switch dates for a museum, etc.

Have a great time!

Posted by
8934 posts

For me, the trip planning (and packing) are all fun parts of the whole experience.

I agree totally! Love reading about everyone's strategies

Posted by
18 posts

Such great responses! I feel like I’m among my peeps!

I’m going to add a few more of my Phase One arrangements and then comment on the great ideas here.

  • Even after making my deposit on a trip, I keep an eye on the prices in case it changes and I want to make a change as well. In fact, for this trip, I made deposits on a tour that we liked, but I found something we liked so much better, so we cancelled the first. We’ve lost that deposit, but the new trip is less, even taking into account the lost deposit, but most importantly, it is exactly what we want. I don’t recommend this strategy to everyone as you can definitely drive yourself crazy. With cruises, I regularly monitor prices. I even monitor airfare and in the past have cancelled and rebooked airfare with price or convenience advantages. Again, this is not for everyone and I’m not constantly looking for the best price but this is part of my preparations.
  • Make boarding reservations for my dog. I do this early in the process as our boarder does fill up. About a month before departure, I will be checking to see if my daughter or a friend is available and maybe cancel the boarding arrangements.
  • I’m looking at possibly changing to solid shampoo and conditioner, so I’ve been looking at options and will give one a good trial before I decide if that is a switch I will make for travel and at home. Also, the storage of these products is spurring some crafting ideas which are fun too!

@Tammy - thank you for the book recommendation. I have it on hold from the library.

@Rhonda - I’m glad you are finding this useful. I have traveled on a wide variety of trips for many years and I always find great ideas here.

@Time for Travel - thank you for mentioning YouTube. I generally only think of it when I want to do a craft or fix something so I need to start thinking of it more as an overall information source.

@Marie - learning a bit of the local language is wonderful. I always want to know how to greet someone, say please and thank you (and bathroom but toilet works pretty universally). I’m actually finding myself taking fewer pictures but I like your idea for noting sunrise and sunset times for many good reasons. Also, this is a good reminder for me to refresh my knowledge on the photographic abilities of my phone and small camera.

@travel4fun - I’ve already done a trial pack (for size and weight) and my husband thinks I’m crazy too! But for me, it’s all part of the fun. You have a great list of household things to do. I have been using this forum to help me decide about our cell phone options which I generally don’t care about but we plan to use Uber quite a bit for this trip.

@Pam - what useful information! While I like to know the exchange rate, it’s not always about cost but value to me. I might not be sure I want to try Springbok carpaccio if it’s $20, but when I realize it’s $5, definitely. It’s also just part of my nature. I do want to become more familiar with using ApplePay though I know we will need a good bit of local currency for tips for this trip.
I’m sure that google docs handles your information well. I spend a good bit of time on my trips in TripIt, eventually creating a small booklet to take with me, because I feel naked without some paper :)
Great point about downloading train schedules and museum apps. By knowing in advance about closed days and schedules, hopefully one would not be disappointed. I know many people who missed seeing the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam because they didn’t know that tickets are often sold out for many weeks in advance.
What do you use for waterproofing? We use a silicone spray on our shoes but I haven’t used it on our jackets.

Geez, I’m quite wordy and I haven’t commented on Jean’s excellent post yet. Another post coming up.

Posted by
4497 posts

I agree that the planning is half the fun!

I do a lot of things mentioned here - I use TripIt and also Google Trips to keep track of my itinerary, but have really started delving into Google My Maps (not the regular google maps), which I love. It's especially good when you are driving because you can add in all your stops, with distances between, but also add photos of what the places look like. That's handy when you are driving to an unknown hotel or restaurant, as the photo can give you an idea of what you are looking for. You create the Map in a browser but then import it to your phone.

I have a packing list that I created many years ago and every trip I go through and amend or add as needed. I also add all my "Advance To-Do's" to the list, like printing out the ferry tickets before I leave (they will not accept an electronic copy), taking photos of my luggage (inside and out), printing out my itinerary to pack in my bag and so on.

I create a personal guidebook in Google Docs - originally I had one large document but found it easier to create one doc for each area - that way I can pitch the docs (if I print them out) once I'm finished with a destination. For example, my upcoming Scotland trip has separate docs for Glasgow, Edinburgh, Isle of Mull, Moray Firth and so on. Then each separate doc has listings for restaurants, hikes, music venues, shopping and sightseeing complete with links, descriptions, open and closing times, costs and sometimes photos (especially for hikes, so I don't get lost in case there's no cell service).

I also use Google Sheets. I have a detailed list of all accommodations, whether it is booked or not, cancellable or not, and paid for or not, along with the cost, check in and check out times and whether breakfast is included. For Scotland, I also have all my ferry crossings in there with the correct boarding times, check-in times, cost and whether is needs to be booked in advance. I don't really need to budget but I do keep track of the costs. Sheets is also where I store my packing list.

I don't bring any money in advance as I always use credit cards. If I do need money, I will get it at an ATM once I am in the country. But I do figure out in advance which credit cards I will take, and make sure they are all in my Apple Wallet. And I download all the travel apps I need, if I don't already have them.

Posted by
18 posts

I hope this all isn’t TLDR

@Jean - thank you for also providing such a wealth of information. You make very good points about checking passport dates and vaccines, depending on where you are traveling. Luggage size and weight can be a particular concern for safaris so that is what I have been focusing on. Sometimes, only soft luggage without wheels is required. I did check this as it would require us buying duffel beads or large back packs but we are okay for our trip with our current small carry-ones.

You also make a good point about travel insurance. We always get good medical coverage with evacuation because that is an unknown, possibly large expense.

My prescriptions are in good shape but I need to remind my husband to do this.

The clothes choices are a work in progress - along with increased trips to the gym!

Since we will need a good amount of local currency for tipping on this trip, I will probably order some local currency in advance. I don’t generally bother when we go to Europe, as we always end up with some euros at the end of a trip that we keep and also, we know we can use our credit cards for most anything there.

Your bracelet sounds like a good idea - especially if someone was traveling alone.

I read about your calendar and post-it organizing wizardry under another topic - what a great visual, adjustable way to plan a trip.

@Kim - I’m so grateful to be able to travel and to once again find forums full of tips and reports.

Happy and safe travels to all.

Posted by
12589 posts

"Great point about downloading train schedules and museum apps."

Oh, I don't download the train schedules, I download the apps for the various train lines. For my next trip I'm starting in Amsterdam, going to Paris, going to London and then traveling up to Yorkshire. I've downloaded the train apps for the various train companies with whom I've booked - Thalys which is combing with Eurostar but not yet on the apps, Eurostar and LNER for my 2 trips to Northern England and back. Last Fall I downloaded a train app for Northern England.

IF your grocery store has ApplePay capabilities I recommend getting used to it well ahead. My main store (a Kroger brand) does not but the natural foods store I use nearly as often does support ApplePay as do Target, Safeway, Starbucks, etc. Honestly, one of the gals at our local meet-up talked me into this last year and it's been excellent. I still use a PIN instead of face ID but at least I'm mostly there, lol.

Posted by
2704 posts

Another compulsive planner-packer here!
You are in good hands here!
Just one thing about solid bar shampoo.
I took some to N. Italy last year, and couldn’t get any lather out of it at all, even though here at home it was fine.
I felt my hair wasn’t getting clean.
It must have been very hard water?
I bought shampoo after trying the bar for two days.
I don’t remember the brand, but I threw it out.

Posted by
12589 posts

"I took some to N. Italy last year, and couldn’t get any lather out of it at all, even though here at home it was fine.
I felt my hair wasn’t getting clean.
It must have been very hard water?
I bought shampoo after trying the bar for two days
I don’t remember the brand, but I threw it out."*

@SJ, that is very interesting! I had trouble last year in Paris with my hair feeling frizzy or something using my regular shampoo/conditioner. It's pretty straight so it wasn't actually frizzy but was just not doing well. Depending on location here in North Idaho, water is pretty soft. Forum Member Bets got me started on some shampoo from L'Occitaine en Provence that REALLLY helped. I just bought a small test bottle and wow, what a difference. Not sure I can jam it in my 3-1-1 so will have to buy it again next trip!

@Wandered, if you do try solid shampoo/conditioner use it for quite a while at home. I tried Lush once when traveling in UK and it left my hair feeling like straw but it took a few days. I also tried some locally made solid bars and again...just doesn't seem to work with my hair.

Posted by
2704 posts

Pam: I actually found a very small bottle of the same liquid shampoo that I use at home, in a sort of Dollar/Euro store in Bologna, so I was quite happy after that!

Those Euro stores in Italy are very useful for all sorts of things you might need while away, esp. when renting a vacation apartment.
I’ve bought bath plugs, electrical adapter plugs, tea towels, dish sponges, handheld fan, flip flops, shampoo, hand cream in a flat tin, a mug for tea that’s bigger than the supplied espresso cup…..the list goes on.

Posted by
4497 posts

My main store (a Kroger brand) does not [use Apple Pay].

Pam, that drives me crazy - I grew up with Kroger since it is based in Cincinnati, and used it until I moved to MN. But when I was there at Christmas, I found that they are still not allowing Apple Pay, which is really annoying. WalMart is the same way.

And SJ and Pam, I've also tried solid shampoo and have never had much success with it. But I do love L'Occitane products so I will have to check out that shampoo!

Posted by
18 posts

So much good information here!

@Mardee - I think I should look closer at all of the Google choices, especially the map feature you mention. I have created maps before but I didn’t love the process. For driving, it sounds especially useful. I’m going to add taking luggage pics to my Phase Three trip preparation (day before travel).

@Pam - I will definitely start using Apple Pay to become comfortable with it. Since my main grocery store is Kroger, I see from later posts that I can’t practice there but I will make a point of looking whenever I’m out shopping.

Regarding the solid shampoos and conditioners - I’m not sure they will work for me either but I’m willing to give them a try. I know hard or soft water makes a big difference. In the end, if they don’t work, I will take small containers of my favored products.

Posted by
12589 posts

Well, my "Kroger" is actually a Fred Meyer so not sure if that makes a difference. One of the checkers told me in the last few weeks that they are waiting for a reno which will include upgrading to equipment that will handle contactless transactions. Apparently this store was scheduled for an update in 2020 and we know what happened then. So...I would check to see if it's available.

If not, then Target or Starbucks would probably be my choices for "learning experiences" if you can choose a non-busy time so you don't feel rushed. Once you get the hang of it it's so easy and quick.

Posted by
174 posts

I learned something about packing paper tickets in Italy. Our train tickets from Venice to Padua were purchased online and they sent a receipt by email. It gave instructions on how to set up an account to download the bar code for the tickets. When we arrived at the station in Venice we found that there internet was down. Fortunately, I already had the paper receipts in hand showing the date etc. to show the conductor so we were able to board easily. I don't think I would travel without a paper copy of reservations. This happened on another trip too when we arrived for a prepurchased tour and they had never heard of us before or have a copy of the third party reservation in their computer system. So, again the paper version showing that we were confirmed by their company was helpful.

Posted by
2704 posts

If you take screen shots of all your ticket purchases, then you can still show them when needed without needing any WiFi or other connections.
Just keep your phone fully charged.

Posted by
8934 posts

because I feel naked without some paper :)

Wanderer, I feel absolutely the same.

To those whose hair turns to straw in Paris, I can attest that the water here is super hard. Ugh.