Travel Prep: Avoiding Those Last-Minute Scrambles

Paris Eiffel Tower as seen from 16th arrondisement. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Maybe I’m more than a little “Type A,” but the thought of having to scramble at the last minute to pack and prepare to travel gives me nightmares. (Seriously, I have dreams where we’re trying to get to the airport to catch a flight but some crazy little thing keeps holding us up.)

A Pre-Travel Checklist

While I do like to wait until close to our departure to make my final travel wardrobe choices, there are a few things I’ve learned to tackle in advance to reduce anxiety and that nagging feeling that I’ve forgotten something important.

Not all of these are necessary each time we travel, but I thought it might be helpful to put together a pre-travel checklist for the weeks before departure.

Passport ✔️

If you haven’t traveled in a while, be sure you can locate your passport and that you have sufficient time to renew if necessary before it expires. It can take several weeks to get a passport renewal, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time.

House Sitter/Pet Care/Mail Delivery ✔️

If you’ve arranged for a house sitter or pet care well in advance, it might be a good idea to circle back around a couple of weeks before your trip to confirm. If you want to have your mail held while you’re away, you can arrange online at

Re-check Flights ✔️

We usually book our flights several months in advance to be able to use frequent flyer miles. A couple of days ago we were notified by our airline that our outgoing transatlantic flight for our upcoming trip had been cancelled! 😯 Fortunately we were able to re-book on an earlier flight the same day. We were lucky and it worked out. But we’ve had experiences in the past where our flight times were revised and we weren’t notified. It’s always a good idea to re-check your booking online to be sure nothing’s changed. And if you have a smartphone and can download the app for the airline(s) you’re traveling on, that’s another good way to stay updated.

Calling Plans ✔️

Speaking of smartphones, if you’ll be traveling overseas do you need to add international calling to your plan? (Can often save you money if you have to call home or check in with your office.) Do you have or need data roaming?  Or are you planning to pick up and use a SIM card at your destination?

Check Your Bags ✔️

I mean physically. Whatever luggage you’re planning to use, make sure there are no broken or missing bits, and that you have secure luggage tags with your name and contact information. (Not your home address, though!)

Toiletries ✔️

Advance Travel Prep: what I carry in my EMME travel toiletries bag. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

I keep a stash of samples and travel-sized packages of my favorite products, as well as some OTC medications in bubble packages. Though I store these in my EMME bag when not in use, I’ve found it helpful to pull everything out, do a quick inventory, and re-organize. I like to do this at least several days before we travel. That way I can toss expired products, pick up anything that needs replenishing, and remove empties and duplicates to save space and weight. (Yes, I will be replacing that full-sized deodorant with a travel-sized version.)

Those little packets of skincare products can easily become a jumble, so I clip or band similar items (serums/eye creams/moisturizers/masks) together. Any liquid makeup items will also go into that clear bag. I still have plenty of room! (A note: though I’ve never had an issue with the clear bag being TSA-compliant, some people tell me they have. If you are concerned, you can put your carry-on liquids in the standard quart baggie, and transfer them to the clear pouch once you get to your destination.)

The EMME travel toiletries bag is compact once closed. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

I keep my EMME bag hanging on the back of our bathroom door, so that I can easily toss in any last-minute items. If you’ve missed my prior reviews of this bag, here’s the short version: it’s the very best travel toiletries bag I’ve found anywhere. It holds a ton but packs down nice and flat. I love that I can hang it, and those big clear pockets help me organize and find items easily. I even bought one for le Monsieur, and he loves it! The bag you see above is a few years old now, and still going strong.

Medical ✔️

Will you need to refill prescriptions before you travel? Get updated immunizations? Replenish any OTC allergy medications?

Transportation To The Airport ✔️

Again, my Type-A-ness kicking in, but I like to give myself ample time to get to the airport, check in, and get through security so I can relax a little bit before boarding. Will you be traveling to the airport during rush hour? Will you be relying on a rideshare program (Uber/Lyft), driving yourself, taking public transportation? If you need to arrange other transportation, doing this a few days ahead means one less thing to tackle at the last minute.

What preparation do you do in advance when you travel?

More Travel Tips:

A 12-Piece Travel Wardrobe Capsule For Spring

How To Choose Shoes For Spring and Summer Travel

5 Things I Always Pack In My Carry-On Bag

Tips For Choosing A Travel Bag

My 5 Travel Wardrobe Essentials

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  1. I’m a planner and lists are part of my travel agenda. I’d add notifying credit card issuers and/or bank debit card issuers to let them know you’ll be traveling so you have no problems using your cards. Have a great trip!

  2. Great post. Love my packing cubes. I’m better organized, have more room and can toss them in any hotel dresser. I find they help keep tops more wrinkle free during transport if cube is fully packed.

  3. I’m pretty much on the same schedule as you. I usually start about a week before actual travel getting things ready so I don’t have it all to do last minute. I do also get all my clothes out and hanging together in one space in the closet so I just need to fold the day before departure.

  4. Susan, I’ve been a bit of a mess with the packing of toiletries but getting better and with this extra help “Samples”I will take off as I have so many what a great tip! Thank you.

  5. Good advice. Love my packing cubes and my EMME bag. I really like to organized. Find it takes a lot of the stress away.

  6. I’m with you, Sue. Plan and plan and then relax. Medical supplies, especially when travelling to places where you might not be able to easily get those tummy products, antiseptics, or pain relievers are really important. Several times when we’ve been travelling in South American or Central America, I’ve doled out “drugs” to other travellers who didn’t bring their own. My travel cosmetics bag is always at least half-packed with miniatures of everything I use. But like you, I make my last minute tweaks to my travel wardrobe… once I’ve seen the weather forecast. Scarves and rainwear and warm shoes (for me that’s my hiking boots) can make the difference between being miserable, and staying warm and toasty, and reasonably content… as reasonably content as one can be when it’s pouring rain and you’re on holiday:)

    1. I had a terrible experience finding tummy medicine in Spain – I was stuck on it should be pink and all the many pharmacies we hit had was green- and now I always take any OTC I can imagine myself needing. If your head thinks that pink tummy meds are the cure, it’s hard to convince it otherwise just because you’re on a trip!

  7. At the same time that i recheck my flight, I also send an email to the hotel confirming my reservation and informing them of my arrival time. Doing this has meant that most of the time, they have a room available for us upon arrival, eliminating that awful period between your arrival and the official check in time when you are tired and feel dirty, but can’t get to your room. On a couple of occasions, they have written back with an offer of transportation that was at a much reduced cost from what we would have found at the airport.

  8. I’m also a big planner with lists to be checked and rechecked. That Emme bag is just priceless and I am forever grateful to you for introducing me to it. 🙂 Like you, it’s half packed in my closet at all times.

  9. Also check the number of blank pages left in your passport. Some countries have a minimum blank page requirement I.e. Africa and will bar your entrance even if passport current. Most of us get no where near filling up a passport-I wish! My boss got sent back-his family stayed hoping he would catch up but not easy to get more pages added. Did not work out.

  10. Check and double check – even though we travel to Europe almost monthly, there have been times when I’ve forgotten things that are clearly on my all-important Packing List – like our passports! So I have double-check reminders on my e-calendar to remind me of those last-minute things – like the makeup I’ve just refreshed before going out the door! On our way back to France soon!

  11. Just an observation: the last many times i have travelled out of US, on domestic or international flights, i have not been required to remove liquids from my carry-on for inspection.

    1. Maybe not but, there is always THAT one time..domestic flight last week the woman ahead of me had to take her bag and take everything out….I mean EVERYTHING from her carry on…it’s a smallish airport so staff were pleasant but firm. She had not separated her liquids into a clear bag..what a bother!! Also get travel sizes of toothpaste…my husband was held up in security, missing his connection. A couple with a HUGE tube of toothpaste were arguing with the security about it and held up the line. Never argue, hand it over or pay to check the bag!! The stupid argument cost my husband his connection and his company several hundreds of dollars to find a hotel room at 2:00am.
      A point not mentioned is LEAVE YOUR JEWELRY AT HOME safe and sound. Wear a simple wedding band if you must and costume jewelry. Anyway, flashing the heavy artillery in Europe always gives people away as American and it’s not worth losing it to a pick pocket or hotel theft. My aunt found this out the hard way.
      Losing several valuable pieces when her purse was stolen from a restaurant table.
      She did not trust the hotel safe!!! they think the guy followed her, maybe the big old diamond ring on her left hand??

  12. Tell your bank you’ll be traveling–I had my card frozen once because the bank computer detected foreign activity; I had to get through to them to say that the foreign activity was made by me.
    Check not just that your passport is valid, but that you have three months left after your trip.
    To Vivien: yes on the blank pages. Back in the day, I had to get extra pages put in my passport–quite a feat considering most of the EU is in the Schengen zone.
    Depending on where you’re going and which meds you take, you might want to have a copy of your prescription to prove they’re not illicit.

    1. Actually, many countries require 6 months left until expiration. I have friends who were denied boarding and lost precious days of their holiday as they scrambled to get an emergency renewal appointment. Also, if a passport has gotten wet it may not be considered valid, even if it’s since dried. Another friend found that out the hard way. I keep ours in ziploc baggies.

      1. I was refused a flight to Belgium as they required a full year left (I had well over 6 months left). Nobody, even the travel agent I still used then, informet me of that. Very bizarre between Québec and Belgium. I wound up having to take a flight to Toulouse, then make a hell of a long journey between southwestern France and Amsterdam, my final destination. I ate nothing between Toulouse and Amsterdam and was happy to have had the forethought to have bought a 1.5 litre bottle of water. I had to be in Amsterdam to interpret at a conference.

  13. Just getting started here — pulled my case down yesterday and started listing what I want to put in it. The weather will warm considerably over our six weeks’ travel, and I’d only just pulled the summer-clothes boxes out from under the bed. . . Did you get caught in the Air France strike? I’ve been crossing my fingers, checking my App. . . we’ve already been stung by SNCF and had to arrange backup transportation. The joys of travel! (at least the challenges are more easily met with a bit of forethought — and checklists like yours).

    1. We’re actually on BA, and renting a car (already booked) once we get there, so hopefully the strikes won’t impact us much. Fingers crossed…

  14. One thing I might add, after my recent trip to Paris and Germany, is take a small map of your destination, if you are not travelling in a tour group (I was not). I had never been to Paris, was travelling alone, and despite all the pre-travel studying of the city and phone/internet international plan, when I arrived in Paris my phone GPS nor any other internet function would not work. Wifi seems to be very sparse in Paris. If I had not had a small foldable map that I had taken out of my Rick Steves travel book, pardon my language, but I would have been screwed. I printed a small map of each city I was travelling to, and this at least got me to the TI (tourist information office). Even in the US I am heavily dependent on my GPS, so not having it was really bad, especially when you pop up from the metro after an overnight flight and our completely disoriented!! My other bit of advice along the IT lines is add any apps you want to use, such as Google translator, Eur-rail, Rick Steves walking tours, Mobile passport apps etc prior to leaving the US.

    1. On my list during the preparation phase is to download offline maps in Google Maps and save them on my iPhone for all the areas we’ll be visiting. They are searchable when offline and use GPS, not data — a huge improvement in the last couple of years, and has made exploring off the beaten path so much easier!

  15. Hi there, yes we definitely depend on travel lists. A couple of things I could add are:
    – sharing your itinerary with family/ or friend so they can reach you if needed
    – consider travel insurance. It has saved us money when I had to cancel a trip to France because of unexpected foot issues. We got back every cent we had prepaid like tickets, hotel deposit.
    – clear your refrigerator of perishables- no smelly stuff when you get back lol!
    – know which of your bills will be due while you’re gone and either pay it or negotiate a different due date- you don’t want a bunch of late fees
    – if you are a reader like me, load up your iPad or tablet with books, magazines- I love my Alameda County library in California- I can load up on endless magazines and ebooks. Saves me money that I can use for the trip instead.
    – lastly, this may be ocd of me, but I like to come home to a clean house so on the last day, I clean up and put in fresh sheets and hang fresh towels. We are typically gone from 2-4 weeks so I’m really tired when we arrive home ( in our 60s and healthy thank God) and love that I can just take a nice hot shower and sink into my lovely bed and dream of my next trip haha.
    Hope these help you! Happy travels to all.

  16. A great tip that was given to me a few years back and that I have used ever since… scan all your important documents (passports, health insurance card, driving licence…) and send them to your own e-mail address. Should you lose everything, cellphone included, you can always access copies of your ID and other documents by logging in via internet in a hotel, internet café or wherever. I find this very reassuring!
    Friends who were stranded in India, having had all their hand luggage stolen in the departure lounge at the airport (they were having a quick pre-flight nap!) were able to reconstitute their identities and get in touch with their country’s consulate for assistance.

    1. I scan everything also (I use Evernote and email both)
      Also, I always pack cash (1s and 5s) in my carryon luggage for hotel tips, valet, vending machines, whatever.
      I set up my Nest home camera to keep an eye on the kitties via WiFI on my iPhone and iPad; I can talk to them and they come running when they hear me!
      I load my iPhone and iPad with Audiobooks, TEXTURE app (magazines) and download articles for reading on the plane without WiFi
      Sometimes we will ship a box of clothes or other essentials via FedEx so we don’t have to carry it, depending on destination.
      And lastly, I make a list of things I forgot, could have improved, etc. and put it in my luggage to read before the next trip!
      Bon Voyage!

  17. One tip I got was to make a photocopy of your passort photo/signature page and either carry it on your person if travelling alone or have your travelling partner carry it. A friend was able to easily establish ther identity this way when she had to go to the Canadian consultate when her purse was tolen with her passport in it.

  18. I may be repeating some of the tips above, but for international I Iike to 1) carry a small change purse to put my American currency in while in another country, and switch back when I’m on the plane coming home 2) put a copy of your passport in each bag, and also carry one somewhere separate from your passport while you’re abroad 3) electrical adapter if needed 4) washcloths, if you like to use them – they are not necessarily a “given” in all countries. You can buy stacks of cheap ones in the US. 5) if there’s a toll-free number in the US that you use often, you might want to find out what the regular number is in case you can’t dial the toll-free number from overseas.

    1. Washcloths! Very rare indeed. I bring a quickdry washcloth and rinse with very hot water and soap to keep fresh. Regular cloths take forever to dry.

    2. Going to France I’d do the opposite. French gants de toilette are far more practical than washcloths. You can buy those at Monoprix, HEMA, any department store, or a more luxe place if you want a keepsake.

      1. These gloves are my must-buy souvenir when I head to France. By now my French relatives know that they should bring these to me when they visit, forget chocolates or perfume!

  19. I found Brenda Kinsel’s packing list online and tweaked it to suit. The check boxes make sure you don’t just skim read it and the categories make for more efficient packing. Each time we book a trip I print off a copy to put in a clear plastic sleeve together with copies of all the booked services we are using. Call us old fashioned but we don’t rely totally on electronic filing. We’re off to Noosa on the Sunshine Coast in Australia in July and already have our packet started.

  20. Uber/Lyft – Although I have been successful in Montreal and Seattle to order ride to airport at 6 am, I wonder about using them in general to airports when time is short since cannot order ahead. How do you recommend using the rides as type A personality?

    1. I usually prefer to pre-arrange airport transportation and not leave to chance. But some people I know are fine with and have had no problem getting rides when they needed.

    2. It may be different depending on your city, but I’ve been able to schedule Lyft rides a few days ahead. When you go into the app to request a ride there’s a little clock next to your location and you can tap that and choose when you’d like to schedule it.

    3. I use a car service (that we use at work, very reliable and dependable) for all outbound trips. I’m okay with the other car services (Uber, Left, taxi) when we return and there’s no possibility of missing a flight.

  21. I love planning a trip, and packing a bag. I usually start a few weeks in advance, (the lists start even earlier) and keep revising. Usually, when I am done with a trip, I take a look at what I packed, and make a list of what I actually used, and what I wished I had packed. Then when it’s time to pack for a new trip, I refer to my list from the previous trip. I keep these lists in my filofax, along with financial data about the trip…I start a new page for each trip. I love looking at all this info during boring moments at work, and daydream about the next trip. And when I can’t sleep? I pack a bag in my head and fantasize about some wonderful vacation.

    But here’s a question….I always have my address on my luggage tag…both my home and my destination. Now I’m nervous…why is this such a no-no? Thanks for sharing your expertise!

    1. I’ve been told not to have your home address on a luggage tag because it would be a giveaway that you’re not home. Perhaps this is outdated advice. 🙂

      1. You could also choose the address of a relative or friend whom you know will be at home. I cat and plant sit for friends, so they are welcome to use my address and vice versa. But you need their coordinates as well.

      2. AH! This is something I never have to even think about! One of the advantages of living in a high rise. Someone would have a very difficult time getting into my home…two sets of locked doors in the lobby, two sets of locks on my door, and the best security of all…my nosy neighbors. But for someone with a stand-alone home , I don’t think this advice is outdated at all!

  22. I put my destination address on my luggage tag on the trip out and swap it with my home address on the trip home. That way, they have the correct delivery address if there’s a problem on the trip out (and it’s happened) but I’m not advertising that I’m not home to anyone.

  23. My travel tip is for while you are enroute, on the plane. I have started putting any medication I would need to take while onboard, in a separate bottle, as I almost dropped a whole bottle of pills one time. What a disaster that would have been! I always pack a few really high protein bars in case the food is just not to my liking. They also seem to help me get back to sleep if I wake up hungry during the night due to jet lag. Bon voyage ladies!

      1. I have found the Simply Protein bars the best, only 1g of sugar, about 7 g of fibre and 15g of protein. You can order them online at as you’re in La Belle Province. My fav was Lemon/Coconut, but this doesn’t seem to be available any longer, 🙁 Enjoying everyone’s tips and advice, although I travel a fair bit I find I always learn something new!

  24. No foreign travel in my future, but your post has inspired me to get my “grandma bag” packed this weekend, as my next grandchild is due at the end of May. When we had the first one a few weeks early, I was the only grandparent who had the foresight to pack toiletries, a change of clothes, and a blanket. If I get a middle-of-the-night call that my daughter is headed to the hospital I can easily grab the bag and go wherever I am needed, probably to their house to care for the three year old. I enjoy living vicariously through your travel posts, and hope to put all I’ve learned from you into practice when I’m no longer caring for my elderly mother.

  25. Check your bags. My first Pacsafe bag finally broke at the zipper. I not only had to ditch it at the airport -instead of having it repaired after my trip if I checked at home- I spent a lot of money on a replacement at the airport.

    Check your seating assignments because this could change if they change the plane being used.

    Always order the shuttle early! We had one come an hour late. Even the driver was happy to hear from us that we ordered one very early. It made us the passengers and the driver more relaxed. Also leaving Paris a passenger too too long to get down to the car and then there was a serious accident on the way. The passengers who made us late worried while I was ok.

  26. Such great advice! I love planning stuff and making lists for travel and I always keep my travel documents in exactly the same place and it is the first thing I do when I get home from anywhere – put them back!!! I also make modular lists (makeup/skin care and pack up little freebies/samples etc well before I go so that is done), camera/chargers etc, clothing, books for the flight/cabin necessities – and with each little list of “stuff” I have started ticking things on that list as I use them – anything unticked, well I probably didn’t need it. I always pick up a spare clear plastic bag at the airport so any cabin toiletries are packed well ahead. Generally I don’t take too much cabin baggage and anything I need in flight I put in a small squishy bag to go under the seat in front so I am not up and down annoying people, and I ALWAYS pack a pen and hardback notebook – pen for landing cards etc so immigration is sped up and hardback notebook for brilliant ideas and something firm to write on.

  27. I have a pre-travel list for cancelling milk, emptying bins, getting currency, printing documents etc.; a packing list for all the basics like cosmetics, chargers, umbrella, etc ; and basic generic travel wardrobe lists for each season which I adapt to the number of days, activities and items I particularly want to wear. I decant cosmetics into tiny containers- a contact lens case can hold enough cleanser and moisturiser for a week. I do a one page itinerary with all the travel and any appointment details or other useful information, such metro/bus/taxi, contact numbers and mini maps.
    My husband picks up his passport, credit card, laptop and phone, packs shirts and underwear for the requisite number of days, packs a razor and medication , picks up his keys and leaves.

  28. We do many of the things mentioned above including notifying our banks that require it of our travel, cancel paper and mail, etc. We also hire cleaners to clean the house the day we get back (such a treat!).

    We download content. Many movies, tv series and playlists can now be downloaded onto phones/ipad. We use little tiny pill zip locks so just make sure we’ve got enough pills and the right meds. If it’s a trip with many parts (our upcoming one is hiking 7 days in the Cevanne mountains then spending a week in Provence -yippee!) we will review the whole itinerary day by day making sure the hotels are reserved, travel is on the right day, etc.

    We save everything (flight info, copies of passport, emails confirming hotel reservations, car rental, etc) to dropbox and then download it on our phone so we don’t carry papers with us and can access content without wifi. We also take pics of our pill bottles and leave them at home.

    We also download google maps onto our phone of cities we know we’ll be in so we can save data for other things.

    Of course for short trips and work trips, we don’t usually go to all this effort but for longer international trips these items help us enjoy our trip and not worry.

  29. Something I just learned…check if the country you are traveling to requires a visa to enter their
    Country. I was at the airport for
    My flight to India and then found out I needed the visa! Was able catch the same flight but changed to going to Sri Lanka where you can obtain a visa at thier airport!

  30. I worry about emailing copies of your documents to yourself and using unsecured wifi to retrieve them. I would say if you have a way to encrypt or lock up images of your most important documents (like on Dropbox or iPhone notes), have the lockup password safe, and retrieve the document images if needed on paid cell phone service.

    I just returned from an EU country and found that a big problem was that plug adapters fit and work inconsistently. Also, I would say don’t forget to take phone battery chargers and an extra cell phone charger cable and plug for convenience.