Originally published on January 4, 2011 through the Yahoo Contributor Network (formerly Yahoo Voices and Associated Content). All links updated for 2015.
Planning a trip is exciting. Just the thought of getting away from routine is exhilarating. But planning a vacation can also be stressful. Will you forget to bring an extra pair of shoes? Will you remember to print out your boarding pass? Will you miss your flight?
Relax. The whole point of taking a trip, unless it's for business, is to relieve anxiety and tension, so when you decide to take a vacation, preparation will make the trip run smoothly and it will make your life much less stressful.
Some helpful tips for planning a trip include the following:
Setting a Destination (U.S.)
Unless you're one of those people who likes to get in the car and just go wherever life takes you, utilize any one of the maps available online. Yahoo Maps, Google Maps, and Mapquest tell you not only how to arrive at your destination, but also how long it will take you to get there.
Along with Yahoo Maps, Google Maps, and Mapquest , GPS systems provide a great backup plan to help you arrive at your destination with less stress. However, if your GPS system is more than a couple years old, you will have to update it.
When my sister and I took a trip to Florida, we took along my GPS. Orlando's roads had changed since I got my GPS system, though, so we were routed to a road that no longer existed. Unbeknownst to me at the time, most GPS systems offer update software online. Garmin, for instance, offers updates at Garmin.com (click the link).
Setting a Destination (Abroad)
Utilize the help of the U.S. Department of State. They offer travel information and alerts, and if you sign up for their Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, they will assist you in case of an emergency. Their web site also provides links that will help you become better acquainted with the laws of the country you will be visiting. Visit the U.S. Department of State Tips for Traveling Abroad for more information on how to have a safe trip.
Also, when traveling abroad, check your insurance coverage to make sure you are covered for medical emergencies in other countries.
Military, AARP, and Other Discounts
If you belong to the military or AARP, ask about discounts. Most places won't offer that information up front - you have to ask. Not only will you get a great break on hotel prices (comparable to priceline.com and expedia.com), but you will also accumulate points you can use toward future stays.
Pack Like a Pro
Before you go anywhere, you have to pack. Knowing what to pack for a trip requires some forethought. Questions you need to ask yourself are how many days you will be gone and what types of events you will be attending.
Start a list. You will refer to it both before you leave and again when you pack to return home. Once you know what types of clothing you will require, pack all necessary blouses, shirts, skirts, dresses, shoes, socks, jewelry (you might want to keep your expensive jewelry at home in a safe), hair ornaments, and other accessories. Don't forget sleepwear, swimwear, and underwear.
One item often forgotten is sunglasses. A second pair of glasses or additional contacts (along with contact solution) could help, too, in case something unforeseen lengthens your stay.
Pat attention to weather changes. Dress for the climate. But also dress for whatever the temperature will be when you return home. I once left a jacket in San Diego that I didn't remember until I arrived at Midway Airport in Chicago one cold winter day.
The best way to make sure you don't forget anything is to go through your day from beginning to end. From the time you awaken in the morning, write down everything you need. Items you use in the shower might be available in hotels, but if you have a preference for specific shower items, make sure you pack them.
From razors to makeup to personal sanitary products to hair supplies, continue writing your packing list. If you take medication, make sure you pack enough meds to take you a couple of days beyond the date of your return in case of inclement weather. I was once stuck in a Virginia snowstorm for two extra days. Most medications can be purchased in drug stores across the country, but if you are receiving aid from the state in which you reside, you will have to pay full price for your medication across state lines.
Pack laptops, cell phones, tablets, or any other electronic devices you might need for yourself or for other family members, and don't forget the chargers. If you will be driving a rental, don't forget to pack your GPS device.
And finally, don't forget your outerwear, boarding pass, passports, visas, photo IDs, day planners, tickets, itineraries, and your packing list.
Allow Yourself Plenty of Time
If you are someone who is notoriously late, the last thing you want to do is miss your flight. Pretend you are leaving an hour earlier. Rushing is counterproductive. The more relaxed you are when you leave your home, and the more time you give yourself, the more likely you will get to the airport on time.
Airport Security & Homeland Security
Before you leave home, check the Homeland Security Website. Why? As of the original date of this post, the threat level for all domestic and international flights in the U.S. was High, or Orange. The higher the threat level, the longer the time you will spend going through security.
Homeland Security also asks travelers to establish an emergency preparedness kit and to prepare an emergency plan (links are provided for both by clicking on them).
Depending on where you go, you might have to pay an airport security fee. Guatemala, for instance (January, 2011) requires a fee that equals approximately $2.50.
Check with the airline(s) to see how many suitcases you can bring on board and how many you are allowed to check in. Also weigh your suitcases. My daughter and her husband recently went to Mexico and brought along one of the larger suitcases. Their scale didn’t recognize the suitcase, so my daughter had to weigh herself first and then hold the suitcase to make sure it weighed less than 50 pounds.
Also, check the contents of your carry-ons. Something as simple as hand lotion may be confiscated at the security check point. You must dispose of water bottles too.
How to Meet Your Friends Halfway
Sometimes travel includes meeting friends or relatives, but finding a midway point is difficult. Even grabbing a map and measuring the distance doesn't help, because you don't always know exactly where to meet. Midway points need not be a problem though, due to Geomidpoint's "Meet in the Middle" tool. Geomidpoint helps travelers find the midway point between two cities. It also offers choices for restaurant, hotels, movie theaters, golf, shopping, entertainment, and more. Just plug in both addresses, or both cities, and you will find your midway point, along with some places to meet.
Bring an Empty Suitcase
If you plan on shopping while you are gone, you may want to bring an extra empty suitcase. Souvenirs take up room and if your luggage is already packed to the gills you won't be able to accommodate any additional clothing or gifts. Remember the weight restriction!
Make sure the items you purchase as souvenirs will pass inspection. If you are carrying items that you think other countries might find suspicious, contact the Customs Inspections departments for the country you will be visiting. For information on acceptable entry items into the United States from other countries, go to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection web site.
Tell at least one person where you are going. While getting away from everything and everybody seems like a great idea, leaving without telling somebody can be a deadly decision. Somebody should know how to reach you. People who love you, if they haven't heard from you shortly after you are supposed to return, will be grateful for having a way to contact you. Leave behind a copy of your itinerary, and alert at least one person if you expect a delay in your return.
Finally, be safe and enjoy!