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Photo by David Masters.

Vacations might be geared towards relaxing, but the days leading up to a vacation can actually be pretty stressful. Between getting projects wrapped up at the office, organizing your trip, running last minute errands and remembering what to pack, things can all get rather hectic. If you’ll be traveling for a really long time, there’s even more pressure to get your life in order before you depart.

To keep the stress to a minimum, make a checklist of what needs to get done and start chipping away at it bit by bit. Here’s a to-do list to get you started.

What to do several months/weeks before your trip:

1. Buy insurance. Figure out if your domestic health insurance will cover you abroad and find out what you would need to do in an emergency. For example, some insurers will only cover you at specific international hospitals so you may want to get access to that list in advance. Also, in many non life-threatening cases, insurers will require that you call them before seeking treatment, so be sure to have that phone number handy (it’s usually a different number from the regular customer service line). If you need additional travel insurance, go ahead and buy it as soon as you book your trip. The reason for this is that you can use the trip cancellation benefit if something unexpected (e.g. a death in the family) forces you to abandon your travel plans.

2. Sort out health-related matters. If you take prescription medication, get all the supplies you’ll need for your trip since you may not be able to purchase it abroad (even if it’s available you will most likely need a local doctor’s prescription which could be hard to get if you don’t speak the language or have easy access to a reputable doctor). It’s worth organizing this far in advance since in the US it can take a bit of time to get the necessary authorizations for a long term supply of medicine. Secondly, find out what vaccinations you’ll need as soon as possible, since some vaccines can’t be administered simultaneously, while others require multiple doses at set intervals. While you’re at it, you may want to consider getting a flu shot. And finally, if you’ll be away for a really long time, a checkup at the dentist might be a good idea too.

3. Get your documents in order. Make sure your passport isn’t about to expire, as some countries won’t let you enter if you don’t have more than six months left before the expiration date. Also, ensure you have any requisite visas or paperwork for each country you’ll be visiting.

What to do shortly before your trip:

4. Call your bank. Make sure you notify your bank and credit card company of your travel plans, otherwise their fraud-monitoring department might put a stop on your card when they see that it’s being used overseas. You don’t want to be caught without access to your funds while you’re abroad.

5. Figure out the fine print on your phone plan. If you plan on taking your cell phone with you, you may have to activate international roaming before you leave home. Make sure you understand what the charges for phone calls and texts will be while you’re overseas, to avoid any nasty surprises later. For those with a smart phone (e.g. an iphone or Blackberry), you may have to turn off data roaming in your phone’s settings to avoid getting hit with stratospheric data fees (phones can use data in the “background” even if you don’t open a data-specific application).

6. Organize and pay your bills. Go ahead and pay all the bills you can before you leave so you don’t have to worry about it during your vacation. You may want to set up recurring billing so it gets taken care of automatically while you’re gone, or at least set up online access so you can pay the bills via the internet.

7. Register your travel plans with your government. If you get caught in an emergency while you’re abroad, your government will be better able to assist you if they know you’re there (for example, your country might organize flights to evacuate its citizens from a country where a riot or terrorist act has occurred). US citizens can register their travels here and Australians can tell the government about their plans here. In addition to this, you may also want to provide a friend or family member with your itinerary.

8. Make copies of documents. Have a photocopy of your passport and visa so it’s easier to replace if it gets lost or stolen. Also jot down the numbers to call if your credit or debit cards are stolen.

9. Put a hold on deliveries. Have the post office hold your mail or ask a neighbor to collect it for you. An overflowing mailbox or unopened newspapers on the front lawn are a sure sign the homeowners are away, so make sure your mail is taken care of and consider stopping newspaper delivery if you’ll be gone for a while.

What to do the day you leave:

10. Adjust your thermostat. If you’re traveling in the summer months, turn your air conditioner off to keep your bills down. However, if you are traveling during winter and you live in an extreme climate, you should leave your heat on but turned down (about 60F is the general recommendation) to prevent your pipes from freezing and bursting.

11. Unplug appliances. A lot of electronics can suck up power if they’re plugged in (even when they’re not turned on). Do a round of the house and unplug everything that’s not necessary.

12. Get the kitchen in order. Wash dirty dishes, take out the trash and don’t forget to clean out the fridge (lest you have to deal with weeks or months-old fruit and vegetables upon your return). It’s also a good idea to wipe down the counters with some anti-bacterial household spray so you don’t come back to find ants/insects feasting on any crumbs.

13. Secure your house. Many people don’t fully secure every entryway into their house on a daily basis, but if you’ll be gone for a while, you want to be sure that you’ve shut all the windows, and locked and bolted all the doors.

14. Take some aspirin. If you’re concerned about Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), you may want to take some low-dose aspirin before your flight.

What do you think? Do you have any other suggestions on things you should do before you depart? Anyone with pets or kids have animal or child-specific tips?