Europe Planning Checklist: 6 Weeks Out
Updated: 4 days ago
It's about a month and a half until you embark on your vacation that you've been planning for months. Here I outline my process for planning the final weeks before departure to the EU.
As a project manager in my professional life, planning, managing, tracking, monitoring, all these things are part of every minute of my day. Travel planning is no different. It involves endless hours of thorough research, mindful organization of point A to B transportation, curated lists of places to see, things to do, and cultural highlights that can't be missed. It takes months of combing through Tripadvisor reviews and photos, weeks of Booking.com hotel comparisons - do I want the one with the balcony or the one with the free breakfast? As the months and weeks turn in to a countdown of days, the pressure of planning can create a pre-travel panic. Don't fret. With my process, you'll be so well prepared for your travels ahead of time, that all you need to think about it what pair of underpants to put on for the airplane (hint: it's already laid out for you a week ago). Read on for my process guide for 6 weeks out from your overseas vacation.
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6 Weeks to Go - Button down the important stuff
Hotels, car rentals, train tickets, short haul flights and ferries need to be booked by now. Like, for real. These should have been booked months ago for the best rates and ultimate peace of mind. Nevertheless, 6 weeks out is the time to either book the final items or re-visit the confirmations, to be sure everything is still in order.
Note: if you haven't booked your primary overseas flight: I use Google Flights for all my travel planning, then book directly with the airlines. You can also book through your Chase Sapphire Travel portal for FREE flights with points!
My favorite places to book:
Make sure you cancel any overlapping or additional 'placeholder' bookings. You don't want to get hit with fees.
Car Rentals: My Chase Sapphire Rewards travel portal has the best rates for paying by points or cash. It's fueled by Expedia.com , which offers similarly competitive rates and gives you an idea of where to shop around. Hertz and Sixt are our favorite car rental companies.
Train Tickets: Since we are typically in Spain, we use Renfe. Their site is absolutely atrocious. (Pro tips: when adding passenger totals, it knows the number of 'clicks' even if it doesn't show it. For instance, you need two adult tickets - click it twice and you'll get there, even if it just shows 1 or none. Also, if you need just a one-way fare, choose 'one-way' under the Round Trip carat. It will show as 'round trip' but knows you want a one-way.)
Not traveling in Spain? Try Rail Europe's website for more details on how to get around.
Short Haul Flights: Try Ryan Air, Easy Jet and Vueling.
You'll pay for everything from your seat assignment, carry-on bag and even the check-in process if you don't read their guidelines very carefully. If you've got the stomach for cramped, no-frills short haul service these flights are a no-brainer. Ryan Air offers flights as low at 9 euros (example fare from Brussels to Zaragoza, Spain) and offers flights from both major and regional sized airports across Europe. (Pro tip: it's cheap enough to go for a week or short few days jaunt from wherever you are. Just pack a weekender underseat bag and all you end up paying for is the ticket - no add ons!).
Ferries: the two outfits I have used are Brittany Ferries with routes from the UK to Spain and France, and Direct Ferries for a variety of routes such as the mini-cruise 19hr leg from Oslo to Copenhagen. Their cruises offer a bit more than your typical car ferry at reasonable rates around $85 per family in an economy bunk bed cabin. Bonus is all their rooms are ensuite - no toilet or shower sharing!
5 Weeks to Go - Start Packing
This is where people think I'm insane. Truth be told, I start packing when the plane tickets are booked. With bag sizes wildly different for every airline, I get excited going up and down to my attic or my under bed stash of luggage to determine which bag suits this trip the best. Don't be one of those a-holes trying to pack your entire life in to a suitcase. You really don't need that much. Pick outfits that are mix and match, versatile, and good for changing weather. Pick one primary jacket - not three - and a sweater, choose a packable down for winter months and a thin windbreaker for others. Pick slinky, squishable, moisture-wicking and easy to dry clothes. They pack small! Pack socks with holes (and throw them out along the way), do the same with your old underwear - pack the ones you're about done with, and toss them as you go. This frees up space for souvenirs!
Once you have an idea of what bag fits your airline bag policy (and your chosen mode of travel - economy, underseat bag only, etc) then it's time to get the basics in order. Do you like to dress for the location? For instance, breezy linens for Morocco or hues of blue for trips to the Mediterranean? Start pulling out those outfits. Lay them on the bed, try them on - you'd be surprised how many clothes get thrown in the Goodwill pile at this point in my process...Get an idea for what will go in the bag, and make a pen and paper list.
Pack your odds and ends and travel supplies - chargers, adapters, cosmetics, umbrellas, and all the things you likely won't be using between now and then. Make a list of what didn't get packed yet.
Once you've done your 'preliminary pack', breathe easy - you won't touch this stuff again for a few more weeks.
4 Weeks to Go - Small Details
Make dinner reservations for special occasions or high-in-demand locales. You can do this sometimes through a restaurant's web portal, but often you need to send them an email to do this. I find that if I write the email in English it never gets a response or acknowledgement. Go outside your comfort zone and go to Google Translate to type up your draft. Copy it in to your email and send!
Repeat this process for winery visits (you typically can't just show up like in the States), and any other person-to-person type of tours you need to take care of.
Book concert or theater tickets, buy tickets to popular galleries or museums too.
3 Weeks to Go - Focus on Home
Are you all set at home? Did you arrange for a pet sitter? Did you pause your mail (for reallllly long trips)? Is someone bringing in your packages, watering your plants? Do you have an in-home house sitter that needs clean sheets, pillows, towels, groceries? Make a list that applies to you and make sure everything has a plan.
Also consider vaccine schedules. Is it coming up on flu season? Give yourself a few weeks from your trip to get the vaccines you may need, especially if they may make you a little ill. You want to be fully vaxxed and feeling good to travel!
2 Weeks to Go - Review, Revise, Review again
Last push. Check your itinerary for flaws. Check CDC and embassy websites for travel (and COVID) restrictions, and especially entry and exit tests that may be required, VISAs, documents that you may need to bring, etc. Make sure you didn't make any mistakes on your bookings. By two weeks ago, you are typically at the end of your window to cancel or modify your reservations for hotels.
Finish packing. Don't forget, ALWAYS PACK TISSUES! ;-)
Take care of house and home:
Sweep, mop and vacuum - no one wants to come home to a dirty house
Set timers for lights around the house
Water the plants, mow the lawn
Notify your ATM that you will be traveling (most banks are smart enough for this these days but if you are unsure, simply write them a note on your web portal)
Notify your credit card companies (same note as above)
Re-confirm house sitter/pet sitter
The Day Before Travel
This is it. Get a good night's sleep. Button down the house.
Trim your nails
Shave your legs
Trim your facial hair
Make sure all daily medications are packed and handy
Put out your clothes for tomorrow - including underwear, socks, shoes and jewelry
Take a good shower - with typically overnight flights, you won't get one for at least 24 hours.
For the trip:
Put Passports somewhere handy (mom's purse)
Triple check you have all IDs and documentation needed
Pack all your device chargers (don't forget your phone charger, fitbit charger, and tablet/PC chargers!)
For the house:
Do the dishes and put them away
Put the blinds in a position that looks like you are home, without showing off the whole empty house
Take out the garbage
Set the house temperature (if you have Nest, you can scratch this from your list!)
If you want more tips, check out Travel + Leisure's article on 11 Things You Should Do the Day Before You Leave for a Vacation.
The Day of Travel
You did it!!!!!! You're here! Nothing left to do but a final gut check:
Finally, the last thing I do before leaving, which is the first part of every trip - I count the bags. With a baby in tow, we have a lot of miscellaneous stuff. Every items counts as a bag -
Dad's carry on bag
Mom's carry on bag
Baby's carry on bag
Dad's underseat bag
Mom's underseat bag
Baby's underseat bag
Etc...you get the idea. Then at every important juncture, I yell, "Bag check!" As a family we count the bags. Did anything get left in the Lyft? Was a bag left behind at the bathroom stop we made? Did we get everything off the carousel? This tiny tip has helped us from leaving behind a bag or two on several occasions!