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Europe Planning Checklist: 6 Weeks Out

Updated: Jan 31

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.

Stock photo of a person writing a checklist on a grid paper journal

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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 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.

6 Weeks to Go - Lock In Logistics

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.

Long Haul Airfare Should Be Purchased

This should have been the first thing you did.

If you haven't booked your primary overseas flight, get on Google Flights now to search the best airfares and then book directly with the airlines.

Itinerary Planning Should be Complete

You should have also done the majority of your planning by the time you are six weeks out from your trip.

All Hotels Are Booked (And Cancellations Made As Needed)

Make sure you cancel any overlapping or additional 'placeholder' bookings. You don't want to get hit with fees. It's common to start seeing cancellation deadlines around this time, up to 24 hours before your stay, so go ahead and make those final decisions and cancel anything you don't need.

Car Rentals Are Reserved

My Chase Sapphire Rewards travel portal has the best rates for paying by points or cash. It's fueled by , 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 Are Purchased

Since we are typically in Spain, we use Renfe.

Not traveling in Spain? Try Rail Europe's website for more details on how to get around. You may also find that Omio and Trainline are wonderful resources for finding trains as well.

Short Haul Flights Are Booked

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.

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!).

Ferry Routes Are Booked

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.

Note that many ferries can just be booked the same day at the dock. This is common for short crossings, so just make sure you have an idea of timetables and route destinations before you arrive.

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. (Don't judge!)

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 Overpack

Don't try 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!

Use Packing Cubes

Without a doubt, use packing cubes every time.

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.

Try Everything On

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.

Make A 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 use the Google Translate tool 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, sports events or museums too.

Using a tour booking tool like Viator or GetYourGuide is a huge win because a lot of times the transportation, admission tickets and special extras are included. Skip the line tours are a big sell on sites like these - do you really want to wait hours in line at the Llouvre or Paris Catacombs?

Also, now is a good time to order foreign currency if you haven't already. It can take up to a week to get back. Just go to your bank and follow some of these foreign currency guidelines.

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. 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.

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.

Even though things may be relaxed COVID-wise where you live, it doesn't mean everywhere in the world is open too. In many cases all you need these days is a QR code from an online web form or proof of vaccination.

Final Week - Your Europe Planning Checklist Is Almost Complete!

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

  • Re-confirm house sitter/pet sitter

  • 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)

The Day Before Travel

Get a good night's sleep. Button down the house.

For you:

  • 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:

1) Passports?

2) ID's?

3) Wallets?

4) Meds?

5) Phones?

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 -

  1. Dad's carry on bag

  2. Mom's carry on bag

  3. Baby's carry on bag

  4. Dad's underseat bag

  5. Mom's underseat bag

  6. Baby's underseat bag

  7. Stroller

  8. Car seat 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!

Remember this handy Europe planning checklist the next time you head overseas!