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Before You Go: Get Your Ducks in a Row

If you don't have ducks, swans will do.

It shouldn’t be earth-shattering news that there’s more to do before a big trip than packing your suitcase. In this, the latest installment of our “Before You Go” series, I’ve compiled the most important – and admittedly annoying – tasks that need to be on your pre-departure To Do list. In addition to the basics, there’s one big item on my checklist that goes above and beyond what’s strictly necessary for the trip itself. Yes, I know, you already have enough to do. But putting in a little time to get your affairs in order before you go off-grid will make your travels smoother and help ease your re-entry into post-vacation life.

1. Check Your Documents. I hope it’s stating the obvious that you should get all your trip documents in order before you head to the airport. (Please tell me you do that already.) But just as a reminder: make sure you’ve got your passport, visas, and confirmations for your plane tickets, hotels, tours, etc. With apologies to the trees, I print a copy of everything (and recycle afterward); you just can’t be sure that a foreign cellular network will be there for you when you need to pull up a confirmation from your emails. (You can read more about passport preparations here.)

2. Immunize Yourself. This one you really need to start at least two weeks in advance. I cannot overstate how important it is to get the appropriate vaccines when you travel. (I wrote a whole blog post about it, here.) And besides, how cool will you feel telling people that you’ve just been vaccinated for yellow fever?

3. Sign up for STEP. The State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is, indeed, for smart travelers, and you want to be smart, no? (I discussed STEP in an earlier blog, here.) I registered our upcoming trip with STEP a few weeks ago, and just today I received an email alerting me to a typhoon that’s approaching northern Vietnam. Fortunately, it won’t affect my travels, but still – it’s good to know that the State Department has got my back.

4. Alert the Important People. And by Important People, I mean your banks. You should submit travel alerts for the credit cards and ATM cards you’ll be using on the trip, or your bank might decline your card when you try to use it – after all, you don’t normally withdraw cash in Barcelona, so that might seem a wee bit fraudulent to the bank’s computers. Most banks allow you to submit travel alerts online. (I’ve talked about this before, too; read about money matters here, and note that getting foreign currency is not on this list!)

5. Prepare Your Phone. Many of us travel with our smart phones these days. Check with your carrier to make sure your phone will work overseas, and consider signing up for an international calling or data plan if you intend to use your phone for more than taking pictures. If you don’t buy an international plan, don’t forget to turn off data and cellular roaming, or you’ll have an unpleasant surprise waiting for you in your next cell phone bill.

6. Secure the Premises. Make sure your house is in good shape before you leave it to fend for itself. Stop the newspaper delivery. Arrange for a neighbor to pick up your mail, or ask the post office to hold onto it for you. Put timers on some lights. Give the plants a nice big drink of water. (Pets, of course, require extra considerations.)

7. Face the Inbox. If you can’t bring yourself to tackle your inbox at any other time, let an impending trip be your motivation. Delete emails you don’t need and deal with the ones that require action. Having to cull through hundreds of unread emails is a particularly dispiriting way to return from a vacation, but it doesn’t have to be this way: In the weeks before I leave for a trip, I force myself to take an extra 30 seconds to unsubscribe from the emails I no longer want, instead of just deleting them. And just like that, my inbox is much, much emptier. (Of course, I know you wouldn’t dream of unsubscribing from Mockingbird’s emails!)

And finally, speaking of getting your affairs in order, I must break it to you that the Mockingbird blog will be on hiatus for the next few weeks, while I’m in Cambodia and Vietnam. Fortunately, you can travel vicariously with me, by following Mockingbird on Instagram and Facebook (links on the right). And I’ll tell you all about the trip when I get back.

Bon voyage!

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