How To Prep for a Big Trip: Six Things To Do Six Weeks Before Takeoff

Every summer for my boyfriend and my anniversary (Aug 25th) we go on a full-week trip. Typically I am the one who plans the whole shebang due to my passion for travel – go figure. 🙂

This year two of our close friends are getting married at a vineyard in the Piedmont region of Italy on September 5th, so we are traveling a week later than usual in order to attend. The wedding should be gorgeous, and we are very excited for the vacation!

View of the pool and nearby Piedmont vineyards from the Albergo Castiglione B&B (image source: http://www.piemonte-traveller.com/en/c/albergo-castiglione)

View of the pool and nearby Piedmont vineyards from the Albergo Castiglione B&B (image source: http://www.piemonte-traveller.com/en/c/albergo-castiglione)

We will be in the Northwest part of Italy during the entire trip. Our itinerary includes stops at several Piedmont vineyards, two days in Turin, two days in Lake Como, and two days in Milan. The general plan is to sip and taste our way through the region, coupled with a little bit of hiking and sightseeing to burn off the calories!

I've circled in red the cities we will visit in the NW part of Itlay (image source:  http://www.kandaclub.com/hot-destinations/italy/italy-regions.html)

I’ve circled in red the cities we will visit in NW Italy (image source: http://www.kandaclub.com/hot-destinations/italy/italy-regions.html)

That said, even though the hotels, rental car, and Da Vinci’s Last Supper tour have been booked for months, we are now officially in countdown mode. This trip will last ten days, and it gives me peace of mind to start a few of the preparations now.

Thus, I have created a list of six things I am doing six weeks in advance of our trip to prepare:

  1. Double-check our airline seating assignments and see if better seats are available.
    Right now we are booked to fly from New York to Milan on Emirates, which is an airline that I have never flown before. I’m looking forward to the new experience since I’ve heard great things about Emirates’ customer service onboard! With that, I find it important on long-haul flights to strive to be next to a window (for sleeping), as far forward on the plane as possible, have seats that recline, not be near a bathroom, not have a wing obstructing my view, and avoid sitting in the same row as strangers (preference two-seater rows if available). On top of that, I don’t want to pay extra money for my seat. Usually I have to make compromises, but I typically continue checking the available seat map before my trip to see if any seats open up that check-off several boxes on my nice-to-haves list.

    Looks like there are no rows of only two seats - bummer.

    Looks like this plane does not have two-seater rows…bummer.

  2. Review Emirates’ baggage policy and limitations.
    One reason why we chose to fly Emirates to Milan this summer instead of other airlines is because they allow two 50-lb. checked bags free per flyer, even though we are neither part of their awards program nor have an Emirates credit card. While we won’t be taking that much luggage with us, it is comforting to know we will not need to worry about busting our budget on luggage fees. With that, it is always wise to double-check your airline’s luggage policies for weight, quantity, and dimension to ensure you have no surprise costs. Every airline differs.

    Check the baggage policies for your specific airline and qualifications to avoid fees

    Check the baggage policies for your specific airline and qualifications to avoid fees.

  3. Make sure our passports aren’t expired.
    Check! We still have a couple more years before that becomes an issue. That was easy. Next…

    Generally U.S. passports expire every ten years (image source:  http://www.bbc.com)

    Generally U.S. passports expire every ten years (image source: http://www.bbc.com)

  4. Look up the average weather during the time of year we are traveling at each city we’re visiting.
    Additionally, I also try to read online forums where other people have written about their own travel experiences during the week (or month) I plan to travel. In that way I am able to arrive mentally prepared.Example:  In May in Miami will the weather be sunny most of the day but usually rain from 2pm-3pm in the afternoon? Yes. After learning from surprise situations like that, I’ve found it is best to read other travelers’ ideas online that help me avoid getting drenched during my afternoon spent poolside and still have a great time.

    It rained off and on EVERY DAY when we went to Betws-y-Coed, Wales in late August 2012, so I always needed to carry an umbrella and wear a raincoat and waterproof shoes - just in case!

    It rained off and on EVERY DAY when we went to Betws-y-Coed, Wales in late August 2012, so I always needed to carry an umbrella and wear a raincoat and waterproof shoes – just in case!

  5. Brainstorm what we will need on our trip (but don’t start packing yet).
    My boyfriend and I learned this tip after a stressful experience. In 2012 on the day we were supposed to fly to Manchester, we darted around midtown Manhattan trying to find a place that sold hiking shoes that we could wear during our Mount Snowdon climb the following day. Needless to say, the shopping excursion was exhausting since the number of people who need hiking shoes in Manhattan is minimal and our deadline was tight. (We ended up buying Clarks WaveTrek Waterproof walking shoes instead of legitimate hiking boots.) Thus, moral of the story is that you should take a lesson from our book and identify if there is anything you will need (i.e. new suitcase, power converters, selfie sticks, comfortable footwear, jeans, money belt, raincoat, etc.) while you still have enough time to order online and/or search several stores.

    I ended up buying that hat when we got to the base of Mount Snowdon because I didn't realize how cold it would be - but at least we had the hiking shoes!

    I ended up buying that hat when we got to the base of Mount Snowdon because I didn’t realize how cold it would be – but at least we had the right shoes!

  6. Figure out how I am going to pay for things while in Italy.
    I’ve written about this before in tip #6 of my budgeting hacks, but I’ll repeat that it’s very important to determine how you will pay for things ahead of any foreign travel so you can make the necessary arrangements and save money on fees.

    I was recently convinced that I should open a Charles Schwab account since their debit cards have no foreign transaction fees. However, I have not been able to receive the debit card yet because I still need to transfer funds into the new account. Before I can transfer the funds online I need to authorize an external account, get it approved, and then transfer the money – all of this takes time. As a result, I’m grateful to have started this process in advance so I can hopefully receive the new card in the mail before our trip! Also, if something goes wrong, I have enough time to brainstorm a Plan B. (This blogger goes into more detail in point #6 of this entry for why Schwab is great for travelers.)

With the above list I hope to prove that it’s always better to prepare as much as you can in advance. In fact, I often buy a guidebook and skim through the local tips to see if there is something I have not thought of regarding my destination. If you have the time, you might as well  use it to avoid feeling stressed before you go!

Are there any other tips that I’ve missed? If you have any other pointers for vacation prep six weeks in advance, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

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