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:

View of the pool and nearby Piedmont vineyards from the Albergo Castiglione B&B (image source:

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:

I’ve circled in red the cities we will visit in NW Italy (image source:

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:

    Generally U.S. passports expire every ten years (image source:

  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!


Five Things NOT To Take To A Lakehouse Weekend

As many of you already know, I’m from the Midwest. It’s that little region of the United States where recreational lakes are a dime a dozen. That’s why to me and millions of other Midwesterners, lakehouse weekends have become a symbol of summertime.

With that in mind, I’ve developed some sage wisdom over the years about the difference between what people think they should take to lakehouses vs. what they really should take. Fashion companies and pop culture can steer you wrong, so there are a few key items where I want to set the record straight:

What you should NOT take to the lake:

1.  White jeans

I recently bought a pair of white skinny jeans from Boden that are PERFECT for summer. They’re high quality and really trendy right now. Despite that, I will NOT be taking them to the lake this weekend. Why? They will get dirty. A few examples of lakehouse activities not friendly to my new jeans: squeezing ketchup on a freshly grilled burger, sitting around a fire pit with marshmallows in hand, sitting on a dock looking at the lake, sitting on a chair on the deck… really just sitting anywhere in an outdoorsy environment. Whatever the case, they will inevitably get stained on the first day I wear them and then will be out of commission the rest of the weekend. And even if they don’t get dirty, they will somehow get wet and become see-through (I mean, why else am I at the lake?). Therefore, I’m leaving them at home.

I hope she's not sitting in a puddle! (image source:

I hope she’s not sitting in a puddle! (image source:

2.  Chunky Knit or Cashmere Sweaters

As much as you may want your lakehouse attire to look like you just walked out of a J. Crew photo shoot in Kennebunkport (I really, really do), the lake is not a New England yacht excursion (womp womp). If you feel that bringing a sweatshirt isn’t fashionable enough and you want to replace it with a brightly colored cable-knit cardigan in order to look stylish, just recall how long it takes that cable knit to dry if it gets wet. You’re at a lake doing water sports, so there is a strong chance that will happen. Thus, next time you feel like dressing like an Irish fisherman, remember all those lads have probably switched to American Apparel zip ups these days.

"We won't tip the canoe, we promise!"

“We won’t tip the canoe, we promise!” (image source:

3.  Sperry Topsiders

“What? But I’m going to be on a boat!” That’s true, but it’s summertime so you probably want to wear flip flops instead. Every time I’ve brought my Sperry’s to the lake I’ve regretted it because I end up wearing my J. Crew Havianas all day – they dry so much faster and show off my pedicure!

"Hey guys! I'm ready to water ski!" (image source:

“Hey guys! I’m ready to water ski!” (image source:

4.  Sunscreen lower than SPF 20

Okay, I’m really guilty of this. In the past when I’ve brought SPF 8 and 15 to the lake I’ve either a.) burned because the sun is twice as strong on the water OR b.) reapplied every twenty minutes out of fear of burning. I think this year I’ve learned my lesson that higher SPF means fewer applications….but we’ll see.

Don't you just love the smell of Coppertone in the summer?

Don’t you just love the smell of Coppertone in the summer? (image source:

5. Swim Bottoms That Aren’t Conducive To Water Sports

Ladies and gents, just bring shorts that will stay on your body while you’re tubing. Take it from me – worrying that your bikini bottoms are going to fall off makes water sports 10x less enjoyable. Oh – and make sure your shorts are fast drying! Your daisy dukes will look really cute, but it’s really uncomfortable to get in and out of the water in wet jorts.

Beyonce's shorts look a little clingy and heavy, right? (image source:

Beyonce’s shorts look a little clingy and heavy, right? (image source:

I hope this helps with your lakehouse packing strategy. When it comes to weekends at the lake, I find that practicality is usually the best tactic – but let me know if you disagree!

Any other things that you think are better left at home this summer when visiting a lakehouse? Please feel free to share any thoughts or comments!

How To Pack For A Vacation In San Francisco and Sonoma In Just Two Carry-On’s

“If you’re going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you’re going to San Francisco
You’re gonna meet some gentle people there”
“San Francisco” by Scott McKenzie

I’ve been humming the soft melody of this famous song as I pack my carry-on today for my upcoming trip to San Francisco.

Problem: I don’t own any flowers to put in my hair. #NotAHippie

As a teenager, I watched the Forrest Gump movie several times and owned the soundtrack – both of which featured this song. To me, this classic tune befits the free-spirited history of the city of San Francisco, and reminds me of the open-minded nature of its residents. Similar to New York City’s history, San Francisco was built by dreamers.

Chinatown in SF with trolley going down the street

Chinatown in SF with trolley going down the street

As you read in last week’s blog post, I’ve planned several types of activities for my upcoming vacation. I’ll admit I am by no means an expert on packing for San Fran in the springtime since the only other time I’ve been was in December. That said, I’m going to take you all along for the ride as I piece together my SF springtime wardrobe and other travel essentials.

The first thing I did was check the weather to understand how many layers I would need each day. The difficult aspect is that I will be in the city of San Francisco for two-thirds of the trip, where the highs are estimated to be in the low 60’s next weekend. However, on Saturday and Sunday I will be in Sonoma County where the highs will be 15 degrees warmer in the upper 70’s!

As a result, I need to pack both dresses AND jeans – major bummer when it comes to saving space. On top of that, the expected temperature variance means that I’ll need to bring BOTH sandals and closed-toed walking shoes, along with a pair of nice shoes for fancier restaurants. Three pairs of shoes – eeeeek! Thank god Derek’s brother miraculously has a hair dryer at his apartment so I don’t need to bring my own!

Anyway, without further ado, here’s how I’ve packed for SF in two carry-on’s.

SF Packing List:

In the backpack:

  • Laptop and charger
  • Camera (with case, charger and memory cards)
  • Cell phones and chargers (work and personal phone)
  • California guidebook
  • (2) magazines
  • Eyemask
  • Day purse (with wallet, travel medicine kit, headphones, pens, house keys, mints, mini hand sanitizer, etc.)
  • Small empty water bottle
  • (1) pair of sunglasses
  • Hotel reservation print-outs

In the roller duffle:

These are all of the things that I am packing in my roller duffle (top left corner)

These are all of the things that I am packing in my roller duffle (top left corner)

  • (2) toiletries bags
    • (1) for liquids
    • (1) for non-liquids

      Unpacked toiletries bags

      Unpacked toiletries bags

packing 7

Packed toiletries bags

  • (1) umbrella
  • (1) bag of instant coffee and oatmeals for the mornings
  • (2) leather belts
  • (2) pairs of jeans
  • (1) pair of shorts
  • (1) black skinny stretchy fabric pants – wearing on the plane
  • (1) wool jacket – wearing on the plane
  • (1) canvas jacket
  • (1) black cardigan sweater
  • (1) blue linen blazer
  • (1) light weight zip up sweatshirt
  • (2) good quality cotton tshirts
  • (2) ¾ sleeve blouses – wearing one on the plane
  • (2) sleeveless blouses
  • (2) dresses
  • (2) black cami’s – wearing one on the plane
  • (1) tshirt for sleeping
  • (1) pair of cotton capris for sleeping
  • (8) pairs of underwear
  • (1) strapless bra
  • (1) regular bra
  • (6) pairs of socks
  • (1) pair of black waterproof ankle boots – wearing on the plane
  • (1) pair of fashionable sneakers
  • (1) pair of black strappy sandals
  • (1) hair straightener
  • (1) set of earplugs
  • (1) makeup bag

    My makeup bag (I love cosmetics)

    My makeup bag (I love cosmetics)

  • (1) small bag of jewelry and hair accessories
  • (1) evening purse
  • (1) daytime cross-body bag
  • (2) lingerie bags for dirty clothes separation

Just like with my packing guides for Europe and Florida, I’ve been able to pare down my packing list to just the essentials that I know I will need, plus one or two extra outfits – just in case. (I mean…I’m AM a girl!)

packing 1

Everything is packed and ready to go!

Took a little effort, but the duffle bag zipped all the way closed

It took a LITTLE effort, but the duffle bag zipped all the way closed

Because I focused on the essentials, I don’t expect to have to buy anything extra on this trip. As you saw last week, this trip is going to be pretty expensive despite only being gone for six days, so the less things I need to pick up in SF, the better.

To close, I have to be honest with you: my boyfriend and I will probably ship home a few cases of wine to our apartment as Sonoma County souvenirs. But…I mean…it’s not like I’d ever pack numerous bottles of wine in my carry-on anyway so…no harm no foul for this packing post!