Here's a reader favorite that returns after several years away. The Travel staff has added to and updated (the list used to tell fliers "pack bottled water in your carry-on," but you can't do that anymore) as our own experience has increased. Clip this out and save it, and when you need another, go to latimes.com/planninglist, where you can download this form and print as many as you need.
One year ahead
Start research, using websites, guidebooks, travel agents.
Create a budget. Figure out, realistically, what you'll need per day for room, food, sightseeing, entertainment. Check out the government's per diem allocations to get an idea: http://www.gsa.gov/portal/category/21287 and aoprals.state.gov/web920/per_diem.asp.
Start saving. Open a savings account just for your vacation.
Consult a calendar of events to see whether there are places you want to be — or avoid — on your trip at certain times.
If you're going abroad, consider taking a foreign language course or brushing up on the language you've studied. For ideas, go to articles.latimes.com/2010/dec/19/travel/la-tr-gab-20101219.
Six months ahead
Check your passport. If you are traveling outside the U.S., make sure it is still valid. (Some countries require a passport that's valid for at least six months from dates of travel.) Make sure you have enough pages; some countries require a certain number of blank pages for visas. Apply for a new passport (there's a new form that first-time applicants will need to use starting Tuesday) or renew it, if necessary. For information: http://www.travel.state.gov.
Buy hiking or walking shoes, so you have enough time to break them in.
Do you need shots? Check with a doctor or a travel medicine specialist early, because some vaccines require several shots over a period of several months.
Contact foreign or domestic tourism offices (www.latimes.com/ultimateguide2011) to get information and maps.
Look at your camera equipment and consider what else you might need to record your memories: extra memory cards, plenty of batteries, etc. Use every new piece of equipment at least twice before you travel.
Request time off from work (Some workplaces may require longer lead times.)
Three months ahead
Visit a travel agent to arrange your trip. Or use the Web to book tickets and hotel. (Do this earlier if you're going during a peak travel time.)
When you book your trip, consider buying travel insurance. Do this as soon as possible because some policies may deny coverage for preexisting health conditions unless you buy the policy soon after booking the trip.
At work, make sure you've requested time off and begin trying to accumulate information that will help your replacement do your job.
Apply for visas, if needed.
Sketch out a rough daily itinerary of what you'd like to see and do and include phones, addresses and costs.
Start a file of important papers and communications (with copies of confirmation numbers) and keep it in a safe place (and one place only). Or create an electronic file and scan in this info. If you're taking your smart phone, create an easy-to-access file with all this information. Or take a thumb drive with this info.
Check with your phone provider to see what you'll need to make calls abroad that won't bankrupt you — an international calling/data plan? Maybe you'll rent a phone.
One month ahead
Set up an e-mail account accessible anywhere in the world.
Check with your bank to see whether your ATM card will work abroad and whether you will incur currency fees for withdrawing. Check with your credit card company too; make sure the company knows you will be abroad (if you don't, your transactions outside the country may trigger an alert on your account) and find out whether your card will work.
Check out your luggage: Is it appropriate for your destination? Figure out a way to distinguish it from all the other black suitcases on the baggage claim belts.
Make kennel reservations for Fluffy and Fido or arrange for pet- and/or house-sitting service, earlier if it's a peak travel time.
Finalize air, rental car reservations and hotel. Call hotel desk to check whether any renovations will be in progress.
If this is a driving trip, have the mechanic check your car and get maps from the auto club or a bookstore or the Web.
Consider your wardrobe. Do you have appropriate clothing for your destination? If not, go shopping or plan to shop at your destination.
If traveling abroad, visit the U.S. State Department's website for travelers, http://www.travel.state.gov. Do two things while there: Check out its travel advice for overseas travel and your specific destination. And register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, including your passport info, itinerary and emergency contacts. Enrollment will allow you to get State Department travel alerts about your destinations, and in the event of an emergency, it can help the State Department contact you.
Make you have enough of your regular medication. (Don't cut it too close — delays happen.) Also check to see whether you are covered if you need healthcare away from hom.
One week ahead
Put a vacation stop on your newspaper, (800) LATIMES (528-4637) or myaccount.latimes.com/login.do.
Request a hold on mail delivery from the post office. You can go in or do it online: https://holdmail.usps.com/holdmail/landingView.do
Give copies of your itineraries to two or three trusted relatives or friends who will help if there's an emergency. Also give a copy to a neighbor so you can be reached if there's an emergency at your house.
Make copies of your prescriptions and put them in your important papers file.
Verify again hotel, car rental and airline reservations.
Ask a neighbor to put out your trash and take trash tubs back in.
Call for shuttle service (or go online) or arrange a ride to the airport.
Make sure all your trip documentation is in one folder. (Use a brightly colored plastic closable file folder so that you can easily spot it in your carry-on.) Include copies of reservation confirmations, copies of passports, maps, telephone numbers and addresses and prescriptions for medications and eyeglasses. Or store it all on a thumb drive. Or both.
Print a copy of emergency contacts at home and put it in that same folder.
E-mail yourself scans of your important documents, such as your passport, to that e-mail account you set up.
Get some local currency through a bank, auto club or currency exchange house.
Enter hotel, airline, taxi and restaurant numbers into your cellphone.
Make a list of what you need to pack.
Two days ahead
Put lights on a timer.
If you're driving, make sure you have games, audio books and music to amuse yourself and kids, and emergency items (flashlight, spare tire) in case of problems.
Confirm your taxi or airport shuttle pickup. Some services may require 24-hour notice.
Check the long-range forecast (www.weather.com), and make sure you have appropriate clothing.
Pack. Take out half of what you packed and leave it at home. Weigh your suitcase to make sure you won't owe overweight charges.
Get rid of perishables in refrigerator.
Make sure you have a carry-on bag with essentials, in case your checked luggage doesn't arrive. This includes medication. Remember you cannot carry on more than 3 ounces of any liquid or gel. Check to see what you can't pack: http://www.tsa.gov.
Put a copy of your itinerary in your suitcase, along with your name, address and phone number.
Check the camera batteries; put the camera manual in your bag and pack extra batteries or a battery charger.
Put an "away" message on your e-mail account at work.
One day ahead
Take pets to kennel.
Turn down furnace or turn up air conditioner.
Put water heater on "vacation" setting.
Print your boarding pass.
Charge phone and pack your charger.
Charge your laptop and any other electronic devices you may be carrying, and pack the chargers.
Put snacks in your carry-on.
Stay calm and get a good night's sleep.
Day of travel
If flying, check your flight's status before leaving home.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times