OK, we know not everyone is a compulsive list maker, but trip details have a way of spinning out of control. The editors of the Travel section have compiled this general list of the steps you need to take to ensure nothing goes unattended at the last minute.
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.
Start saving furiously. 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.
If you're going abroad, consider taking a foreign language course.
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.) Apply for a new one or renew it, if necessary. (For information, see Page 6.)
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 destinations from lists in this section (see Pages 19-22) to get information and maps.
Take a look at your camera equipment and consider what else you might need to record your memories.
Request time off from work (Some workplaces may require longer lead times.)
Three months ahead
Visit a travel agent and book tickets. Or use the Web to book tickets and hotel. (Do this earlier if you're going during a peak travel time.)
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 (with copies of confirmation numbers) and keep it in a safe place (and one place only).
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.
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.
If going abroad, check with your cellphone service to see whether you can make/receive calls abroad.
Make kennel reservations for Fluffy and Fido or arrange for pet-, house-sitting service, earlier if it's a peak travel time.
Finalize air, rental car reservations and hotel.
If this is a driving trip, have the mechanic check your car and get maps from the auto club or a bookstore.
Consider your wardrobe. Do you have appropriate clothing for your destination? If not, go shopping or plan to shop at your destination.
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.
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.
Check your prescriptions. Refill if needed. Make copies 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.
Print yourself 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.
Going out of the country? Call your credit card companies and let them know.
Get some local currency through a bank, auto club or currency exchange house.
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.
Check the long-range forecast (www.weather.com) and make sure you have appropriate clothing.
Pack (see Page 6). Take out half of what you packed and leave it at home.
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.
Put a copy of your itinerary in your suitcase, along with your name, address and phone number.
Get cash or traveler's checks.
Check the camera batteries; put the camera manual in your bag and pack extra batteries or a battery charger.
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.
Put snacks and bottled water in your carry-on.