Your Ultimate Holiday Checklist

ultimate holiday checklistWhat’s on your holiday checklist?

We’re almost two weeks into the summer holidays in our house, and I’m in the final stages of planning for our annual summer holiday/road trip.

Honestly, I use the word “planning” in its loosest sense. This is not a house with packing lists or spreadsheets.

In truth, this is a house where we regularly discover new and hideous ways for things to go wrong when we travel. This means our must-do, pre holiday checklist is really about keeping everyone safe, solvent and out of prison.

I know, right? Dream big.

Here you go:

The 20 Don’t Forget ‘Em Items on my Holiday Checklist

Holiday Checklist Part 1: The Airport

Pre-book airport parking. As you get closer to peak dates, it’s harder to find a space, and airport parking is ruinously expensive if you turn up and park on the day.

Personally, I always book official airport parking because it’s safer and less likely to involve your car being stolen or dumped in a field for two weeks. It’s also my car’s annual chance to get a full valet service.

Complete the required API information for your flights well ahead of time. Sure, you COULD leave it until the night before but friend, this is not the moment you want to be alerted to that almost-expired passport. Do the API early in case you need to do an emergency run to the passport office.

Do check your ESTA permits if you’re going to the US. Here’s a fun fact: your ESTA is linked to a passport not a person. This means if your dog eats a passport a week before you travel and you get an emergency replacement (true story) you will need a new ESTA. This is not a fun fact to find out when you’re at the check-in desk for your flight to the US.

Pre-book children’s meals and vegetarian meals. If you’re flying and haven’t pre-booked special meals, they’re hard to come by. Also, if you’re on a flight where you want to sleep, ordering a vegetarian meal is a sure-fire way of being served first. This then means being able to sleep longer. WINNING!

Add your frequent flier number to all flights and car hire. If you’re not in the frequent flier programme, join it. You might not ever earn enough miles for a free family trip but you WILL get perks like priority line service at the car hire counter, discounts on the cost of pre-choosing your flight seats and so on.

Holiday Checklist Part 2: Money 

Check your bank cards. For starters, make sure your card won’t expire while you’re away. But also look at what it costs you to use. My debit card charges me £1.95 for every single transaction outside the UK, plus an exorbitant 1.75%. I have a Santander credit card that I use purely for overseas travel that has zero transaction fees. 

Call the bank to let them know when you’ll be overseas. This means you’ll never find yourself arriving on a self-catering holiday on a Saturday with no access to cash until Monday, because the bank has blocked your card.

Yep, this has happened to us. Luckily I’d packed a bag of pasta and a jar of pesto and we made that stretch for 48 hours, along with the complimentary crackers and jam left by the holiday rep.

Take cash, in small bills. Although so much of our spending now is digital, there’s pretty much nothing worse than how thirsty you are getting off a flight. If you then have to stand in a long line for immigration and baggage reclaim? Ugh. I tend to take a few small bills and coins when I travel – maybe just £25 or so. It means Flea can get a Coke from a vending machine, or we can tip the porter when arriving at the hotel.

packing checklist for family vacation

Holiday Checklist Part 3: Safety and Security

Have spare keys cut. One of my friends recently landed home to find that the airport parking company had lost his keys. Can you imagine? This prompted me to give my parents a spare set of car keys along with the house keys they hold while we’re away. It also means they can help out if our house sitters ever accidentally lock themselves out.

Photograph ALL the documents. It’s a good idea to take a photograph of passports, insurance documents, car hire confirmations, accommodation addresses and the like. Store those photos in the cloud.

That’s not all, though. Before you fly, email them to yourself and download those email attachments. Then if you land somewhere and don’t have any signal but need to access a document, you’ll be able to do so.

Let someone at home have a copy of your itinerary. In an emergency, someone should know roughly where you are. Also if you lose your itinerary (or your phone) it’s good to be able to call home and check exactly where you’re supposed to be sleeping that night.

Double check your travel insurance. We tend to buy an annual policy from Insure and Go, who I heartily recommend for their unlimited medical cover.

Store your insurance company’s 24-hour helpline in your phone contacts, along with your policy number. During a medical emergency the last thing you want to be worrying about is logging onto WiFi to download your policy.

pre holiday checklist for families

Consider home security. We use a wireless camera from Canary that sends me a text message and video file if it detects movement at home. If you use Alexa or Google Drive consider using Philips Hue or another smart lighting system, and setting up routines that will turn lights on and off, and play music at set times each day. It makes your house look less empty. If we’re travelling for an extended period, we also invite friends to house sit.

Prepare a basic first aid kit. Although we can buy most of what we need on the road, I like to have a small package of paracetamol, allergy meds, aloe vera and bite/sting cream to hand. Remember to keep medications in the original packaging, and bring prescriptions (digital or paper). Be careful with certain drugs such as decongestants, painkillers and the like – many of those you can buy over the counter in the UK are prescription only in other countries.

Buy sunscreen. Buying sunscreen at the airport is more expensive than buying a Rolex watch, gram for gram. I stock up at the supermarket ahead of time (studies consistently rate supermarket sunscreen as some of the best on the market).  Bonus tip – if you’re like me and sunscreen makes you cry, I really rate the Neutrogena sunscreen for the face. I’ve tried literally dozens of sunscreens and this is the only one I’ve found that I don’t react to.

Holiday Checklist Part 4: Technology

Top up your mobile data BEFORE you leave. In most cases, Flea and I use Three PAYG when we travel, which gives you up to 12GB of data every 30 days for £35, plus inclusive calls and texts back to the UK. I always top up before we go, as it’s often ridiculously hard to use the top-up service from overseas.

I guess this depends on your network, but Three’s roaming isn’t available everywhere. In that case, we use GigSky SIM cards, which give you 2GB of data for $30 in the US and Canada. You can re-use your GigSky card all over the world. You just top up in the local currency and your phone will switch seamlessly. We keep them in a small box in our luggage with our memory cards.

what to pack on family holiday

Take a spare iOS lead. Foreign radio is horrible. Taking a spare lead means you can plug in your phone and listen to your own playlists. We also swear by audio books for a road trip. You could use Bluetooth but it’s a real battery suck, especially when you’re using your phone for navigation.

Clear your memory cards. Everyone has arrived on holiday and forgotten a memory card, I bet. For me, it’s usually the GoPro, which I turn on when I’m about to go kayaking, and realise the teeny tiny memory card is still at home.

My routine now is to collect all the memory cards a few days before we leave. I transfer the contents of each card onto my home computer and format them, and put them straight into each device. Then I slot a couple of spares into my camera bag. During my travels, I back up onto my Macbook each day. This ensures my photos end up in the cloud.

Pack a charger. There’s nothing worse than arriving at a destination having lugged your camera and memory cards, only to find you don’t have a charger. I always take a charger and a spare, charged battery when we travel.

Take a spare bag. We travel with one of these foldaway duffel bags. Folded into a disc, it takes up no room at all. But on the flight home if we’ve done a lot of shopping, it can hold all our towels and sweaters. This frees up space in our suitcases.

Forgotten Something?

This isn’t a pre holiday checklist item, but if you arrive at your destination and have forgotten something, Amazon Lockers have been a lifesaver on several occasions. We’ve had wetsuits, shoes and even SIM cards delivered to us while we’ve been travelling. Amazon Locker lets you pick up items pretty much anywhere around the world and usually within 24 hours.


Hopefully you’ve found our pre-holiday checklist useful. Let me know if there’s anything we’ve missed in the comments! 




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