Even though we must have made at least 100 trips abroad for business and pleasure over the last 30 years, we're still not immune from the ever-increasing nervous tension - and occasional dread - as Departure Day (D-Day) approaches.
Our preferred and recommended stress reducer is the preparation, a couple of weeks before D-Day, of a comprehensive "To Do" list.
The very act of crossing out a couple of items can give you instant relief. Here are some that should be on your list:
•Check that your passport is still valid, and will be for six months after you return. Also ensure that there are two empty pages.
•Drag out your suitcase (no bigger than 22", please) plus your carry-on day-pack or equivalent. Check its overall condition - zipper action, straps, and wheels - and make sure there's a sturdy ID tag attached to both pieces. There should also be identification inside your suitcase.
•Start laying out some of the clothes you know you'll need. Always think "layering." It's also a good idea to have jeans, pants, shirts etc., professionally cleaned and pressed. They'll look better, longer.
•Select and set aside the guide books and reference materials you're actually going to use on the trip - the ones with the hard facts and practical advice, not the ones with the pretty pictures.
•Call your credit card and ATM companies and let them know you'll be traveling abroad. Tell them which countries you'll be visiting and for how long. Failure to do so might cause them to block transactions. This is especially important for new cards or for first-time overseas travelers. (We also recommend carrying a few traveler's checks, in dollars, in case of crisis or last resort).
•Photocopy every single item of importance: passport (picture page), airline tickets, rail passes, credit and ATM cards (both sides), driver's license, medical insurance cards, etc. Put one copy in your suitcase and give the other copy to a family member or friend. Also make a note of any customer service numbers to call if your credit cards are lost or stolen.
•Make sure you have the correct adapters and converters and dual voltage appliances for the countries you'll be visiting. Those clunky three-prongers that you used in the UK will not work in France, or anywhere else. And try plugging in your 240-volt U.S. hair dyer into a 120-volt foreign terminal - and watch it melt.
•Check your meds and make sure you have enough to get you through the trip, with a few to spare in case of delays. Also take along a spare pair of spectacles, if you use them. Nothing is guaranteed to ruin a good trip more than losing your specs ...or sitting on them. (We've done both, of course.)
•Purchase travel size (miniature) toiletries. You don't need shampoo for a year if you're only going for a week. Ditto toothpaste, shaving cream, etc. You can also dump the small cans and bottles as you use them up.
If your favorite brands don't come in travel size, decant them into miniature plastic containers. (And remember, if you do run out, they have stores over there.)
•Stop delivery of your mail and newspaper, or have a neighbor take them in.
•Give a copy of your travel itinerary to a family member or trusted friend. Include hotel phone numbers as dialed from the U.S. and e-mail addresses so you can be reached in an emergency.
•Start thinking about the items you want in your carry-on bag/daypack, such as paperback novel, magazines, camera, and meds. Also check current Travel Security Administration (www.tsa.gov) regulations in regard to fluids, and take outanything that's sharp, such as knives, scissors, and corkscrews.
•Pack some extra batteries.
•Take digital pictures of your luggage so that in case of loss you can show the exact items to the airline. (Also take pictures of the hotels where you stay - so that you can always find your way back!)
With all that done, don't you feel better already?