How to Prepare a Vacation Countdown Checklist

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You're finally taking that dream vacation. You've purchased the airline tickets, reserved the hotel room and your itinerary is in place. Amazingly, it's really going to happen. Make sure you leave with everything -- and with everything taken care of. You don't want to wake up in your hotel wondering whether you left the oven turned on at home. After you research your destination, use this checklist as you countdown to departure.

Confirm or put in place preparations for travel abroad. This includes organizing passports, visas and notarized birth certificates. Also, check to see if any inoculations are required for travel to another country. If you're a divorced or single parent taking a child abroad, you may need to get a notarized authorization letter from the other parent.

Arrange for pet boarding, a house sitter, and/or arrange for someone to mow the lawn and water the plants. If you are traveling in prime travel season, you may have to make arrangements even earlier. Give a neighbor emergency contact information and ask them check on the house from time to time. If no one is checking in, request a vacation stop of the mail and newspaper.

Buy any new clothes, shoes or accessories you'll need. Break in new shoes and make sure walking or climbing gear is comfortable. Start getting in shape if you're planning an ecotourism or adventure vacation.

Confirm that your health insurance is adequate and look into travel insurance. There are many low-cost policies available to cover the unexpected. And get any prescriptions refilled.

Tune up the car for a road trip or arrange travel to the airport (bus, limo, friend) if you aren't driving.

Make a list of everything you must take--from clothes to toiletries -- and pick up a book or two for the trip.

Pare down your wallet to the bare minimum of cards, get cash or travelers' checks to be safe, even though most places have adequate ATM locations. You should also pay any bills that will come while you're gone.

Check the weather at your destination and add any climate-specific garments. Make sure to pack an additional, emergency outfit in your carry-on luggage (for you and any children).

Set the auto-reply message on your e-mail and update your voice message at work. Be sure to take the call-in number and password for your home answering machine so you can access it if necessary.

Purge the fridge of any perishables. Take out the trash. Tidy up the house. Water the plants. Turn the thermostat down to 55 degrees F (13 C) in winter. Place lights on automatic timers. Close curtains and blinds. Take a final walk through the house.

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