The ultimate toolkit for last-minute travelers

Change of plans. What had been looking like a quiet weekend at home just turned into a two-day jaunt to Vegas, thanks to a cheap airfare. Or maybe it’s a sudden meeting in another city, one that you need to be at in two days. Whether it’s for work or play, last-minute travel is on the rise. And while these trips are, by nature, unplanned, they’ll go a lot more smoothly if you do some things to prepare. If you’re a last-minute traveler (or think you might become one), here are seven things you need to know about.

Find hotel deals

Last-minute hotel deals are hard not to find, but Hotel Tonight takes spontaneity to the next level. It only takes a few swipes and taps to find a place to stay—for stays as short-notice as tonight. You won’t be scraping the bottom of the barrel, either. Featured hotels are usually boutique properties, priced at discounts up to 70 percent. A new concierge feature debuted this summer; now you can ask questions about local restaurants and activities.

Search for flights

Like hotels, airfare deals are all over the web. But combing through them can be a headache. Unless you like the game of fare-hunting, let technology do it for you. You can set up deal alerts on sites like Airfarewatchdog and Kayak. If your schedule is flexible, you can snag a deal to your desired destination. Or, if you’re vacationing, play spin-the-globe and jump on whatever low price seems too good to pass up.

Renew your passport

Don’t let your passport be what keeps you from going. If an international meeting or good airfare deal comes up, you’ll want to make sure you a) have a passport, and b) haven’t let it expire. Sounds obvious, but roughly 62 percent of Americans don’t have a valid passport. And because it takes four to six weeks for a new one to arrive (three if you pay for expedited service), if it’s not ready when that $500 flight to South America appears, you won’t be going.

Get a go-box

You probably don’t use your plug adapter day-to-day. Nor are your euros likely front and center in your wallet. But when you need them, travel essentials like these tend to vanish into the depths of desk drawers or closets. To spare your house a Tasmanian devil-like search for passports and neck pillows, keep your travel-only items in one place. Put everything in a box or dedicated drawer—and be sure to put it back there when you come home.

Pre-pack the essentials

Have you ever forgotten your toothbrush? Packed your makeup only to realize you grabbed an old mascara? Next time, avoid all of that by buying a second set of toiletry essentials and keeping them in a one-quart bag. That way, when it’s time to hit the road, you can just grab your bag and rest assured all your products will be making the trip with you.

Wear a travel uniform

One of the pitfalls of spur-of-the-moment trip planning is packing. You haven’t done all the research about what to do when you arrive. You don’t have time to coordinate outfits. The result: an overpacked suitcase. One solution is to follow the old “pack your bag, then take half of it out” advice. But an easier trick is to develop travel “uniforms.” Pick a comfy outfit for plane travel, and wear it every time you fly. Put together a “city” or a “beach” wardrobe, and pack those clothes any time you go to that destination. Sure, it’s less exciting to wear the same things as your last trip. But you don’t have time to shop for the occasion. If you’re worried about your selfies starting to all look the same, swap out accessories like scarves or sunglasses.

Make a checklist

Unplanned trips sometimes start with a bit of a scramble. (Let’s be honest, planned ones do too.) Don’t come home to a can full of moldy trash or spend your vacation worrying about whether you unplugged the iron. Instead, write up a departure checklist and keep it in your suitcase. Take it out when it’s time to pack and go down the list before you leave the house. You’ll travel with more peace of mind. And you might even get out the door a bit faster.

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