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14 essential steps to take before you leave on your next vacation

You're on your way to the airport for that long-anticipated summer vacation and you suddenly realize — you didn't take out the trash, and you'll be coming home to a house that smells like fish. Or, worse yet, you're buckled into your aisle seat ready to take off and you can't remember whether you closed that garage door or not.

With all the excitement of getting out of town, it's easy to forget to tie up some important loose ends, but easier to relax if you know for certain Kevin isn't sleeping in the attic.

Preparing and packing for a long vacation requires thought and organization. And no matter how long the trip, a good checklist can help you make sure you're all set and ready to relax. Here's what you should definitely take care of before you leave for your next escape:

1. Make copies

Passports, credit card information, itineraries, confirmation numbers, insurance cards, emergency medical information. Having a copy of all vital info can be helpful if you run into any problems. Make a copy of your itinerary, and give it to a trusted friend. Hopefully your vacation is relaxing and the only excitement on it is the good kind, but having someone who knows your plans and can help in case of emergency is an important safeguard.

2. Bring protection

For your skin, that is. Pack sunscreen and bug repellant — especially if you're traveling to tropical climates. Also pack a basic travel first-aid kit, with some pain relievers, band-aids and the other basics that can be very useful on vacation.

3. Don't forget your power

If you're bringing electronic devices with you on vacation — and of course you are — make sure you have the chargers and consider a portable battery to keep your devices charged. Having to buy a new charger or worrying about a dead phone is an unnecessary pain. Pack a car charger for road trips.

4. Plan your first day

Before your trip, plan the basics of the first day of your vacation. Know how you're getting from the airport to your hotel, download the offline Google Map of your destination, and find shops, or bus and train stations around the area to make your first day smoother.

5. Set up your vacation responder

In a perfect world, email would go into a state of suspended animation during vacations, and returning to your inbox would be no more stressful than a regular morning. But until we reach that future utopia, there's the vacation responder — imperfect, but helpful. Consider livening it up a bit with a funny response.

6. Call your bank

Wherever you're traveling, chances are pretty good you are going to need some money. Call your bank ahead of time to let them know where you'll be, and you won't run into problems with your credit or debit cards while you're away. Also, make sure you know what your access to cash will be at your destination, especially if it's international. Currency exchange rates are terrible at airports — be sure you have enough local currency to get you to your hotel and a more amenable rate.

7. Clean out the fridge

Throw out any food or perishable items with expiration dates that coincide with your trip. Five minutes of fridge cleaning is a small price for a clean return.

8. Stop the presses (and the post office)

This tip is particularly important for longer trips. The U.S Postal Service has an online request form for the hold mail service that keeps your mail while you're away.

9. Don't forget upcoming due dates

Pay any bills that will be due when you're away. The last thing you want greeting you after a relaxing vacation is a late fee.

10. Move your spare key

If you keep your spare key under the welcome mat or in a flower pot outside, consider taking it inside or giving it to that trusty friend who's got a copy of your itinerary. And do a better job hiding it when you return.

11. Sprinkle baking soda in your toilet bowl

This will not only prevent stagnant water in your toilet bowl, it will also prevent it from staining. It's also a good idea to take out the trash and recycleing before you leave. Bonus points to anyone with the willpower to make the bed before leaving the house.

12. Close your curtains

Keeping your curtains closed will prevent people from looking in and seeing you're not at home.

13. Unplug your appliances

Keeping electronics plugged in while you're away can run up your electrical bills and drain energy. Unplugging lamps, toasters, coffee machines, washers and dryers, computers and TVs can save you money. The average monthly electricity bill in New York was $113 in 2013. That's worth at least a few meals on the road.

14. Set any automatic lights and alarms

Got automatic lights, an alarm system — or both? Don't forget to set them before you go. After all, that's why you paid for them in the firstplace.

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