Preflight planning is a very important element of any flight and, especially cross country flights. There are a number of items to be done in preparation for a VFR cross country flight so that nothing is overlooked and the intended flight is done as safely as possible.
The important parts of preflight planning involve checking flight information publications, aviation weather reports and determining airplane performance, including the computation of weight (or mass) and balance and fuel requirements. The influence of altitude, temperature and wind should not be ignored and you should be familiar with the pressure and density altitudes and the effect that they have on aircraft performance. Check the runway length and compare that to your takeoff requirements and the rotational and initial climb speeds recommended in your airplane's flight manual (or POH).
Airport and enroute planning is part of the preflight phase and this can be done at any time. Just make sure to use the latest publications as a number of those are published on a monthly basis should you plan flights ahead of the actual date.
In the preflight planning phase aeronautical information must be gathered about the intended route and the departure, destination and alternate airports. Make sure to bring along the relevant Chart Supplement, VFR guide or Jeppesen/Bottlang (either on paper of electronically) as diverting to another airport could be a different one than planned for if the weather turns bad sooner than expected.
Nowadays with tablets and smart phones, life has become so much easier for the pilot. An iPad Mini, like I use for example, is a great tool and its able to hold all information needed for the area you wish to fly, thus becoming your electronic flight bag (EFB). Capable software can be bought online in the form of an app: ForeFlight and SkyDemon are some very good options (I use both). But do carry at least a second backup device, sectional or other VFR map for the area, just in case.
Below you will find a checklist of items that can be helpful as a reminder when obtaining this information.
Things you may want to look for are:
After checking all points described above it is wise to see what the weather will be for the planned route. Do this some time ahead of the flight and with a broad and very wide view. Not only along the route but also check the direction the weather is coming from, how fast it moves (weather fronts over sea sometimes slow down when they move onto land), and if it intensifies or dies out.
Take note of the jet streams as frontal systems are moved by the jet. Check to see if mountain ranges have any influence on the trip, check the direction the wind is blowing over such ranges. This type of mountain turbulence can be felt many miles downwind from the range. Make sure to check the cloud base and visibility enroute and the minima for those on the airports you wish to use.
You will find aviation weather forecasts, satellite, radar images and surface maps available in our Aviation Weather section.