Why a Packing List is Important

Why a Packing List is Important

If you’re headed out of town for the spring or summer, you might be feeling out of your element. You might have recently taken a trip and found that you didn’t have everything you needed. So how can you make the process smoother? Here’s why a packing list is important.

1. It’s been a while.

Now that things feel like they’re getting back to normal, we’re starting to travel more, and to different places. After perhaps not traveling a lot over the last couple of years, you might find packing doesn’t feel easy anymore. Maybe your go-to travel items have also changed. Now more than ever, eliminating stress from travel is the top reason why a packing list is important.

2. You can evaluate what your needs are.

Are you going on a work trip when you know you won’t have time to exercise? Those running sneakers take up a lot of room in your bag, and they’ll be guilt-tripping you the whole time. Life’s too short for that nonsense.

Maybe you’re going to visit friends or family and expect that you’ll be making plans last minute. Be honest here: are you really going to be going to a fancy event out of nowhere that needs an LBD or a suit? When you’re packing, choose a (comfy) pair of shoes that elevate a simple outfit and one blouse or shirt that would be appropriate to a dressier venue. Guess what: they’re looking forward to seeing YOU, not your clothes. (And if not, well, you know best and probably don’t forget anything when you travel anyway.)

If you know you’re going to a wedding, you know the dress code. I like to walk through the steps of getting ready in my head to add things to my list: consider special shoes or a particular hair-styling goop for the activity or the destination. (Anti-humidity creme for my frizz-prone hair!)

3. You don’t pack extra stuff.

I hate overpacking. You’ve gone through the trouble of selecting, folding, and hauling all this extra stuff that you didn’t use.

For our recent Spring Break trip, I had enough clothes packed for an extra-long weekend trip. Let me tell you: we have that next trip this weekend for a wedding. I didn’t unpack those cubes of clean clothes—they’re going to the beach with us with very little modification.

Now, I hear your protests. I have two young children, and I like to be prepared for contingencies. But when’s the last time you honestly made such a mess that you needed an unplanned fresh outfit for the day? I like to take one complete extra outfit for the kids, plus a complete change of socks and under-things for grownups.

If you really end up needing something laundered, you can always wash it yourself or get it washed. Many hotels have self- or paid-service laundry. If you’re staying at someone’s home, they’re usually happy to accommodate you. Just don’t pack your dirty laundry expecting to do all of it at your destination—a true story from one of my girlfriends and the houseguest from hell.

4. You can keep certain things ready to go.

At a recent seminar, one of our clients showed up very frustrated without several basic items—casual shoes, laptop charger, etc., and had to go source those items at a destination that didn’t make it easy.

I recommend keeping all the types of spare chargers you need in a small kit. I keep mine in my purse for any trip longer than a few hours. If you carry your laptop, keep the kit there, along with a spare pen and notepad. If you use your laptop at home and at work, I recommend three chargers: one in your office and one in your home office ready to use, and one permanently packed in your laptop bag.

For that matter, I keep my toiletries/makeup kit ready to go, too. Packing toiletries for four people can take forever, so this is a huge time saving for me. I duplicated my favorite comb and makeup brushes, and after each trip, I refill my small containers so I have my preferred brand of shampoo on hand. There’s also a little sticky note with a short list of items that I need to add to the kit before a trip because I don’t have a dupe.

So when it’s time to go, I can grab those kits and drop them in my bag, assured that I’m going to have everything I need. When it’s an emergency trip, knowing you’ve got what you need makes one fewer stressor.

5. You can do the brain work once.

Maybe it’s the engineer in me, but I detest redoing work that’s already been done. So I reuse and improve my lists. I keep my packing list in a spreadsheet, and I have separate tabs for each trip I’ve taken. Because I like efficiency, I can duplicate the sheet for the next similar trip and make small modifications. For example, after this last Spring Break trip, I highlighted what I didn’t use and noted anything I would have preferred to have. This way, I can reference the list and pack even more easily next time. 

Some people like to take pictures of their outfits for each day—if that works for you, go for it. I just pack the kids’ clothes in outfits together, and they each get their own designated color of packing cubes.

We’ve talked about my trip packing list with all the clothes broken out by expected activities. Then I have another list with all the other stuff, like toiletries, kids’ toys, snacks, etc. Having this second list was so helpful with babies, in particular, so that I could really think about what they would need. After not being able to find much-needed baby Tylenol at a resort, it made it on my list very quickly. I just go over it quickly to make sure that I haven’t forgotten something important.

As you can see, I think these are the reasons why a packing list is important. I hope that these tips are useful as we enter a season of renewed travel.