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Since we leave for Russia in mid-February, I’m in full-on planning mode. It gets pretty insane, but I thrive on this sort of stuff. One of the things that always helps are my packing lists.
Packing lists are a funny thing. I seriously come from one of the most disorganized families I know. Growing up, things were always done in such a harried and stressed out manner, I felt like I channeled that anxiety from a very young age into being organized. We traveled ALL THE TIME in my family (the benefit of having a dad that works in the airline industry … you fly for free!) but we never had any sort of pre-travel routine, and it never failed that we always forgot something important.
The first time I remember making a packing list was one of the first times I was going on a very big trip without my family. I was 16 and was going on a trip to Italy and Greece planned through my high school. Several months before my trip, I opened up a Microsoft Word document on my Windows 3.1 computer and typing a list of all the stuff I wanted to bring with me. I eventually categorized the category, and then even italicized, underlined, or bolded the item to indicate what suitcase the item would go in. Italicized was for my larger carry on, bold was for my smaller carry on, etc.) I printed out the list when I started packing, carefully checking off the items as they went in my bags.
Fundamentally, my checklist routine hasn’t changed much. Sure, there are items I don’t have to worry about packing any more. Cell phones have eliminated the need to pack a small travel alarm clock or a calculator to figure out what something costs in a foreign currency. I don’t need camera film or blank video camera tapes, and since I’ve made the switch back to glasses, I don’t need any of my contact supplies anymore.
Having these checklists are so helpful. I can leave for the airport knowing I have everything I need. I can quickly pack if there’s an emergency I have to travel for. And it’s just one less thing to worry about when your mind is probably swimming with details about your vacation.
So, I keep referring to “checklists” in the plural. So nope, I don’t keep just one, I keep multiple.
The Master Travel Checklist
The master checklist contains just that. Pretty much anything and everything I could ever, and have ever, packed for a trip. This includes items that would be needed for all types of trips, including international trips, like passports and foreign currency. It includes things I would need whether I’m driving, like my Garmin car GPS, or whether I’m flying, like my boarding pass. And things like my bathing suit or sandals, which I certainly would not need in 20 degree weather. So the point of the master checklist is to use that to build my trip-specific checklist. For instance, if I’m going on a week-long vacation to somewhere very warm in the United States, I’ll create a separate list from my master list. I’ll remove any items related for foreign-only travel, remove things like laundry detergent since I can easily pack for a week-long trip without having to do laundry, etc.
The trip-specific Checklist
I’ve used my master checklist to create a trip-specific checklist for Russia. There are a few things that I’ve added to this list that had never been on my master list (but are now!), like hand and feet warmers, mittens, and thermal base layers. We’re also packing a cowbell and an American flag to cheer on the U.S. athletes competing in the Olympics! So those things are on my list too!
My hometown travel checklist
I maintain a special checklist for when I travel to my hometown to visit my family, which is at least six or seven times a year. I maintain a special list because I don’t need to pack things like shampoo or toothpaste, since I’ll just use what my dad or sister have, and I also keep a few clothing items there, like pajamas, so I don’t need to pack those either. It’s really helpful to just have that one checklist to refer to for trips to my hometown. I’ll usually just quickly browse my “Master” checklist before departing to make sure nothing jogs my memory that I need (like packing a sports bra would have been really helpful when I was going to one of those huge trampoline centers for a birthday party. But since a sports bra was only on my master list, and not on my hometown list, I would’ve never thought to pack it before I left.)
I keep track of all our checklists in our home Wiki. I used to keep them primarily in Google Docs, but the wiki has been great for travel checklist purposes!
I don’t want to draw this out too long, so I’ll set up a second post that includes all the items on the lists, how I organize the lists (hint: have you ever considered organizing a packing list by the order in which you can pack things? It works great! Much better than by category or type).