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I’ve been creating packing lists since I was 16 years old and went on my first big trip by myself (to Italy and Greece). This lists have gone through several iterations. After all, I no longer need to pack a travel alarm clock since cell phones have replaced that need! And, I’ve had to add things to my packing list that signal I’m getting old, like packing my high blood pressure meds.
Packing lists have certainly made my life easier when it comes to preparing for trips and ensuring I don’t forget anything important. Having them on hand has also been helpful for when I’ve had to travel on short notice for emergencies, like when my mom died unexpectedly. I barely even had to think about what to pack, which was good, because my brain wasn’t exactly operating at full capacity. I just opened up my current packing list document and gathered up my stuff from around the house.
The Current Packing List Problem
But there was always something a little disorganized about my packing lists.
My lists were always organized thematically. Like:
- Clothes (Shirts, pants, underwear, bras, pajamas, shoes, sunglasses, etc.),
- Toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, facial soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, hand lotion, etc.),
- Electronics (laptop, cameras, batteries, SD cards, chargers, etc.),
- Entertainment (magazines, noise canceling headphones for the plane, puzzle books, etc.).
However, as I was packing, I’d often have to skip over some things on my list because they wouldn’t be ready to pack until the day of the trip (like my makeup bag, or the hat I’d “pack” by simply wearing on my way to the airport.). And some things that I’d have to pack, like plastic baggies or magazines, I’d have to get from downstairs in our house, while other things, like my camera chargers and clothes, would be upstairs. I always pack my suitcase upstairs, so sometimes I was running up and down the stairs to be able to check different things on my list. Oh, and I travel enough that I have some “dedicated” travel bags of certain toiletries and chargers. So, I’d just have to grab that whole bag and throw it in my suitcase, instead of locating each individual item and packing it.
About a year ago, I made a life-changing alteration to my packing list. I shit you not, life altering.
Not a Packing List. A “Gathering” List
I created two versions. The “gathering” list and the “packing list.”
The gathering list is organized by the “where” and “when” I can pack things. Some things I could pack WEEKS before a trip if I wanted. Things like a few tabs of Pepto Bismol from the medicine cabinet, SD cards for the cameras, and heck, maybe even the cameras themselves. Or certain pairs of shoes. But there are other things that I can’t pack until the day before a trip. Like my Kindle, which I use every day during my work commute. Or my Clarisonic, or sunglasses, or my laptop and laptop charger (if I decide to travel with my computer).
So now, instead of my items being organized thematically, they’re organized in a type of order that I can gather things.
Here are my lists for things that can be gathered well before departure:
- Items that should be pre-packed (things like little travel toiletry bags of shampoo and soap I always have packed).
- Items that can be gathered well in advance (like my GoPro camera). There are subcategories for where in the house these items are stored.
Usually about a week before the trip, I start gathering all these items. I do very quick reviews of my “pre-packed” items, to make sure that nothing needs replenished from the previous trip. For example, does my mini-shampoo bottle need replenished? Or, what about a bottle of Advil? Etc. I usually put all these items on the bed in the guest bedroom, that way there’s no mad rush the night before a trip to find these items. And, I “gather” other items that I won’t need prior to the trip.
I generally don’t start packing up a bag just yet. I’m usually just piling all the stuff in one centralized location, like the guest bedroom bed, or a little nook in our master bedroom. Usually I’ll start to pack things in the bags about two or three days before departure.
“Night Before” Gathering
Then, I have a separate list of items that can only be gathered the night before, like my laptop and laptop charger, the boarding pass I printed 24 hours in advance, etc. Again, I subcategorize these by where they’re located in the house (downstairs, upstairs, etc.) that way I can gather everything all in one trip!
After things are gathered, I can start putting them in my suitcase in a more calm and organized manner. I usually check things off my “packing” list as I put the items in my suitcase, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything in the gathering process. The packing list tends to remain thematically-organized.
My packing list is further organized into a few categories:
- Items that can only be packed the day of departure (like my makeup bag and hat).
- Items that I want to have handy on the plane (Advil, lip balm, portable battery and iPhone cable).
- Items that I want to have handy when I land (GPS to use in rental car, iPhone cable to keep in rental car, etc.)
And, I have a separate list of things that Ken is responsible for packing.
The day of departure, I just have to pack the last remaining things for the trip.
Seriously, organizing my packing lists (ahem, “gathering lists”) in this way has really improved my vacation packing process. Things go a lot more smoothly. For instance, I’m able to notice well in advance if I can’t find something I need to pack (giving me time to look for it or buy a replacement). Things don’t feel nearly as rushed. Sometimes I’d be running around the house like a crazy person getting things gathered to pack. It’s much easier this way.
How do you organize your packing lists and packing process?