You’re getting ready for a much-anticipated vacation and have prepared your place, checked off your travel essentials, and are ready to – finally! – pack your bags. The fun part, right? Um, wrong. It’s so, so easy to fall into an overpacking trap without considering the repercussions. Repercussions, you ask? Oh yes; I know from experience that over-packing can ultimately be a real pain. I learned many lessons the hard way, and I hope to save you travel headaches with a travel checklist for packing your bags.
Keep It Light
I was traveling to Paris with my mom and my daughter in the spring of one year. Stupidly, I thought Parisians would care more about how I looked than how I spoke the few words of French I knew with such an awful, American accent. So, the big suitcase it was! Also believing that my place of employment would crumple and fall without access to me (mind you, this was in the olden days when laptops were heavy and power converters for laptops even heavier), I packed my laptop and the ridiculously heavy power converter I’d purchased. (Yes friends, I actually believed I would do so work WHILE IN PARIS). Silly, silly girl. My work fantasies aside, the biggest mistake I made while packing was not researching how to get around while dreamily exploring venues to visit in this bucket-list destination. Imagine my horror when the three of us arrived just across the Seine River from Île Saint-Louis via Metro De Paris and had to climb a long flight of stairs (no elevator or escalator!) with all the huge, heavy luggage. Suddenly looking chic and pretending I would work was not very important. At all.
Tip #1 on the Travel Checklist For Packing Your Bags is Keep It Light. Think over your shoe situation carefully. I have a friend who packed an entire extra suitcase full of shoes for a vacation. Sorry, but that’s crazy. Who wants to drag a bag of shoes around? On my last trip (15 days in the fall), I packed comfy walking shoes for day wear, and pairs of dress flats and dress heels for the evening, and not one single person made fun of me. Note that my walking shoes are seriously cute and I was delighted to wear them daily.
Keep It Simple
Tip #2 on the Travel Checklist For Packing Your Bags is Keep It Simple. Realize how little you REALLY need. On a direct flight from Florence, Italy to Amsterdam, Netherlands, Alitalia managed to lose my luggage. For an entire week. Oh, they sent me updates – your suitcase is in Lisbon! Prague! Vienna! (how annoying that my suitcase was better traveled than I!), but did not actually deliver it to me until the day we left to return to the USA a week later. The day we flew from Florence, I wore capris, a tee, and my trusty Birkenstocks. Fortunately, the airport in Amsterdam had loads of shops and I was able to pick up two extra tees, and a couple of pairs of undies. A day or two later, I bought a skirt, a light sweater, a dressier top, and dressier sandals for the evening, making sure to stick with go-together colors. This meager wardrobe got me through an entire week. Again, no one gave me an eye-roll for my wardrobe. Of course, there was hand washing in the evening, but what a great lesson learned! The next time I traveled, I followed the advice of Rick Steves and packed for a 10-day trip with just a carry-on. I can’t even tell you how liberating it is to travel light! No waiting at baggage claim. No lost luggage. No lugging around heavy luggage (even with spinning wheels, heavy is heavy). Rick also has a very helpful packing light packing list.
Keep It Organized
This last year, I tried packing cubes for the first time. Game changer! Not only do the cubes help you get more stuff in your suitcase, but they also help you keep your stuff organized when you arrive at your destination. They are especially helpful if you will be destination hopping on your trip. Check out Travel & Leisure’s list of the best packing cubes here, and The New York Times has an excellent article on packing efficiently if you don’t want to invest in the cubes.
Avoid “Just In Case”
It’s a trap! Don’t fall into it just because you “might need it”. Remember you are going on vacation. If you need something you didn’t pack – just buy it. A great way to feel very foolish is to come home from a trip with clothes you never wore – just lugged around.
Aside from clothing, and important travel-related items we check-listed here, there are essentials no suitcase should be without:
- A bag for dirty garments. A plastic shopping bag works great for this purpose, and you won’t get that used-clothing funk on whatever clean clothes you have left.
- One or two zipper-locked plastic bags for wet or damp items, or for corralling smaller items.
- A well-stocked toiletries case. Check to see if the place where you’re staying will provide shampoo, conditioner, soap, Q-Tips, shaving cream, etc. Big box stores have special sections for travel-sized items, or you can purchase a kit with small jars and bottles to fill with your favorite products.
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss, as while most hotels provide some toiletries, you’re on your own for tooth care.
- Shoe bag/s to keep your clothes away from whatever gunk gets on the bottom of your shoes as you trek about.
Carry On Must Haves
We’ve got you covered with your carry-on bag, too! Here’s more of our travel checklist for packing your bags:
- If your checked-in bag gets delayed or you want to freshen up upon arrival, having your cosmetics handy is essential.
- Medications in their original containers.
- A small case filled with important electronics items such as chargers, noise-canceling headphones (especially helpful for napping!), or earbuds.
- A few one-use toothbrushes to freshen up.
- An eye mask is very helpful if you’d like to nap on the flight. Click here for some of the best ones.
- An empty insulated water bottle. Fill it at the airport instead of paying the exorbitant prices for bottled water at the gate.
- They don’t feed you on the plane anymore, so snacks like granola bars or nuts can come in handy.
- Paper and pen. The pen will be helpful for customs forms, note-taking, or exchanging phone numbers with that cute human in the seat next to you.
- Something to read.
- A wrap in case it gets chilly or for snuggling up during your nap.
- If you’re traveling a long distance, invest in a pair of compression socks. Styles are fun and colorful, so you don’t have to worry about looking like a little old person. Here’s why they make a great travel companion.
Okay, kids – your bags are thoughtfully packed, and your vacation awaits! Safe travels!