Packing can be a stressful thing – what if you forget something important? What if you totally forget to pack something you’ve been meaning to bring and your trip is ruined???
We try to not be so dramatic around here- but packing is a big part of trip preparations for us! In my experience waiting until the last second only works for really short solo (usually work) trips or in case of emergency. Assuming neither of those applies to your situation a bit of planning and preparations will go a long way to ensure you pack what you need, in an orderly fashion, and that you don’t waste hours trying to find things once you reach your destination.
Step 1: Logistics & details of specific trip
The first place to start is to set limits and evaluate the trip logistics. For example:
- Do you have access to laundry facilities? For the whole trip or just part?
- Do you expect a truly wide range of weather, or will it be fairly predictable?
- What occasions will you need to dress for?
- Do you expect to wear sandals a lot? Will you need a lot of socks?
- What unique items/factors/details are there about this trip that you need to consider and prepare for?
For our upcoming Europe trip here is what my answers look like:
- Laundry access days 8-17
- Expect warm summer weather, possible cool evenings or in restaurants need light sweater
- Nice dining to churches (shoulders and knees must be covered) to heavy walking/touring museums and sites
- mid-day break at hotel room expected daily, able to change clothes easily
- Mix of walking sandals and sneakers
- 6 hotels, 3 countries, a cruise, and lot of moving whatever we bring around
As you can see based off my answers we will need at least 8 days worth of clothes, some light layers, and to really pack smart considering all of the moving around we will do. This will be an “on the go” trip. Luckily, we’ve done several such trips on a smaller scale and I know what will definitely work – and what won’t!
Step 2: Take Inventory
I’m packing for two daughters and me (the Mr. packs himself) so the first thing I did was to evaluate our clothes. None of us had good walking sandals, we all needed a nice dress, and we all needed a light pair of non-denim pants among a few other details. I looked at this several months ahead of the trip to allow me time to find the perfect things, as well as to remove last minute shopping stress. The shoes alone took about six weeks of trial, error, and a lot of online shopping returns. I will be writing a separate post all about what we found that did work – to help you with your own shopping efforts!
During this part of the process I went through what they’d need with my daughters, had them make requests, and really got them involved. I want to raise great travelers as well as independent young ladies – so it is worth my time at their ages to stop, explain, and have them take part in the process. I have one daughter who goes with me on ALL errands and helps shop – the other prefers we pick things for her as she says I know her style exactly. I try to honor their requests and if I’m asking something of them such as needing a dress – I try to explain why not just “because”.
Step 3: The pre-pack
As soon as items arrive – for example on this trip a passport holder, additional eBags, chargers for European plugs – I put them on a specific shelf in a specific closet. I call this the pre-pack. Basically, it’s just to keep me from forgetting what I have (or haven’t!) ordered for this particular trip and to help me keep things organized so that I can easily begin packing once it is time. This works well for me because with my busy work schedule I can’t always sit down and devote entire days/weeks to packing or planning. Often it’s in little increments!
Step 4: Begin the packing/list
For some trips, I’m able to get us packed up a week or two ahead outside of things like retainers, toothbrushes, and other last second items. For other trips, the clothes and shoes are still in heavy use until departure. Depending on which type of trip I follow one of two plans:
Plan A: Make a detailed list well in advance
I like to make a typed list of the general items, with specific quantities and print 4 copies (one for each person). Then I hand-write in specific details to each person such as “retainers”, “glasses case”, or whatever other items. I also add in specific brand/item details for the girls. Everyone (husband included) gets one such list. He’s on his own from here – the girls I expect to gather the items and turn them in to me for packing in a designated spot when it is “packing day” a day or two before the trip. This is my plan of attack and how I approach packing when it can’t be done well in advance. This helps me because I can make the packing list way in advance – and it speeds up the last minute packing.
Plan B: Packing early
I still make a detailed list, but this time the goal is checking it off as it goes in (early) so I know what is (or isn’t) packed and what is still missing. What I like about packing early is that I can really plan and pack in a way that will work once on our trip. For example I consider if we will be unpacking/repacking. I think about what works best for living out of a suitcase. How to organize the stuff so that it makes sense for us and minimizing repacking time on the trip, and so on. For the girls and I on this upcoming trip everyone has their own suitcase. Inside that suitcase you will find:
- medium eBag with dresses/skirts/pants
- medium eBag with shirts
- small eBag with underwear/socks/bathing suit
Using 2-3 small and medium eBag cubes help us keep things organized, pack more in a smaller space, and they are lovely out on the road when you’re looking for something – you know right where it’ll be! It really minimizes the mess we all make of our things as well.
above: rolled items in medium eBag
How much can we fit? Quite a lot!! In one medium travel cube/eBag I can fit 9-12 tops or 6-8 dresses/pants/shorts. Because our suitcases are carry on size (if not expanded) the medium size really does work best for us.
Step 5: Check for over packing!
It is so easy to over pack! “One more outfit… just 3 more pairs of shoes… what if I need…”
The huge problem with over packing is that you will have more to haul around (AWFUL if you’re doing a trip like ours with lots of stops/hotel changes!), you’ll have to dig through your own clutter, and in most cases it won’t make your trip better. Plus assuming you’re going somewhere fun, you’ll want room for souvenirs coming home! A little pre-planning can be really helpful in packing light. For this trip we are trying something a bit beyond a level of organization we’ve ever had before. The girls and I each picked a color palette:
Elizabeth: reds/blues/greens. Black dress shoes and belt
Rebecca: denim, mint green, pink. White dress shoes, brown belt
Me: blue, aqua, pink, purple. Brown shoes/belt/gold jewelry
Now some of our tops don’t fit perfectly – but they do match all of the “bottoms” we are bringing! This packing is letting us each travel with less accessories & stuff because anything in the suitcase will work with anything else! This means jacket, sweater, even nice dress shoes will work across the board. I won’t pretend – this took some serious study of our closets and a LOT of hunting for the right pieces to add in (at the right bargain prices!). But the time put in will absolutely be worth it as there will be no “what to wear? What goes with this?” when we get dressed each day.
Final Step: Think about how you’re packing!
There have been many packing styles for me over the years. My mark of excellent packing is that you can find what you need, when you need it without wasting precious vacation time. As a mom and lead trip planner, I work hard to get us on vacation as it is! So spending time answering “Where is….” or “Did you bring…” and searching for stuff? I’d rather avoid that! Here are some ways I help the family (and myself) be efficient:
- Those eBags! The medium & small ebags work perfectly for our family. Keeps things organized, once there we turn a large size one into the “dirty laundry” spot/bag, and it makes it easy and quick to pack, repack, and keep on the go. We have the eBags one, but you can find other brands of packing cubes on many websites and in stores.
- One general “bathroom” bag. This has everything from toothpaste to Tylenol to Qtips and nail trimmers. This one bag is where you go for any of the usually found in the bathroom things you seek!
- Folder for all documents, including trip itineraries and plans. This goes in my carry on and is my go-to for all the details, tickets, and vital documents
- Small notebook with all the res #s, other details written out. Just in case wifi isn’t an option or cell isn’t working – this is my backup.
- Do you really need that? I leave extra camera lenses, my laptop, heavy jackets if it won’t definitely be COLD, bathing suits if we aren’t expecting to swim, and a dozen other “could bring it, but should I?” items at home.
- Bring a tote bag – this is great for walking around for the day and you just need a place to shove things, it’s great to transport food/water/etc between hotels, and it’s just a great backup. An empty tote bag gets packed every trip!
- Picture hauling your stuff around through a sweltering city… and ask again. “Do I need this?”
Sometimes we do need more things, other times we get away with a lot less. I really am hoping we hit the sweet spot with this Europe trip packing – I’ll let you know! I will be checking back in with some personal must-bring items, suggestions, and more in my next blog post. Until then – happy travels!