Create a Master Packing List for Travel

by Kevin on July 15, 2009

My wife and I aren’t travel gurus by any means, but every couple of months we’re either headed home to see our families or off on a weekend trip to see old college friends. It’s inevitable that we will pack too much stuff for too short of a trip.

We’ll go on a weekend trip and I’ll pack four shirts and three pairs of shorts. Once we get back and I see all the clothes coming back out of our bag I think, Hey genius, don’t pack so much stuff!

That feeling usually lasts right up until the next time we start to pack. Then all rational thought leaves me and my section of our bag looks like a twelve day adventure.

Today I aim to show you how to stop this madness. I’m hoping I’m not the only overpacker out there.

Avoid Overpacking with Planning

Hi. My name is Kevin, and I’m an overpacker. (Hi, Kevin! Welcome to Overpackers Anonymous.)

The easiest way to defeat the overpacking mentality you have every time you grab your suitcase is simple planning.

You need a solid understanding of:

  • where you are going,
  • what the weather will be like there,
  • what activities you plan to do,
  • and how long you will be gone

If you’re not planning to do much physical activity then you don’t need to bring your high activity shoes and jogging shorts. If you plan to be outside a lot you need to make sure you bring an extra shirt or two in case you get really sweaty and need to change before going out to dinner.

These are simple things, but often I don’t think about them. Or I think we’ll do so many things in one weekend that I need to pack the entire closet.

Create a Master Packing List

My wife and I decided we would try something new. We’re going to come up with a master packing list and use it to check things off. It could be done in Excel or by hand (and then laminated – my wife loves to laminate). Essentially you come up with a system that provides one outfit for every day you will be gone. The system also takes into account things like activities, sweating, and the little detail of you’ll be wearing clothes as you drive to your trip location.

We’re also going to create a section for everything you might want to take on a trip. One big master list with things like contact lenses, backup pair of glasses, CDs, board games, allergy pills and other medications, and hats.

It has happened more than once where we’ve gotten to our location and one will ask the other “Did you remember to pack the _______?” and the answer is inevitably, no, they had forgotten. Having a huge list to go down and check off will be immensely helpful to us.

We’ve got another trip coming up soon and we haven’t perfected our system just yet, but this will give us another opportunity to tweak it. Once we get it down to more of a science (rather than an art) I’ll be sure to share it here.

Can anyone else recommend packing tips? Leave them in the comments — I sure could use your help!

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Corporate Barbarian July 15, 2009 at 12:31 pm

We’ve made great progress in this area. On our last vacation, we took only carry-on bags for the four of us. There’s website called that has lots of great tips. There’s also a site that helps you create a packing list: One bit of advice that I’ve received was to separate your dress clothes from your casual clothes. Then, put away the dress clothes, and take only half of the casual clothes. The idea was that even if you didn’t take everything that you wanted, you could make do without those things.

Philip July 15, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Hi. My name is Philip, and I’m an overpacker. (I guess I have to join the club also)

I was trying to remember the same site that Corporate Barbarian already posted. I personally do ok IF I am flying and will get it down to one bag, however lately I have been driving on my trips and if I drive then it seems the entire bed of my truck is full for 2 people for a weekend!!!

Trying to take lots of trips coming up for going mountain biking for the weekend, and will need to take food etc, gonna have to see how well I can stream line that.

hustler July 15, 2009 at 4:02 pm

On a similar subject, I’ve been wanting to make a master grocery list. I think I will also make mine in excel and put a check next to something we need. If I leave something off the list, I will add to it later.

michele July 15, 2009 at 6:39 pm

I have several master packing lists. One is for a weekend trip and the other for 7-10 day vacations. I also have a “in the car” list and a “before we leave the house”. My children are old enough now to pick out their own clothes, so I print their lists and send them off to pack. My husband and I just use the laptop as we pack.

@hustler, I have a master grocery list also. The tip I would offer is that when your first list is complete just print off one copy. Use that and see what you need to revise. Save your list after your shopping trip, then revise before you print the next one. If you take the time to do this several times, your master list will work not only as a to buy list, but a reminder of things you might not think of as you are planning your shopping.

Diane July 15, 2009 at 8:06 pm

Hi, I’m Diane and I’m an overpacker… I CAN pack reasonably if I’m flying with just a carry-on, but put me in a car and I’ll definitely overpack.

One suggestion for quick packing – keep a set of travel products packed for bath/personal use – toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, razor, face cream, sunscreen, etc. – whatever you normally take. Check & replace items when you get home so it’s always ready to go.

I now keep 2 sets packed, one for car trips and one for air travel (in the quart size ziploc bag). Due to capacity of the qt ziploc I take less when traveling by air and just use the shampoo, and products provided at the hotel and make do with less items.

My son, age 18, also keeps a set of bath products packed for travel with friends. I pick up travel size items at Wal-Mart when I see things we need.

If you have extra, you can also keep a set of underwear & socks packed for weekend travel.

Murry Hard July 15, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Please rememeber…when traveling overseas, always have a copy of your passport!

Jenny July 15, 2009 at 11:19 pm

You can also take your checked-off list with you, and use it when you are returning to make sure that you remember to bring everything back with you.

I work in a motel and the two most commonly left-behind items there are shampoo in the shower, and phone chargers, lots of them.

FB @ July 16, 2009 at 5:17 am

That is exactly what I do.

A master list of what I bring (different lists/additions depending on weather like winter, or if it’s on business, or to an event or a wedding)

And depending on the length of stay (1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month, 1 month+), I bring small pots and pans too in my carryon.

I always have the list with me, wiped clean after it’s been packed, and I re-check the list as I re-pack everything in the hotel

Don’t forget to list things like: Camera in Pouch + Charger

I always seem to lose the charger, and that has helped me immensely.

I also only carry a carry-on and a purse for up to 1 month of traveling (no kidding!!) so don’t forget to put your gels and liquids in a plastic bag in front zipped and ready to go.

I hate overpacking. Hurts my back and annoys my arms to carry it. The less, the better.

FB @ July 16, 2009 at 5:19 am

Oh and if there are changes to your list (I’d suggest doing a draft list and testing it on a trip first before laminating it), then add them to the list as you go along.

I’ve since added a Belkin wall charger (to charge 2 USB port-items and to have 3 extra ports for charging in the wall outlet), because hotels only give you ONE bloody outlet.. 🙂

FB @ July 16, 2009 at 5:21 am

Sorry, last comment. Don’t forget that things can substitute for another. I am also a bit of an eco-friendly freak, so I tend to pick substitutes that are easy.

A shirt that you wear to sleep, can be your last shirt to wear on the last day flying out.

Shampoo can turn into body wash (if you use shampoo, I don’t.)

Toothpaste can be baking soda with water (salty, but it works well for cheap and is eco-friendly).

I also wear clothes twice if they didn’t get so horribly sweaty. I bring about 3 changes of clothes that can all match with each other and rotate. If I desperately need to wash the clothes (if the sweat smells), I use the laundry rooms in the hotel, or just do a quick wash in the sink and a dry for a day or so with a bit of shampoo or soap.

My max is also 2 pairs of shoes — walking tennis shoes & flip flops or ballet flats. Unless I am going to a wedding or something, I don’t bring a third set.

But generally speaking, after the sweat dries, the smell disappears (for me)…

AJ July 16, 2009 at 8:46 am

This also could be applied to moving. I did some of these things on this list when I moved to a new state.

Kevin July 16, 2009 at 9:34 am

@Corporate Barbarian: Awesome sites. Will definitely be reading up on those. Definitely need the help! But what if you need dress clothes (business meeting, going to a nice dinner, etc.)?

@Philip: That’s my problem too. I know if I am flying I have to limit everything. Driving makes it easy to take everything and the kitchen sink.

@hustler: That’s a good idea, too. We make a list each week for what we need. I would be afraid we would be tempted to buy everything. “Oh, I almost forgot, but we definitely need Oreos!” 🙂

@michele: That’s a good idea, too. One for each type of trip…

@Diane: We’ve got a travel kit that you fill up with your own shampoo (rather than paying $1 for a very small amount when a big bottle is $3). But same concept.

@Murry: Yea, kind of important!

@Jenny: Great idea to take it with you. I don’t think I would have thought of that! I’m always asking when we leave some place “Did we grab the… (cell phone charger, camera, dirty laundry…)?”

@FB: You don’t use shampoo… ever? Zoinks! Do you have any problems taking pots and whatnot onto a plane? Figured they might hassle you about it or something.

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