8 Tips to Take the Pain out of Packing


Travel is fun, but let’s face it – packing is not. This wouldn’t be a proper travel blog if I didn’t dish out some tips for making the packing process easier, less tedious, or more efficient. I strongly dislike packing, but it must be done. Over the years we have honed our packing skills – especially when it involves all 5 of us getting prepared. We never start early, and there’s no chaos or panic (anymore). Here are my top 8 tips, take what you will:

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Illustrations by The Oatmeal

1. Start with your travel day

Before I pack anything, I usually start with my travel outfit and carry-on items. It helps me to stay organized by working my way backwards (or forwards?). Anyway:

Travel outfit. Unless you are on a flight for 8+ hours, this outfit does not need to be your most comfortable or the one that takes up the most room in your suitcase. I usually start with my favorite items and add comfort/style in the way of layers and accessories. This outfit is part of my travel wardrobe (and the only one I have if my luggage gets lost), so the pieces I pack in my suitcase tend to mix and match with what I wear on my travel day.

Carry-on. By carry-on, I don’t mean the suitcase in the overhead compartment – I’m talking about the bag under the seat in front of you. For me, it’s an oversized purse. For my husband, it’s a backpack. In the event of lost baggage or a zombie apocalypse, my carry-on has all my basic (airplane) survival items – except a samurai sword, damn. Think medications, chapstick, extra contacts, etc. A book, water bottle and headphones. Travel-sized toiletries in ziploc bags. My sunglasses. Some of this can’t be packed right away, so pack what you can – and make a short list for the remaining items to add later. Which is a nice segue to . . .

2. Write things down

When I’m packing, my brain is rattling things off rapid-fire and at random (sun dress, phone charger, 3 pairs of underwear, those new cute earrings, get a cat sitter, don’t forget your running shoes, epi-pen) and my body can’t keep up. I always have pen and scratch paper handy to jot down things I need but can’t pack right this minute. I can add stuff to the list when I’m thinking of it and not worry about forgetting it. Unless you are a list person, there is no need to write down every single item you will need before you start packing. Eliminate time by just getting started.

3. Prioritize your trip activities

In short, start with the most important things first. Besides your daily wear and toiletries, every trip has must-have items that will break a trip if you forget them – depending on what kind of trip it is. Think about your trip activities. For example: If I’m going to a tropical location, I make sure to grab all family beachwear and sunscreen first. Shopping for a bathing suit is annoying already; I definitely don’t want to do it when I’m on vacation because I forgot mine at home. If we’re traveling somewhere cold, I gather all the gloves/hats/jackets before I start with anything else. Girls’ trip? Shoes. Destination wedding? My wedding outfit and accessories. You get the picture.

4. Use a staging area

Don’t put anything into the suitcases until you have everything gathered. Find somewhere in the house where you can corral #allthethings. If you have kids, you will get interrupted at least 781 times during the packing process – the staging area will help you stay on top of where you are if it takes you several days to get it together. After everything is assembled in piles, double check outfits and run through your mental or written lists as you put it in the suitcase.

5. Pack a bag for each person

Depending on the number of kids you have, their ages, and what type of trip you are going on, consider packing a separate bag for each family member. We tend to go on road trips with several stop-overs. When I am on the move, I don’t want to spend time digging for stuff (e.g. mom, where’s my bathing suit? mom, I can’t find my sandals! mom, do you know where my toothbrush is?). Each family member is in charge of their own bag with their own stuff. No matter who is asking you or how urgent the need, you can answer all those questions with the same answer: it’s in your bag. You tell ’em!

6. Group like items together

Oops, there is one small exception to #5:

Some family items can also be grouped together. Leverage the extra room in the smaller kids’ bags to add your family’s “like-items” together in travel pouches or stuff sacks. Stopping for a quick excursion in the rain? Grab the pouch with all the rain jackets instead of rummaging through several suitcases. Arriving to your destination after bed-time? Pack your kids’ pajamas and bedtime needs into one sack so you can grab this out first. Those little monsters will be in bed in no time so you can enjoy your vacation coffee wine with your feet up.

7. Divide up the responsibilities

Make your family get involved in the packing process. Most of the moms I know pack for themselves and all the kids in the house while their husbands are quickly packing their 5 t-shirts and 2 magazines and then, I don’t know – drinking a beer. If you are the control-freak in the house (like me), loosen the reigns and divvy up the work. I still oversee our packing for the most part, but my husband is in charge of technology, entertainment and important documents. He orchestrates the charging of devices and downloading of movies. He gathers the cords and batteries and headphones and portable speakers. He checks us in and stows the passports and boarding passes. While drinking a beer.

Most of the time these days, my kids want to help and packing gets done quicker. Kids of any age can help with simple directions:

  • To the 3 year old: “Pick out two books for the plane.”
  • To the 6 year old: “Bring me 4 pairs of shorts and 4 t-shirts.”
  • To the 8 year old: “Pack the stuff you want to have on the plane in your backpack.”
  • To the 13 year old: “Don’t forget your toothbrush.”

Just double-check their work as you put it in the bag and gather up what they forgot. With these defined roles, everyone is clear on who needs to do what.

8. Just breathe

You know the saying: Attitude is everything! Usually, I want to punch whoever says that to me in the face, but I’m going to use it in this instance. Don’t get bogged down with the tedium of packing; try not to stress that you have little time and if you forget something your trip will be ruined. Because it won’t. And that’s just ridiculous – you are going on a trip for God’s sake. Approach packing with a healthy dose of chill.

And remember, packing for the trip home takes so much less energy or strategery. Like so:Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 10.31.04 AM

What are some of your tips for more efficient packing?

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8 thoughts on “8 Tips to Take the Pain out of Packing

  1. tutulu

    …..don’t forget the ziploc bags, a couple different sizes….you never know when they will be useful.
    …..mailing labels – in case you need to box up and send home certain/special items.
    …..name/phone inside bag in case lost….omit address.

  2. heeheee, packing for your return! great tips! Usually I return with a lot of new goodies…well, realistically I return with one souvenir that tends to take up a lot of space and a bunch of other random stuff, and if the airline is reasonable, sometimes the extra fee is worth it! For example Thailand to France, once the extra baggage fee was 15 dollars, and I just wrapped up the gorgeous cushion I got and sent it as a bag all by itself! excited to read more from your blog, xo

      1. No problem! It was a useful collections of tips, and I love reading things like this- it recalls you to that “preperation” mindset before a trip which we’re all obsessed with amirite?

  3. Krista

    The best thing I ever did was tell the husband that he was in charge of packing for our son and I’ll be in charge of my daughter. I still run my list (which I start putting on my phone weeks ahead of time) by him to make sure he’s packed up to my standards, but it really saved me some stress.

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