I'm afraid I'd forget my suitcase, if I didn't have a system for counting what to grab when I head out the door to catch a plane or train. As a worrywart, the type who packs 7 pens in case 6 run out of ink, I need ways to reduce the fear I'll leave something behind. I couldn't manage without my permanent packing list, which I made years ago. (Over time, I've crossed off things like diapers and added reading glasses and such.)
It helps make preparing for travel (dare I say) fun, if I think of it as a puzzle. For example, I try to see how many things I can set aside before peeking at my list. First, I pile on a chair in my bedroom clothes I'd like to take. Later, I'll pare down.
During the days leading up to my trip, I begin another pile—on the kitchen table—a collection of small, random items I'll need, like my camera, an umbrella, keys to my daughter's apartment if going to New York, reading sunglasses if heading to warmer climes, warmies (gloves, scarf, earmuffs) in the winter, bicycle gear (helmet, mirror that Velcros to a handlebar, reflective vest) if there's a possibility of renting a bike. For trips abroad, I add passport and plug adaptors.
As part of my master plan, I keep three small bags permanently packed. My toiletry bag contains my non-liquid sundries. This kit has a loop or hook so I can hang it in a hotel bathroom, where surface space is often scarce. The bag also has see-through compartments, so I don't have to go fishing around when I need floss, a sewing kit, a nail file.
The second bag, in which I keep over-the-counter and prescription medications, is malleable so I can just mush it into a corner of my wheelie bag. The third bag, a Ziploc, contains liquids. For simplicity, I use these liquids even when traveling at sea level. After returning home, I replace anything I'm running out of.
The night before leaving town, I get out one more small, mushable bag for "the bathroom five." These five items are ones I use regularly and choose not to own doubles of. They include: makeup, jewelry, toothbrush, hair bands, and vitamins. Also on departure eve, I pare down my wardrobe.
Ever since I heard about the bedbug orgy that takes place in airplanes' baggage compartments, I have not checked a suitcase (granted, I don't go to many balls at Buckingham Palace). But I did go to China for a month without having to surrender my bag to the ticket agent. Which brings me to the most fun part of the packing puzzle: fitting everything into my wheelie bag.
Slacks lay on the bottom with the legs out, to be folded over everything when I finish loading the suitcase. Next, I pack each category of clothing into it's own large plastic Ziploc-type bag or flimsy sweater bag, the thin inexpensive kind you'd find at the Dollar Store. This creates additional space by allowing me to press or suck out excess air, resulting in a sort of shrink-wrapped effect. Clothes won't wrinkle, and these clothing "packages" also make finding underwear and everything else easier, especially helpful if your journey takes you to several destinations.
Finally, I turn to my list. I write on a PostIt all the things I have not yet set aside, like laptop, water bottle, extra cash, cell charger. Add to that, "adjust thermostat, doggie gate up, porch umbrella down." Once I have this final list, I feel completely packed, because there is no further thinking involved. The system works as long as I don't misplace the PostIt, which can happen during the pre-travel frenzy.
On the day of my trip I gather "the bedside five," which is to say, I place my portable alarm clock, eye mask, reading glasses, small flashlight and book in a zipper pocket of my "personal item" sized bag, which is a giant backpack.
I put the fridge food I'd prepared the previous day into a lightweight tote bag, which I double, so I'll have an extra bag if I need it (skip this step if you, unlike me, are capable of leaving home without a sack of sandwiches). Then I grab my five travel companions—wheelie bag, backpack, purse, food bag, jacket—and I'm off. If I'm flying, I remove sweaters from my backpack at the airport and tie them around my waist and shoulders, then I stuff into that space my purse and food bag in order to have only two carry-ons.
Whew! See you when I return.
When it comes to packing, what are your trials, tribulations, tips? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.