How To Create A Packing List

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When I travel, it’s often for work or a combination of business and leisure travel, so I have to create a detailed packing list or risk dying a slow, arduous death dragging my too-heavy bags over a border in the snow.  Sometimes I even have to pack for more than one season and continent (Asia to Europe in winter, for example, so I’ve got both a snorkel and parka in my bag).  I take time to prepare so I can pack less — and you can too. 

Repeat after me: MORE PREP = LESS SCHLEP

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Step #1: Research

Find out as much as you can about the weather and climate of your destination(s).  Even if you’ll be touring only one country, the climate can vary significantly based on geography.  I always check a few sources:, Weather Underground’s Trip Planner or World Weather Online are great resources.  Look for yearly average information for the month you’ll travel.  Remember to check the different cities in your itinerary.  Make a note of the daytime and nighttime temperatures, as well as precipitation.

Also research any cultural issues that could affect the clothes you’ll need to wear.  For example, in Thailand, I typically wore skirts that came to my knee for visiting temples, and brought along a scarf to cover my shoulders.  In Morocco, I packed leggings to wear under below-the-knee dresses.  While in Istanbul, I made sure to have a scarf to cover my head in mosques. 

You’ll make mistakes, but do some research ahead of time to lower your embarrassment risk.  Search for “what to wear in [destination name]” or “cultural info for travelers to [destination name]”.  Or many countries are listed in the Culture Crossing Guide, an online community-built resource for cross-cultural etiquette and understanding.

Finally, check out my other Packing Lists, online forums or the blogs of travelers who have been to that destination before for advice.  From my experience, fellow travelers are always willing to share their expertise!

Step #2: The Itinerary

Even if you’re in only one destination, it helps to map out the days of your trip and what the anticipated activities will be.  If you’re on a tour or traveling between cities, I think it’s critical.  I always review my itinerary and map out these answers:

  • How many days will I spend in transit? 
  • How many days will I have work functions/need business wear?
  • How many leisure days will I have?
  • Are there any special occasions or activities?
  • And finally, how many times will I spend 2 nights in the same hotel, so that I can do laundry?

I tally up how many of each days I will have, to be sure that I plan enough of each type of clothing.

How to Create a Packing List
Only the cart on the left is mine.

Step 3: The Packing List

Remember those worksheets from grade school where you had two lists of items, and you had to draw lines between the items that matched up?  This is literally how I create my packing list for every trip I take.

I start out writing my list with outfit components in different columns.  Tops and dresses on one side, pants or skirts on the other.  I try to plan colors and items that can be mixed and matched, and then I create outfits by drawing a line to connect all the pieces that can be worn together.  A top that goes with these capris AND two skirts?  A beach cover-up that doubles as a kimono with the dress?  PERFECT.

I include sections for jackets/outerwear, shoes, and accessories like scarves or tights.  Again, I match them with the other pieces to be sure I’ve got complete outfits.  I also try to limit the number of shoes I bring – 3 in my packed luggage is the absolute limit!

I’m always on the lookout throughout the year for clothes that would be good for travel or “athleisure” wear that could do double duty.  When I first started traveling, I bought a lot of “travel wear” brands but now I pack a mix of items.  I do have a few staples that I rely on, depending on the trip.  Finally, I think it’s always good to have at least one pair of quick-dry undies in your carry-on.  (Yes, they’re hideous, but think of them as an insurance policy.)

Finally, travel-sized Downy Wrinkle Releaser is your BFF.

Step 4: Pack That Thang Up

As you pack, check each item off your list to be sure you don’t forget anything.  I always put at least one outfit and basic toiletries, including prescriptions, in my carry on.  Plus, I carry on my jewelry and anything I’ll need for business meetings.  I use packing cubes religiously to keep things organized.  They’re also great for breakable souvenirs – stash them in between the clothes for padding.  

Check out my favorite travel gear for more suggestions like a luggage scale and stuff to keep you organized during your trips.

Have your own MORE PREP, LESS SCHLEP tips, questions or success stories?  Share them in the comments!

How to Create a Packing List – Resources

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Adrienne, The Haphazard Traveler

I used to be a hot travel mess, but I got better! I kept the name and now blog my best tips for culture and adventure travel from around the globe. Follow along for travel advice, destination info, and photography from faraway lands - and at home in Washington, D.C.

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