Photo of a stack of old suitcases

How to pack for a trip

Another suggestion that popped up a few times when I asked for post ideasĀ on Instagram was a post about how to pack for travel. I’m usually away from home for about 50-60 days of the year, in a mix of work-related and personal trips, so by now I like to think I’m pretty good at curating a suitcase (barf). Your wish is my command, so here are all my favorite packing-related tips and tricks.

How to make life easier for yourself both before and during a trip

1. Make lists

Make lists over what to pack and – this is important – adjust them over time. These are not supposed to be list of what you packed for that one trip, but of what you actually needed and used so they’re a useful reference for your next trips to come. I have five lists: one for long trips abroad, one for a week away, one for work-related day trips, one for short overnight trips and one over all the toiletries I need to remember. These variations might not be relevant for your life, so make up lists that suit your travel needs. Keep them on your phone and adjust as you learn or as your habits change. Once you’ve made those lists they make packing so much more quick and easy.

As an example, this is my list for overnight trips. “(?)” means the item is optional – if I’m staying with a friend I will most likely borrow her shampoo and conditioner, and I won’t bother to bring allergy medication in winter.

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Makeup
  • Shampoo/conditioner (?)
  • Deodorant
  • Socks and underwear
  • Sleepwear
  • Hair brush
  • clothes
  • Wallet
  • Keys
  • Kindle/iPad + chargers
  • Phone + charger
  • Earbuds
  • Reading glasses + sunglasses
  • Planner
  • Skincare
  • Razor (?)
  • Protein bars (?)
  • Folder for receipts (?)
  • Diva cup (?)
  • Allergy medication (?)
  • Portable phone charger
  • Camera (?)
  • Refillable water bottle and coffee cup
  • A scarf (?)

A lot of these things might seem obvious, but you would be surprised at how many times I have accidentally traveled without deodorant or a hair brush. I always consult my lists when packing.

2. Check your laundry basket

Did you want to bring that thing that has lived at the bottom of your laundry basket for the last two weeks? It is better to find out a week in advance than the night before you travel. Get a general idea of what clothes you want to bring (and maybe also travel in) and make sure they are clean and dry before you have to leave.

3. Plan your outfits

Look. I’m not telling you to have 10 outfits planned out for a 10 day trip, but it is good to have a general idea of what goes together so that you don’t just throw clothes into your suitcase willy-nilly. Remember that bottoms can usually be worn more times before washing than tops can, and that it is completely acceptable to do laundry by hand in your hotel sink. You almost always need less clothes than you think. As for shoes I usually bring three pairs on a long summer trip: one pair of comfortable sneakers, one pair of dressy sandals and one pair of “sensible” sandals like Birkenstocks.

4. Check your cosmetics

  • Be ruthless. What do you need to bring? You’re probably not going to need 6 lip products for a week-long trip. Can you travel without your entire skincare routine, but instead make do with a cleanser, moisturizer and sunscreen? Think critically about this, because the weight of cosmetics can add up fast.
  • Consider travel sizes, but don’t get tricked into buying tiny versions of everything you own because that’s kind of a scam.
  • Remember that you can buy things at the destination as well. If you’re low on tooth paste or sunscreen or hair spray you can always pick it up when you arrive.

5. Assume your luggage will get lost

When you pack your hand luggage, always assume your checked luggage will get lost and that you will need to make do for a few days without it. Pack what you consider to be essentials in your hand luggage (cosmetics, medications, important electronics and chargers) plus a change or two of clothes. The last time I traveled to New York my luggage was lost for three whole days and the only thing I had to buy to get by was some underwear and a comb.

6. Pouches and packing cubes

You are welcome to just place everything you want to bring into your suitcase and hand luggage and consider yourself done, but I never do. I like to have things separated and organized. Chargers? They have their own pouch. Underwear? A packing cube. Tops? Cube. Bottoms? Cube. Cosmetics? Waterproof toiletry bag. Imagine yourself at the airport, suddenly needing to get something from your suitcase before you check it. Do you want to dig through all your belongings in a wild scavenger hunt, or do you want to be the person who can find the thing in 10 seconds flat? Or consider your hand luggage – if you need to get something quickly from your bag in the overhead compartment you don’t want to have to rifle through all of its contents in the middle of the aisle. Travel is stressful enough as it is, don’t make it harder for yourself. Be organized.

7. Use tape

Use tape to shut the lids of shampoo bottles, sunscreen etc so they don’t spill all over and ruin everything inside your luggage. And bring the roll of tape with you so you can do the same for your return trip.

8. Bring a bar of soap

Preferably a small one that you stole from a hotel on a previous trip. You can use it to do laundry in your sink, or use it instead of the complimentary soap when this turns out to be a heavily perfumed mess that dries your skin out.

9. Charge everything

The day before you leave. That includes your portable chargers. Pack both your portable chargers and your actual chargers in your hand luggage (see #5).

10. Coordinate with your travel companion(s)

If you are two people traveling together I bet you don’t both need to bring toothpaste, or shampoo, or conditioner. If you’re a bunch of girls traveling together you don’t need 4 hair straighteners and 3 cans of hair spray between you. Jump into your group chat (we all know you have one) and coordinate a little. It’s worth the effort.

But also, at the end of all of this, don’t sweat it too much. If you forget to bring something, I bet they have stores at your destination. As long as you have your passport and your wallet and maybe your meds (I don’t know your life) I’m sure you’ll do just fine. Maybe you could even try to get by without the thing you forgot to bring – it might not have been as essential as you thought it was.

Happy travels!

Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash.


2 thoughts on “How to pack for a trip

  1. Trajena says:

    Bonjour Maja!

    Absolutely perfect post about packing! I’ve been working as a flight attendant for 18 months now, and I can attest to many of these tips. Those I haven’t tried yet will definitely be put into rotation (why have I never considered taping the caps shut? I’d have saved so much conditioner!!!).

    Brb, I’m gonna go catch up on the rest of your blog as I sort through and minimize my skincare&makeup collection

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