Best travel kits and packing tips
February 1, 2022 10:57 AM   Subscribe

For a variety of reasons, I find myself living out of a backpack or suitcase at least once a week, for a couple of days. At this point I feel like I'm decently good at it--I seldom forget something crucial. But it still takes quite a lot of cognitive space and a fair chunk of time every week. I'd rather it were closer to autopilot. If you're a frequent packer, what are your super-clutch tips and tricks?

In general, I'm packing for a two- to three-day stay. But I often have to be flexible--leaving earlier, staying longer, ending up somewhere other than I expected. I'm generally going to one of 4 locations. I am always taking mass transit there.

What I need:
-a couple few changes of clothing, including at least one thing I can wear in public or for a zoom meeting
-sleep clothes
-at least one laptop (depending on the trip, either a work laptop with all its peripherals, or a home laptop with just a charger)
-a reasonably full complement of grooming and shower/shave stuff, including a curling iron. I have difficult hair and skin, and I just can't spend half of each week disregarding them. But I do save the big grooming stuff (mani-pedi, face masks, that sort of thing) for home.
-the general assemblage of wallet/keys/phone/lipstick/43 different masks/one hundred hand sans Christ someone just shoot me already

What I have:
-a small roller bag (carryon size)
-a decently large backpack with laptop compartment and many pockets, most of which I am probably not using to their full effectiveness
-a tote

Ideally, I would only carry two of the above at any given time.

I'm not particularly open to like, radically overhauling my entire being. Not interested in buying a whole-new "travel-friendly" wardrobe or cutting off all my hair or whatnot. I'm also not able to just buy all my shit in quadruplicate to keep extras everywhere.

Much more interested in how I can simplify or make more efficient the process of maintaining a "travel set" of key stuff--it's very easy to decant all of my shit into travel jars ONCE, but rapidly becomes a headache to decant it constantly.

I'm game to buy new kinds of products, storage containers, organizers, a new suitcase or bag if there's one that is especially amazing for short, frequent trips. Or if you just have some really dope checklist system that helps you automate the whole process a bit? Or even just tips for feeling less unmoored, and more at home, when you can't really be home very much.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese to Travel & Transportation (38 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

I don't decant my usual stuff in to travel-size containers; I have a stockpile of travel-size versions of stuff, and just grab one of whatever I need when I'm packing. You often don't even need to buy it, just swipe the stuff from hotels.

And as for helping organize clothing: packing cubes are magic and should be worshipped. They usually come in sets of five or six in varying sizes, but for shorter trips I usually only take maybe two or three - socks and underwear go in one, the rest of the clothes go in the other. For longer trips (say a week) I'd probably divvy it up as

* Socks/underwear and sleep clothes
* Tops
* pants

Divvying things up in the cubes not only keeps things sorted (if you need a change of underwear, you can just pull out the underwear cube without having to unpack and paw through the whole bag of everything else), but it also keeps things slightly compressed so it takes up less volume. I went on a 4-day trip upstate last month and using some packing cubes I was able to pack everything in a regular commuter-style daypack - the cubes compressed things down enough that there was still room for me to shove my toiletry kit, camera, and my computer in the backpack.

And also addressing the "feeling unmoored" - I do also have a small travel-pouch size kit of small luxuries: a couple travel candles, a couple of nice tea bags, stuff like that. I take that along too, and will sometimes light a pretty-smelling candle in the room and have some high-end tea.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:09 AM on February 1, 2022 [5 favorites]

Have a separate set of chargers for your devices that you just leave in the roller bag or backpack so you can never ever forget them.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:10 AM on February 1, 2022 [40 favorites]

toiletries and things like band-aids live permanently in their own gallon ziploc*, which usually travels in my carryon (and lives in my closet when I'm not traveling.) I check/replenish a couple things before a trip but there's no reason not to have dupes of the all necessary stuff that just live in there. Plus it's much easier to remember to dump more shampoo into the little shampoo bottle when it's already in there, than it is to remember to Pack The Shampoo (etc.)

*a security guy at Gatwick SCREAMED at me for using a ziploc and insisted I decant my big ziploc into his two littler ziplocs. Nowhere else in the world has this ever been a problem.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:11 AM on February 1, 2022 [5 favorites]

Consider buying duplicates of things you usually travel with, and leaving them packed / segregated from your non-travel items. Obviously this doesn't work for things like work laptops and prescriptions, and is slightly difficult for clothes.
posted by meowzilla at 11:12 AM on February 1, 2022 [10 favorites]

A few things that worked for me in a similar situation: a set of sleep clothes that are only for travel and get cleaned and put back in the bag. Prescriptions in my weekly pill minder so I can grab and go. Solid options whenever possible - I found bar shampoo and body soap that worked well for me so I didn't have to bother with decanting liquids. Duplicates whenever it's affordable (toothpaste, toothbrush, razor, phone charger)

I would keep all the important non-liquid grooming things in a bag whether at home or on the go, so that's grab and go too

reusable baggie for liquids that lives in your carry-on

When I was traveling a lot, my regular purse was also my travel tote so wallet, keys, etc already lived there and I would just spend 10 minutes before a trip clearing out anything unnecessary.

I had a REALLY SPECIFIC checklist so I didn't have to think too much about the details.

I also had a few outfits on rotation that I knew were easy and looked good for meetings/being on site. If you're a person who wears dresses they're super handy for looking put together with less effort.
posted by brilliantine at 11:12 AM on February 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

I have a second set of toiletries that permanently lives in my toiletries bag. This saves SO much time.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:14 AM on February 1, 2022 [11 favorites]

+1 to secondary set of toiletries and full sized make up kit that sits ready to get thrown into a bag. (Travel size mascara though cause that stuff does expire)
+1 to extra chargers that just live in your bag

My other hack is that I have explicit traveling uniform... Which is black leggings, a long black drapey dress and a fancy quickdry yoga top that can be dressed up or down (I wear the leggings under the dress or with the top). I have two sets of this that are always folded together with 2sets underware into a tote bag each. I grab a cardigan, socks and boots in winter, or sandals in summer and I always wear the same stuff but only when traveling. It just eliminates making decisions, and frankly no one cares that you are repeating outfits. Also easy to keep track of in laundry.
posted by larthegreat at 11:18 AM on February 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: The secondary set of toiletries already exists; the problem is, because I literally travel every single week, it gets used up constantly. (But of course, not at the same rates because we're in the Bad Place). A huge part of the cognitive load is in perpetually monitoring and replenishing the already-existing secondary set.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:35 AM on February 1, 2022

Best of:

--2nd sets that stay in suitcase: toiletries--I take notes of what needs refilling and do that as soon as I get home; nightclothes/hanging in hotel lounge-y outfit; chargers in easy-to-see 1 qt. Ziploc bag; some underwear; flat Chinese slippers or flip flops; cheap slipper socks; half worn out gym clothes in case I want to use hotel gym.

--separate 2-gallon ZIploc bags to organize clothing by type--tops; nightclothes; underwear, shoes, bottoms. Easy to see everything and compress. Someday I'll get packing cubes, but the big 2-gal. bags do the job.

--travel valet bedside tray that says inside my suitcase inside a 2-gallon ziploc bag. Inside the tray are things I keep on nightstand at home--flashlight; floss; Post-it notepad/pen, travel alarm clock; etc. On the road I put car keys on it and store my phone there.

Key is to launder/repack/restock 2nd sets of things as soon as I get home, so I'm good to go on the next trip.
posted by Elsie at 11:43 AM on February 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Buy silicone travel bottles that are actually 3 oz. They smoosh (or withstand air pressure changes) much better without leaking. And most hotel-ish bottles only hold 1.8 oz, which always leaves you with ... just short of enough. I recently went almost a month on a 3 oz bottle of shampoo!

Bulk travel toothpaste. , in 2.5 oz sizes. So that you always have one to grab.

I use a pill organizer daily, and just throw that in my travel toiletry bag. All of the travel stuff lives in its own drawer, so the resupply is easy and obvious.
posted by Dashy at 11:46 AM on February 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

You take mass transit, not planes? I think you need slightly larger toiletry containers, and buy duplicates. Those tiny little containers are great because they are light, but their size is usually determined by TSA rules. That's not a concern if you're not flying. So, don't get the travel size toothpaste; get the smallest regular-sized toothpaste, and buy three or four at a time. Don't get travel-sized deodorant; get a smaller-sized regular deodorant, and buy a few at a time. Same for moisturizer, etc. Then, keep all those travel-specific extra toiletries in a one tub or tin in one place at home that's easy to get to. Swap near-empties out when you get home from a trip so you offload your need to remember before you head out the next time.

For your things like make-up and stuff you keep for everyday in a purse or something you don't bring on trips: if you don't want to duplicate this stuff, then keep it in your purse in smaller little bags. For example, just keep your everyday make-up in a small make-up carrying case that can go between your dresser, purse, and suitcase (or wherever). I do this with lots of little sundries I carry in my everyday bag; I have a small zippered pouch that holds things like a few bandaids, small moisturizer, etc. Some folks who carry different purses on different days do this so they can swap purses easily. The idea that nothing is loose that you need to swap around.

I hear you on not waning to duplicate things, but it seems like your choices are to decant or buy duplicates. You'll use it all eventually.

For packing: the best thing I ever did was to buy a notepad travel checklist. I don't have to come up with my own checklist each time but just scan and check off the pre-made list. However, as a daily bike commuter who used to shower at work, I had my own homemade checklist I looked at every single morning. It had everything on it, even things you'd think I wouldn't forget (shirt, shoes, belt, socks, underwear, wallet, ID, keys, etc). The more you offload to a list, the less mental strain you have. In your case, I'd type up and print a checklist and make just one or two copies. Then, modify it the first and second time you use it. Then, edit and print a few more copies. After a few trips, your checklist should be perfect, and it should include EVERYTHING, either by type of item (electronics, clothes, etc) or where you pack them (suitcase, backpack, tote).

After a year or so of using that checklist, I realized I didn't need it anymore. But I still had it right there on my dresser. In your case, I'd start with a per-trip list so you can check actual things off.

Another tip: have a routine where you pack the same things in the same places each time. This will start to give you visual information on what is missing.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:59 AM on February 1, 2022 [6 favorites]

On the toiletries question - when you say "mass transit" do you mean buses/trains or flying? Because I just bring full-size toiletries unless I'm flying. Yeah, it's extra weight in the bag but it's a lot less effort. Also I always keep my fullest/newest bottle in the travel set (like, when I run out of shampoo, the travel shampoo becomes my home shampoo and the brand new bottle goes in the travel bag), because running out of something on the road is more annoying than running out of something at home.

For other stuff I'd recommend having a few packing cubes ready to go at all times. Like several packing cubes pre-packed with four days worth of underwear and socks, and a two or three with a couple of changes of clothes. Basically, can you pack once a month (for four trips) instead of once a week?
posted by mskyle at 12:00 PM on February 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

I have a travel toiletry bag with small but not tiny basics and a few things that are really helpful occasionally, like tweezers. If I can't find my regular tweezers, I have a spare. Minor 1st aid, like benadryl and bandaids. I found a nice mesh bag with clear plastic liner; I like to be able to visually check that needed stuff is in there. You travel so much that you could keep a spare set of shampoo, hair product for easy swapping out. I refill my small containers from the big shampoo and lotion in the bathroom. And if the hotel has shampoo that smells, good, I use it.

I don't use packing cubes; I use large ziplock bags. 1 for underwear & socks, 1 for cables and widgets, 1 for scarves and maybe a necklace, more as needed. I mark my travel charger and widgets(usb drives, spare earbuds, whatever) with bright tape because black plastic is so easy to leave behind, and you quickly learn to visually scan for that bright color when you leave. Esp. the laptop charger; they aren't cheap.

When I traveled for work, I had 4 or 5 outfits that coordinated well, and I could grab 2 - 5 outfits and know that everything went together; this allows for a few things being in the laundry; I still had good options. I like big tshirts for travel sleeping, they're easy. I usually have a pair of pants with me; if there's a fire alarm, I'm out the door pretty fast; this has happened.

Most of all, I have a mental and sometimes written checklist. I have attention issues, and a list just helps so much; I keeps lists in Google Keep.
posted by theora55 at 12:01 PM on February 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

If you're in the market for a new toiletry bag, I have had really good luck with this eBags bag--it fits a ton of makeup and has a separate compartment for toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.
posted by kingdead at 12:16 PM on February 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: On the toiletries question - when you say "mass transit" do you mean buses/trains or flying?

Both--the flying is more rare, definitely not weekly or anything, but ideally I wouldn't have to redo my entire ongoing travel deal just because this time is a plane. Also, FWIW, this is not work travel although I almost always have to work WHILE I'm traveling.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:30 PM on February 1, 2022

  1. Bulk buy the tiny toothpaste tubes, and just chuck a fresh one in your bag before you go. (No matter howr rarely I traveled, you couldn't pay me to refill tiny toothpaste tubes. God, no.)
  2. For anything you don't need to be specific, rely on hotel toiletries, if the places you stay at have those. I only ever travel with toothpaste and a little bottle of my own specific shampoo.
  3. Anything you do need to be specific, bulk buy in the little containers if you can. If you can't, figure out what the largest small containers you can travel with are, and bulk buy those. Refill them all in one go. Diarise a time once every couple months to refill all the little containers.
Other things:
  1. +1 to packing cubes, they're amazing.
  2. Duplicate anything you travel with frequently that you can easily duplicate. Laptop charger, phone charger, etc, keep travel-specific ones in your suitcase. (I literally have a phone charger in every single bag and suitcase of mine because it always slows me down otherwise, because of course I charge my phone overnight before I leave...)
  3. Anything small you don't want to duplicate, don't just dump it in your bag loose, keep it in a separate smaller container. I have a little pouch for masks, one for my pocket phone charger, one for painkillers / bandaids / lipstick / little mirror / little comb / etc that I just move from one bag to another as needed.
  4. My instinct would be to pack for the next trip immediately after I've unpacked. Unpack dirty clothes, throw them in the laundry, and then while the suitcase is still open and the laundry is going, pack all the things you know for sure you're gonna need next time (underwear, socks, pyjamas, basic t-shirts, fresh toiletries to replace anything you've used, so on, so forth). That means you just need to pack the things that are unique to each specific trip. I'd even go as far as saying pack once a month for that month's trips, but I don't know if your wardrobe size could stand keeping so many sets of clothes out of commission (god knows mine couldn't).

posted by sailoreagle at 12:45 PM on February 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

I also have a toiletry bag with full size toiletries, if I'm flying it gets checked. If I get home and anything's a bit low I just swap it with a full one from my substantial stash. It also has a phone charger.

Also I have a packing cube for clean underwear and one for ... no longer clean underwear.
posted by quacks like a duck at 12:46 PM on February 1, 2022

Get a hanging travel toiletry bag, a decently substantial one, and live out of it full-time. When you're home, tidy it up.

Alternately, if you want to go bigger, get a cloth over-door organizer like this or these, and some extra hooks to travel with.

All your liquid toiletries decanted from original packaging into 1oz, 2oz, and 4oz (that's half a cup, that's a decent quantity) squeeze bottles with non-losable twist tops. There's plenty of bottles in those packages to create a backstock of filled bottles. For me, I use a tiny bit of shampoo and a lot of conditioner, so conditioner goes in the 4oz, shampoo in the 2 or 1. OR, seeing on your update that you do sometimes fly, maybe put everything in 2s and 1s, or check your bags.

I label my bottles with a labelmaker and then wrap all the way around with clear shipping tape, as these bottles are a little stick-resistant.

If you're using the shoe-type organizer, set it up in your bathroom loaded in a way that you can either book-fold + half-fold or roll it side-to-side, and cut it off if it's too long for your needs (you could use the cut-off part to pack socks/undergarments/accessories/comfort items and bedside needs). For the other one you should be able to flip-roll or accordion fold.

Whatever your daily carry with wallet/keys/lipsticks, get a purse organizer - there are one millllllllion variations, shop around until you find the size/pockets/material/format you like. If you carry a large bag, use one organizer for critical items and another organizer or zipper bag or something for all the stuff you don't need while in-transit.

I actually use a purse organizer for my cosmetics and the skincare stuff I don't keep in the shower as well. It sits in a bin on my bathroom counter and then I throw it in the hanging bag to travel.

Get a slightly larger suitcase and give in to checking or gate-checking (it's a lot harder for them to fuck that up, though it is still feasible) it when you fly, or counter-checking if you don't want to have to worry about liquids. When you are embarking on travel, put your laptop and the purse organizer in your backpack, put your purse with extraneous cruft in the suitcase (you can fit at least one pair of shoes in a baggie/grocery bag inside your half-empty purse usually), put the toiletry bag or organizer in your suitcase. If you need to free up some space in your suitcase for these bulkier items, pack your socks/underwear and one outfit of lounge clothes in the backpack.

Bang for buck as far as duplication is an extra power cable for each of your laptops.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:07 PM on February 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Are you always, or frequently, going to the same place or the same few places? If so, see if you can simply leave things there (like full size toiletries). I've heard of hotels being willing to store things for frequent guests, for example.

Since you already have the spare set of toiletries going, would it reduce the cognitive load to make refilling things part of what you during unpacking, rather than a task that has to be fit into the rush before leaving for a trip? That way your unpacking routine could be something like: refill toiletries; wash clothes; and repack the travel clothes (like pajamas, basics, etc) that you take every time. Then packing to leave is a faster process of grabbing prescriptions, adding key clothes that are just for that trip, and heading out.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:10 PM on February 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

I stay away from home a few nights a week and have gotten fairly good at it but you're right, it is a lot of extra overhead no matter what.

If it were me, I would:

– get duplicates of the curling iron, phone and computer chargers that always live in the bag
– full-size toiletries that always live in the bag (generally 3 oz bottles of face wash, lotion, hair serum, etc. are small enough to fly with but large enough that they should cover a month of travel pretty easily; decanting is the actual worst and would be an absolute last resort for me)
– dedicated sleep clothes, socks, and underwear that live in the bag, get washed, and go right back in
– pill case always loaded and ready to grab; mine is weekly but in this case I might upgrade to monthly so I didn't have to think about it as often

Then my checklist would become:

– one outfit X number of days
– pill case
– laptop
– makeup pouch
– purse or tote bag (which holds wallet, keys, masks, etc.)
posted by anderjen at 1:18 PM on February 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

Packing cubes are phenomenal.
posted by Gadarene at 1:26 PM on February 1, 2022

The ultimate hack for me (that has admittedly come about accidentally) is being at a point where my laptop, tablet and phone are all able to be charged using USB-C. Life changing.

And packing cubes that fit perfectly in your go to suitcase.
posted by cholly at 1:53 PM on February 1, 2022

My system is bags/basket-based. I used to fly/transit around at short notice.

1. Toiletries - I have a bag for the gym that basically covers a couple of days. 3oz bottles of bottle stuff or small tube of hair product, regular antiperspirant, small tube of toothpaste/toothbrush/floss, the smallest set of makeup I can live on for a few days, like one small eyeshadow palette, smallest foundation, etc., (mascara's the one thing I would swap out carefully due to safety) with travel-size brushes, nail clippers/tweezers/bandaids/small polysporin, hair brush and minimal elastics. Makeup removal wipes. Plus yes, hand sanitizer + wipes.

I can't stand lipstick but I'd have that in my purse plus a few things if I were wearing makeup regularly. Right now I have nail clippers and hand sanitizer.

2. I have a secondary Ziploc of airline-approved sizes in a small basket and if I have to swap them due to flying without checking anything, I just drop the gym toiletries in the basket so I don't have to track them down after.

3. In that basket I also have my international Apple charger that I can take to various countries, other chargers. I have extra wipes etc. in there. Then I have a little section with sort of med-related stuff - powdered electrolyte drink as it kills my migraines, and I pick up small packs of Immodium, Benedryl, painkillers on sale (it almost always expires on me). I toss those into the little bag that comes next. Then I have a little bag with a scarf, and a set of jewelry that basically accessorizes most things.

(This basket lives in my "to go" emergency box/bag so it doubles for grabbing in an emergency and is near the camping gear.)

The point is really that I have a spot in the house for things I take travelling so I don't have to chase them, organized so I can see what I'm low on. When I come home I unpack them into that spot, but it's also where I can see it when I'm shopping etc.

I'm not on meds but I think I'd do similar - probably store my travel meds with my bottles of meds, so I can see everything I have together, but with a set I can just liberate asap.

4. I'd get or put together a set clothes and store them in my drawer separately, if that makes sense? So you can grab them to pack, you don't have to think, and if you need to wear them well, just put them back. For me that would be:
- not-too-hard-to-pack pjs
- black performance pants that are relatively work-friendly
- 1-2 plain-enough t-shirts
- cardigan
- 1 nicer shirt, and
- I have a crazy great black dress (similar to that one, it was also performance wear) that is super comfortable but can be dressed up for lots of things, plus cheap tights. I'd keep three sets of underwear and socks in there too.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:34 PM on February 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

I really love the idea of buying four sets of little bottles so that you can do a massive decanting once per month, rather than refill after every trip. This would be a load off my mind.

When I pack, I like to do a roll per outfit—this makes the packing process easier (no constantly counting/checking for four shirts, four sock pairs, etc) but also makes living out of the suitcase easier (you only need to grab one thing, and you don’t need to dig around to find what matches).

Personally, I wouldn’t be able to have dedicated clothes that live in my travel bag (too many variables, too small a wardrobe), but I do like having go-to outfits for different situations that I can grab and pack, so I don’t have to play the “Does this match/Do these shoes work/etc” game every time.

That said, I do nth every recommendation to duplicate as many other things (chargers, headphones, etc) as you can, and just leave them in with your bags all the time. Same for the toiletry bag—if a mini curling iron, razor, etc can just live in there all the time, that’s less to think about.

I also like the idea of having a dedicated Travel Stuff spot in your house/closet, where you can check up on everything that might need to be refilled/repurchased all at once.

And, just in general, POUCHES (or packing cubes, but pouches are more versatile for me). Especially since you use different bags, it’s a lot less mental load to think “I need a bandaid, let me grab the green pencil bag” than dig through backpack pockets/toiletry bag/purse because they wander. This also makes it easier to refresh, because everything has a home and you know what’s supposed to be in each bag.

Similarly, I make sure to keep extra important stuff in the same place/pocket every time. Then it’s just a quick pat to make sure I have the true essentials (for me that’s keys, phone/wallet, meds), which quells my anxiety and stops my anxious double-checking-everything mental loop. If I have those three things, anything else I need I can always buy a replacement in a pinch. Not ideal, but not the end of the world.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 3:24 PM on February 1, 2022

Ugh, I feel your pain. I don't have a full solution, but I do like this (expensive) toiletry bag because it's much easier to keep organized than a typical bag where everything's all jumbled together, and the pockets are mesh, and it hangs up, so you can see what's inside quickly. However, if you want to carry full size shampoo, etc, it wouldn't be big enough.

If you have a Daiso (Japanese dollar store) nearby, it's a good place to buy packing cubes cheaply. I have a bunch of the refillable travel-sized liquid containers from Muji, and they're excellent, but probably hard to find unless you happen to be in one of the few places that still has Muji stores. I do actually have several of these prefilled with shampoo ready to go.

This fold-up tote is also expensive but really great-- folds down and zips up into a small size, and then is useful for dirty clothes/extra things that accumulate while you're traveling. I like that it zips up when in use, instead of an open tote.
posted by pinochiette at 3:49 PM on February 1, 2022

If you find your hair/skin difficult at times, and use a lot of products to address this, skip the hanging cosmetics bags which are never flexible enough for toiletries, and just permanently keep things in a lug bag at home and on the road. The version I have has multiple compartments for small things as well as a really big space for whatever thing demands moreroom. It also has a second half you can zip on and off. And though it's both sturdy and made of waterproof fabric, it's smooshable, so you can squeeze it in a bag even if it doesn't really fit. Seriously, it took me years to find something that well thought through.

Like everyone else, I too use a checklist. I created mine years and years ago by adapting one of those sample documents Microsoft Word includes with the program. I agree with all the discussion of clear bags of multiple sizes above, though I also use a couple of brightly colored plastic bags for things like dirty laundry. In my case, I think of everything that's not clothing as part of a kit, and keep all like stuff together in a clear plastic toiletry bag with a big label on it (the clear plastic packets new bedding comes in is good, too) , so I have an "Eye kit" (glasses, contacts stuff, etc.) and a "Jewelry Kit" (necklaces, earrings, etc.), and I list these along with all other possible travel items on my Travel Checklist: belts, tights, umbrella, bathing suit, current novel — all are options on my list. If I know in advance I won't need something, I simply cross it off before using the list.

In terms of remembering to wash your travel clothes and replace your travel accessories, several years ago I bought a used iphone, specifically to be compatible with my Mac — and everything I need to remember I put either in a Notes list, or on the calendar. Since I carry my phone wherever I go, and always have my computer at home, the program automatically syncs for me, and I no longer have to remember (or feel guilty for forgetting) to do things — refill meds, do laundry, call doctor — I need to do regularly. All of that stuff I put in my calender and make recurring. That, too, syncs with my phone.

One final note: As added safety insurance, for years I'd travel with meds in one "kit" and extra medicine in a tiny container in my handbag lest the big luggage get lost. Although, the big luggage never did get lost, I've used the meds in my purse more than once to extend a trip.
posted by Violet Blue at 3:50 PM on February 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

I'm also a frequent traveller (almost always flying domestically), but don't need to deal with TSA bullshit. While it can be annoying at times, my experience over a couple of decades of this nonsense is that having duplicates that live in your travel bag is the best possible solution.

I have a small expanding suitcase that is small enough to carry on if closed up and big enough to pack for a week expanded, plus a messenger bag. I pretty much always check the suitcase regardless of how big/heavy it is, because I have a thing about how people shouldn't be allowed to carry heavy bags that get loaded above people's heads. Even if I'm just travelling overnight, I always take the same bags and always pack the same things, just more or less of them. I find this dramatically reduces the cognitive load in packing and it's pretty much an automatic process that takes less than five minutes total. Routine is the key in ensuring you have all you need and nothing you don't, in my experience.

Items that always live in my suitcase:
Laptop charger
multi-point charger and extra-long charging cords for phone, iPad and watch
Sewing kit (stolen from hotel room)
Masks in a zip-lock bag
Plastic bags
Complete set of toiletries in a toiletries bag ('travel size' are too small, just buy regular small-sized items) including spare contacts
I just need to throw in whatever clothes I need (always the same ones, just vary the amount and pack for one day longer than planned) and I'm packed. Everything always gets packed in the same way (rolled, not folded) and in the same place in the suitcase. At a glance, I can be sure I've packed everything because, if not, there's a gap in the suitcase. Same applies when packing to come home.

Things that always live in my messenger bag:
Small battery pack and super-short charging cables for phone and iPad
Tissues and wet wipes (travel pack size)
Pen and pencil
USB drive
Masks in a zip-lock bag
I just need to throw in my laptop and iPad.

When going through security, everything in my pockets goes in the messenger bag to minimise risk of leaving things behind. Again, no TSA bullshit to deal with, so YMMV.

When unpacking, identify anything that needs replacing or charging and do it straight away. The toiletries bag stays on the bathroom vanity until anything required is replaced, so I know if it's packed, it's complete.

I guess I'm pretty low-maintenance so, if you're on meds or use makeup etc, you may need more. The principle is the same though - duplicate everything you can and standardise everything you can't. Routine, routine, routine.
posted by dg at 3:51 PM on February 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

It might help if you have a backup plan to order anything that you run out of at the destinations. It makes me feel better to know that I can replace anything I forget or run out of within a day or two at the destination and put most of my energy on making sure I have the couple things that can't be easily replaced (prescriptions, glasses, phone, laptop).
posted by RoadScholar at 5:11 PM on February 1, 2022

I have a small necessities hanging bag in my car - shirt, underwear, bralette, plus the toiletries I need. I keep a second toiletries and necessities at my most travelled to place - it's still a travel kit so small and doesn't take up a bunch of space there. Otherwise there's the flight kit, and the overnight kit.

That said I am very stripped back. Deodorant, toothpaste + brush, cleanser, moisturiser, soap from a hotel. I generally take the toiletries from hotels when I stay and have a stash to replenish with, and now my hair is short that's not an issue.

If you wear dresses they are the pinnacle of travel comfort, esp with pockets. Even as A Butch I am tempted to wear dresses + leggings any time I fly (a comfy jumpsuit or overalls is similar but more difficult to dress up).

Travel converters etc also live in a box in my closet, with the flight kit and weekender toiletries. Having multiples does make it easier, and stripping back to bare essentials.

When packing I do the roll thing and when I was regularly spending a few nights each week away, I basically would launder those and put them back in. I am absolutely a uniform/minimalist wardrobe person though, and nobody was surprised. Work stuff is usually accomplished by Adding A Blazer but I'm a humanities professor so that affects things.

I also order bulk toothbrushes etc - I generally have a small stash of them for guests and visitors and for when I've inevitably lost my travel one. There are some really nice little soaps you can order in bulk as well - big enough for a week or two, but not a giant bar that goes weird before you use it all. I keep all of that replenishing stuff in a drawer in the bathroom. It takes a lot of thinky stuff out of the restocking when most of it is right there.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:14 PM on February 1, 2022

On masks: if you are using fabric masks get about fourteen of them and then stash one in each pocket of the clothes you pack, aiming for about two per outfit. Keep extras in with your underwear and backup disposable pleated masks in a ziplock sandwich baggie that can be stored really flat almost anywhere, like against a tablet in a backpack sleeve. Then you will always have a mask. When you are folding your clothes for travel again, stash the newly cleaned masks back in there, but also if you miss a few they all go in the wash anyway.

If you are using the bowl shaped n95s or similar things that won’t fold flat, they are good for nesting among foam bra cups. If you don’t have those, charging cords can be curled up and kept inside too.

I have a daily pill organizer at home, two of them at a week each. When I travel, if it’s a week or less, I take the second one and fill it with OTC meds. Both go in my toiletry bag, and if I come home having used all my ibuprofen or Imodium or whatever, I have a good indicator of something that could be improved next time I do that trip. (For example, now I know to ensure my diet doesn’t change so drastically when I visit my aunt.)

A soft sided train case is the superior choice for toiletry organization. You can fit WAY more stuff in one than in one of those rolling things or even a traditional dop kit, and if you need to you can keep it separate and attach it to another bag with a strap or carabiner. The ones I like have an open compartment in the bottom and a zippered space in the lid with maybe an extra pocket on the side or top. Too many compartments get in the way of bringing big things like the right comb or other tool. Speaking of which, do you have a travel sized curling iron?
posted by Mizu at 5:45 PM on February 1, 2022

Whenever I travel, I make sure all the clothing I'm packing matches each other, so that way I don't have to "budget" my clothes when I'm away.

I did Birchbox for many years, which left me with a robust supply of travel-size beauty items; depending on your specific needs, just having a monthly dump of samples might lighten some of your frustrations. (Feel free to MeMail me if you want the rundown of pros and cons.)

Not sure where you're heading on this trips, but as a frequent and yet still frequently stressed traveler, one of my mantras is "they sell ___ there!" So like, yes, I check multiple times that I have my decanted beauty products, but they sell conditioner everywhere I'm going, and truthfully I consider a drug-store run to be a treat, so the big bad "what if!?!?!?" is actually not so bad. Obviously your mileage will vary for a variety of reasons.

My final checklist is to start at the top of my head and move down my body to double-check I packed everything. Hat? Q-Tips? Sunglasses? etc etc. Safe travels!
posted by Charity Garfein at 9:12 PM on February 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Packing cubes and a dopp kit (i.e. a toiletry bag) preferably one you can unfold / unfurl and hang in the restroom over the mirror that contains all your grooming stuff including shampoo and stuff.

Just label the packing cubes with what goes into which one. When ready, stuff all the cubes into your luggage, drop the dopp kit on top, and you're ready to leave. If you rather not use packing cubes you can use ZIP-lock storage bags, the bigger ones, but not the humongous ones.

I've also seen some people use those "hanging shelves", that's like 5-7 shelves that hangs from horizontal bar? As long as you didn't pack the individual shelves to bursting, you can collapse the whole thing and put it in the luggage, and hang it in the hotel room when you get there. Instant organization. :)
posted by kschang at 12:42 AM on February 2, 2022

For keys, I recommend separate keyrings, but with some sort of quick-connect system, either small carabiners to bind them, or KeySmart MagConnect

For the laptop, I do recommend a spare charger just for travel, plus extra cables, and maybe something like Belkin's classic travel surge protector, turns 1 AC outlet into 3, plus 2 x USB ports for charging, packed into a separate pouch along with the rest of your "tech" stuff like phone charger cable, backup set of wired headphones, and so on. Maybe even a car charger if you ever need to rent a car. AND maybe a 20000 mAh powerbank for backup.
posted by kschang at 12:59 AM on February 2, 2022

When I was keeping a bag packed for short notice overnights at my parent's, I kept a packing cube on top of my dresser. When putting away laundry I would check the cube, and make sure there was a full outfit plus sleep clothes, sometimes I would rotate out what was in there because of weather or whatever. I had a second packing cube with a bathing suit, coverup, sandals, and beach towel.

My trick for toiletries was: Have one of each thing in use in the bathroom cabinet or shower. Have a second one in the travel kit which is stored under the sink. When the active one of anything runs low, buy a third one. The brand new one goes into the travel kit, the one from the travel kit comes up to sit behind the almost empty one. Obviously air travel makes this more complicated if you aren't checking luggage.

When I did big trips overseas I had to force myself to do an 'unpacking day'. Usually the day after I got back, I would get everything emptied out, check and refill travel toiletries, get the laundry going, and put all the various packing cubes etc inside the luggage before storing it away.
posted by buildmyworld at 7:34 AM on February 2, 2022

I hear you on the toiletries. My skincare routine definitely gets simplified for travel and I seek out different products that will be easier to take through airports because I often can’t fit my liquids in a small ziplock. I have purchased powdered rice based face cleaner instead of a liquid that I only use in my travel bag, and have dupes of basics like an eyelash curler and toothbrush. Some products I only use when traveling so it’s kind of a treat. My travel is also to a different location and different length each time so I get that standardizing this is frustrating.

I leave a handful of N95s in the side pocket of my backpack, along with tampons and a small med kit (band aids, stomach stuff, aspirin, etc.). In my roller board I leave a few individually wrapped Korean/moisturizing face masks (relaxing after a long day), an extra pair of socks and underwear, a hairbrush, an umbrella, and more tampons. I have more than one of most of these things and generally “retired” an old set to my travel bag when I bought a new version of something. I also got a travel curling iron that’s much more space efficient and used to live in my bag when I was curling my hair. I have a small bag of jewelry I leave in my toiletries bag (one small pair of earrings, one crazy/bold set).

By leaving packing cubes or some sort of small bags inside my empty roller bag it reminds me what I still need to pack (I.e., this is empty so I haven’t packed underwear). I also have a thin bag (originally used as a compression camping bag) to put dirty clothes in while I’m away. That keeps smellier stuff away from stuff like sweaters that I want to re-wear when I get home. I also sometimes leave a plain black sweater in my bag too, because I travel for work and can always use it just in case. I actually leave that in my backpack that comes to the office with me in case I get cold or spill on myself. I don’t wear this plain sweater in non-work/at home life so I’m fine keeping it stored in my bag.

I always keep my prescriptions/pills I take daily in a container that is easily thrown in my bag. This year I switched to this pill organizer and really like it because I can take the whole thing if I’m gone a long time or just a few days’ compartments if I’m not gone long. It seems big but fits bigger vitamins. I also like that I can move it around so my weeks starts whichever day I want, not Sunday.

If I need to refill something I keep it in a separate bag. What about bringing an empty ziplock and write “empty” on it and keep in your toiletry bag/bathroom. When you get home immediately unpack, pull out the empties bag and set it out so you refill, pull out your laundry bag and throw that in the hamper. That makes unpacking/repacking (which I hate!) much more tolerable. I used to leave my full suitcase in the hall for 3 days before I dealt with it, but have schooled myself to do it right away so I stop dreading it and just get it done. Alternately, you can just leave it full and unpack/repack for your next trip at the same time so it’s all done at once. Another idea for empties is to put a reminder/alert in your phone (with a date or location alert) when you finish something on the road so you remember to refill it when home.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:40 AM on February 2, 2022

Just in case, I bring XXL Ziploc bags that can fit my entire suitcase.

Went to a hotel that had bedbugs. Washed and thoroughly dried my belongings, packed them into the suitcase, and sealed the whole thing up in the Ziploc bag before heading home. Left the suitcase sealed for 18 months before opening (yep, that's how long BB's can survive without a meal). Essentials like my phone were not sealed up, just cleaned with alcohol.

Of course, there are faster ways to do this through heating or chemicals. I had stuff that could not be chucked into the dryer and wasn't needed right away, and I was moving into a newly built home where introducing bedbugs would have been horrible - so sealing made sense for me.

Even if you treat your belongings sooner, the Ziploc bag is still useful to safely store the suitcase at home while you figure out next steps.
posted by MorseCold at 9:52 AM on February 2, 2022

Packing cubes are amazing, but learning to "ranger-roll" your clothing can be great as well.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:58 PM on February 4, 2022

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