we are going on vacation, I am disorganized
October 12, 2022 7:57 AM   Subscribe

Every time I go on vacation the packing process for me is stressful and I end up bringing more than I need, forgetting things, or just staying up all night the night before trying to get organized. Do any of you have some hacks or best practices to make this less of a hot mess for me?

We live in upstate NY, nearish to Albany and also to the VT border. We leave on Sunday for a road trip - Portland ME, Quebec, Montreal, home. We'll be back the following Saturday.

I just suck at packing, y'all. I don't even know where to begin. I have to account for the weather, for different types of outfits (comfy car ride clothes, appropriate clothing for doing lots of walking/exploring including footwear, nicer outfits for dinners out including footwear), toiletries (including shampoo bc I have colored hair and hotel shampoo is not sulfate-free), medications, my hairstyling tools (I do not have wash and wear hair so it's either blow dry/flat iron or wear hats), PASSPORT AND VAX CARD to enter Canada, and probably other stuff that's good to have that I never think of until I realize I need it during the vacation itself.

I have tried making lists. I have tried tackling one category of items at a time. I have tried just walking around the closet and bathroom grabbing things. Nothing works. I end up frazzled.

This is a longish trip with three stops, including a border crossing. Does anyone have any tips to make packing easier? I don't want to end up with a suitcase that weighs 100 pounds.

Also, the last time we went to Canada was 2019. What has changed since then for border crossing purposes due to the pandemic? Is there anything in particular I need to remember to bring/do to get into Canada now?

I know people who are genius at packing and they just can't explain it to me, they are just efficient and diligent. I have long suspected that I have executive function issues (outside of work) and that's probably not helping. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
posted by nayantara to Travel & Transportation (41 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: posters request -- frimble

I have one permanent packing list that has everything on it I could possibly want for a trip. It's a word doc containing a table with three columns: Item name, a space to check when I've got it out on the bed ready, and a space to check when it's in the bag.

Each time I'm going somewhere I open it, make a copy, delete the things I don't need for this trip, and work through the list. In reality I tend to only use one of the check boxes because I just do it in one big sweep so by the time something's out on the bed it's definitely getting packed, but if you're packing over a long period of time or prone to putting things out in different places, two can be handy.

There's a separate section at the end for stuff I'll need to grab/pack on the morning we're leaving (phone, toothbrush etc), and that list gets transferred to the notes app on my phone so I can see it easily in the morning, along with anything I need to remember to do before I leave (unplug stuff, take rubbish out etc).
posted by penguin pie at 8:05 AM on October 12, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I have a packing list app for my phone ("PackTheBag", but there are others), which I like because it comes pre-populated with a master list of stuff that you might -potentially- bring. Then, when I am ready to start planning a trip, I open up the master list and check the things that I will need on this particular trip. That helps me not be worried that I've forgotten to think of something.

Then, when I am actually packing, I check off the items as I pack them. I usually just "pack" into a big laundry basket, and move things into a suitcase later.

Having the list that I can trust (because of the master list), and then seeing my checked off items, helps reduce my frazzle significantly.
posted by wyzewoman at 8:06 AM on October 12, 2022 [8 favorites]

In the days/week leading up to the trip, every time I think of something I should take along I put that item in a dedicated place.

On the day of the trip, my early morning toiletries get left out on the counter after use instead of being put away. That way I'm less likely to forget them.

But while I consider myself to be pretty good at packing, I end up having to replace something I forgot on just about every trip. So don't be too hard on yourself.
posted by DrGail at 8:08 AM on October 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

I am a bad traveler but a pretty good packer.

Go start a list in your preferred notes app right now. Don't write anything on it, just get something geared up.

Every time you touch or use something today, write it down.

My list for the last few mins looks something like this:
-work computer
-dog toy
-hand soap

After a full day or two of data, I'll take a real good look at it and sort it out. I can get coffee in a to go cup anywhere, but having a good travel water bottle with me will be clutch. I'll be on vacation, so the work computer stays home. Every bathroom I use will have hand soap, but I should probably pack a little thing of hand sani just in case. My dogs won't be coming with me, but I'll need to pack toys in their bag for the dog sitter. I need one mid-weight layer to pull on in case I get chilly.

That will give YOU a pack list for YOU.

What's useful about thinking packing through like this for me is that it keeps me honest. If I haven't slept with my mouth guard for 2 nights in a row, then I probably don't need it for a short trip either. If I've done just fine the last few days with this one pair of sneakers, then I don't need to bring different shoes for every outfit. Etc.
posted by phunniemee at 8:09 AM on October 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Canada dropped its Covid-19 border requirements a couple of weeks ago. I'd personally be inclined to bring my proof of vaccination just in case, but it's no longer required.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:10 AM on October 12, 2022

Pack enough underwear and socks for each day you'll be gone. If it's longer than a week, pack enough for a week. I don't mind rewearing clothes (like pants, shirts, and dresses) between washes but YMMV. How much you pack really depends on the length of your trip. A week? A month? In either case, Google 'capsule wardrobe' and that will give you some guidance. I always bring a flat rubber bathtub drain cover and a little baggie of detergent so I can wash my socks and undies in a sink if I don't want to find a laundromat.

As for toiletries, again this will depend on trip length. If you'll be gone longer than a travel sized shampoo will last you, buy toiletries when you get there. But in general, just go through a normal day and put these type of things somewhere specific as you use them, so you don't forget anything important.

Keep in mind that anything you do forget is almost certainly available to buy where you're going.

And good news -- as of Oct 1st, Canada no longer requires you to use the ArriveCan app or show proof of vaccination to enter the country. Bring your vax card anyway tho.
posted by ananci at 8:12 AM on October 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

This doesn't solve the entire problem, but I have dedicated duplicate "travel" sets of stuff wherever it is practical. Certainly toiletries and chargers/cables. Those stay packed at all times, and I just have to grab the bags and throw them in my suitcase when I am leaving. You could conceivably do that with medications too, if you have enough supply and travel often enough that it won't expire (or maybe have some system of cycling it through?).

For work trips, I pretty much always bring the same stuff, maybe slightly modified by destination and climate, but not a whole lot. I'm going to be spending most of my day inside anyway. For vacations, I do have a list like penguin pie describes that is a master list of everything, and I make a copy for each trip, editing it to what I think I'll need. For me that works pretty well.

And finally, I think it's really important to remember what ananci said: "anything you do forget is almost certainly available to buy where you're going." My mantra is "do I have my wallet and phone? If so, I can get anything else I need." I'd add medications to that list if you need them. But beyond that, there aren't many truly trip-ruining things you could forget for most destinations.
posted by primethyme at 8:20 AM on October 12, 2022 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I start with three non-clothing lists: electronics including chargers, medicine/toiletries, and tickets/ID/paperwork. Then I pick out an appropriate number of undergarments, socks, and pajamas based on trip length and access to washing facilities. After that, I list all the categories of non-everyday-clothing activities that I might participate in (usually, this breaks down to "exercise" and "dressy") and choose one and only one outfit for each type. Then I fill in the remaining days with an appropriate amount of everyday clothes - a top that touches my skin can be worn one day without washing, bottoms, sweaters, and sweatshirts can be used 2-3 days depending on how active I am. To account for weather I generally just pack one lighter jacket and/or one coat plus hat/gloves as appropriate.
posted by nanny's striped stocking at 8:27 AM on October 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: On the other side of things, when you get back from a trip unpack as soon as possible and make another list to keep along side of your "to pack" list. This one will be the things you just didn't use at all, along with a quick note about why it didn't get used. For example, "dressy shoes- never made it back to the hotel in time to change for dinner" or whatever. This can help you figure out how you actually function when you travel, and help you refine your packing list. I think actually making this list helps a lot (as opposed to just thinking, "welp, didn't need five pairs of hiking socks, I'll keep that in mind." Doing this helped me figure out what in my packing tends to be overplanning/wishful thinking, and pare it down a little.
posted by Missense Mutation at 8:32 AM on October 12, 2022 [9 favorites]

I use a list. My recent travel has been car-camping so my list is geared to that. I keep it on my google-drive and revise as needed. I also search packing list to get ideas.

I have a mesh bag with toiletries that is always ready to go. For a short trip, I can grab that plus some clothes and throw it in a tote bag and be ready fast.
posted by theora55 at 8:38 AM on October 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

I came here and was going to recommend making and vetting a list.

But then I realize I don't actually use lists. I'm too disorganized to make, properly vet and edit, and then keep a list for the next time without forgetting about it or losing it at some point in the process.

What I actually do is.

I sit down.

I clear my mind.

And then I imagine myself through a day on the trip. I start with waking up, going through my morning routine. Then, each time I reach for something in my day-dream, I open my eyes, and make sure it is packed in my bag, and then continue, including things like minor inconveniences, boredom, weather...

Yes, this is extremely idiosyncratic, but maybe it's something to try if other methods aren't working for you?
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:39 AM on October 12, 2022 [10 favorites]

Multiple questions here. I'll start with the easy one, which is getting into Canada. Per their their website, Covid restrictions have ended. You don't even have to use that ArriveCAN thing to schedule your arrival anymore. It's back to normal. But even when restrictions were in place, not much was actually different. You registered on the website beforehand, but the border crossing itself was the same as always. I brought my vaccination card with me, but no one asked to see it. (Although you entered the information on the website, so they didn't *have* to see it.)

As for packing... I travel a lot, so I keep a dedicated travel toiletries bag. (I actually keep two, one with 3-1-1 liquids for flying and another with regular-sized toiletries for road trips.) When I get back from a trip, I refill as needed. That way, I don't need to "pack" toiletries; they're already packed. I do dump out the bag and make sure everything's there and full before I actually put my toiletry bag in the suitcase, but then packing is just a matter of putting everything back in the bag. There's nothing to remember.

As a guy, I'll say that I think you're probably overthinking the number of different items of clothing, and especially footwear, that you'll need. I really find it hard to believe you'd need more than three pairs of shoes: a pair of sneakers, a pair of flip flops, and a pair of "nice" flats. Once again, I keep a dedicated pair of travel flip flops in my suitcase. Flip flops are like $3/pair; there's no reason not to do this. The flats and flip flops shouldn't take up hardly any room in your suitcase, so if it were me, I'd pack those and wear the sneakers in the car.

For clothes, is there some reason that jeans wouldn't work for all of your scenarios? Maybe pack a dress or skirt in case you go somewhere really fancy, but jeans would cover the car ride and the walking around use cases.

I find it helpful to plan clothing by day. A shirt, a pair of pants, and underwear for each day I'll be gone. (I'm picky about pants and don't wear them more than once, but most people do, so if you do the jeans thing, you probably only need two pairs.) Then I think situationally: a long sleeve shirt in case it's cold, maybe a second if it's winter, a hoodie/jacket for layering, self-packing rain jacket, some extra socks and undies (generally one pair of each), a pair of gym shorts (doubles as sleepwear). I usually pack my swim trunks, too, just in case. And really, that covers it.

If you have packing cubes, those are a helpful way to think through the above. And if you don't have packing cubes, go to Target and buy a box of two-gallon Ziploc bags. Voila, packing cubes. Put each day's clothes in a separate bag, then the situationals in a bag as well. Not only does it organize your thinking, it's super helpful on road trips. You don't have to bring your whole suitcase into the hotel every night. Just take the next day's bag and your toiletries. Stuff your dirty clothes in the bag after you get dressed the next morning. Additional tip if you go the Ziploc route: sit on the bag before zipping it. It'll push excess air out, kind of like a vacuum bag. Not as perfect as a real vacuum, but still pretty good. There are compression travel cubes if you go that route.

I'm not a particularly light packer (like I said, I wear a different pair of pants every day, and I also wear undershirts, which doubles the number of shirts I pack), but I've done trips of over a week using just a carry-on bag using the above method.

I think about packing in terms of five categories, and we've covered three of them already (clothing, shoes, and toiletries). The other important one is stuff that goes in my bookbag. Books, obviously, and notebooks and magazines (I buy a copy of the New Yorker every trip), but more generally this is my entertainment. It's where my laptop goes if I take it. I have a magnetic chess set and a card game, and anything phone-related: charger, headphones, etc. Yes, I have a dedicated travel charger and dedicated travel headphones that stay in my bookbag. My passport doesn't technically live in my bookbag, but it spends the night frequently.

(The fifth category is my pillow, but that's because I'm unusually attached to my particular pillow.)

That just about covers your needs, with the exception of medications (you probably have a pill minder box already) and hairstyling tools (nearly every hotel will have a blow dryer in the room, and/or pack a hat just in case).

Pack everything up as far in advance as possible. Nobody's good at packing the day they leave. Pack your suitcase at least the night before, preferably two nights before. Then if you think of something after, it's easier to open it back up and throw it in.

Like anything else, packing gets easier with practice.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:42 AM on October 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

For me, clothes are no big deal, but it's all the other little things that I worry about forgetting. So about a week before a trip, I designate a spot (for me, it's a large table in my front room). Everytime I think of something I don't want to forget, I put it on the table. You can do the same for clothes if you like (or particular types of clothes). Then when it's time to actually pack, I count out the days for clothes, and pack everything on my table.
posted by hydra77 at 8:45 AM on October 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

My packing strategy:

First, start with, what are the "special" occasion/events? Concert, opera, hiking? Then pull out all of those - complete sets including shoes, sports bra, jewelry, toiletries, etc. and lay it out on your bed. Since you know you'll have to have the right gear for those (and probably harder/more expensive to buy in the moment), make sure you have all of this sorted out and packed.

Next, your medication, electronics, travel documents. Throw them in your purse / carry-on.

Technically you could travel with the above, and buy everything else on the road as needed. If it helps you to relax and be less frazzled, just focus on getting those 2 categories sorted first.

Then, visualize your skin and haircare routine, like literally go through the motions in your bathroom if you have to. "First I wash my face, then moisturize, then sunscreen. Then foundation and then eyebrows, mascara..." Set each item on your countertop as you go through your visualization.

How many days (# of outfits) do you need to have? Let's say 8 days. Go to your closet and just pull out your stacks of 8 each of: underwear, socks, tops. Bottoms I divide by 2 or 3 since I re-use the bottoms, so I need 2-3 pants/shorts/skirt depending on time of year. Lay it all out on the bed.

Last thing is shoes and accessories. Then look at the weather and adjust your toiletries, clothes, and shoes as needed. Add some sweaters, swap out jeans for shorts, bring a rain jacket, etc.

For toiletries, I sometimes put them all in the toiletry bag ~3 days before the trip, and use the toiletries from the bag before the trip. This is actually a good way to test-run your packing, and throw in some extra items if needed before you go.
posted by tinydancer at 8:48 AM on October 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

I travel a lot, so I keep a dedicated travel toiletries bag. (I actually keep two, one with 3-1-1 liquids for flying and another with regular-sized toiletries for road trips.) When I get back from a trip, I refill as needed. That way, I don't need to "pack" toiletries; they're already packed.

This is the way.

If you find you use something heavily on your travels (e.g., a charger), consider buying an extra of it and just keeping it in your luggage.
posted by praemunire at 8:50 AM on October 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I also hate packing. (I also have ADHD. Like you know how in movies, sometimes people have to pack and flee in minutes? Literal nightmare for me. I actually have nightmares about this.) Anyway, for me the biggest pain point is all the fiddly bathroom/toiletry/self-care stuff. So I have a Google Sheet that lists out everything I would usually take. Whenever I go on a trip, I create a new column and just start checking stuff off as I pack it, or else put "Na" for "not applicable" in the column. It has reduced a task that used to take me multiple hours to about 30 minutes.

I also keep all my travel size containers and pouches in one place and I labeled them with a labelmaker so I don't have to open a little bottle and sniff it to figure out if it's lotion or face wash, etc. I refill as necessary while I pack.
posted by purple_bird at 8:52 AM on October 12, 2022

I am a good packer and I don't make a list (generally.)

The night before the trip, I mentally go through my day and then either pack (for things I don't need that night/next morning) or put aside in ONE place (for things I do need that night/next morning) every single item I need for a day. I can't pack earlier than the day before. It doesn't work.

I then count days of the trip and pack a shirt, underwear, socks for each day of the trip. Pants I am less worried about, typically only pack 1 pair and wear 1 pair.

Then I think about the trip in terms of dead time. This helps me decide what entertainment to bring (how many books? Should I bring my Switch? Will I actually use it?)
posted by rhymedirective at 8:56 AM on October 12, 2022

For what it’s worth, it calms my anxiety to know I that I have my passport, contacts/glasses, wallet and whatever other personal items (special shampoo and conditioner!) and honestly, the rest can be replaced. Like that would suck if I forgot to bring my gloves to Canada, but I bet i could buy new ones there
posted by raccoon409 at 8:59 AM on October 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Right - so when I travel, I pack such that I only need a single carry-on. I have been on week-long trips to Europe in only a single carry-on bag. Here is what I suggest.

1. Clear some time on a weekend the week before you travel. This is when you're going to pack; but you're going to take all the time you need for it. You can chill out, take breaks if you want, take a few deep breaths, put on some music and have some tea or wine or whatever as you work.

2. Then - take care of underwear and socks first. I change both daily, so I start there - I literally stand at my underwear drawer and count down the days I'm gone ("Sunday, Monday, Tuesday....") and with each day I fling a pair of panties out onto my bed. Same with socks. Once I've fished them out, they get packed first. I use packing cubes (seriously, those things are magic and should be worshipped, more on why in a moment) and all the underwear and socks go in there.

3. Then comes the clothes. The "capsule" approach mentioned above is the way to approach this - think of a couple of basic colors that you have clothes in, and then pull EVERYTHING that are those colors out of your closet. Like, for my last big trip my theme was "red, white, and black". I pulled everything that was red, white, or black out of my closet, and spread it all out on the bed.

THEN - start with one single pair of pants. Say, your jeans. And pick out a favorite from the tops you've got. That is your first outfit. Lay those out - but don't pack them yet. Now you go back to the rest of your clothes - and see if there is another pair of pants, a skirt, or another bottom that will go with that same top. If there is, great; add that bottom to the mix, and now you have TWO outfits, based using only three pieces of clothing. Excellent!

Now - see if there is a sweater that you can put over that top. There probably will be. That gives you THREE outfits just by adding that sweater on top of your top-with-jeans, FOUR outfits if you put it on top of your top-with-pants. And you've still only got two pair of pants, a sweater, and a top. Perfect!

Now get another top that would work with both the jeans AND the pants. You've just given yourself two more outfits; now we're up to six outfits, working with just two tops, two pants, and a single sweater! But uh-oh, what if that second top doesn't really work with the sweater? ...Well, you only have two tops, two pair of pants and one sweater, there's room for a second one. Let's find a second one that would work in the mix. Yay, it works! Even if it only works with the jeans, there's still room for it. Oh, and if I add this one last shirt, that would work with both those sweaters and that now pushes things to EIGHT outfits, sweet!

...You see what I mean, right? You're basically "shopping your closet", and seeing how many outfits you can make based on the fewest possible pieces of clothing. For me, laying it all out on my bed and looking at it and playing mix-and-match like that helps me visualize. And don't forget that you can change up a whole outfit just by adding a scarf. Take your time with this, though - keep in mind the number of days you're going to be away, and make sure you only have enough outfits for those days. Maybe cover yourself for one extra day for safety's sake, but that's it.

But the key is to go multi-purpose with your clothing. I see that you're thinking you need different outfits for "comfy car-riding clothes", for "walking around and outdoor exploring" and for "nice dinners out". But....why are those three different categories of clothes? Jeans would work in ALL of those scenarios. Maybe have your second pair of pants be nice khakis, which would also work for "walking around clothes" if you're in a city. And jeans would work in a city, and also work on hiking trails. If you really feel like pants wouldn't be nice enough, then maybe find a skirt that would work with one of the other tops you're getting - but pick one that matches with tops you're already bringing, so you can wear it to dinner one night with one top, and then to a museum on another day with another top.

Also, don't forget you will need to be WEARING things on the first day of your trip, so those things won't need to be packed. If you pick an outfit using the things you were planning to pack, then you don't need to pack them.

5. Anyway - once you have settled on "these are the specific pieces of clothing I will be bringing, because I just proven to myself that I can make enough outfits out of this curated collection of clothing" - then you pack right there and then. For the clothes you have decided you'll wear your first day, just set those aside on your packed suitcase so you know "I'm wearing these as we leave the house". I know it's a week before your trip - live off the rest of your closet for the days leading up to your trip.

6. If there are things you need that are very specific to some activities you're doing, and you are CONVINCED that you will be doing those activities or you have already made arrangements to do them, NOW is when you pack them. Like, say that you have already booked yourself a day in a fancy spa where you are required to bring your own bathing suit. Or, you have already reserved dinner at a 5-star restaurant and the dress code requires women to wear heels. THAT is when you pack those things. But do not pack them unless you know for certain you will need them. If you're thinking "I should pack my heels just in case we go out to a nice restaurant" - nope. That's not good enough. Bring some decent flats or ankle boots instead that you can also walk in, that way you can use them throughout your trip and spare yourself having to cram in extra shoes.

7. Okay! So now you have packed enough outfits for the week in the one bag, and you've added the one pair of shoes for when you go to that super-fancy place in Kennebunkport or whatever. You're driving, so that means you don't have to worry about the size of the toiletries you bring - so get a second smaller bag for your toiletries and just have it handy. Then the morning of your trip, as you're getting dressed or brushing your teeth or whatever, pack each thing in that bag as you're done with it. You've washed your hair? After you're done with the shampoo bottle, it goes in the bag. You've finished brushing your teeth? Toothpaste tube goes in the bag. Your toothbrush too (maybe in a plastic baggie so it's not rolling around). Your makeup? You probably have a small cosmetic case in your purse as part of your everyday carry-around stuff, just work with the cosmetics that are in there.

8. Finally - remind yourself that it is not 1920 and you are not packing for an expedition across Siberia. You're going to moderately settled places, and that means they have drug stores and malls for if you discover you need extra socks or something. Just stop into a local place for an Emergency I Just Learned My Underwear All Has Huge Rips trip, buy a cheap 3-pack of white panties and be done with it. Call it a souvenir. You may even discover a new brand of something-or-other that you fall in love with, or have a funny encounter with the clerk or something.

....I promised I would tell you why I love packing cubes. There are a few reasons:

1. They slightly compress your clothes, so you can carve out just a tiny bit more space in your bag.

2. They come in all different sizes.

3. It sort of lends an internal organization into your bags, so you're not stuck digging through everything at 1 am hunting for your pajamas and getting frustrated. With the packing cube, all you need to do is pull out The Cube With Your Pajamas In It, open it up and extract the pajamas, and the rest of your clothes stay all organized. I usually use about three or four cubes, depending on the length of my trips - socks and underwear in the smallest one, and either "all pants" in one and "all tops" in another, or there's one for pants, one for layering tops, and one for sweaters and scarves. Other people might do other things ("all the black clothes in this one, all the blue clothes in this other one..." or whatever). Whatever organization system you think makes sense, this can accomodate.

4. If you give in and use Amazon they can be inexpensive as hell. I am still rocking the one I got from Amazon about 5 years ago.

....so that's what I advise - think multi-purpose with your clothes instead of thinking "I need just-in-case outfits for any possible scenario", remind yourself that you can buy stuff where you're going as a safety net, and pack about a week or so in advance (if you're going on Sunday I'd maybe do that this Saturday, or even tonight) so you can take your time.

This is possible. I promise.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:08 AM on October 12, 2022 [10 favorites]

Traveling in the car

1 Attractive comfy knit outfit for traveling--elastic band almost sweat thickness pants and matching hoodie with pockets--yes,wear every day (I've have a couple variations of this in black)
1 nice print wicking tee shirt which you can later use for hiking if it gets warm
1 packable light down or vest
1 Waterproof/wind breaker jacket
1 backpack with water bottle and hiking "stuff" you usually use; poles; gloves; hat; sunglasses; reading glasses
1 passport size little pocketbook to wear around your neck that fits a wallet and passport
BIRKENSTOCK OR SLIP ON RUBBER CLOGS OR WATER SHOES; Smart Wool warm socks or no socks if it's warm while traveling

Outdoor: (pack down vest and windbreaker in backpack_along with gloves/hiking hat)
1 base layer cami (rewear wicking tee from traveling outfit)
1 zip up merino or poly quick dry top
1 quick dry hiking shirt
1 pr. hiking pants
2 prs. hiking socks
HIKING BOOTS with 2 prs. hiking socks inside

1 pr. black knit pants
1. black knit top (for casual place, just wear zip top or your nice traveling outfit with tee shirt underneath
1 beautiful warm shawl in case you go to somplace fancy
SLIP ON black SHOES/booties

Underwear/night clothes:
1 sports bra (wear while traveling and hiking)
1 regular bra
a weeks worth of underpants, quick dry
equivalent of black knit tee dress for sleeping (you can wear your travel hoodie as "robe"
flip flops

Right now get 1 gallon Ziploc bags for:
electronics; underwear/night dress; socks; medical; paper stuff

Pack in this order: passport; vaccination card; IDs; the electronics first, medical, then the rest. Check whether Canada is still requiring that you register vaccination info 72 hrs. ahead.

Have a great trip.
posted by Elsie at 9:08 AM on October 12, 2022

I'm one of those "unphased packers". Two days before a trip I do one run through of my wardrobe and toiletries and grab everything I think I need (based on vibes. Seriously) into a big pile. I then double check my itinerary and destination weather and decide on a color theme for clothes (so every item matches with all others; I'm currently writing from a EU trip that has black and olive as my colors). I pack that night, and I have no problem repeating clothes if needed (my nice joggers are airplane pants, daytime walking around city pants and good enough for hiking; my tech-quickdry athlete t shirt is nice enough for a dinner out or a hike and can be hand washed). If I find I need to do laundry, I have enough time to do so. If doing speciality things (skiing, backpacking) I work off of lists, but that tends to be hyper specific.

I have a carry on/purse with important documents and meds that I also pack that night.

This gives me 24hrs to remember random things. As I remember things, I note them on my phone. The night before the trip I smash the last min items in, or decide to buy on them on the trip. Usually there isnt much that I've forgotten, but the extra day of space eases my partner's anxiety and makes it easier the day of departure.

I also give myself permission to buy items I've forgotten or misplaced and then treat them as a trip souvenir. Stupid trucker hat bought at a state park cause I forgot mine? Perfectly ironic headgear back home. New bag cause I underestimated the structural integrity of my old one? Brilliant memory of Spain...
posted by larthegreat at 9:09 AM on October 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

A few thoughts

1/ After countless business and personal trips - there are very, very few things you can forget that really can mess up your trip. Depending on the nature of the trip that would probably be ID/passport, credit cards, your phone, any prepaid tickets that are not on your phone, if travelling by car or renting one, driving license. If travelling for work, your laptop or similar essential tool. Everything else you can get locally if required. Would that be the cheapest option, nope. But it will only ruin your trip, if you let it.

2/ Challenge what you think you need to bring.

For example, an outfit you can hike in is probably also comfortable enough to wear for a long car journey, perhaps take off the hiking shoes.

If an outfit is ok for a day in the city sightseeing/shopping, you can probably dress it up for dinner with a few small changes - I am thinking jewellery, a small bag/clutch, smarter shoes, perhaps a non-creasing blazer that packs well.

3/ Nthing everybody who says take time to figure out what needs to live in your toiletry bag and let it live there permanently...refill anything when you get back so you're not trying to re-fill the shampoo to find your bottle in the bathroom is low as well.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:10 AM on October 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

I used to start packing weeks ahead of a big trip. By "packing" I just mean I pulled out my suitcase and put near it the things I'd consider taking with me. Then the night before, I'd remove about half of it. It worked pretty well. But I found I was still overpacking, which I define as having packed one or more items that I never used.

Now I'm moving toward having more of a capsule wardrobe for travel. I pack light, even on long international trips. Reducing choices while traveling is calming to me. For a trip like yours, I'd choose very few items that could all go together, and all be reworn multiple times. Except underwear, which I tend to take less of than I need, but hand wash halfway through the trip and air dry overnight. On trips as long as 10-14 days (sadly I don't travel longer, yet, since I work in the US & our paid vacation policies are trash) I always plan to do laundry halfway through. Finding and using a laundromat in Ljubljana Slovenia was a highlight of my trip there, for real.

On a trip like yours, I'd be looking at something like this:

4 long sleeve knit tops, preferably all one color, like black or gray. I like Lands' End fitted cotton blend tops for this, because they last and last. They're thin, which I like for layering. If I get cold where I'm staying, they're comfortable enough to sleep in.

2 pairs of pants, one of them denim and the other black to have a dressier option. Preferably both with a little stretch in case I decide to wear them on long drives or long-haul flights.

1 pair of black leggings, which can also serve as pants and PJs/loungewear and on travel days. I will rewear these multiple times and don't care who knows it.

2 pairs of ankle boots, one of them for walks and one of them able to be worn to restaurants. Speaking of Canada, I invested in a pair of La Canadienne waterproof suede boots that look fancy enough to wear into a nice restaurant but also serve as commuting boots for rainy & snowy days, and I just wore them on a 7 mile country walk in the Cotswolds. For my second pair, I like my Frye ankle boots, which are comfortable enough with insoles for long city walks.

2 middle layers that serve as sweaters or jackets. Preferably both the same model but in different colors. Currently for this I'm using Neon Buddha cotton asymmetric-zip cowl neck moto jackets that cover my butt, so I can wear them with leggings or actual pants.

2 bras, in case one of them breaks. 4 pairs of Hanky Panky synthetic fabric lace underwear, which air dry in a few hours after hand washing in a hotel sink. 4 pairs of wool ankle socks, which no one will see inside the boots. Can also be worn on cold feet for sleeping.

1 fleece-lined rain jacket in a dark color so that it can look dressier if I want it to. I recently bought and used this one on a trip to England and Iceland.

Maybe on car trip I'd also bring: 1 leather moto jacket. Mine is kelly green and can be layered over anything else on the list, especially if I keep everything else to neutral colors.

1 small cross-body purse. 1 carry-on suitcase. Depending on the trip I might also bring a shoulder tote that can act as the mothership for the small purse--I'd use one and pack the other, or the small one goes inside the large one. Here's what I keep in the suitcase all the time: 1 umbrella, masks, covid tests, tea bags, empty ziploc bags, and another ziploc bag with a couple of common non-prescription meds or remedies such as advil, a few cough drops, and an anti-diarrheal, preferably in lightweight foil blister packs, not the bottles.

Toiletries: I have pared down to one small bag about 4x9x3 inches. Everything in there is a travel-sized bottle and doesn't get used for anything else. I can always refill them on longer trips if needed. In between trips I refill items for the next trip, and then I put the bag away till I need it again. Then I double check the toiletry bag the week before my trip in case I forgot anything. My hair looks like crap if it air dries, but I don't like packing a hair dryer if I don't have to. I check ahead on hotel and AirBnB listings to verify the presence of a hair dryer. I do take a styling brush and detangling comb. If I'm taking prescription meds at the time of travel, then I parse them into a small cheap pill organizer and leave the bottle(s) at home.

Lastly, at home I keep all my travel-appropriate toiletries together. Anytime I'm given a free sample of something, it goes into this bin. I can see at a glance if I need more of something.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 9:17 AM on October 12, 2022

While packing, I lay out everything on the bed/floor/chairs in its categories. I don't put it in the bag until everything is organized and I've checked against my list.
posted by lookoutbelow at 9:31 AM on October 12, 2022

Start a google keep checklist when you book the trip and add things to it as you live your loge and think of random stuff. Put a box somewhere and drop in “trip things” as well. Then when it’s time to pack you’ll be ready with some items already collected and your packing list already made. As you pack, check things off. Next trip, you can review the same list so it’s even faster.

If you can afford the expense, buy doubles or mini sizes of all your toiletries and keep your toiletries bag packed and ready. (If doubles is too costly, make minis now and always keep them bagged and ready to go. That makes the toiletries bag just one thing to grab instead of 20 things to grab. You can even print out a list of what should be in it to double check it efficiently.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 10:14 AM on October 12, 2022

Just to add to this, I have a few pieces/outfits for travel (I used to have to travel on sometimes 24 hrs' notice) which are useful/multi-purpose. You don't have to go buy them but they might help with your thinking.

- I have a technical dress that I can literally canoe in or dress up for most evening events - I won't be a head turner but I blend in. I have a pashmina to go with that (also works for warmth/naps) and statement jewelry. I keep those separate from my regular clothes so that is just always ready to go.

- I pack only black/grey bottoms so my shoes/bags/etc. all coordinate on that axis.

- shoes I have one dressy, one walking generally (the walking is black merrells or lately mocasins), unless I'm planning to do a lot of running or need boots. I tend to go with strappy sandals for dressy but I'm not usually at like, the opera.

- I pack 3 sets of pyjamas + bottoms but I use the tops for working out as well. I bring a sports bra.


- I have a travel-sized gym bag kit that I just swap to travel. I refill as I pack if required. I know it has what I need 'cause I use it at the gym. I don't have appliances but I'd throw them in then.


- I have an emergency go bag with chargers/travel flashlight/first aid kit (small) with basic painkillers etc. that I travel with (keeps it up to date). Power supply for any laptop goes with the laptop.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:27 AM on October 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

I am getting to practice this over and over this year, and I don't have EVERYTHING locked down I have done a couple of things very usefully right. They are:

All my nightstand crap and all my bathroom counter crap now lives full-time in purse organizers (the bathroom organizer lives in a Target storage bin to make it splashproof and easy to set on the back of the toilet or under the sink). When I hit the road, one organizer goes in each end of a duffel bag, with my clothes in between. The nightstand bag has a book light on it as well.

Between these two bags and my purse, I could survive for days even if my clothes were a little ripe. I keep enough supply of critical daily meds to hold me a couple weeks in those two bags (there is a storage container of longer-term supplies kept in another part of the house). I use these bags' contents every day so they are always stocked and stay surprisingly organized. The only thing I have to "pack" back into them are the array of chargers that go on my nightstand, and I have a dedicated power doodad that gets rolled up (charge cords and all) and put in a ziploc in the bag.

Since you have extensive hair supplies, you might need two bathroom containers. This can only improve your home life, to have a curated collection of absolute necessities that you are constantly re-assessing. Get some travel bottles for your shampoo/products that come in large bottles and you can decide whether to just keep a set in the organizer or if you should use product from the travel bottles at home (so it gets turned over frequently) and refill from a central supply so they are always ready to throw in the organizer.

Clothes are harder. The only thing that has worked for me is to do laundry the weekend before and pull out the stuff that should get packed to set aside for review and reject at least half of it. You should plan to re-wear clothes multiple times, especially pants. I generally prepare ONE car outfit which also serves as my lounge outfit, and my genius hack is that I put a couple of hand/dish towels in the car and I cover my dang shirt whenever I eat/drink in the car because I'm really good at spilling things. I do need one or two extra tops because of this. I take more than enough underwear and socks because they are not space-consumers. One bathing suit is also not a space-eater, and I always wish I had one when I didn't bring one. One outfit only For Special, unless I am going on a cruise that additionally requires formalwear (this will never be true). Plan for layering if you'll be dealing with variable weather, so that three days' worth of outfits are actually one outfit plus two extra tops.

This is where I do a similar visualization or narrative exercise as others mention, to identify the data points I need, and yes I generally type this out in a Google doc so I can edit and mine it for critical info: "Tuesday: (hair/makeup day) we are driving 2 hours immediately after breakfast (fast food/coffee) to go apple picking (address; outdoors, 55 degrees, high risk of selfies; lunch at cafe onsite) and then driving another 90 minutes to X Hotel (address; casual dinner in neighborhood)." This lets me vet my plans against my packed supplies, it also tells me what days I need to perform which level of effort, which tells me what time I have to get up. This is often where I realize I need to pack walking/hiking/mud shoes, or that I need to double-check my purse sunscreen supply, or that we're never going anywhere that needs cute heeled shoes and I should take them out of my bag/plans.

So my overall trick here is this: I assemble these things, in advance, and THEN I make the list of them so that I can ensure that the things I've decided on go into containers and the containers make it to the car and then I have a reference list of what is in the containers.

We are traveling extensively by car and we have a Car Bag for stuff we may need in the car. We also have one centralized bag for ALL household OTC meds and I keep a small pill-keeper in my purse with a mini-set of them - allergy, digestion, pain, lactaid plus creams, band-aids, emergency nail clippers. This bag lives in a cabinet at home and if we go somewhere for longer than my purse supply can hold us, the whole thing goes with us.

We have one Bag of Power with every kind of cable and a pile of battery banks (my husband's job is keeping them charged, my job is actually returning the used ones to the Charging Location). We may each carry our own cords for our various things, but the Bag of Power will have at least one of everything. That bag is also where we carry a couple extra light sources, including a plug-in nightlight because I have pretty poor night vision and have very high standards for the quality of light I put in the bathroom so I can navigate.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:33 AM on October 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

Wallet, keys, phone & charger, passport, meds.

Everything else I err on the side of minimal. I don't think through every edge case, if I forgot something I'll figure it out or buy it there.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 10:45 AM on October 12, 2022

Back when I used to travel a lot for work, and wanted to keep everything to a carryon bag, what I did was to make a list, but not one big list. Instead, I would make columns for each of the days I would be traveling, and split each column into AM and PM. Then, I start listing what I expect to be wearing that day - AM might include my work clothes, such as black slacks, blue button down shirt, black blazer, camisole, bra, trouser socks, black loafers. The PM row will include what I expect to be wearing after work hours - this might be t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. I'll add additional rows for each day, say one for gym, one for sleep & toiletries. In the gym row I'll write down what I need in terms of workout clothes and shoes, sleep & toiletries would include pajamas, toothbrush, cosmetics, etc. As I am writing this down for say a five-day business trip, I can add up how much underwear and socks I'll need, see if I can re-wear items on multiple days so I mightl only need to take one blazer instead of two. I might add an extra shirt or underwear in addition to what I know I will be wearing on each day I am traveling.

So this chart specifying what I will need on each day I am traveling will be my packing list. I don't stress about the list being perfect - I figure I can buy what i forgot, or maybe I ended up packing something I didn't wear, which is a data point for next time.
posted by needled at 11:12 AM on October 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

I generally take 2 bags for all trips. A backpack/briefcase + 1 clothing bag.

I reverse engineer what to bring based upon the size of the bag. I have 3 bags/suitcase options: 1) 1-2 nights, 2) 3-5 nights, and 3) 7+ nights. I put a toiletry kit + n cubes in each bag. I use 1 gallon ziplock bags to flatten and separate clothing, etc. in each cube. This approach limits the amount I can take to only what fits in the (whichever sized) bag.

Rule of thumb, I pack like this:
1) 1 pair pjs
2) enough underwear for each travel day + 1 pair more
3) 1 outfit per day (including socks)

If there is space left over, I will pack additional accessories or garments.

Like others have mentioned, I pack clothing by color schemes to maximize outfit options/flexibility and cut down on clothing orphans that rarely get worn. I also have some special "travel wear" in easy-to-wash/dry fabrics that will go with anything and extend the wardrobe. Companies like Eddie Bauer have travel friendly lines that are athletic and business casual styles in comfortable, packable/low-wrinkle fabrics.

I keep the toiletries kit packed at all times and refresh its contents 1x per year and replenish after trips if I run out of something. I also always bring a lightweight packable backpack (that folds into a tiny bag) and packable rain gear. Electronics/chargers have their own pouch that fits in the backpack/briefcase.

I keep planning to create check lists but never seem to get around to it.
posted by skye.dancer at 11:37 AM on October 12, 2022

"Everything else, I can just buy there if I need to" is kind of a thin person privilege for things other than, like, toiletries that don't have to fit. OP, I know you've complained about your weight in past posts though I do not know if you are actually plus-size. Just in case, I will warn you that if you are above about a size 18 or maybe 20, you will likely have to go out of your way to find things that fit you. It's not that Canada has no plus-size retailers, but we have fewer choices generally than in the US and in my experience pickings are slim in the tourist centers of cities -- plus-size stores are more likely to be in a suburban power centre than in a downtown mall or high street store. So, most likely yes, you can buy it when you get here, but only if you are willing to spend a couple of hours out of your vacation driving to and from a non-descript suburb to do so.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:39 AM on October 12, 2022 [7 favorites]

To redirect:

"Everything else, I can just buy there if I need to" is kind of a thin person privilege for things other than, like, toiletries that don't have to fit.

To be clear (for my part specifically), my suggestion to remind yourself that you can buy things if need be are indeed meant to assuage your concerns that "oh no what if I forget toothpaste" or other toiletries, or bog-standard cheapo socks like you get at drug stores sometimes, not meant to refer to other clothes.

For how to handle the "what if such-and-such an occasion comes up" issue with clothes, I again recommend the "pick things that would do double-duty" approach (such as, take one skirt and just change what tops you wear with it, so you can dress it up OR down as need be, instead of taking a whole entire dress as a just-in-case option and then maybe not ever wearing it because there was no reason to). And if you're REALLY in a pinch, I do suspect that as low-quality as their stuff would be, Wal-Mart carries things in a range of sizes, and they're a bit ubiquitous in the states so that may be something to remember if you've had some unusually bad luck (the one and only time I've shopped in a WalMart was the morning after I had all my luggage stolen somewhere just outside Yosemite National Park a few years back, and I had to replace everything).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:21 PM on October 12, 2022

Just tacking Onebag.com onto the discussion here. It's more oriented to plane-and-train travel than road trips, but has a lot of discussion complementing what's above, and a good starting-point packing list that you can modify and download.
posted by Scarf Joint at 12:32 PM on October 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

"Everything else, I can just buy there if I need to" is kind of a thin person privilege for things other than, like, toiletries that don't have to fit.

Argh, yes, this so much, it really frosts my coconuts when people blithely toss it out there. Like yes, I probably CAN buy something there if I absolutely needed to but it sure isn't a non-trivial thing and consumes a lot of stress, time, and money for an almost certainly imperfect or impractical garment I will have zero use for when I get home. I have some pretty unpleasant memories of trying to find a pair of pants that could accommodate my then-size-14 ass in Thailand, or racing to procure an impromptu bachelorette party outfit in Washington while limited to 20 minutes in a suburban Target.

There's loads of good advice above. I will only add that my packing life got a lot easier when I gave myself permission NOT to strive for carry-on (or whatever the road trip equivalent is) if it was just going to be too stressful for me. I like having options, I always get a free checked bag thanks to my credit card, and I decided to just lean into it which has reduced my travel stress and increased my relaxation considerably. The few extra minutes required here and there to move a bigger suitcase around never features in my vacation memories, but I always remember the frustration of not having what I needed at a given time. It's my vacation, not The Amazing Race.
posted by anderjen at 12:38 PM on October 12, 2022

Just to clarify the 'you can buy what you need'. These situations may also force you to challenge what you need. For example, you are presumably wearing clothes when you leave the house...you can keep wearing those if required.

I used to work with somebody who was very senior and also very short and a bit stocky. I imagine most any suite he'd try on in the menswear section would have to be tailored to fit. Luckily, he was quite senior and thus very well remunerated and so he was normally dressed in bespoke three piece suites, cuff linked nice shirts and silk ties, nice leather shoes...On one occasion he had to travel to South America for three days of client and team meetings. The airline lost his luggage. He had his laptop, ID etc as well as clean underwear and a clean t-shirt in his hand luggage and the casual clothes he'd been wearing on the plane.

So he attended three days worth of client and team meetings wearing jeans and t-shirt. I understand t-shirt and underwear were alternated - one set being laundered and one worn. He did acquire some toiletries. The airline did reunite him with his luggage eventually, long after he'd returned.

Was that ideal, no. Was it an actual problem, no. He was there to meet with people and work and meet them and work he did. The fact that his luggage was ...not in South America was a great ice breaker. Somebody slightly more average shaped and less fastidious about his suits might have attempted to buy business attire but he chose not to.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:52 PM on October 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

If the "you can buy it there" thing is getting to be a derail, allow me to suggest that, if you have someone in your town you trust, you can give them a key to your house and have them ship whatever you forget to your hotel overnight. I've done this before. My wife forgot her passport and one of my friends got it and overnighted it to us. This works for stuff like clothes, obviously, but also for other not-easy-to-replace stuff like medication.

But really, if you listen to the non-"buy it there" suggestions in this thread, you should be in a situation where you don't actually *need* to buy anything there. (At least for a road trip; airlines losing your luggage is another thing, but that's also one of the big reasons people tell you to only bring a carry-on.) And especially for a trip like this, if the OP actually forgot a dress for fancy dinners, the solution wouldn't be to buy a new dress at Walmart; it would be to just go to a less-fancy restaurant. The "buy it there" suggestion is a solution to anxiety rather than an actual way to compensate for bad packing.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:07 PM on October 12, 2022

We drove from Rhode Island to Quebec City in August (via Vermont), and back again. Shoot, we didn't even take Canadian money! Our cell phones worked seamlessly! It was a dream.

BORDER: I used the ArriveCAN app to upload personal information (including passport scan using the phone), as well as COVID vaccine data, well ahead of time. Then, a couple days before we left, I opened the app again and added our dates & temporary address. It looks like that's optional now maybe? Anyway, it was easy.

The Canadian border guard was nice. I got him to recommend his favorite ice cream, and also asked nicely so he stamped everyone's new passports. (The U.S. guards on the way home were brusque and kind of thuggish. *shrug*) Default to smiling and being friendly, and most people meet you half-way.

I was worried about import restrictions coming home, but there are exemptions for most of the restrictions on baked goods and prepared foods and such. Still didn't risk any Kinder Eggs, but we did bring home some ll-dressed chips.

PACKING: I figured we would forget something, but it doesn't matter because they basically have all the same stores that we do -- and other than medication, basically anything you buy is "hey, instant souvenir!" But you're on vacation, so unless you have very strict requirements for something, just go without.

My packing technique is like one mentioned above: I sit down with paper & pen, and visualize my days. What am I wearing? What am I using? They go on the list. I add bathroom stuff, and alllll those electronics. We have refined our lists over several years of trips, and my wife prints out one per person plus a last one for the group -- and we all physically mark stuff off once it's in the bag.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:18 PM on October 12, 2022

Helpful for car travel: pack a small bag with things that you will want when you are actually seated in the car. What goes in this will vary depending on whether you are planning to drive, the weather, how many people are in the car, whether or not it's your car that has your personal things handy already, and probably other factors.
posted by yohko at 3:01 PM on October 12, 2022

The thing I've found most helpful is to have my master packing list accessible on my phone and add anything I forgot to the list while I'm on my trip. If I wait until I get home, I'll forget. This includes categories of stuff. So the clothing section of my list might have shirts, pants, underwear, etc, but I've also put in this like "something dressy" or "workout gear", which are technically covered but you wouldn't think of. After a few trips, your packing list will cover most contingencies.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 3:56 PM on October 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Only chiming in to reassure you you don’t need a lot of outfit and shoe options, so remove that from your stress list. I was once asked--gently—when I was packing an outfit for each day plus extras for occasions “don’t you wear the same thing almost very day?” and that’s true! At home I don’t really have a separate going on a walk vs going to a restaurant outfit, and I go entire seasons in the same booties, so why would I need more than that on vacation?

You could do anything on your list in a sweater, decent jeans, and combats/chelseas/whatever boot you’d normally wear. Socks and undies, do one per day plus an extra.
posted by kapers at 6:56 PM on October 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

For clothes packing, EmpressCallipygos described my approach to a T. For everything else, create a checklist in the Google Keep app and check each item off as it gets packed. What's great about this is you can reuse the list over and over, just uncheck everything before your next trip and start checking off again.

I've been refining the same list for 2 years now over multiple trips and no longer worry about forgetting important items or overpacking. The night before I leave I do a last sweep through the list and make sure I have everything either packed or ready to add in the morning. This saved my hide on my last trip when my flight was unexpectedly moved up and I went from having 2 hours to leisurely get ready to leave to having only 20 minutes to shower, dress and call an Uber if I wanted to make the flight. I made it and because of the checklist, didn't forget a thing.

Added bonus, I also put all those little last minute tasks that need to be done before leaving the house on the Google Keep list too, like water the plants and take out the trash. So satisfying to check them off and feel confident I'm not missing anything when I walk out the door!
posted by platinum at 11:09 PM on October 12, 2022

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