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The magic of packing lists

March 26, 2017

After years of traveling and several mid-trip-emergency-runs to Target or worse, searching all over Hong Kong for a bikini that fit my western hips, I have learned many packing lessons. Over the past few years I have cultivated a system that works very well for me and has (mostly) prevented spending a small fortune for items I already own but have been forgotten at home. 


My secret weapon for packing incredibly efficiently: insanely detailed lists


My lists are crazy detailed and are a process to build, but they not only prevent me from forgetting items, they also prevent me from overpacking. I now find myself able to take a carry-on sized case for long trips and have space inside to bring back souvenirs and trinkets.


Here's my packing list process:

  1. Plan (and write out) all my outfits based on trip itinerary

  2. Split each outfit into categories: Tops, bottoms, underwear, etc. 

  3. Use the categorized list to pack my suitcase

Planning the outfits is the longest and hardest part of the process. I usually start this 1-2 weeks out from my trip, but sometimes I start it even earlier for more complex trips. I start by thinking about the things I will be doing and what I might want to wear. I doodle these ideas in my journal. Once I start to form a more solid picture of my schedule and what I want to wear, I write all of this out, including as many details as possible, in a format similar to this:

  • Monday | Travel day/Check In to Hotel/Casual dinner

    • Travel - Leggings, running shoes, loose tunic top, backpack

    • Casual dinner - skinny jeans, white cami, black tank top blouse, feather earrings, Under Armour nude sneakers

  • Tuesday | Beach day, all day

    • Pineapple bikini, green shorts, white tank, black flip flops

    • Bring in bag: jean shorts, t-shirt, hoodie, UA sneakers

Once my outfit plan is complete I start my detailed packing list with all my items broken up by category. 


For this I start a new sheet with categories in columns: tops, bottoms, accessories, underwear, toiletries. I then run through each outfit and drop each item into the right category. I don't include my travel outfit to this as I will be wearing it. So my outfits above would end up looking like this on my list:

  • Tops

    • black tank top blouse

    • white tank top

    • t-shirt (any)

  • Bottoms

    • skinny jeans

    • green shorts

    • jean shorts

  • Underwear

    • white cami

    • nude bra

    • pineapple bikini

    • sports bra

    • no-show socks x 2

  • Accessories

    • feather earrings 

I draft my outfit plan and packing list on a small pad of paper. I staple or clip it to the month of my trip in my planner. I refer to my outfit plan throughout the trip to remind myself of what I wanted to wear. Getting ready during a trip can be overwhelming. Pre-planning my outfits help simplify the experience and saves me precious time! 


Erin Condren has a simple travel dashboard which I use for shorter trips, including all my work trips. Anything longer and I feel like my detailed list system is better.





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