What do you think of when you hear "packing list"? Does it invoke stress or a feeling of control? How often do you leave something important behind? When traveling with friends, do you try to coordinate so everyone can pack as lightly as possible? In this post I'll share my approach to packing, which involves a simple spreadsheet and step-by-step process for filling it in.
How to use the packing list
Decide which activities you will be doing (T-1 month, or earlier). This will be done in the process of making your itinerary. Your itinerary doesn't have to be 100% planned before you start thinking about the packing list, but it's helpful to know whether you will need e.g. camping, kayaking, hiking, biking, and/or backpacking equipment.
Screen your packing list (T-1 month, or earlier). Before you even think about physically packing anything, take 15 minutes to screen your packing list. This involves running through the list and marking each potential item as either will pack, will not bring, or unsure. Each of these categories has its own symbol in the spreadsheet - see the key. The colors will automatically update based on the symbol you enter. In the "Notes" column, add comments or messages to your fellow travelers like:
- Nena needs to buy
- Buy upon arrival (e.g. cooking fuel)
- Borrow from so-and-so
- Nena can share (e.g. cooking equipment, tent...)
- XX, can you bring this?
- Checked bag only (e.g. pocket knife)
- Add to the packing list (T-2 weeks, or earlier). The list that I've developed is specific for me, and may not encompass everything you'll want to bring. Based your planned activities and preferences, you may need to add a new section or additional items under the existing sections. If you add new sections, please share and I'll add them to the master template!
- Make a clothing scarecrow (T-2 days, or earlier). I always find packing clothes to be the hardest part. If I don't do this in a structured way, I keep throwing extra layers into my bag - just in case! Instead, I make a clothing scarecrow! What is that? It's a helpful way to visualize all clothing. Below is a photo of an example from a previous trip. As we all know, layering is the key to staying warm, dry, and packing light. Start by laying your outermost layer on the ground (e.g. your raincoat/winter jacket and rain pants/snow pants on bottom). Continue by placing the next biggest layer on top, in reverse order of how you would wear them. On top should be thin layers that would directly contact your skin.
- Start physically packing (T-2 days, or earlier). As you go through the list, change the symbols to reflect the status of each item (X = packed). DO NOT mark something as packed unless it is in your bag. That's how I avoid forgetting anything. On the morning of your departure, scroll through the list one last time and mark any red boxes that remain - your toothbrush, phone charger, passport, etc!