April 10, 2019 12:00 PM PT

Travel Checklist

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Packing for a trip can be stressful. But waiting until the last minute will only make it worse. Read our checklist before your next trip to save time.

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Nothing can spoil a vacation faster than leaving something important at home. That's even more likely when you pack at the last-minute. Whether you're off on a long weekend or taking a two-week vacation, here's a handy guide of everything you'll need.

The Ultimate Packing List

Clothing

  • Dress shirts
  • Casual shirts
  • Jeans
  • Pants
  • Shorts
  • Skirts
  • Dresses
  • T-shirts
  • Sweaters/sweatshirts
  • Outerwear
  • Activewear
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Bras
  • Undershirts
  • Athletic shoes
  • Dress shoes
  • Casual shoes
  • Flip flops/sandals
  • Sleepwear
  • Swimsuit
  • Swimsuit cover up
  • Accessories

Makeup/Toiletries

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Soap/body wash
  • Razor and shaving lotion
  • Deodorant
  • Moisturizer
  • Lotion
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Hair spray/gel/mousse
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Makeup
  • Hair Accessories
  • Hair dryer
  • Curling/straightening iron
  • Clippers/tweezers
  • Medication
  • Contacts
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Pain reliever
  • Band-aids
  • Stomach meds
  • Allergy pills
  • Motion sickness meds

Electronics

  • Travel adapter
  • Phone and charger
  • Camera
  • Extra batteries
  • Memory card
  • E-reader
  • Tablet and charger
  • Laptop and charger
  • Selfie stick

Miscellaneous

  • Swiss army knife
  • Water bottle
  • Packable tote
  • Duct tape
  • Eye mask
  • Travel pillow
  • Umbrella
  • Purse
  • Backpack
  • Document holders

Important Documents

  • Passport
  • Boarding pass
  • Itinerary
  • Credit cards
  • Driver's license
  • Travel documents

Got everything you need to start packing? Read our guide for tips to save you time (and space).

Choosing a Suitcase

Traveling light starts with a lightweight suitcase - check out popular manufacturers like

  • Rimowa
  • Tumi
  • Victorinox
  • SwissGear
  • Samsonite

Lightweight suitcases are generally made of polycarbonate. Many offer multiple pockets and sections to keep your belongings organized. You can find lightweight suitcases for every budget, and some airlines (like United) offer discounts to loyalty club members.

Look for amenities to make your trip easier, including

  • TSA-approved locks
  • Telescoping and adjustable handles
  • Expanding sections
  • Extra-sturdy wheels

You Should Know: Suitcases with four wheels roll more smoothly. This makes them easier to push, which means they're also better for your back.

With "smart" products ranging from toasters to light fixtures on the market, it's probably no surprise you can also buy smart luggage to make packing easier. These suitcases have features like

  • Built-in scales
  • Electronic-charging stations
  • GPS tracking

Some bags even have small internal motors - you can ride your suitcase through the airport. Others have the ability to fold flat when you're not using them.

TIP: Take advantage of your carry-ons.

Many airlines still allow one free personal item and a carry-on. Choose a larger purse or backpack that fits more stuff. But don't make it too heavy - remember, you still need to lug it throuh the airport.

Packing Your Suitcase

You have the right suitcase. Now you just need to know how to pack it. Here are some expert tips and tricks for to get the most space out of your suitcase.

Roll Your Clothes
This method takes up less space since rolled up clothes fit neatly side-by-side. Your rolled socks and underwear can fit inside shoes, saving you valuable space. Bonus: rolled clothes don't wrinkle as much as folded ones.

Bundle Or Interfold Clothes
Bundle or wrap clothes around your makeup bag or bathroom kit. You can also interfold clothes. This means lining items top to bottom and bottom to top and interweaving them as you fold them.

Use Packing Aids
Luggage cubes keep your items organized - unmentionables in one, pants in another, shirts in one. These allow for easy unpacking when you reach your destination.

Compression sacks vacuum seal your items, making them smaller and easier to pack. You can also consider garment folders, where you fold clothes in envelopes that stack in your suitcase.

Take Advantage Of Every Last Bit Of Space
Put socks and underwear inside your shoes and roll up your belts inside your shirt collars.

Clothing Tips

Packing light is also about what you pack. Check out these other tips to save more space in your luggage.

Use Hotel Laundry Facilities
Most hotels and resorts have facilities (or services) to wash your clothes. Vacation rentals usually also have at least a washer and dryer.

Save some quarters and dry your clothes in your room. Most hotels have the laundry lines in their showers. You can also just drape your clothes over the towel bars.

Purchase a portable clothes washer if your accommodations don't have a washer and dryer.

Choose Versatile Clothes
Unless there's a specific event during your trip, you can generally get away with very basic pieces.

Opt for neutral tops and bottoms that you can mix and match to create numerous outfits. Keep accessories at a minimum, choosing a few statement pieces that go with everything.

Layer, Layer, Layer
Especially when traveling by air, it pays to wear as many layers as possible.

The more you wear, the less you have to pack. Plus, those layers will help you go from a freezing cold (or burning hot) airplane to more temperature-moderate destinations.

Check The Weather
Many a traveler has been caught in the cold (or rain) because they didn't check the weather before leaving.

Knowing the forecast also prevents you from overpacking by bringing along items, like umbrellas or winter gloves, that you probably won't need.

Other Packing Tricks

Make A List (or Use Ours)
You'll likely be preoccupied with tying things up at work or home as your trip approaches. Make a packing list early to take the stress off.

Be like Santa and check it twice - once a few days before you go and again right before you leave. Tech-savvy readers should check out our list of helpful packing apps below.

Buy What You Can At Your Destination
If your destination offers inexpensive shopping, purchase items like shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste when you get there.

This saves room in your suitcase AND avoids the headaches of taking liquids, solids, and gels through security. Many hotels offer personal hygiene items for free, so you don't even have to shop.

Lay Everything Out
Before you pack your suitcases, lay everything out on your bed or the floor.

Seeing exactly what you're bringing allows you to pare down the list. It also helps you see what you might be missing.

Keep Liquids In A Plastic Bag
When traveling with liquids like shampoo or body wash, put them in a plastic bag. It's not worth the risk of them leaking during flight and ruining your entire suitcase of belongings.

If your shoes are dirty or you don't want them touching your clothes, wrap them up in plastic grocery bags.

Throw In A Dryer Sheet
Before you zip up your luggage and head out the door, toss a dryer sheet or scented sachet into your suitcase.

It will keep everything fresh and smelling great during the trip. You'll also get a pleasant surprise when you open your luggage at your destination.

Bring Plastic Baggies
Grab a handful of plastic baggies to have on hand. Use them to organize electronics, charging cords, bring home souvenirs, and keep any medications handy.

Baggies are also good for protecting your electronics at the beach and pool. You can also store your car keys safely during your trip.

Use Nametags
Put your name and contact information on the outside (and inside) of all of your bags.

You can print out name tags, use a business card, or write your information on those little cards that come with the suitcase.

It's also a good idea to make sure your carry-on bags also have identification in case you end up having to gate check your bags.

Save Room For Souvenirs
Avoid a common rookie mistake - don't pack your bags to the bursting point. You'll want to leave room for treasures from your trip.

Even if you don't plan on buying anything, it's always a good idea to leave space in your bag for the trip home. Dirty clothes always seem to take up more room than clean ones.

Invest In A Luggage Scale
Overweight bags can cost you dearly at airport check-in. Most airlines charge for bags over 50 pounds. You may pay an extra $100 per leg of your trip.

You can find inexpensive luggage scales online or just use your home bathroom scale.

Apps to Help You Pack

You use your phone for just about everything else, why not use it to help you pack? The Apple and Android app stores have several helpful apps to get you organized for your trip.

PackPoint
Offered as a free Apple and Android app, PackPoint takes the guesswork out of packing. Simply enter your destination and travel dates. The app checks the weather and offers suggestions based on the forecast.

It allows you to pick whether you're traveling for business or pleasure and tailors the packing list accordingly. You can even choose what activities you'll be doing during your trip. PackPoint will include items you'll need for each activity.

The premium version costs $2.99. It integrates with TripIt and Evernote, and will let you customize activities and packing list items.

Travel List
Only available on Apple products, Travel List is simple to use with a very basic interface.

The packing list feature has tons of preset items, so you can easily and quickly create your list. It also has the ability to enter your own presets for items unique to you.

The app costs $1.99. You can sync to other devices and share your lists with friends and family. Other features include a schedule section for all your itinerary information and alerts for things like changing time zones and charging your battery.

Packing Pro
This app for Apple products has sample packing lists and lets you create your own from scratch using an 800+ item database.

Create lists based on:

  • Number of Travelers
  • Days Gone
  • Destination
  • Weather
  • Clothes Washing Preferences

You can make a list for everyone in your travel group, share with others, and even fully customize how the list looks. Packing Pro costs $2.99.

PackKing
Accessible to Android users only, PackKing is free. It creates packing lists based on your destination, planned activities, and length of your trip.

The app also allows you to input how you'll be traveling - car, bus, plane, train, etc. - and customizes the packing list accordingly.

Other features include adding custom items, performing manual sorts, creating multiple lists, and generating a PDF of your packing list to print.

Stylebook
Combining packing and fashion, the StyleBook's main function is wardrobe management.

It lets you upload all the items in your closet and create outfits from what you already own. The travel function puts together a packing list based on where you're traveling.

You can add entire outfits to the packing list or individual items. The app also lets you archive lists to retrieve later. The app costs $3.99 and is available for Apple products only.

Packr Travel
Available on Apple only, Packr Travel is free and offers basic packing features.

Plan your packing lists based on destination, activities, and travel dates. You can use their pre-defined lists or create your own and adjust the quantity for each item on the list.

Evernote
Though technically not for packing or travel, Evernote is one of the most popular listing making/sharing apps.

It allows you to combine notes, lists, images, and reminders all in one place. Evernote also offers Travel Inspiration and Travel Calendar templates. You can fully customize your own travel and packing lists.

Trip Organizations Apps
Apps like TripIt, Kayak Trips, and Google Trips assist you in organizing your itinerary, not your suitcase.

They allow you to upload your trip information so you can see your entire trip's itinerary in one space. TripIt has the ability to upload directly from confirmation emails in your inbox.

Most work when offline too, letting you access important info without Wi-Fi or cell service. These apps cut down on the amount of documentation and paperwork you need to bring along on your trip.

Luggage Delivery and Services

Want to avoid pack-inducing stress? Have someone else do the work for you. You can pay people to handle almost anything, including handling your packing needs.

Luggage Delivery
Go the old-fashioned route and send your luggage through FedEx, UPS, or the United States Postal Service.

Companies like LugLess and Luggage Forward specialize in shipping luggage. The fees vary depending on size, weight, distance, and how soon you need it to arrive.

While you'll still have to pack your belongings, you won't have to deal with baggage fees or lugging bags along with you.

DUFL
DUFL is like virtual closet - you send them your travel clothes and they store them in a secure facility. Log onto the app and choose what items you need for that trip.

DUFL's packers professionally pack them up and have them delivered to your destination. After your trip, DUFL picks everything up, launders it, and puts it all back in your "closet" for the next trip.

Packing When You Fly

Long gone are the days where you could just throw the basics in a suitcase and be ready to fly. You'll want to pack as lightly as possible to avoid excess bag, oversized, and overweight fees.

Remember The 3-1-1 Rule
TSA requires that all liquids, gels, and aerosol containers be less than 3.4 fluid ounces. Each passenger gets one clear quart-sized bag full of these items.

Keep The Essentials With You
Don't pack irreplaceable or essential items in your checked luggage. Airlines typically won't cover loss or theft of items like cash, medication, and travel documents.

Don't Overpack Your Bag
Luggage stuffed to the brim is harder to screen. This could take you longer to get through security.

If your bag is picked for further inspection, the TSA agents will have a hard time getting everything back in. That means you'll end up with a mess at an inconvenient time.

Stacked books and heavier items also cause issues with screenings. They're harder to distinguish with an X-ray machine. Spread these types of items out and save the TSA agent and yourself some headaches.

Store personal or private items in clear plastic bags.

Sometimes you might have things you don't want TSA agents to handle. Plastic bags allow them to see these items without having to touch them directly.

Stow An Extra Outfit In Your Carry-on
It's always a good idea to pack an extra outfit in your carry-on bag.

This way, if your luggage get lost or delayed, you'll still have something else to wear. At the very least, stash an extra pair of underwear in whatever bag you bring on board.

Wear What You Can Onboard
Winter travel or destinations means heavier and bulkier items in your luggage. Wear what you can onto the plane to save precious room in your suitcases.

You can use that heavier jacket or extra sweater as a blanket or extra cushion on your seat. Plus, most airlines don't count a coat toward your carry-on and personal item limit.

Know Your Airline's Baggage Limits
Airline luggage policies vary. Some, like Southwest, allow you to fly with two free checked bags, while others charge for all checked bags.

Several airlines now charge for carry-on bags. Check your airline's website before you fly to be sure you're under the limits. It's also smart to know the charges for overweight, oversize, and excess baggage. You can read about each airline's baggage policies here.

Decorate Your Bag
No need to break out the puff paints, but it's helpful to decorate your bag with ribbons, stickers, washi, or even duct tape.

This helps differentiate your black bag from the hundreds of other black bags coming down the carousel and cuts down on lost and stolen luggage.

Must-Have Flight Items:

  • Ear Plugs or Head Phones
    Block out screaming babies, ambient plane noise, and your snoring neighbor.

  • Eye Mask
    Helps to get some shut-eye on red-eye or long international flights, or just sneak in a quick nap.

  • Scarf or Pashmina
    Not just a great fashion choice, you can use it as a blanket, extra cushion to sit on, or rolled up as a pillow.

  • Lip balm/Lotion
    Combat the drying effects of the airplane's stagnant air.

Packing When You Drive

Driving means more freedom and space. But you'll still want to pack smart so you have room for your passengers too.

Invest In A Trunk Organizer
They keep your groceries from rolling around in your trunk. But they can also make sure your travel bags and belongings stay organized when you travel.

Bring Your Own Snacks
Avoid eating greasy fast food for a majority of the trip by packing your own healthy snacks and drinks.

Invest in a travel cooler that will keep your food cold. Many of these work for as long as three or four days, which means you can use them at your hotel, too.

Hit The ATM
Bring cash for toll roads, bridges, tunnels, and parking meters.

If you're traveling in a rural or remote area, some restaurants and stores don't accept credit cards. You'll want cash so you don't find yourself in a pinch.

Pack Cold Weather Gear
If you're traveling anywhere cold, take extra blankets, coats, gloves, and hats in case you break down.

You'll also want to pack a small snow shovel, ice scraper, and a small container of ice melt.

Must-Have Road Trip Items:

  • Phone charger with adapter
  • Comfy clothes
  • GPS app on your phone
  • Reusable water bottle and/or coffee mug
  • Trash bags
  • First aid kit
  • Emergency roadside kit
  • Sunglasses
  • License, registration, and proof of insurance
  • Car manual
  • Spare tire
  • Jumper cables

Packing for a Cruise

With a cruise, you're packing for two different modes of travel - the flight or drive there and the cruise itself.

Cruises don't charge per bag you bring along. But you'll still have to contend with any luggage you bring. Often, the customs lines and cruise ship port lines can get long.

Stow Your Swimsuit In Your Carry-on
Put your swimsuit in the bag you carry onto the ship. If you board early, your room probably won't be ready. SO - hit the pool while you wait.

Know The Dress Code
Cruises often have formal nights with dress codes that require a suit or blazer for gentlemen and formal dresses for ladies.

You can rent tuxedos and formal gowns on the ship if you want to save room in your luggage.

Bring A Reusable Water Bottle And Coffee Mug
Most cruise lines offer free water, lemonade, tea, and coffee.

These machines generally run all day and night. You just need to bring a water bottle or coffee mug to the dining halls to fill up.

Pack Space-Saving Items
Space is at a premium in those small cruise cabins. Bring along bathroom organizers or hanging toiletry bags you can hang on the back of a door.

Pack your wine safely
Nearly every cruise line allows each passenger to bring one or two bottles of wine on board.

If you do choose to bring wine, make sure you package it in bubble wrap, wine bottle bags, or something else to keep it from breaking. And don't forget a corkscrew.

Must-Have Cruise Items:

  • Power strip
  • Dramamine
  • Ear plugs
  • Extra backpack or day bag
  • Extra hangers

Going International

Traveling internationally presents a new set of packing challenges. You'll be far from home in a completely different culture and setting. Here are some tips to remember:

Get your shots
International trips may require vaccinations.

Check with your destination's government or the Center for Disease Control's travel website to see what vaccines you will need. Some vaccinations are required at least two months before the trip, so plan ahead.

Bring Adapters
Check which adapters you'll need before you go. You can purchase them at the airport, but you'll pay more than double what you can find on Amazon or other retailers.

Stick To A Carry-on
Crazy as it sounds, traveling VERY light can make your time aboard much easier.

Bringing just a carry-on cuts down on the chances of your bags getting lost, leaving you in a foreign country with no clothes and other belongings.

Also, international trips typically involve many types of travel. Carry-ons fit better on trains, buses, and in taxis. And they are easier to carry along old cobblestone streets and through extremely crowded cities.

Traveling with Kids and Pets

Traveling with your mini-me or furry friend doesn't have to be stressful. Pre-planning is the key to packing for and traveling with kids and pets.

Rent What You Can:
Baby gear takes up a ton of space at home - and even more when you're traveling. But most popular destinations and large cities have companies that rent baby gear. You can rent:

  • Strollers
  • Car seats
  • High chairs
  • Cribs
  • Pack-n-plays
  • Carriers

and sometimes even toys.

Unless you need it for the plane, DON'T bring your car seat. You can rent one from your car rental company.

You Should Know If you do opt to travel with car seats or strollers, most airlines check them for free.

Be Prepared For Security
Prep your kids for the process so they don't freak out when it's your turn.

All strollers and car seats must go through the X-ray machine. Your kids will have to walk through on their own or you'll have to carry them.

Research Potty Stations
Find out where pet potty stations are at the airports. If you'll be driving, plot out rest areas with plenty of green space for your pet to do their business.

Use Pet Carriers
Pet carriers are mandatory for plane travel. They also help your pet feel more secure when traveling in the car.

Must-Have Pet Items:

  • Litter box or waste bags
  • Leash/harness
  • Plenty of food and water
  • Treats
  • Towel to clean up messes and accidents
  • Picture of your pet (in case of emergencies)
  • Health certificate from your vet

Other Pre-Trip Tasks

While packing before your trip is important, make sure to handle these other pre-trip tasks:

Stop Your Mail
If you don't have a reliable neighbor or friend bringing your mail in every day, contact the United States Postal Service to put a hold on your mail. Follow these simple steps

  1. Visit the USPS website and enter your address to see if the service is available in your area.

  2. If so, you can designate a start date and an end date. You'll also choose whether to have your mail carrier deliver everything when you get back. Otherwise, you can pick up your mail at the post office when you're ready

You Should Know: If you can't stop your email, set up an out-of-office or auto-response letting people know you'll be away.

Alert Credit Card Companies
When traveling internationally, let your credit card companies know the dates you'll be using that card during your trip. Otherwise, the company may see foreign transactions and freeze your card.

Tidy Up The House
Take out the trash, empty the dishwasher, and don't leave dishes in the sink. It will take some extra time before you leave, but Future, Tired You will appreciate coming back to a clean house.

Don't forget to water any plants, set your lighting timers, and unplug your electronics.

Bottom Line

Traveling can be a dream - or a nightmare - if you aren't prepared. Avoid potential stress by packing a couple days before you leave, instead of when your Uber is pulling up to the curb.

Follow our checklist so you bring the essentials. And remember, packing light can save you time and energy on the road.

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