Do you love taking vacations but hate packing? Well, you’re not alone! A recent OnePoll survey found that 65% of people have a difficult time packing for trips.
With 33% of people packing their bags only 24 hours before their trip, it is easy to see why two-thirds of people overpack their suitcases and one-third still forget to pack something!
One way to alleviate some of that travel-related stress is to be prepared by using a travel checklist or two. Doing so will help to ensure you pack what you need (without forgetting anything) and are prepared before you leave on your trip.
How To Start a Travel Checklist: Determine What You Need for Your Trip
What you need to pack and how far in advance you should prepare when traveling depends on a few things. These five areas will help you determine what items you’ll need to put on your travel checklist for the upcoming trip.
Related: 10 Travel Tips for Tall Men
1. Your Destination
International travel requires more advanced planning to ensure you have the right travel visas, up-to-date vaccines or immunizations, and a valid passport. In most cases, you’ll also want to book your flights and accommodations ahead of time, as last-minute international travel can be costly.
On the other hand, a road trip to visit friends or family that live a few hours away can quickly be arranged on short notice and require less packing and planning. Therefore, when making a travel checklist for your trip, consider your destination.
2. Travel Companions
Are you packing for yourself, or will you be packing for your children or family as well? If you’re traveling solo, travel-sized items are probably all you need. But if the whole family is coming along, you’ll need to add toiletries for each person on your travel checklist.
When you’re traveling with friends, there are things you can share, like a hairdryer or hair straightener, maps, travel adaptors, and over-the-counter medication. Share your travel checklist with your friends so you all can pack light!
3. How Long You’ll Be Travelling
The longer your trip, the more items you’ll need. Remember, the more days you’re away from home, the more variance there could be in the weather. Three in five people surveyed in the OnePoll study had to purchase something to wear while on vacation. So make sure your travel checklist has a wide variety of items so you don’t bust your travel budget by buying coats or sweatshirts for your entire family.
A small suitcase, backpack, or carry-on will be sufficient for a weekend getaway or overnight business trip. But it might not be enough space for longer trips. If you haven’t used a suitcase or bag in a while, now is the time to make sure it is still in good working order.
4. Your Accommodations
Where you’ll be staying also determines what you should pack and add to your travel checklist.
If you’re staying in a hotel, they typically provide toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, and soap and have hairdryers and towels in the bathrooms. But they also can provide things like razors, bandages or first aid, toothbrushes and toothpaste, sewing kits, and games or activities for kids.
When you’re staying with friends or family or in an equipped Airbnb, you can access a washing machine and dryer. Being able to do laundry means you can pack less.
5. Your Mode of Transportation
If your trip involves flying, you need to pack more carefully than you would if you’re traveling by car, bus, or train. One thing you’ll need to do ahead of time is to check the dimensions of your luggage, as the oversized baggage fees airlines charge can be hefty.
You should also pack a carry-on bag that includes a few travel essentials just in case you arrive at your destination but your suitcase doesn’t. This should consist of a fresh change of clothes (or at least underwear), your essential travel documents, chargers, medication, and anything else you cannot survive a day or two without. Don’t forget to add these must-have items (or duplicates) to your travel checklist.
If you are packing liquids or gels in your carry-on bag, make sure they are travel-sized (3.4 ounces or smaller) and in clear plastic containers; otherwise, they won’t pass security. If you’re traveling on a budget, having to throw away your items and purchase new items at your destination can be not just inconvenient but costly.
Finishing Your Travel Checklist: Things To Pack
Now that you’ve considered your traveling needs, it’s time to finalize your travel checklist. You may not need to bring everything listed below, but build your own travel checklist for each trip by running through the items below.
1. Travel Documents
- Passport and other identification
- Reservations: hotel, car rental, excursions
- A copy of your boarding pass – either printed or saved as a photo on your cell phone
- Any COVID-related documentation (test results, immunization card, etc.)
- Map or guidebook
- Your itinerary
- A nice outfit – in case you decide to go for a fancy dinner or to see a show
- Several casual outfits – preferably one per day, per person
- A sweater or hoodie
- Socks, underwear, and other delicates
- Swimwear – if there’s a swimming pool or beach
- Shoes – dress shoes, sneakers, flats, sandals, or boots with a resealable bag to prevent getting your clothes dirty
- A scarf – which can also be used as a head covering, a face covering, a shawl, a travel pillow, a light blanket, or an accessory
- A coat or jacket
- Gloves and a hat – for cold destinations
- Activity-specific clothing (e.g., hiking, biking, running)
- 3-5 Masks
3. Toiletries & Medication
- A toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss
- Hand sanitizer
- A comb or hairbrush
- Hairstyling products and styling tools
- Soap and face wash
- Lotion and moisturizer
- Shaving cream and razors
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Nail clippers
- First aid kit
- Prescription medication with a copy of your prescription
- Painkillers or other over-the-counter medications such as gastrointestinal medicine and motion-sickness pills
- Contact lenses and solution, prescription glasses, prescription sunglasses
4. Travel Essentials
- Cash, credit cards, and debit cards
- Cellphone and charger
- A bag or large purse
- Laundry bag for dirty clothes
- Electrical converter or travel adaptor – if traveling to another country.
- Laptop and charger
- Headphones or earbuds
- A camera, memory cards, and charger
- Toys or travel games
- Books, magazines, or an eReader and charger
- Notebook and pen
6. Additional Items
- A towel
- Your own pillow or pillowcase
- A watch
- A sleep-mask
- Face-masks or face-coverings
- A money belt or other anti-theft accessories
- A reusable water bottle – collapsible water bottles work best
- Business cards – if you are traveling for business or could potentially make business connections during your trip
- An extra empty bag or small suitcase – especially if you plan to shop or bring back souvenirs
Travel Checklist: Pre-vacation Must Do’s
Planning for a trip requires more than just booking your tickets and packing your bags. You should do things ahead of time to ensure your trip goes as smoothly as possible and that everything at home is taken care of.
1. Buy Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is important to have, especially if you are traveling internationally. It can cover medical emergencies, lost luggage, accidents, and more. Trip cancellation coverage will also reimburse you if you have to cancel your trip due to an illness, death, natural disaster, jury duty, or job loss.
Look into what coverage you already have, as some credit cards and health insurance policies will include coverage for traveling.
2. Check Your Passport & Visas
If you are leaving your home country, you need to check your passport and what visas are required well ahead of time. Research the immigration laws and give yourself enough time to get the proper documentation.
Having an expired passport, not enough space in your passport or improper visas can mean you will be denied entry into certain countries. Being denied entry will not only ruin your plans but could cost you thousands of dollars, as you will have to leave the country on the next available flight.
3. Visit Your Doctor
As we all know, vaccinations are an important thing to consider when traveling. However, even if you aren’t leaving the country, these can vary by state or province. To be sure you have the right vaccinations, check out this guide from the CDC.
Visiting your doctor is also important to ensure you’ll have enough of your prescription medication. They can also advise you on any other medical measures you should take.
4. Call Your Credit Card Companies
You don’t want your credit card to be frozen due to suspicious or unusual activity, especially when international travel is involved. So give your credit card company a call before you leave, letting them your destination and how long you’ll be traveling. It’s a must for your travel checklist.
5. Arrange for a House-sitter or Pet-sitter
It’s always a good idea to arrange for someone to keep an eye on your home while you are away. Asking a friend, family member, or trusted neighbor to pick up your mail, water your plants, feed your fish, and check that everything is okay will help give you peace of mind.
If you have pets or would feel more comfortable knowing someone is around, you could have someone temporarily move in while you’re traveling.
Otherwise, be sure to arrange proper care for your pets by hiring a pet sitter or boarding them at a kennel or pet hotel.
6. Clean Up
Trust me. You do not want to return to a messy home after having a nice, relaxing vacation. So take some time before you leave to tidy up.
Go through your fridge and either use or get rid of anything that will spoil. Take out the trash. Make sure you have clean dishes and clean clothes ready to go. You will thank yourself!
Related: Travel nightmares (and how to avoid them)
Quick Tips for Packing Your Luggage
How strategically you pack your luggage also depends on where you’re going and how you’re traveling.
For example, if you are taking a road trip alone, you have plenty of space in your vehicle for your luggage. But if you’re backpacking through Europe for a month, you’ll want to pack carefully.
Here are a few quick tips that can help you pack smart:
- Choose one large suitcase vs. multiple small bags
- Hard-sided suitcases reduce the risk of your items being damaged, but they aren’t as flexible
- Use packing tubes or roll your clothes to maximize space
- Use your shoes to pack small things like socks, electronic chargers, sunglasses, or fragile items
- Keep your important items (like identification, your wallet, and medication) in your purse, pockets, carry-on bag, or a money-belt
Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and more. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a free library of career & job search resources.