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How to Pack for Vacation: 6 Tips & Checklist of What to Pack

By Heather Levin

family packed vacationPlanning a vacation can seem daunting, especially when you have an entire family to consider. Packing efficiently thus makes traveling less stressful. In addition, an organized approach to packing can save you money.

If you plan for every eventuality, and pack your bags accordingly, you can eliminate stress, and enjoy your travels. Use these packing tips to make your next vacation less expensive and less stressful.

Packing for Vacation

1. Check the Weather

Before you travel, learn more about the weather forecast for your vacation destination by visiting Weather.com. If you don’t check the weather before you begin packing, you may end up spending money on clothing and assorted sundries during your travels.

For example, I went to San Francisco for a week last year, and I thought the weather would be warm. It was a major oversight on my part. I had to buy a sweater and a long-sleeved jacket during my stay in the Bay Area, even though we visited the city in late May. If I had taken the time to check the forecast before I traveled, I could have saved my money. Instead, I wasted a day of my vacation, shopping for overpriced clothes.

2. Visualize Your Vacation

Try to visualize every day of your vacation, and think about the different activities you want to experience while you travel. Make a list of activities you want to do, and a list of clothes or equipment you need to do them.

This list should include clothing for dining out in nice restaurants, and for attending special events. Some activities, like scuba diving, rock climbing, and skiing, require special equipment. Find out how much it costs to rent the equipment you need at your destination; renting might be less expensive than paying excess baggage or shipping fees.

3. Coordinate Outfits

I pack light when I go on vacation, only packing clothes that work well with each other. I make sure that if I pack a jacket or blazer, for example, it coordinates with every shirt I’m taking. This way, I can mix and match clothes, and I’m not packing items I’ll only wear once. This goes for other accessories too, such as shoes, purses, scarves, and jewelry. Coordinate so that each of the colors and designs work together.

Also, pack thin layers of clothing instead of bulky sweaters and coats when coordinating. Packing clothes that can be layered gives you more options if the weather changes. Take with you the minimum amount of underwear, socks, and t-shirts. You can wash these items every night in your room, and wear them again the next morning. I usually only pack three pairs of underwear, and two pairs of socks, when I travel. This gives you more space and flexibility with the clothes you decide to take with you.

4. Ditch All the Toiletries

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has specific guidelines for the number of toiletries and liquids you can have in your carry-on luggage. If you do not follow the limits set out in the TSA guidelines, you may have to relinquish some items before you can pass through security.

If you pack these items in your luggage, they might leak or explode, damaging your clothing. I leave most of these items at home when I travel. Most hotels offer free soap, shampoo and conditioner to their customers, and I can use the extra space in my luggage for other items.

pack suitcase tight

5. Special Considerations for the Beach

There are some special considerations to keep in mind when packing for a trip to the beach. If you plan to spend a significant amount of time in the sun, plan to have creative storage options, sun protection, and items used for recreational activities. Some items to include when you pack for the beach include:

  • Sunscreen
  • Aloe vera gel for sunburns
  • Insect repellent
  • A beach cover-up, like sarong, or a thin, long-sleeved shirt, to protect your skin
  • Sunglasses and sun hat
  • Beach umbrella
  • Cooler
  • Empty Ziploc bags to hold damp swimsuits, and store shells for the long trip home
  • Old sheets, quilts, and blankets for picnic blankets
  • Goggles, snorkels, fins, and flotation devices
  • Books and magazines
  • Beach toys

6. Pack Light

Many travelers began to see the benefits of packing light when airlines started charging passengers checked baggage fees. Airlines typically charge even higher fees to passengers who bring more than two bags, or who bring overweight luggage to the airport.

You can save money on your summer vacation when you pack light, taking only a carry-on bag. I take packing light seriously. When I travel, even internationally, I take only a slim backpack. That might seem impossible, but trust me; you can pack light too, with some careful organization. Some important tips to consider when packing light are:

  • Make sure your clothes match. When I pack an item of clothing, I make sure that I can wear my t-shirts, blazer, blouses, and shoes with it. Every piece has to look great and work well with other items being packed. This takes time and effort to put together, so make sure to plan in advance.
  • Stretch your wardrobe further by packing a few of your favorite accessories. I like to bring a scarf, and a few pieces of jewelry, to transform my outfits for an evening at a fine restaurant, or a night at the opera.
  • Bring durable clothing on your next vacation. For example, pack wrinkle-free shirts that can be washed instead of dry-cleaned.
  • Once you put a vacation travel wardrobe together, write down a list of the clothing you packed. Jot a brief description of each item on an index card, and leave it in your suitcase. Next time you take a trip, you won’t have to do all that work again! With a few modifications, you can quickly pack for your next trip.
  • How you pack is another important factor of packing light. Tightly roll your clothing to gain more space in your luggage. Folding your clothes in half, and then rolling the clothes allows you to take advantage of every square inch of space.

Perhaps the biggest advantage to packing light is your mobility. When you hop off the plane, you don’t have to wait around at the baggage claim area. Plus, as you walk through town, or travel on buses or trains, you don’t have to drag your luggage behind you. This also helps keep your bags safe from thieves, who target tourists carrying bulky suitcases.

Final Word

Make sure you give yourself enough time to pack before you go on vacation so you don’t forget anything. If you want to challenge yourself, try packing light on your next trip.

Packing light requires some flexibility and fortitude, but once you go abroad with only a backpack, you might love the freedom so much that you’ll ditch your suitcases for good. I know I did!

What other tips or tricks do you have for vacation packing? Do you tend to pack light when you travel?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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