Why You Should Make a Packing List After Your Trip

Why You Should Make a Packing List After Your Trip
Photo: iJeab, Shutterstock

Do you have something you’re always forgetting to bring on your travels? For a while I was always forgetting to bring a purse on work trips — I always had a laptop bag, but who wants to carry that just to go out to dinner? — and I keep forgetting to bring a screwdriver when I go camping, to detach the little handle my favourite campground puts on their bundles of firewood.

The best way to make sure you don’t make that packing mistake again is to make a packing list — after you return home. Whether that initial list was in a google doc (good for you!) or a scrap of paper you’ve already lost (oops), now is the perfect time to make yourself a bulletproof list for next time. You can even do it on the plane on the way home.

Have a standing packing list

Reusing a packing list from one trip to the next is a classic hack. Joan Didion reportedly kept one on the inside of her closet door for reporting trips on short notice; it included clothes (two outfits), toiletries, cigarettes, bourbon, a typewriter, and a mohair throw.

I keep different packing lists for different types of trips. I go on work trips, where I need nice clothes and a laptop; family vacations, where the list has to include stuff for the kids; camping trips, which of course require tons of easy-to-forget gear; and trips to weightlifting meets, which have their own unique requirements.

It doesn’t matter where you keep your list, so long as you’ll be able to find it again next year. I like a Google doc. Paper works if you won’t lose it.

Do a postmortem after your trip

After a trip — or, better yet, during — take notes on what you needed but didn’t have, and just as crucially, what you packed but realised you didn’t need. I used far too much valuable backpack space for a pair of dress shoes when I went to Paris.

If you don’t have your original packing list, that’s fine. Start one. Take notes as you unpack your bag, since everything will be right in front of you. How many outfits did you actually wear over how many days? Did you bring enough snacks, or too many?

If you end up buying something during your trip, that should go on the list, too. An extra phone charging cable, a pair of nail trimmers, a can opener. In fact, now that you have a spare, that item you bought can live in your toiletry bag or your travel drawer until next time.

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