Packing for Vacation – My Tried and True Method

Doesn’t it seem like packing for a trip can become this drawn-out stressful task? Maybe that’s not the case for everyone, but I have surely felt it when trying to pack for trips. I’m sharing my packing routine in the hopes that it may give you some inspiration. One caveat is that I have traveled quite a bit and have worked on this process a lot! But, this routine helps me to do a really good job of packing and often in a short amount of time.

For me, it’s always that initial task of deciding what to wear time that seems to create most of the stress. I don’t know what I want to wear tomorrow, let alone seven days from now. So while I can’t help you to get past trying to decide what to wear, I can help you figure out the best way to put together what you need for a trip, get it all packed, and ready to go. 

Where to start? You should know by now that of course, I’m going to start by telling you to make a list! All good things start with the list, and packing for a trip is no different.

The Travel List

When traveling I don’t usually make a full list of every article of clothing that I’m going to be taking with me, but I do make a list of the other things that I will need beyond simply clothing. I also include things that I may have forgotten on past trips that I know I don’t want to forget again.

The first thing on the list is going to be clothes, of course! On my list, I will simply write “clothes for five (or whatever number) of days.” Next, I think about specific activities that I’m going to be doing and add the things that I need for those activities. This would include things like a swimsuit and cover-up. I’m also going to include specific items that I may want to take with me, for example, a wrap or scarf may be one of the things that I don’t want to forget to bring.

After I’ve gone through all of the clothing and accessory items, I move on to toiletries and other miscellaneous stuff. Of course, I will be packing a toiletry bag, but I don’t want to forget things like sunscreen. Last but not least I make a list of the other things that I need or want to bring. These are the things like iPad, chargers, and of course, a passport if I need it (one can dream about overseas travel, can’t she?).

The nice thing about making a list is that you can do it in the days leading up to when you need to pack. This allows you to add or remove items before you physically start the packing process.

Choose Clothing

Now comes the part of trying to decide what clothing you are actually going to bring. Again, this is the process that I use, hopefully, it will give you some extra direction as well.

Start by checking the weather for where you are going. This is going to be the biggest factor when you decide what you are going to pack. Once you know this then it’s time to start selecting. When I’m selecting clothing to bring on vacation I really go old school and make outfits that I lay out on my bed. Here is how I break it down:

Start With Tops And Bottoms

Depending on how many days I will be gone I start to put together different outfits that I may want for the trip. It doesn’t mean that all of the outfits will make it into my suitcase, but I like to have options and be able to choose. When I do my first pass-through, every bottom has at least one top, and some may have more than one. When it comes to bottoms I try to make the most of what I bring and always try to choose items I can wear more than once. This would also be the time when you would choose things like dresses or skirts as well. 

Add Your Foundation Pieces

The biggest benefit of you laying out the outfits is that it allows you to think about any undergarments or foundation pieces that are needed for each outfit. I grab all the pieces that I need and put them with the outfit that it goes with. This would include things like bras, underwear, tank tops, or even socks. This is the best way that I have found to not forget things that may be important to a specific article of clothing or outfit.

Choose Your Miscellaneous Clothing Items

This is the point where I add things like workout clothes, and that bathing suit and cover-up we talked about above. This is also where your list comes in handy. Double check to make sure you have all the items on your list.

If you would like another perspective on choosing your clothing for a trip, check out my previous post for some tips and tricks that will allow you to mix and match what you are bringing by utilizing a Vacation Capsule Wardrobe.

Shoes, Shoes, And Shoes

You guessed it, the next step is to pick the shoes that you will be bringing. This is the part where I struggle the most! It is so easy to want to bring a pair of shoes for every outfit, and occasion. But, shoes can take up a lot of space, they can also make your suitcase incredibly heavy.

Take a look back at all the outfits that you have put together, and choose shoes that will give you multiple options.


I love to bring lots of fun accessories like earrings, necklaces, and scarves. These items don’t take up much space but allow you to really complete the look of the outfits that you are bringing. I take a look at all of the outfits that I have put together and then add corresponding accessories to create the perfect look. Again, all of the outfits are still laid out on my bed.

If you’ve gotten this far you’re doing great! But you probably realize that you’re not quite done.

Choose What You Are Going To Wear When Traveling

Take a look at the clothes that you have laid out and pick something that will work well for travel. Take into account any weather changes you may have along the way. And don’t forget to pick something comfortable.

Pro Tip: I try to choose some of the bigger or more bulky items. This helps to save room in my suitcase. Quite often I will even wear the same pieces on the travel back home if they are particularly bulky.

Choose Your Luggage And Travel Bag

This is the part I think I dislike the most. I have everything picked out and now I have to choose the suitcase and attempt to pack it all into it. The reason I don’t do this at first is because it allows me to put together clothing without the stress of thinking about the suitcase I need to get it all into.

When choosing a suitcase I think about the destination and how I’m getting there. For example if I am carrying on I will want to bring one of my smaller, lighter bags. But, if I am checking a bag then I can be a little more generous with space and take a bigger bag. Also, think about the return trip…if I am going someplace where I may be purchasing souvenirs or other items then I want to make sure I have the room to get them home. 

The next thing I choose is what bag I’m going to take with me to travel. This is the bag that will have things like my iPad, a magazine and/or a book, and any of the other items that I want to have accessible during the journey. I always choose a bag that will also give me options once I arrive at my destination. An example of this would be bringing a larger tote if I’m going somewhere like the beach. This way the bag can also serve as a beach bag.

One of the things that I will always carry in my travel bag is a purse. I know this may sound odd, but this way I also have a smaller purse for when I don’t want to carry a larger bag. Typically I don’t waste valuable suitcase space on multiple handbags. This is coming from someone who has a handbag obsession, so it’s not always easy, but it makes good travel sense.

Start Packing

If you made it this far you will be happy to hear that now is the time to actually start putting things into the suitcase. This is also the time when you start to pare down some of the items you have chosen. Do a survey of the outfits you have put together. Ask yourself if you really need all of them. I recommend looking at items that may be similar and choose to only take one of those items and wear it multiple times. A wrap can make a great beach sarong and may let you leave the cover-up at home.

Packing The Suitcase

Start with shoes and larger items. These items should go in the bottom of your suitcase, and not just the bottom of the packing area, but closest to the wheels if you have a rolling bag. This helps you from making your bag top-heavy. If you are using something like a duffle then you may want to spread these items on the bottom of the packing area in order to balance the weight of the bag.

Utilize some of the tried-and-true packing methods that the pros recommend. Smaller items like belts, socks, and accessories can be put inside of shoes, or fill in space between shoes with smaller items like undergarments or swimsuits.

Another great packing method is to roll your garments.  I usually start with bottoms, add in the tops, and then put softer bulkier items on the top. At this point, I also try to visualize how much room I will need for toiletry bags and other items like a blow dryer if I need to bring one. I will usually put these items in last.

Great product alert! If you are packing a lot of clothing, vacuum seal travel bags are amazing! I use them quite often when carrying on a bag so that I can fit more into a smaller suitcase. Here is a great example of a travel bag you can get from The Container Store. One big thing to note is that while you can get a lot more into the bag, you have to think about the weight so you don’t end up with a suitcase that is too heavy to maneuver.

One last thing to remember when packing your suitcase is that you don’t want to pack any valuable items like expensive electronics and jewelry into a bag you won’t have possession of for the entire travel journey. Valuables and essentials like medications should always be in a personal travel bag that is kept with you.

Pack Your Travel Bag

The last step in my process is to pack the bag that I will be traveling with. I make sure to have all the essentials that I will need along the way, plus I will add an extra set of undergarments, and anything that I may need immediately upon arrival. If you are getting off a plane and going right to dinner then you may want to think about adding a backup top just in case.

While I am sure that there are expert travelers and packers out there that can give you tips I could only dream about, this is my personal method of packing. Hopefully, it will give you some ideas or direction the next time you are packing for a trip.

Bon Voyage!

Published by Jenn DePauw - Organized Priorities

Jenn is the owner of Organized Priorities, a Colorado-based company specializing in Organization, Productivity, and Operations. As an organization and productivity professional, Jenn specializes in individual and team productivity coaching as well as organization for both individuals and small businesses. She is also the author of The Organized Priorities Blog (, an organization and lifestyle blog that focuses on making life more organized, more productive, and a little easier. For helpful tips on everything from weekly planning to home organization, and daily celebrations to words of encouragement you can follow @organizedpriorities on Instagram.