I’m an Anxious Traveler and This Is How I Make A Foolproof Packing List for Every Kind of Trip

published Jun 17, 2022
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It’s hard to pin down exactly when I became an anxious traveler. Was it when my parents dragged 10-year-old me to see “Castaway” in theaters in 2000? Perhaps it was when I spent my Winter 2007 trip to San Francisco absolutely freezing because I had packed for a Southern California climate and not the milder Bay Area weather. Maybe it was in 2014, during the wee hours of the morning when, alone in my hotel room, I overheard a brawl and subsequent arrest of football season opening day Texas Longhorns fans outside my room. Who can say?!

Not to be a beacon of doom and gloom, but something will always go wrong when traveling. That’s life! And because my brain is broken and my priorities are out of whack, I’m far more concerned with ensuring I packed sufficiently than with the plane’s engine giving out. The only way I’ve been able to embrace wanderlust while mitigating my fears is to be prepared — and for me, that means strategic packing

After a great deal of trial and error, I’ve developed a personalized system for myself that has reduced the stress and frustration of packing. If, let’s say, the editors at Apartment Therapy sent me to… oh, I don’t know… Miami, Florida, on assignment tomorrow to test out the city’s most luxurious poolside rental properties, I’d be ready tonight. (Did you hear that, editors? I can be ready tonight!). Here’s how I made a packing list that works for me and my travel anxiety. 

Credit: Sarah Magnuson

Create a Categorized Master Inventory

Do I have enough underwear? Did I bring my medications? Did I remember to pack the bridesmaid dress I’m supposed to wear at this wedding across the country that’s costing me upwards of $10k to attend? These questions don’t need to keep you up at night! 

After peeking through various online resources for packing lists and taking note of the tools, products, and necessities I use in my daily life, I compiled one master list. I further broke these down into categories: clothing, accessories, toiletries, health, media, and logistics.

Under the health category I include daily medications, first aid supplies, and any climate or location-specific necessities. For instance, I listed saline nasal spray for my trips to Arizona, where I’m nosebleed prone (you’re learning so much about my mind and body, readers!). Within the “media” category I include any books I’d like to pack, podcasts to download pre-departure, and laptops (work-related or personal) that need to accompany me. And “logistics” covers documents like passports, driver’s licenses, vaccination cards, wallet, etc.

Credit: Sarah Magnuson

Identify a Sustainable Organization System

My packing list method has evolved over the years. I’ve tried using a single master list, laminated for multiple uses with the help of a dry erase marker. I’ve also purchased darling tear-away packing lists, like those commonly for sale in stationery and gift shops and bookstores. Later, I upgraded to the Notes app (helpful, as it synced between my Macbooks and iPhone), as well as Google Sheets. 

Recently, I became acquainted with Notion, and that’s become my main resource for work and life organization. I love that you can customize the tool to match your brain’s personal organizational needs, instead of the other way around. Plus, the integrations and database opportunities are awesome. (I swear this isn’t an ad for Notion, but if you ask my fiancé, he’d tell you I don’t stop talking about Notion and that I’m their one-woman PR machine. Your move, Notion!)

Credit: Sarah Magnuson

Optimize and Expand Your Organization System

“Optimize and Expand.” Can you tell my 9-5 is in tech startup land? As eye roll-inducing as this sounds, project management informed my packing system and has taken it to the next level. To make the most of my master list, I wanted to build on it and create additional handy resources to minimize my packing headaches.

On the landing page for my packing list, I created four sections: upcoming travel, calendar, city guides, and resources. For my “upcoming travel,” I have individual packing lists in various stages of development for my mini-moon in October, a Florida trip in spring, and a European excursion I hope to make in 2023. Having one location to add trip details helps me keep my travel-sized ducks in a row.

I was able to create a template packing list for each trip I take, which automatically populates some important details for me to input. At the top of my template, I include the trip dates, including the arrival and departure dates and times; the details of my accommodations; the weather forecast; and information about noteworthy events taking place during the trip. Drafting a new list is so much easier with the foundation already built! Next, I have a calendar embedded that shows the dates and locations of my upcoming travel. 

Credit: Sarah Magnuson

I took time to identify the cities that I frequent and preserved those packing lists to avoid reinventing the wheel. This is a massive time-saver for trips to familiar-to-me places like Austin and New Orleans, and also helps me prepare for jaunts to visit family in Arizona or even just 90 miles away in my hometown. This way, I never forget to pack slippers for my brother-in-law’s house, or an extra Fire TV Stick for my childhood bedroom. 

Lastly, in my “resources” section I’ve got the running master supply guide, as well as a comprehensive packing list for my dog, Rodeo (I can’t forget her favorite treats or squeaky dinosaur, Petra!) and pre-departure checklist. I can’t recommend this last resource enough — it’s so comforting to review this list before the plane takes off and see that I definitely did water my plants and activate out of office messages on Slack before trekking to the airport.

As I continue to build out my packing system, I’m excited to make space to list all my favorite restaurants, tourist attractions, and other haunts in my favorite cities so I can easily share these details with friends and family, or reference it for my own future use. While developing such a detailed packing and planning system isn’t for everyone, it’s been invaluable for my household. I hope you create one that helps you navigate your travels worry-free, too!