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Guide to a Perfect Packing List for Vacation

Summer is the perfect time to vacation, but nothing takes away the excitement of a trip more than the dread that comes with packing. When I was younger, I could never fall asleep the night before I left for a trip because I would be fluttering with nervousness about whether I forgot to pack that ONE thing only to realize in a moment of terror – stranded on I-70 – that it was three states over. 

But as I’ve grown up, I’ve been able to appreciate that if I have clothes, my main toiletries, and some form of digital entertainment, then whatever I forget to pack can most likely be acquired from a convenience store during the trip. This of course depends on where I’m traveling and what I expect to have access to on my adventures. A go-to packing list for vacation to help ensure I have all my basics takes away a lot of the stress and anxiety I sometimes feel before traveling.  

It’s also no secret that going on vacation can quite literally break the bank. For some great tips on making your trip budget, check out our article on how to save money while soaking up some sun on the beach. 

Vacation Packing List Prep

Some folks prepare for a trip months prior, and others, like me, will pack the night before. Either way, it’s always smart to have a checklist to refer to before leaving on vacation.  

Here is a short to-do list for those who like to prepare for a trip months in advance: 

  • Check Passport is still valid (if leaving the country) 
  • Check that you follow your destination’s vaccination requirements 
  • Book transportation (plane, rental car, train, bus) 
  • Book hotel/accommodations  
  • Book activities and make any reservations needed in advance 
  • Plan for someone to take care of pets and/or plants 
  • Tell your bank you are traveling so they don’t freeze your card for suspected fraud 
  • Save your bank’s emergency number in case of credit card issues 
  • Get Travel Insurance (I’ve found that World Nomads has great offers) 

To book living accommodations, is a great resource as they have a large selection of hotels and will show you the cheapest options available. To find fun activities and places to go, helps me find tours, outdoor excursions, and more. 

Vacation Packing List

Documents/Money Checklist

  • Passport 
  • Credit/debit cards 
  • Cash 
  • Vaccination card 
  • Driver’s license 
  • Boarding tickets (paper or electronic) 
  • Insurance policy papers  

While fanny packs are not the most stylish accessory, they are an amazing thing to have while traveling, especially when you need to frequently exchange money and have your important documents, such as your passport, readily available. If you’re not a fan of the fanny packs, keep your money and valuables in a backpack or bag to keep them safe. 

Carry-on Bag Checklist

  • Mask (sleep and face masks) 
  • Earplugs/Headphones 
  • Neck pillow  
  • Travel blanket 
  • Gum/snacks 
  • Laptop 
  • Books, card games, or other activities to pass the time 
  • Hoodie or jacket 
  • Power bank for electronics 
  • Chargers 
  • Spare outfit 
  • Toiletries 

For me, the most important thing in my carry-on is noise-cancelling headphones and a power bank to charge my phone and other devices. I download a couple of movies or episodes of a show from Netflix onto my phone and then I can completely tune out the constant hum of the plane or babies screaming. 

I also like to bring a spare outfit and back-up toiletries in my personal/carry-on bag, just in case anything happens to my checked suitcase. Nothing is worse than getting to your destination and the airline has lost your checked luggage with every outfit and toiletry item, so keeping some of these in your carry-on bag will lessen the pain of losing a checked bag. Just don’t forget that liquid items need to be under three fluid ounces and fit in a clear quartsized bag. Make sure you have checked TSA baggage rules, or if you’re traveling internationally, your airline’s baggage requirements. 

Clothes & Accessories Checklist

  • Clothes appropriate for your destination’s weather 
  • “Going out” outfit(s) 
  • Swimwear + towel 
  • Sunglasses 
  • Hat(s) 
  • Extra bag to store dirty clothes 
  • Walking shoes  
  • Relaxation shoes 
  • Nice shoes for dressing up 
  • Accessories (jewelry, watch) 

Organizing packing cubes are a great resource for separating your clothes and keeping them from getting wrinkled. I love these because when I travel, I tend to just pick outfits from my suitcase and never really unpack, so these help you keep your outfits together to avoid spending ten minutes looking for one sock. 

That just about covers all the basics to pack before traveling. But, as I am sure you know, there is always something that you end up forgetting. To further help, try out Smarter Travel’s extensive packing checklist that you can print out and check off items as you pack to ensure nothing gets left behind. 

Tips while Traveling

Gone are the days of going to a travel agent to plan your whole vacation for you. Today, we are left to our own devices – literally. Luckily, there are tons of resources available and easily accessible online via smart phones, tablets, and desktops to find the cheapest hotel rooms, best restaurants, and the best attractions around your destination. 

The reason for your trip can be a big dictator for how you plan your trip, but whether you’re a college student, senior, or traveling for work – I have some useful travel tips for all. 

Airport & Flying

Before we get into some specifics about traveling, I’d like to lay out a simple guide on how to get through an airport quickly and efficiently. I have been through the huge, busy airports like Denver, as well as some smaller, more local hubs like Columbia, MO. But no matter where you’re flying, the same basic rules apply. 

First – before you even step in line for a security check – make sure you have your boarding pass and license or passport in-hand, everything out of your pockets, and all metal items and accessories ready to put in a bin or a pocket of your carry-on. And don’t forget your belt! This makes the security line move a lot faster for everyone.  

Once through the first security checkpoint, start to grab the bins and fill them. Even if the conveyor belt is full, it’s easier to have the bins ready to go as soon as there’s conveyor space open for you. Another quick tip is to wear slip-off shoes so you can slide them on and off quickly for security. The airport is not for style – we are all just trying to get to our gate ASAP. 

After making it through all the security checkpoints, check your gate number (most airports have screens right next to security that display all the gate numbers and flight statuses) and walk directly to it. Once you see where it is and confirm the boarding time, don’t feel obligated to wait by it. Find somewhere that is comfortable to sit, go grab food, take a walk – anything but crowding around the gate. Wait patiently until your boarding group is called and then simply line up at your gate with your boarding pass ready to scan.  

My last tip/travel hack is uncommon, but, if your airline overbooked your flight and tells you that you are “bumped” and need to sign up for the next flight – you are entitled to compensation for the first flight. This is called “involuntary denied boarding” and means you are eligible for compensation. A one-to-two-hour delay gets you double the one-way fare cost and anything over a two-hour delay gets you four times the cost of the ticket. 

Travel Packing List for Students

Students travel for many reasons, including gap years, studying abroad, or breaks in the semester. Taking a gap year to backpack across Europe or studying abroad in Rome sounds amazing in theory, but these dream trips can be pricey. While college may seem like an inopportune time to travel for cash-strapped students, there are many options to get a bigger bang for your buck, so you have time to discover yourself and the world outside of your university’s bubble.  

Contact your school or read up online about the study abroad options available to you. Depending on where you want to go, the price will vary. But there are scholarships and financial aid available at most schools for those who qualify.  

For some context, “Semester at Sea” is one of the more popular studying abroad options where you take a cruise to 12 different countries around Europe and the Mediterranean. The semester will cost about $35k-$40k including all costs. Keep in mind, however, that this option is an outlier in terms of cost. I know some classmates who have been able to study abroad in London, England for around $10k in total. 

I know that’s a ton of money, especially for families already paying thousands of dollars in tuition, room, and board. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to work while studying abroad, and most students want to spend time experiencing the new culture anyway. 

For those who want to travel during their summer or winter breaks, and not be locked into one city while studying abroad, read our guide to traveling as a college student. 

Work Travel

Going out of town for business is not nearly as much fun as taking a vacation, but if you have some free time for yourself, you can make the most out of your work trip. 

On the plane, try to knock out any mundane or easy tasks such as replying to emails, setting up your calendar for the trip, or preparing for any presentations or speeches you may give to free up some down time once you land. Just be prepared to spring for (and expense!) the in-flight Wi-Fi if you need an internet connection for your tasks. 

Another good way to balance your work trip is to conduct your meetings and other work-related activities between business hours and then spend the rest of the time exploring the city you’re visiting. If you need more work travel tips, check out our handy guide. 

Senior Travel

Some people pick up hobbies like fishing or woodworking when they retire. Others like to travel the world. With ample time and money saved up, why not go see the pyramids in Egypt or the Sydney Opera House? 

Finding the right hotel can be tricky for seniors because we all just want to find somewhere close to town and the activities we want to enjoy. Or course, we also want to know we’re in a safe area – and close to the airport, while we’re at it! (Who wouldn’t?). Always check if there is a senior discount available! For more tips on how to find the perfect hotel room, check out our guide for seniors. 

Seniors in need of transportation while on vacation should look no further than the ridesharing apps, Uber and Lyft. Uber offers two free rides to senior citizens and Lyft offers discounted rides to seniors. Unless you’re planning on driving a lot while on your trip, these apps will be much less expensive than renting a car or taxi.  

If you’re planning a family vacation with the grandkids, we have some great suggestions on where to visit, and some tips so you can ensure the trip is nothing but smooth sailing. 

Post-Vacation Checklist

Everyone knows that dread of unpacking when you get home from a trip. If you’re really having a hard time getting back into everyday-life-mode post-vacay, continuing to live out of your suitcase can just prolong that process.  

My personal rule of thumb is that one of the first things I do when I walk through my front door is unpack my suitcase. I know, I know… the last thing anyone wants to do after a flight or long car ride is put away everything in the suitcase you’ve been schlepping around the last few days but trust me it is totally worth it, in my humble opinion.  

The clothes in your suitcase after a trip will either be dirty or clean and unworn. Generally, I just throw everything in the laundry basket, even if I didn’t wear it because it was stuffed in the same bag as my dirty clothes. Clothes take up most of my suitcase so just throwing them all in the basket takes two seconds and my suitcase is mostly unpacked already! But if you planned ahead and packed a laundry bag to keep your dirty and clean clothes separate, throw the laundry bag clothes in the hamper and put the clean clothes back in your drawers and closet. 

At this point, usually the items left in your suitcase are toiletries, shoes, and souvenirs. Shoes can go back to their rightful places, and souvenirs can go on the table. Or, really, anywhere in plain sight so you won’t forget to give them to the people you originally had in mind when you bought them.  

Putting away toiletries is usually what takes me the longest when unpacking and this is dependent on how you packed them. I have travel size versions of all my usual toiletries that I keep in a zipped-up bag. This allows me to throw it in my suitcase and put it back in my bathroom cabinet after a trip while assured that I didn’t forget to pack any of the important bathroom accessories I use every day. There are a few items like jewelry and scrunchies that I must remember to put in and take out of the toiletry bag, but most items just stay in the bag. If you just can’t bring yourself to unpack right away, there is no shame. 

Renting Self Storage for Vacation

There’s lots of ways self storage can help vacationers! Renting your house as an Airbnb can bring in some extra cash while you have fun in the sun. But guests can be unpredictable, so you might not want to keep all your stuff at home while you’re away. Or maybe you simply don’t have the extra room to keep a big, empty suitcase once you return from your trip. If this sounds like you, a self storage unit might be the perfect solution. Self storage units help you keep your items secure and ready for whenever you might need them next – whether that’s when you return from your trip or when you’re setting off on the next adventure. 

Try out our Self Storage Calculator to the perfect size unit for your needs and rent online today for exclusive online discounts.