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On packing well

9th August 2016, a Tuesday

This post is over seven years old. Beware of stale technical details.

Many people find packing for a trip a difficult and time-consuming process. In my occasional travel I have developed a formidable method for stress-free packing based upon a medium dear to my heart: lists. You too can learn the simple art of list-based packing and no longer suffer the horror of undirected last-minute baggage preparation and the inevitable aggravation and ineffective travel inventory that it brings. I guarantee* that you will travel happier and pack lighter by employing this method.

[*Guarantee given as rhetorical device only. Cheques will not be honoured.]

Step one is to begin a list. This is best done at least a full day before you travel, and I have found that the earlier you start the list, the more complete and optimised it is likely to be by the time you come to actually pack. Start a simple list of items you wish to take with you, broken down into loose categories if you prefer, e.g. clothing; devices; toiletries. Save the list somewhere you can access it while going about your business, as this is likely where you will remember and need to append things that you have missed. Early list preparation is, I believe, the absolute cornerstone of list-based packing.

In building the list, be mindful of likely conditions at your destination, and use that to inform your choice of clothing, outer layers, footwear and so on. This is fairly standard travel advice. Ambient conditions can also include variables such as availability of device chargers, which might mean you can forego yours. Mark with a question mark any items you are unsure about including, and review these as you return to the list. Include in the list any items you normally carry on your person, e.g. wallet and phone. You would be surprised how easily these can be missed. And as the great man says, always bring a towel.

At a convenient point before you travel, review the list once more, removing any questionable items you marked if you decide they are superfluous, then assemble all items on the list in a central location, like on a bed or on the floor of a spacious room. You can then regard them all in one place and consider the size of luggage you will need to carry them successfully. If it looks like you might have too much for the bag(s) you will use, be more stringent in excluding optional items. Select any items you will carry on your person and group them to one side.

I find it useful to explicitly remove from the list any excluded items, as this way you can retain the list and use it again when returning from your destination, to ensure you have not forgotten to bring anything back with you.

Begin to pack your luggage, starting with items that you will least likely need to access. Take care to fold clothes so that they take up as little space as possible. Top off the luggage with items you will most likely need to access. If packing multiple bags, e.g. airline hold baggage and a cabin bag, sort items accordingly.

In the event of the contents of your list exceeding the available baggage capacity, remain calm. If no larger containers are unavailable, unpack to the extent that you can reassess your list and the likely environment at the destination, and exclude further items. Occasionally travelling with an extra layer on your person can trade short-term temperature boost for long-term baggage satisfaction. Remember too that your pockets can serve as reserve space for some small items.

When packed, place all bags back on to the packing space (the bed or spacious floor) and contemplate them. Repeat their number out loud to yourself so that you can easily recall how many bags you will need to account for at each transport interchange. Finally, move them from the packing space and perform a visual scan to ensure that no loose items remain. Having completed this mental journey, begin your physical one.

The above prescription is the sum total of list-based packing. Follow this simple protocol and you too can spend more time enjoying your trip, safe in the warm comfort of optimal luggage selection.

With apologies to William Zinsser.