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Mother Of All Packing Lists

Getting ready for a trip of any kind is stressful enough without worrying that you’ll arrive without an essential item that didn’t make it into your luggage. Every trip is different and requires you to bring a different collection of your belongings, so there must be some way to effectively pack regardless of the circumstances.

Over the years I’ve developed my own personal Master Packing List (MPL) which includes every single item that I could ever possibly want to take with me on a trip. It has evolved as my needs have changed, and I imagine that yours will too.

Here’s my current MPL as an MS Word 2003 document which will help you better understand my description below. For some people the PDF version of the Master Packing list will probably work better (i.e., if you don’t have MS Word 2003). I recognize that my posts often include lists, but they seem to be a concise way of organizing thoughts, especially when the list elements need to happen in a specific order.

The MPL has a number of features that help me:

    • There are sections, categories, items, and sub-items to keep the page laid out in an organized way.
    • Graphic highlighting (e.g., bulleted lists, bold, indenting) makes it easy to see where sections start and stop.
    • Not wanting to waste paper, I make it all fit on one side of a single sheet of paper. The small font and three columns make that possible.
    • Boxes next to each category, item, and sub-items are the perfect place to keep track of each line and its status as packed/not-packed/not-necessary for the trip.
    • One section containing last minute “to-do’s”.
    • A list of the physical bags that I’ll be taking with me.

Here’s how I use my MPL:

    1. Print out the latest version of my MPL.
    2. Stick it on a clipboard (I’m less likely to misplace it, and making marks on the sheet is much easier).
    3. Draw a vertical line through the boxes next to items that I won’t need on that trip.
    4. Pull out the suitcase(s) that I’ll need and make sure to note each piece of luggage in the lower right corner of the MPL (so I don’t forget anything).
    5. Begin packing – sometimes I’ll knock off one whole category before moving on to another, other times it’s fun to jump around.
    6. As (or just after) each item is physically placed in the suitcase, I put a checkmark in the box next to it on the list. Even if it makes sense to lay out items on the bed or floor first, I don’t check it off until it’s in the bag.
    7. If I need something that’s not on the list, I write it in. As soon as I get a chance, I add it to the MPL Word document.
    8. Conversely, if I come across something on the list that I no longer own or need, I draw a line through it and update my MPL Word document.
    9. After packing all the items in a category (or sub-items below an item), I check off the category.
    10. If I’m packing the night before, I get everything as close to 100% ready as possible. Toiletries stay out until I’ve had a chance to use them in the morning, but they’re all packed in my toiletries kit.
    11. In the morning, I finish any packing that remains and hit the undone items on my to-do list. I pay special attention to checking my carry-ons for dangerous items and weighing my luggage (to make sure I’m not over the limit).
    12. Finally I assemble all the various pieces of luggage, pile them next to the door, and mark them off in the lower right corner of the MPL.
    13. At the hotel (or friend’s house) I try to keep all my belongings from getting too spread out. That helps repacking.
    14. When packing to come home, I’ll sometimes refer to my packing list to make sure that I have everything, remembering that a vertical line means the item didn’t come along and a checkmark means that it did.
    15. At home I unpack like normal and make sure that any updates to the MPL are changed on the MS Word document so it will be ready for the next trip.

Hopefully this method is one that will work well for you. Be sure to share with me any improvements that you come up with.

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