Houses & Homes: The Packing Advice You Need From An Organizing Expert

Do you get completely stressed and anxious during the lead up to an awesome vacation? (FYI, I have both hands up over here!)

While family trips and vacations are meant to help you relax and give you a much needed break from everyday life, the time leading up to that trip can be full of worry and mini (or major) freak outs.

As a mom of three little ones that travels multiple times a year I totally get it. That is why I decided to put together this list of travel and packing tips designed to keep anxiety at bay and allow you to fully enjoy your vacation!

Stop Stressing, You’re Going To Forget Something

While the following tips are meant to help you prepare, you need to take a breath and acknowledge the fact that you will forget something, someone will cry because of it and it also won’t be the end of the world.

Invest In Packing Cubes

This is my number one tip when asked about traveling (solo or with kids). I have never had anyone come back to me and tell me that they regret using packing cubes. They are basically magic little dividers that go into your suitcase and allow you to pack and unpack with ease. Oh, and when you use them roll your clothes. Trust me, it’ll save you space and wrinkles.

Plan For The Unexpected

I always have a change of clothes for myself and the kids in our carry on. I bring enough to get us through a couple of days in case the unthinkable happens and our luggage doesn't make it to the destination. Obviously this depends on where you’re going but for our upcoming beach vacation I would be sure to include: bathing suits, sandals, extra clothes (ESPECIALLY underwear), sun hats, toothbrushes and toothpaste and any daily meds.

Pack An Airplane Go-Bag

I know that your instinct is to bring a million snacks and activities onto the plane to keep you and your children occupied and out of the hangry zone, but in reality once you are sitting in your seat it won’t necessarily be accessible to you. Pack a small kit/bag/packing cube within your carry-on that has only the essentials. Make sure that you can easily keep it at your feet or in the seat pocket in front of you. This way if the seatbelt sign is on for a while you can still get to your stuff. Basically, bring enough to get you through an hour or so with no tears. I will generally use packing cubes and large plastic baggies to organize my carry-on but within that I will set aside one cube/baggie that I will pull out once I am settled on the plane. Typically in mine you would find: my phone, earphones, one magazine OR book, mints or gum, lip balm, hand cream, one snack and water. For my kids: Ipad, headphones, take-off treat (gum or candy), coloring/activity book and a few markers/crayons, water, and a few snacks. I also make sure to have some wipes accessible, both to wipe my kids’ hands and the hard surfaces around us.

Organize Your Cords And Electronics

Our phones and tablets are travel essentials. But they won’t do you much good if your battery dies or you can’t find your headphones. I have this nifty travel case that allows me to make sure that all our chargers are in reach and not tangled. If you don’t have or want a travel case you can use cord ties, or even rubber bands to keep your cords tangle free and then just place them in a clear plastic baggie to keep them together.

Download Before You Go

While we’re on the electronics topic don’t forget to download shows, movies and music to your device before you head out on vacation. I know it seems kind of obvious but you’d be surprised how many people forget and end up killing their data to do it while on the road. I would have some seriously bored (and subsequently annoying) kids if it weren’t for Netflix. We always make sure to download enough movies and shows to get them through the trip.

Keep Travel Documents Together

Nothing will get you a dirty look faster than when you hold up the line of anxious travelers as you search your bags for your airline tickets or passports. Save yourself some stress and pick up a passport holder for you and your family. I keep all of our passports in there, one inside the next, all open to our picture page. I also keep any other necessary ID cards there, along with some money for the airport/taxi, etc, airline tickets and any other relevant travel documentation. This passport holder always goes into the same spot in my travel bag so i don’t have a panic attack about where it went. If you have a hard time remembering which pocket/bag you keep it in say it out loud or tell a travel buddy.

Choose Neutral Colors And Don’t Overpack

I know how tempting it can be to bring every article of clothing you own so that you have choices. But the truth is that you won’t wear even a fraction of it. How many times did you return from a trip only to realize that the majority of what you packed remained untouched?

Choose items that you can mix and match fairly easily and that are easy to re-wear. Unless items are obviously soiled you can wear them a few times between washes. Check out this list from Good Housekeeping.

Be Shoe-a-listic

While we’re chatting about what to pack let’s get realistic about shoes. You DO NOT need a million pairs of shoes, you don’t even need five pairs for that matter. Pack one pair of comfy walking shoes, one pair of dressier shoes (you can even do one pair or flats and heels if you must) and one pair of weather appropriate shoes (winter boots, sandals, rain boots, etc). Shoes are bulky, so pare it down.

Tame Your Toiletries

Do not bring a full sized bottle of shampoo for a weekend getaway. Use travel-sized products or transfer your products into smaller containers. Take a mental note of about how much hair product, face wash, wipes and diapers you use in the weeks leading up to your trip and pack only what you need plus an extra 20% or so. Especially if you can buy what you need at your destination relatively inexpensively if you run out. I have even had clients ship items ahead of time or pre-order from Amazon to their destination.

Make A List (but don’t go nuts)

I don't find it particularly useful to make a detailed list of every item I need to pack. What I do find helpful is to make a note of things that I normally wouldn’t bring on a trip. For instance I won’t write down that I need to pack underwear but I will add pool floatie and goggles as it is not as intuitive for me. I use Anylist as my shopping list already, so I simply make another list for when we travel.

Don’t Wait Until The Last Minute

I like to gather things slowly as I think of them so that I’m not scrambling at the last minute. Try putting a bin or laundry basket aside and filling it with items you need to pack leading up to your trip. This way it’s all in one place and ready to be packed, there's nothing worse than running around the morning of and looking frantically for your stuff!

Be Organized At Your Destination

I never travel without my drawer organizers. But I don’t use them for drawers! I use these magical little boxes to keep toiletries and loose items neat and together in the hotel. They fold down to practically nothing, so are super easy to pack but have amazing structure so can keep everything in place while you travel.

Happy (Organized) Travelling!

Are you looking for more packing and travel resources? Check out the links below:

Do you have an organizing question that you want a Professional Organizer to help you with? Email Allison at We may feature your question in an upcoming post!

As a Professional Organizer and owner of Everything In Place, Allison Weigensberg has a passion for a minimalistic approach to organization and decluttering. She loves to share the tips and tricks she has implemented in her own life, with her clients and MList readers.