How To Pack Like A Pro

by Carol Gilbert


If you are going away for a day or two or going camping, then you know what few things you need. You can stow them in a backpack or a duffle bag and you’re good to go. However, if you are going away on a cruise, or for several weeks, to a major metropolitan area, or a special event, then the requirements are quite different. As a veteran traveler of thirteen cruises and a guest at distant weddings, I have worked out a system that lets me get everything together quickly and efficiently. Let me show you some practices that I employ in order to pack like a pro and be ready for the weather, the event, and activities.

Where am I going and what will I be doing?  

  • The Weather:  Is it going to be hot, cold, or rainy and will I need to prepare for all of these. Honestly, I never travel without a rollup poncho and small, lightweight umbrella. It doesn’t matter what your destination or time of year, rain can happen any time and any place. Dressing in layers will work from hot to cold. 
  • The Event:  Will I need to dress up for some occasions? Think through every item that you will need to pull it together. If you’re on a cruise, you won’t want to wear the same thing for dinner every night, but a woman can use lightweight accessories and jewelry to change a look and a man can recombine his shirts and pants. 
  • The Activities:  What sports equipment will I need? Sports shoes, a racket, protective eyewear,??? Make sure you account for proper shoes and socks, swimsuit, snorkel mask, whatever you might be doing.  

Why should I create a personal pack list? 

Create a pack list that you can check off as you pull together what you will need. The list organizes your packing plus if your luggage is lost, you know what you had with you for replacement value. I carry that with me when I travel. You can make copies of the blank list and use it every time you travel. How will this help you? You have a checklist and it will help you for every future trip you take. When you get home, you restock the toiletries section with items that were used up or have aged out, like aspirin. That part of packing is always ready in advance to grab and go. 

My own starts with everything I am going to wear traveling and all the documentation I must have on me. Then it is divided into categories. Your needs will be different from mine, but the categories will be about the same:

  • Underwear
  • Casual Clothes (including shoes)
  • Dress Clothes (including shoes)
  • Toiletries (including RXs, deodorant, lip balm, sun screen, toothbrush, etc.)
  • Miscellaneous (including batteries, cables, chargers, adapter plugs, glasses prescription, and more)

What equipment is useful?

There is a world of things available to make packing a lot easier. Here are some of the ones you could use and why. 

  • A collapsible rolling rack. A week before your departure set this up where you have room. Decide what your basic color will be for daytime and nightwear. Your best bets are navy blue, black, or khaki. Pull the clothes you have planned for your trip and hang them on it by what goes together. How does this help? Well, everything is out there to see. Furthermore, you have the time to launder or dry clean anything that needs it before packing. 

* Tip:  Now, remove some of them. You’ve already put too many clothes out there, haven’t you? How many times have you had a rather heavy suitcase and you’ve brought home a lot of your clothing unworn?

  • Folders for pants, dresses or skirts, and folders for shirts. How does this help? Well, clothes stay unwrinkled and if TSA decides to search your luggage, these folders get pulled and returned easily without your garments in a heap. 


  • Pouches for various underwear, and toiletries keep your items orderly. If you can get clear pouches or mesh pouches, it is easier to see what’s inside. Otherwise, you can label them. How does this help? You’ll want to get at things to clean your teeth and comb your hair on a daily basis. Some pouches would just be needed if you got a headache or got hurt. 


  • Identify your suitcase. Probably 90% of the suitcases on the terminal carousel are black. They all look alike. Identify your suitcase with a wraparound band or a large, colorful luggage tag. How does this help? You will be able to spot yours coming around easier and be sure you have your own case. Usually this works, but my last trip, two large black bags with rainbow bands were traveling around the carousel! 

Hopefully, these ideas will take the stress out of packing and you’ll arrive at your destination(s) with all the right stuff because you learned how to Pack Like A Pro. 

Carol was a technical writer for many years. In retirement, she travels, does photography, writes, and creates websites. She loves taking what is complicated and making it easier to understand, which is just what she did for this article. She has also published a children's book, "The Day The Sub Came", as well as a photo essay called "It Happened At The Hamilton". You can find more of her work on her website.