Pre-pack for easier travel

I absolutely love getting away, be it a day trip or an overseas adventure. As an avid traveler, I’ve picked up a few tricks to eliminate the stress of getting out the door and onto the road in a timely manner. One of my favorites is to keep items in luggage that I never unpack. It’s always ready and saves me a lot of time. Plus, it keeps me from having to store my travel items in other locations when they’re not in use — the luggage is a great place to store my travel gear. The following are items I keep bagged, even when I’m at home.


Since I’m lazy, I’ve often avoided packing toiletries, figuring I’d buy a little toothpaste, a toothbrush and a mini deodorant at the hotel. I’ve also depended on the soaps and shampoos that they provide. But in the past few years, I’ve learned the hard way: that’s a bad idea. “What ever can go wrong, will go wrong,” Murphy says, and I’ve found myself scrambling for a drug store in the middle of who-knows-where one too many times.

Today, I keep a travel toiletries bag packed and ready at all times:

  1. A travel toothbrush. I love this one from Colgate because it folds in on itself, saving space and keeping the bristles away from everything else in the bag.
  2. Listerine. The 3.2 oz bottle is TSA approved, as it says on the label. So you can carry it on the plane.
  3. Deodorant. The TSA is pretty lenient here. Stick deodorant is not restricted to 3.4 ounces. However, gel and aerosol deodorants are.
  4. Travel toothpaste. Again, stick with the 3.2 or 3.4 ounce tubes. You may get these free when you visit your dentist for your annual checkup.
  5. Pain reliever. A small plastic container of 4–6 pills of Advil, Tylenol, or whatever is your pain reliever of choice, just in case.

Your needs my vary (contact lens solution, hair gel, etc.), but the practice still applies. Keep this bag packed, do not touch the contents and you’re good to go. Of course, you can extend this beyond toiletries.

A small bag for on the plane

If you’ll be flying or traveling by bus or train, it’s helpful to pre-pack a small bag of things you might want to keep under the seat in front of you. It might include extra chargers for your electronic devices (many bus and train seats have outlets), copies of prescriptions for active medicines, a little cash (you may want to buy on-board food), and your own empty water bottle.

I recommend buying an extra charger for your phone and keeping it stashed in this bag. Yes, it’s an additional cost but forgetting it at home or worse, at your destination, is a major hassle. Put it in your bag and forget about it.

Also consider bringing your own earphones if you want to watch TV without using airline freebies, a neck pillow and something light to throw over yourself in case it is chilly. Finally, don’t forget ear plugs, gum or an eye mask/sunglasses for sleeping. Again, these can be purchased and packed well ahead of time.

This and that

Finally, there are some additional items you might want to pack now, even if you won’t be going anywhere for months:

  1. An umbrella or disposable rain poncho
  2. A hat
  3. Charging cords and international charger converters
  4. Portable iPad/iPod/iPhone speakers
  5. Extra zip-lock bags for liquids or damp items
  6. Slippers

Of course, never forget the golden rule of packing: Anything you bring can be lost or stolen. Remember this when pre-packing your bags.

26 Comments for “Pre-pack for easier travel”

  1. posted by Elaine on

    We also keep a 3 outlet power strip in our luggage. With so many things to charge up (!), most hotels don’t have nearly enough conveniently accessible outlets.

  2. posted by Dorothy on

    Great tips. When I was traveling frequently for work, I always kept a charger for my phone and one for my Kindle in my luggage. [I also keep cords for both devices in my car that plug into the USB port. Being able to charge a device in my car is a real convenience.]

    I, too, keep a toiletry kit packed. In regard to my antiperspirant — I, like most people, I suspect, have a preferred brand. And I’ve never seen a “travel” size of it. So when a bottle of it is nearing-empty, I put that in my travel toiletry kit. I have my own brand with me, but it weighs almost nothing.

    I use the sample tubes of toothpaste I get at my dental visits in my travel kit. I also have a (regular) toothbrush, dental floss, shampoo, and a comb.

    I find the toiletry bags marketed to women generally to be flimsy. So about 25 years ago I bought a kit from one of the outdoors-oriented luggage companies — Jansport, maybe? And it’s still going strong.

  3. posted by Eva Z. on

    For travel on the plane, I recommend warm socks (long distance mainly) and credit card instead of cash, most airlines don’t take cash anymore. I also have “long distance plane bag” and “toiletries” bag at the ready as you suggested 🙂 Another good thing is to have a pill box (I use the 7-day one and put labels on each day with the type of medicine) filled with common medicines like anti-allergy, anti-diarrhea, pain reliever, etc. Saved me many times.

  4. posted by Mark Harrison on

    If you’re checking in baggage, make sure you keep at least a change of underwear, a mini-washing kit, and a T-shirt in your carry-on.

    That way, if your baggage “goes on vacation independently” you aren’t running around at an airport late in the evening, trying to buy a set of skivvies.

    I own a T-shirt from the Houston in-terminal Disney Store because I was once caught in this situation. The rest of the luggage caught up with me in Belize… and as for Mrs Harrison’s “Eeyore knickers”, well, there wasn’t a wide range of options 🙂

  5. posted by arianna on

    Great tips – I have always been one to keep a semi-packed bag, especially when I was living in Boston and taking the bus to my parents’ house somewhat often.

    Just a reminder: don’t forget to keep up with the expiration dates for things like toothpaste and deodorant! I found it was easy to forget that I had some things packed, especially when I stopped traveling as much, and I found I wasn’t always going through all of my mini toiletries quickly enough.

  6. posted by Leslie on

    This may fall under the redundant category, but when I traveled a lot for work, often with a quick turnaround (home one day, gone the next), I would keep two toiletry bags. When I needed to restock quickly, I would swap out the toiletry bag. That way I always had one fully stocked. For products that I preferred over typical trial-size options, I would contact the manufacturer to ask for samples. They would often send them to me at no cost or if I was lucky enough to find my brand, would stock up.

  7. posted by E.T. on

    I just want to say this is a great tip, i have been doing this for several years and it makes travel alot easier. I keep a toileties bag ready to go with travel size items inside of my carry on suitcase. I have found Bed, Bath, & Beyond to have lots of products in travel sizes that other stores don’t have. I also use study “school size” Back Packs for our carry on bags. They are the perfect size to fit under a plane seat and you can fit reading materials, phone chargers, etc. inside and of course easy to tote around at the airport or throw in the back of the car.

  8. posted by Anne on

    I too keep a toiletry bag packed full of mini containers. Contact lens cases also work great for creams and tiny amounts of gels and liquids for which you don’t want to carry the original sized container!

  9. posted by Maya on

    I’ve simplified my travel toiletries even more by substituting a small bag of baking soda for toothpaste and deodorant. While at home I have conventional toothpaste and deodorant, but for a couple days on the road or even up to a week I find this easier than dealing with searching for travel-sized versions of my preferred brands and feeling like I’m wasting a ton of material on packaging.

  10. posted by Carolyn on

    Far too many baths/showers are way too slippery and now I have a small rubber bathmat that I bought @ K-Mart. Not large but large enough. It will fold over and fit in a 2 gallon plastic ziptop bag. It packs into the bottom of my suitcase easily. I have taken red finger nail polish and drew large “Xs” on it both sides so I will be able to spot it in a tub/not leave it. As they said with AMX – “don’t leave home without it”. It has made taking showers a safer thing to do.

  11. posted by Teresa on

    I pack a silk sleep sack to stay warm on flights and then to use in sketchy accomodations. It packs down to the size of a can of soda and weighs almost nothing. It’s amazingly effective at keeping you warm (but not too warm – love the silk) because it blocks all drafts. If you pull the top over your head, it keeps your air humid, blocks a lot of light all while not applying any pressure to your face. Just make sure to buckle your seat belt over it so the flight attendants don’t wake you up.

    Also, single use wipes of deodorant and astringent are so handy!

  12. posted by Bonnie on

    I’ve done this for many years – but my travel bag also doubles as my go bag – I live in a disaster prone area so I make sure the “go” bag has the basics if I just need to grab and go. Toiletries, extra pair of socks, a towel, jacket, charger cords, important documents etc. I also include packing list(s) in there, one for travel and one for an emergency so I know what else I need to grab in a hurry (phone, dog etc 😉

  13. posted by metai on

    I’m absolutely sure there is a plethora of traveling tips one can have. However, in the spirit of Unclutterer, I cannot recommend this enough:

    Get the largest bag or suitcase that will fit carry-on standards.

    Don’t bother getting an expensive hard shell, you’ll be taking care of it yourself at all times, noone is going to throw it around, so a softshell one will do perfectly fine. Just make sure it has sturdy wheels and a convenient long handle neck.

    You will be surprised how much space they can offer if the case really uses the common size constraints given by the airlines.

    When I’m not going on a business trip, i.e. if I don’t need to pack shirts and suits that need to arrive pristine, I find that I can pack about ten to twelve days of clothing and underwear, along with toiletries and electronics.

    A notebook/tablet, my jacket, and some small stuff I will carry along in my messenger bag. I have, to this day, never had any trouble getting this combination of a light bag and a well-packed carry-on case into a plane, neither did I have my carry-on weighed, ever.

    The point of this: It is *SO* much less trouble to skip by the baggage belt section with all your stuff already in hands. Judging from past experiences, it saves me half an hour at least, likely more. No waiting for for the plane to unload and, depending on the airport, wheeling the suitcases around for miles, and drop it onto a pile with all the other passengers hawking. And no lost luggage either. You’ll stand front in line at immigrations. And you’ll be far more likely to be able to carry your suitcase up and down subway and hotel stairs, or generally make your way around in pedestrian traffic.

  14. posted by metai on

    As far as deodorants/antiperspirants go: That’s where I do not try to save money. I either take my usual brand or something close enough in a TSA-approved container. (I am male, and I travel to Asia regularly, good luck finding a deodorant in Japan that doesn’t smell like a mixture of cotton candy and spring flowers.)

    As for fragrants, I am surprised noone hasn’t mentioned this: I am pretty used to my own chosen smell. When I buy fragrants (after shave, eau de toilette) in a “household size”, I usually ask the salesperson if they have samples of the same fragrant, and I explicitly tell them it’s for air travel. They will gladly give you a handful, especially since you already made a purchase of the real thing.

  15. posted by Michaela on

    I like the guys advice to get the largest TSA approved carry on – which is exactly what I have. Good wheels make such a difference, so get something wheeled! I also take a roomy bag (or larger purse) that has a long strap and can go over my head. I have both a Tumi and Prada that will do the job, and I carry anything I don’t want to lose in case I have to check luggage (which happened once). Then I keep a smaller purse in that for later when I am out running around – and I am able to keep important items in one place in the bag.

    I always tend to keep extra bags or plastic bags I find on vacation to keep dirty laundry separate from the clean laundry. It very easy to come home and throw the whole bag in the laundry basket and put the rest away.

  16. posted by Ellen ross on

    OMG i love this post!!!! i am pretty good at this as it is but i am def sharing with my social media networks bc i know they are always tweeting/facebooking about what and how to pack for trips!

  17. posted by WilliamB on

    My best tip is to have a generic packing list, I keep mine in excel. The generic list includes everything I pack for a business trip (business suit) and for three weeks in Belize (woolite and drain stopper). For each trip I make a copy, make changes to reflect this particular trip, and print it out.

    So I know exactly where to go for things I use only for travel I have a shoe box for reserve materials such as TSA-sized containers, little bottles of purell, or a folding fan. Travel-sized games and small, dense books are here also.

    For Arianna: I don’t think deodorant or toothpaste really expire.

  18. posted by kathny on

    I don’t prepack my bags because our suitcases are usually stored in the attic between trips, but I do keep master packing lists for each member of my family on my computer so that when we do travel, each list can be adapted to whatever weather conditions, etc, we need to prepare for. We also pack a change of clothing in our carry on bags, and a small empty folding duffel bag in our suitcases when we fly. It’s cheaper to pay for an extra bag than it is to pay overweight luggage fees if we accidentally have too much to bring back. I also put a laminated index card inside every piece of luggage with our name address, phone and email address on it in case of lost luggage.

  19. posted by WilliamB on

    I have a few more tips to simplify travel:

    * Bring only one type of socks, so they all match each other.

    * Limit wardrobe to one color or color set, so all your clothes will match. My last trip all my t-shirts were red.

    * Organize small things in bags – underwear & socks, t-shirts, and so on.

    * Knit clothing doesn’t wrinkle much.

  20. posted by Margo on

    We also pack and store in (each) suitcase
    – a nightlight
    – small flashlight on a lanyard. Those bright kind that recharge in a car are good.

  21. posted by Sandy on

    I too always take a carry-on, not a bag to check, and my toiletry kit and other travel needs “live” in my bag, always ready to go. That way all I have to pack are clothes, and yes, everything should match. When I used to work for the airlines and travel a lot, I always packed an expandable bag in my carry-on, so if I found something I really wanted to buy to bring home and didn’t mind checking, I had an extra bag to put it in. Another way to have extra room for things to bring home: take clothing you are almost ready to donate, wear it on the trip, and don’t bring it home. That way you have room in your carry-on.

    Also, it’s not that difficult to do laundry while traveling, and I’d much rather do that than check a bag (that comes from years of traveling stand-by). And yes, “oh for the days when there was room to put that carry-on under the seat in front of me”.

  22. posted by metai on

    Oh, and one more thing, straight from the Unclutterer playbook: Observe yourself to find out what’s necessary and what is not.

    If you didn’t need half the clothing for your past five trips, why pack it again on the sixth? How many eventualities do you really need to be prepared for?

    It’s easy to throw in another shirt “just in case”, but it becomes a bother if the “just in case” items make you exceed a carry-on suitcase, or worse, you need to check in another suitcase. Most places don’t have sherpas, so make sure you don’t need one.

    Travel light. I honestly have yet to meet somebody complaining they packed too few stuff.

    And wear sunscreen.

  23. posted by Diane on

    Love this post & all the suggestions! I’ve been keeping my toiletries packed & in my suitcase for awhile. I have a separate set for car travel, which includes additional items for travel with no airline restrictions.

    I also have lightweight easy dry bikini underwear that I keep packed. My medicine bag with all the basics is always packed and stays in my tote bag that I carry whenever I leave the house. I keep my camera chargers & an extra phone/ipad charger packed in a zipper bag that I use for travel.

    I’m considering buying an extra flat iron for my hair, so I can just leave one in my suitcase. It’s so much easier to leave for early morning flights if I don’t have to remember a whole list of last minute items to pack.

    I also have packing lists in an excel spreadsheet for different trips~ conferences, beach trips, etc.

    When traveling by plane we always pack the largest possible carry on with wheels, plus the extra carry on which can be stowed under the seat. I pack a small purse in my suitcase and we do not check luggage. It’s much easier that way!

  24. posted by Sue on

    I think TSA rules forbid containers larger than 3 oz, so my old habit of using an almost empty container don’t work anymore. It’s the container they’ll toss, not the amount within it. Is that correct?

  25. posted by Judith Rosenberg on

    I keep a list on my smartphone but this time forgot to pack the folding fan and silky eye mask. On this last trip, I was changing hotels every day or two, so I took enough undies/socks for the entire 2 weeks, and half a dozen tops, pants and skirts in navy and black, plus a couple of dressy dresses (for a wedding and christening) and a couple of other dresses to change things up. I used to have a Delsey which was lightweight, but now have a Heys polycarbonate bag which is light enough for me to lift into the overhead. I used to avoid checking bags but now if the flight is non=stop and I can bring one free (Southwest, Virgin-Atlantic) then I do check for my shoulder/back’s sake.

  26. posted by Viv on

    When I wear out clothes, I set them in my suitcase for one last wearing. Then on vacation, I toss my old undies, slightly stretched out tees, etc. Makes room and you don’t need to haul as much dirty stuff around.

Comments are closed.