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Using a Travel Checklist to Stay Organized and on Track

A travel checklist can be the perfect companion on a road trip, cruise, family vacation or any other trek you're taking.

travel checklist

A travel checklist is a great way to stay organized on your next vacation.

(Photo: Matej Kastelic / Shutterstock)

Visiting a new place is always fun and exciting, but packing can be a hassle. Our solution? A travel checklist.

Whether you’re the type of person who waits until the last minute (and usually ends up forgetting important things) or packs in advance and tries to fit your entire life into a tiny suitcase, a checklist is an easy way to ensure you pack smart and light.

To help you prepare for any trip, we made a travel packing checklist for both your carry-on and checked luggage.

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Carry-on travel checklist

travel checklist

Carry-on tips & tricks

Rule No. 1: Always pack your carry-on first! This tiny bag is where you’ll keep your most important documents, tech and gear. Just remember to keep it light, especially if your carry-on doesn’t have wheels. There’s nothing worse than having to lug a heavy bag through the airport.

To start, gather all of your travel documents. That includes items like passports (we don’t want to forget those!) and plane tickets (which can also be printed at the airport). There are even a variety of fairly cheap organizers and holders that can help keep them all neatly stored in one place. And with your travel docs out of the way, it’s time for tech and gear.

While it’s tempting to bring every gadget you own on vacation, try to refrain from making this rookie mistake. Unless you’re a journalist, professional photographer or going on a business trip, there’s really no need to bring expensive laptops and cameras on your adventures. In fact, the less technology you bring abroad, the less you have to worry about. Stick with essentials, like your phone, phone charger and a converter (if necessary).

Please note there is no camera on the travel checklist. Phones aren’t just for texting/calling anymore! Skip the big expensive camera and take pictures with your smartphone. Not only will you save space in your carry-on, but you’ll look less like a tourist when traveling and less like a target for pickpockets.

travel packing checklist

Using a travel checklist can help you avoid overpacking. (Photo: Billion Photos / Shutterstock)

Next, pick out an emergency outfit. While most people pack all of their clothes in the checked bag, you should always have a spare outfit in your carry-on just in case there are any delays. Baggage delays, delayed flights and lost luggage are also the reason to store medication in your carry-on. You should be able to reach life-saving treatments at any given moment. So do not keep emergency inhalers, EpiPens or other necessary medicines in your checked bag. If you have food allergies or you’re simply a picky eater (don’t worry, no judgment), bring some of your own snacks for the flight as well. Fruit and breakfast bars are both tasty and easy-to-transport options.

And finally for our favorite part – the in-flight distractions! Since most commercial airlines provide movies to help keep passengers entertained and smartphones provide music/games, other forms of entertainment aren’t technically a necessity. However, we know some people are still old-fashioned (and we like that)! If there’s room in your carry-on, bring a book you haven’t had time to read or one of your favorite magazines. Depending on the size of your carry-on, you might even have room for a few travel leisure items. If you’re going on a long flight consider bringing a travel blanket and a small pillow. Some airlines keep their cabins fairly cold and will charge you $5 for a tiny blanket!

But before adding any extras, be sure to pack a few health and hygiene products in your carry-on. While items like hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes won’t save your life, they’ll definitely help keep your hands and the surrounding area a little cleaner.

Checked bag travel checklist

travel checklist

Checked bag tips & tricks

Packing the checked bag is where most people go off the rails. So if you’re known to over pack, use the travel checklist below to help you stick with the essentials. Remember, overweight suitcases will be fined.

When packing for an extended trip or vacation, always make sure you pack for the weather. Since most people travel to warm places (and usually for seven to 10 days at a time), this checked bag packing list will help you plan for a weeklong tropical trip. You’ll want to bring six tops, two bottoms, two bathing suits (one to dry while you wear the other), underwear and socks. While this may not seem like a lot of clothes, remember that you already have one outfit packed in your carry-on. In total you should have seven tops and three bottoms, which is more than enough clothes, even for 10 days.

And when you plan your outfits, try to pack things that can be mixed, matched and layered. It will help you get the most life out of your clothes.

Next, it’s time to pack your shoes (which should be stored separately from your clothes). Depending on where you’re going and the activities you’ve planned, most will only need two to three pairs of shoes for the entire trip. Sneakers and comfortable sandals are the essentials, but if you plan on hiking or going to a formal event, other footwear may be necessary. Try to pick neutral colors that will match more than one outfit. And to save space in your suitcase, wear the bulkiest shoes (probably your sneakers) on the plane.

And last but not least, the toiletries! When you’re packing shampoos, conditioners and other liquids, be sure to keep them in a zip-close bag to avoid any messes. Then store all of your toiletries in a separate suitcase compartment (or place them in an external pouch) to help keep your luggage organized. You should also consider storing these items in a small backpack or purse. At your destination, you can simply remove the bottles and creams to use the small bag as a day pack for the road.

And here’s another trick: After seven to 10 days in paradise, most of your travel-size toiletries should be empty. And your pouch, purse or small bag should be fairly empty. So on your way back to reality, use your toiletry bag to store souvenirs! And if you’re bringing back any delicate items, put them in you carry-on.

Now that you have the essentials, feel free to add or take away from the travel checklist(s) as necessary. And remember, even if you forget or lose something, it’s not the end of the world. Many items can be bought in the locations you’re visiting and material possessions are replaceable. But you’re not. So check out these travel safety tips and always be aware of your surroundings.

Did we miss any must-have items that you would put on your travel checklist? Tell us in the comments, and let AAA help you with your next trip no matter the destination.

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Comments
    • Hi there!
      If you hover over the checklists and right click, a menu should pop up. Select “Open image in new tab” and you should get a bigger image just right for printing. (If you’re using Chrome, go to “File” menu and click “Print.”)
      Happy travels!
      -Dana

    • Dana L.

      Hi Aileen!
      You might need to go on a desktop computer to print. If you hover over the checklists and right click, a menu should pop up. Select “Open image in new tab” and you should get a bigger image just right for printing. (If you’re using Chrome, go to “File” menu and click “Print.”)
      Please let me know if this doesn’t work for you. Bon voyage!
      -Dana

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