Queries from the Curious: Ask Helen

Q: I like to travel, but I panic when it comes to deciding what to take and how to pack it all. Either I take too much or I forget the stuff I should have taken. I’m almost always cramming items into the suitcase at the last minute. How can I make this process less stressful?

Men seem to have an easier time with packing, so let’s look at packing anxiety from a woman’s perspective. Wanting to have just the right outfits for indeterminate activities may overtake our desire to pack “lightly.” Unless you have staff to haul a trunk, you need to rethink your priorities.

Where are you going? What’s the expected range of activities and temperatures? Do you plan to check your bag or carry it aboard? How long will you be away? With smart planning, it really is possible to pack only a carryon for a two-week trip.

  • How old is your luggage? Does it feel heavy before you start to fill it? Modern suitcases are light and expandable; you can fill them without exceeding the baggage weight limit, so you may want to look into updating your luggage.
  • Make a master list of the kinds of clothes needed, according to the events on your itinerary. We all need the basics — underwear, socks, pantyhose and nightwear. The “electives” include slacks, shorts, tops, jackets (sweater, blazer, sweatshirt), skirts and dresses. Also consider the weather. Will you need a hat, scarf and gloves, or maybe a bathing suit and cover-up?
  • Select clothing by color or outfit. Get ideas from catalogs that feature travel clothing. Neutral colors from neckline to feet do the best job on the road. Choose a limited color palette that includes black, gray, white and beige. Get your “pop” and mix-and-match flexibility from costume jewelry and colorful scarves. Your classic black dress can go anywhere based on your accessories. The downside of taking established outfits is having clashing colors or too many blazers to fit into your bag.
  • Take one purse for daytime and one for evening (yes, black) and only comfortable shoes. You may have a fabulous shoe collection, but limit yourself to two pairs of daytime shoes — a “sensible” pair if you’re going to be touring all day and something like ballet flats if you’re attending a conference. One pair of dressy heels adequately completes your travel shoe wardrobe. Wear your heaviest pair of shoes while traveling, unless the weather makes that impossible.
  • Forget the hair dryer because hotels supply them. Keep cosmetics simple. Use travel-size toiletries or half-empty tubes of your favorite creams, and put them into a sturdy plastic bag. Check your airline’s requirements for packing liquids. Make a separate list of medications and put them into your carryon bag.
  • Lay out your clothing selections on your bed or on a table. The old joke says that now you should put half of it back into your closet. Maybe not, if you have chosen wisely. Protect your clothing and keep it organized by using vacuum or plastic bags for the various categories. Stuff socks into your shoes. By wrapping shoes separately, you can snuggle each one into an open space in your suitcase.

If you like everything you’ve packed, it won’t matter whether you’re off for a romantic weekend with your sweetie or to heading into infinity and beyond with Buzz Lightyear. You’re ready to roll.

Helen Kornblum is a life coach and organizer in Gainesville, Florida. Find her at www.CoachOrganizer.com. Her specialty is coaching teens and young adults who have ADHD or ADD.