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Packing Tips & Tricks

High Straightenence by Tracy Benjamin

A weekly column celebrating the neat freak in all of us.


I love traveling. I do! But the packing and thought process put into actually getting to my destination can stress me out! I get hypersensitive about over- packing and always try to create a challenge of packing minimally. I think it’s because one of my brothers scoffed at how heavy my suitcase was once and it did some major mental damage. I almost always end up UNDER packing but at least it means I have room for purchases on my trip (I never forget the essentials, though!).

A few weeks ago, I went with my family on a cruise and took pictures of my packing process so you could see what goes on in my crazy brain!

My goal is always to pack SMART! I have to use my brain even more because I have to pack for a kid now.


-TRACY (that’s me!)

-COOPER (the hardest list!)

-DON’T FORGET (things I would be sad/upset to miss)

-AROUND THE HOUSE (what needs to be done before we leave. Like…cleaning the cat litter, watering plants, etc.)

-ELECTRONICS (cameras, laptop, baby monitor, battery chargers, ipod, etc.)

-CARRY ON BAG (the most important bag of all)

-CASEY (had his own list in his head)




-DO LAUNDRY There’s nothing more annoying to me than waiting for clothes to finish drying so I can pack my suitcase. I try my hardest to get laundry done before I start packing to avoid this. Also, it’s important to find all of the clothes you want to pack!

-FOLD LAUNDRY and play around with outfits and come up with a game plan. I lay everything out on my bed for this purpose.


I forgot about shoes! Oh shoes! These are the shoes I ended up packing on my trip.

Take away one pair and you take away a few different outfits. It’s all about finding outfits that work well with shoes. There were two dresses I ditched because it meant I would have to bring two extra pairs of shoes. Instead, I picked dresses that could easily be jazzed up with accessories since they take up little space. Think black jersey knit dresses! They’re like traveling gold. So versatile and pretty much wrinkle free!

I always have high hopes for exercising while on vacation and my sneakers ALWAYS take up a serious amount of space. Maybe I should just resolve that working out & vacations don’t mix for me? I could have brought a cute pair of shoes instead!

ALWAYS bring flip-flops even if the weather is bad. They’re great “slippers” for yucky hotel carpets.


All of the items get put in a laundry basket for safe keeping until I’m ready to load up my suitcase.

This is also a good way to keep my cats from freaking out. The second the suitcase comes out, they get STRESSED OUT and then one of them craps on the floor. Real life!

I should also note that on this trip we decided to use duffel bags because they collapse easily under the bed in our room on the cruise ship.

Because they don’t have tons of pockets, I used little bags to contain items. It’s a great way to keep track of things.

This one contains Cooper’s pull-ups & wipes!

I also have a small bag for: bathing suit stuff, underwear/bras/socks as well as electronics (which travels in my carry on!).

They’re great because you can pull out exactly what you need if you’re at the airport.


When the bag is close to done, I add a note on top of what needs to be added. There’s always stuff I’m waiting on…

Since we went on a cruise, I have a few tips for you!

My sister-in-law saw on a few cruise review websites that people highly recommended an Over-the- Door Organizer for the teeny bathrooms on the boat. I picked one up at Target for the trip.

Let me tell you, it was a DREAM! There’s limited counter space in the bathroom, so things would have been super cramped if I didn’t attach this to our bathroom door!

We were also told that we could bring a small bag full of booze on the boat. We wanted to save some money and I had a bunch of gin & bourbon at home so I tucked a few of these “RUM SMUGGLERS” in my suitcase in addition to the half case of wine Casey shipped to the hotel we were staying at.

If you have children, you already know how important the snack bag is!

Heck, it’s important for adults too! Our snack bag stays in our carry-on suitcase.

Cooper loves a Wild Berry Kid’s Super Food drink mix so I brought those with. It’s a perfect way to mask the taste of yucky hotel/cruise ship water.

I brought some healthier snacks from home so Cooper had something to eat on the airplane.

Snacks help prevent public lack-of-food-induced-tantrums. TRUST!

I had a really nice passport case but it didn’t fit all of my documents and I became obsessed with using/not using the pockets. At the very last minute, I threw everything in one of my favorite plastic document envelopes so I could easily see where everything was. It was so nice to be able to grab it out of my carry on when needed.

When we flew with Cooper for the first time, we got one of these Go Go Babyz Travel Mate Car Seat attachments.

You can see it in the bag there. It’s basically like a dolly that attaches to your car seat so you can wheel your child around the airport.

It’s a lifesaver! If your child insists on walking, well throw your purse on it and wheel it around!

On our trip we took 3 bags (to be checked) a car seat, my purse & a carry-on bag.

Not too bad for 7 days away, right?


-keep an extra fold up bag in your suitcase (comes in handy if you need to carry home a purchase)

-keep a few plastic bags in your luggage for shoes or containing items that may leak

-use the front pocket of your suitcase for dirty clothes

-always keep your phone charger/camera charger in your carry-on!

-give your family/friends your contact information for when you’re gone

-don’t underpay your pet sitter (ha!)


Do you have any packing tips? DO SHARE!


Tracy Benjamin

Tracy Benjamin is obsessed with good food, great photography, and pretty things.


  • The Cuisinerd January 11, 2012 at 10:01 am

    You are a machine and I love it!!

  • MaryBeth January 11, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Finally someone that packs the way I do! My boyfriend makes so much fun of me. Maybe it’s because we’re Leo’s that we have to be so controlled and organized? You’ve mentioned some things on your podcasts that make me laugh out loud, re-packing your car, picky about who cuts your hair, and such because I do the same things and all my pals think I’m nuts! Nice to know I’m not the only one with a crazy brain out there. :)

  • Nicole January 11, 2012 at 10:33 am

    You’re downright balls amazing. I like seeing all the things we are totally on same page about (I do those EXACT lists, with different names) and I like learning new stuff too! This was awesome.

    I like to bring a water bottle (like this guy: http://www.target.com/p/Aladdin-Clean-Pure-Water-Bottle-Purple-24oz/-/A-12705055?reco=Rec_pdp_12705055_ClickCP_Banner) for each of us. Even though the TSA makes me dump before getting on the plane – I can fill it back up on the plane ensuring I have water from step one of being in our destination. This also helps me keep hydrating the whole trip. :)

  • Chelsea Powell January 11, 2012 at 10:48 am

    I am completely obsessed with the travel space saver bags http://www.amazon.com/ITW-Space-BRS-9601-Travel-15-Inch/dp/B003I85T52.

    My husband and I traveled to Germany for vacation and went on a humanitarian trip to Tanzania last year and I bought 2 sets of these bags for those trips. I hate checking luggage and wanted to carry-on our stuff. These bags are the best. Kept everything super organized and saved us a ton of space. We needed to be extremely mobile in Tanzania but had to bring a ton of stuff on the trip because of all the different locations and places we were traveling to. It kept all our stuff dry when it rained, bug free when there was a fear of critters hitch hiking, and we could carry-on all our stuff because we saved a ton of space with these.

    I would never travel without them again. Never ever.

    • tracy January 11, 2012 at 6:47 pm

      I’m afraid if I buy those I’ll start stocking up and then I’ll be on a episode of Hoarders for Space Saver Bags…. Maybe I should just try one…

  • Christina B. January 11, 2012 at 11:13 am

    I wish I would have read this before my recent trip to NYC. It would have been helpful!

    In regards to the cat sitter, mail girl…I think at that age I would have been happy to get $50 cash to do that job! It required little effort on her part and she didn’t have to go far to do it. I don’t think you were too far off base!

    • Tracy January 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm

      I feel like now I set the precedent for her. In retrospect, I should have asked her how much she charges. I think putting that in their court is the most important lesson you can teach someone! She’s gotta learn how to speak up for herself :)

  • Petila January 11, 2012 at 11:19 am

    Putting the clothes to pack in a laundry basket is GENIUS!!!
    Also, I love the idea of leaving a note on top for the items that still need to be added.
    I learn something every time you post something, thanks for sharing all of your awesome ideas!!!

    • Tracy January 13, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      Petila!! Thanks for commenting! My mom called me up yesterday and told me she loved that laundry basket tip too. So glad I can give you some inspiration. xoxo

  • Dottie January 11, 2012 at 11:53 am

    These are great ideas! I love the separate bag idea for the kiddo stuff. We do a lot of that too. And putting everything in the laundry basket is genius. I’m gonna do that for Alt!

  • Julie @BananasForBourbon January 11, 2012 at 11:56 am

    1. Snack bag! There you go, blowing my mind again. Must incorporate into everyday life.

    2. You so didn’t underpay your cat-sitter. Is there anything easier?

    3. I bring workout shoes, if only to have a “sensible” option, should the need arise.

    • tracy January 11, 2012 at 6:49 pm

      1. Totes Essential!

      2. Thank you!

      3. Truth! Although I don’t think I could have worn my sneaks with dresses. I think I brought one pair of pants that wouldn’t have gone with those sneaks. My bad! I was debating on bringing converse….Next time.

  • Emily G. January 11, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    I always try to keep myself from freaking out when packing by telling myself ‘I’ve got the clothes on my back…If it’s missing from the suitcase I’ll just buy it.’

  • Anne January 11, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    One thing I’ve been doing when I pack my suitcase is to put outfits into large ziplock freezer bags. This makes it easy to live out of my suitcase- when I need my outfit there’s no rummaging through my nicely rolled/folded clothes and making a mess. I also roll up interchangeable tops that match one skirt- making it all easy to find. The ziplocks minimize wrinkles and protect from any liquids that may burst or spill in my bag.

    Another tip I have is to make a list (computer is best) of everything you are bringing (do this while packing)- that way if you lose your luggage you’ll find it easier to replace your things or report a claim for insurance if you have it. Keep these lists so you have read-to-go packing instructions for next time!

  • Karol January 11, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    About a year ago, I switched from a computerized list I had developed to Packing Pro, an iPhone app. Very handy – you can create different lists for different types of trips.

  • lynn @ the actor's diet January 11, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    i seriously need one of those over-the-door organizers. my tip is to wear a lot of black. everything will match and if it stains, who cares…

    • Tracy January 13, 2012 at 12:48 pm

      Good tip!!

      You should try one of those organizers, although it can get a little difficult to figure out what you put in each pocket when you’re sharing it with two other people ;)

  • Advah January 12, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Always pack a clean change of clothes in your carry on! That way, if your flight gets delayed or you have to unexpectedly spend the night in a hotel, you’ll be able to put on a clean top and pair of underwear.

    That one’s also a handbag tip, but I like to put a few babywipes in a sandwich bag and have them in my bag all the times. It’s really handy if you want to quick-clean your hands or refresh in the airport bathroom!

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  • Helene Mahnken January 13, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    I will be using every. single. one. of these tips next time I go on a trip! I try so hard to get organized before a trip and I always end up over-packing or under-packing!

    One thing I might add, though, about masking yucky water, is now you can get water bottles with the filter built in! They sell two kinds at target, the Bobble, which is really basic and pretty inexpensive, but seems kinda flimsy, like it might dent when thrown in a bag while traveling. The other, though, is made by Camelbak (I LOVE my Camelbak water bottle!) It’s like $20, but I think it would be worth it to always have good tasting water. It’s so important to stay hydrated when traveling!

    Thanks for all the awesome advice! Yay!

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  • Megan - Newly Wife February 9, 2012 at 11:54 am

    I freakin love your packing tips. So organized, like I try to be. Also, I love that they let you bring a little booze. So smart!

    Ps. I love graph paper too. I’m totally cutting mine up small like that for packing lists now too. Genius!

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  • Deborah Lovegrove July 3, 2013 at 11:53 am

    If you roll your clothes, they take up less room. And in case you didn’t think of it, make sure you put your shoes or heavier items on the bottom of the suitcase so when you roll it, nothing gets crushed. After packing everything in, close the bag and bounce it up and down a few times and it will settle even more so you can get more stuff in. To roll a jacket, turn it inside out by folding the front around the back (with the sleeves inside), then roll it from the top down. This will give less wrinkles than flat folding. Once your trip is over, go back to your list and add the items you found you needed and remove the items you didn’t use.

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