spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

Travel planning for dorks- spreadsheet tutorial part 4

on August 29, 2014

See Tutorial Parts 1, 2, and 3.

We’ve reached the Carry-on Packing List and Packing List tabs on our spreadsheet!  Everyone knows a vacation isn’t really happening until you pull out those dust-free suitcases and start loading your clean neat piles of clothes, which fit with plenty of room to spare…no?  Does the process look more like this?

Mickey Overstuffed Luggage

Well, my friends, it doesn’t have to!  Packing can be fairly simple and organized if you embrace the concept of the Master List, and utilize categories to keep everyone on track.

First, I’ll explain why I separated the Carry-On and Packing Lists.  Once upon a time, I had just a trip-specific packing list on a piece of paper in my planning folder (it had not yet graduated to a binder).  I would list the needed items into groups like Clothes, Camera Stuff, Toiletries, Confirmations, etc, and put a star * next to the items that I needed in my carry-on.  As I packed an item, I would highlight it or cross it out, and eventually would only be left with the carry-on items.  This system worked well, especially because I would then fold that piece of paper into my carry-on and take it with me.  This provided a list of what I had packed in case my suitcase was misplaced and I needed to replace my stuff.  Also, it served as a Repacking List for the way home, making sure I didn’t leave anything behind.  So why didn’t I continue with that method?

my husband and kids

my husband and kids running away from my lists

That’s why.  More people = more stuff to pack/forget to pack/leave behind.  So I upgraded my system.  I still use the Master List, but now it’s separated by Carry-on Packing (things you need on hand) and Packing (for checked suitcases or things you don’t need immediate access to).  Plus, it’s in a spreadsheet (duh!), and color-coded.  Each traveler has a color assigned to them, which is the same on each of the packing lists, and Lord help me if I don’t subconsciously buy travel items for my family in their assigned packing list color!  Husband, did you ever wonder why I was so happy to find a RED spinning suitcase for you?  And why you have a hanging toiletry kit with a RED lining?  All my favorite travel items are various shades of blue, because that’s MY color 🙂  Anyway…

The Master List: there are some items you need on every single trip,  so you may as well fill them in on your packing list from the start so these important items don’t get left behind. You may think some of these are no-brainers and you don’t need to have them on a list that you check before leaving the house, but imagine getting to an airport security checkpoint or Border Patrol crossing and realizing that you left your passport in your at-home safe.  This has not happened to me, thank goodness.  But it has happened to others and gives me nightmares nonethelsss.

The Carry-On Master Packing List includes the following categories:

  • photo identification: driver’s license/state ID is sufficient for domestic travel, valid passport required for international travel.  Kids under 16 don’t need to show anything, though the TSA folks usually ask my daughter what her name is to see if it matches the boarding pass.  A child traveling internationally with only one of their parents may need to show something stating that the other parent is aware of the travel- this letter or form may need to be notarized.  Check the entrance requirements for the country you are traveling to (I’m looking at you, Canada).
  • money & wallet: take credit cards with no foreign exchange fee if leaving the US, and ALWAYS have merchants run the charge through in the local currency to save on Dynamic Currency Conversion fees as well.  I like to start with a small supply of Euros or whatever to use on the public transport right when I get somewhere.  Plus, bring any membership or affiliation cards you need to prove you are indeed eligible for that fabulous discount-remember, that info in your Details tab.  Forgetting your health insurance subscriber information is courting disaster, so include that card as well.
  • confirmation information, tickets, hotel reservations, etc.  For me, this means just chucking the Trip Planning Binder right into my bag.  I take out the documents I need within the first hew hours of traveling, like flight information and boarding passes, and put them in an easily accessible pocket.  I wouldn’t dream of getting to an agent or kiosk and taking time to open my binder, take stuff out, put it back in, etc.  Gah- that’s like when people stand in a long food line and only start deciding what to order once they’re at the cashier!  Have some consideration, people.  So, I keep my documents handy, and just put them back in neatly when I’m on the plane.
  • phone!  Put it on Airplane Mode though, please.  And also lower the volume, I don’t want to hear “Kung Fu Fighting” alerting you of your missed calls the moment the airplane lands.
  • entertainment options: I like a good crossword puzzle book, and my iPod/headphones.  My husband brings Sudoku.  The tween brings her Kindle Fire.  I bring coloring/activity pages and crayons for the little guy.  We always have our headphone splitters in case the kids want to hear or watch something at the same time.  And depending on how long of a flight/car ride/train trip it is, we’ll bring magnetic chinese checkers, a deck of UNO cards, or a Disney Road Trip game I found at Hallmark once and never saw for sale again.  Don’t forget to bring something to write with.  I like a pen/highlighter combo myself.
  • snacks & water: the kind and amount of snacks you need is determined by the length of your trip and the ability to stop and buy food.  But you need something with you to avoid blood sugar lows.  For trips < 3 hours, I eat before I leave, and take some protein-rich stuff like nuts to keep me full in case of delays, and also some candy, because…I like it.  For longer trips, I like to have the equivalent of a full meal, but eat it in shifts.  More on that in another post.  Re: water- I hate the flavor of bottled water with the fire of a thousand suns, and really dislike drinking water in general.  I much prefer juice or milk.  Due to liquid restrictions from the TSA, I bring my own empty reusable water bottle, fill it up at a water fountain after security (I love the one at SEA that makes a babbling brook sound when you use it), and then add a flavor powder to it.  Instant no-calorie ” juice.” Just be careful opening any sealed containers with spouts after take-off; the pressure builds up under the spout, and if you don’t release it slowly, you’ll have a geyser on your hands! And likely, all over your clothes.  Which brings us to….
  • spare change of clothes: you never know when something will spill on you.  “Juice” or otherwise.  Those with motion sickeness-prone kids or potty-training kids know what I mean.  And change of clothes means everything, down to socks and undies.  Take very light-weight stuff: ladies, that usually means a sports bra.  We wear our sneakers or other heavier shoes onto the plane, but have our rubbah slippahs in the carry-on for bathroom trips or as a spare pair of shoes. Also, bring something in case it gets cold and you can’t change the temperature yourself.  I use a wonderfully soft pashmina, and the kids use lightweight hoodies.
  • medicine: common sense, folks.  Meds never go into checked luggage, and should be labeled properly or in their original containers.  You should also have a list or some other reference document of your medicine name, dosage, and precribing doctor should you need an emergency refill while away.  When traveling outside the US, knowing the actual name of the medicine as opposed to its brand name can also help, as the pharmacy may not carry Aleve, but they definitely have naproxen sodium. I carry a 7-day pill organizer, and have labeled the inside of the compartments with things I carry for each trip: adult pain meds, kids chewable pain meds, motion sickness meds, chewable Pepto-Bismol tablets, chewable Benadryl tablets, nighttime cold meds, and my prescription migraine meds.  Ear plugs fit into this category, and take up very little room.
  • makeup: We’re not talking pageant-level makeup, but a little tinted gloss keeps your lips moist, and keeps you from looking like death when you arrive.  Bonus: your compact’s mirror can come in handy when your child drops the emergency information card under the seat for the 40th time and you need to find it.  Ask me how I know.  Some people like to bring Evian mist or some other moisturizing lotion to guard the skin against dehydration.  I like to save one of my 3-1-1 for travel-sized toothpaste.
  • a timepiece: your phone or iPod touch can work for this if you don’t wear a watch anymore.  Nothing worse than not knowing how many hours are left.
  • cameras & memory cards (or film!), plus chargers: trips must be documented, and these are the tools of the trade.  Do not put them into your checked luggage under any circumstances.
  • comfort items: eye masks, neck pillows, blankets, compression socks to promote circulation, etc.
a glance at my in-process Disney trip carry-on list

a glance at my in-process Disney trip carry-on list


The Master Packing List includes the following categories:

  • clothes: of course, you need clothes! Unless you are going to a nudist camp, and this is not that kind of blog.  I like to specify how many of each thing to bring, and then let my husband and daughter pack for themselves.  Sort of. They choose and fold, and then I review and maybe edit their choices before they go into the suitcase. A sample list might say, “T-shirts (5), dressy tops (2), skirt/slacks (1), shirts (4), long pants/jeans (2), socks (5), dressy shoes: low black heels (1), bathing suit (1),”  etc.  I include everything they might need, from a specific shoe like in the example, to a certain hat, like the visor I only wear in Disney World.
  • toiletries: deodorant, q-tips, razors, face lotion, hair gel, sunscreen, bug spray, and so on.  If staying in hotels, I bring my own high-quality conditioner.  I figure, whatever hotel shampoo is available is probably adequate, but the conditioner is bound to make my hair look like Kramer’s in the low water-pressure episode of Seinfeld:


  •  Miscellaneous: this is actually one of my favorite categories.  This is where you put the stuff that makes your life easy, and that you should consider taking on most any family trip.  A power strip that includes a USB charger.  A pop-up hamper to contain dirty clothes, and a small laundry detergent sample to clean them with.  Shout Stain wipes. Palmolive dishwashing wipes to clean out sippy cups and reusable water bottles in hotel sinks- as you can see, this item was discontinued.  I have carefully hoarded a supply.  I suppose you can make your own with some soft paper towels, diluted dishwashing liquid, and a watertight container.  A large photo mailer to keep trip keepsakes neat and flat.  Glow sticks to keep kids amused in dark places.  A large tote bag to use while shopping, and a carabiner to attach the bag to the stroller or suitcase- my sister raves about the Mommy Hook.  The luggage scale I never travel without.
packing list

Disney packing list so far

Once you’ve got your Master Lists in place, add items specific to your destination, and you’re all set!  I print out the Carry-On and Packing Lists on separate pages and tape them in a central spot in the house.  My crew can see what they need to prep and fold, and then bring it to me at Packing Central, aka, my bed.  Once everything is checked off the lists, I grab them off the wall to use as a Repacking List on the way home.

And now, some words about bags and suitcases!


Your carry-on bag should be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.  Check the dimensions by airline: If you take a rolling case or duffle bag on board as well, make sure you’ve organized yourself enough that the things you need while in your seat are already at hand, and the rest lives in the overhead bin.  I personally think that if you are checking a bag, you don’t also need a rolling suitcase on board.

Parents, consider using a backpack or cross-body messenger bag instead of a shoulder bag as a carry-on  It’s nice to be hands-free, especially if you have a stroller.  I require my carry-on bag to have a secure water bottle holder, be big enough to fit my trip binder without bending it, and have an easy-to-reach place to stash my sunglasses and iPod.  Choose a bag you love.

I love shopping eBags for any and all bags. They have a great eBags brand line as well.  We’ll be taking this baby out for her 1st ride on our trip to Ecuador.

A tip regarding checked bags: if my itinerary includes small airports, I sometimes lay a sheet of plastic, such as a dry cleaning bag or trash bag, over the top and sides of my packed items before closing the suitcase.  Your luggage may be left out on the tarmac in the pouring rain before it gets loaded onto the plane.  This is less common in large airports, but still possible.  Better safe than sorry.  This can also be solved by using Space Bags or those Ziploc Big Bags for most of your packing.  Also, I make some Outfit Bags for small children to protect and organize those items.  More on that in a future post about Traveling with Toddlers.

Pro-tip regarding repacking to go home: I pack dirty laundry into the suitcase inside out to clearly distinguish it from clean stuff.  Or you can designate one of the Space or Ziploc Bags, because most clothes are not helpfully labeled like this:

clean shirt


The next post in the Spreadsheet Tutorial will be The Itinerary 🙂

7 responses to “Travel planning for dorks- spreadsheet tutorial part 4

  1. VivaLaDiva405 says:

    I EAGERLY await the “Traveling with Toddlers” post. Hell, I expect a personal lesson via Skype, truth be told.


  2. […] is the final post in the spreadsheet tutorial!  See Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and […]


  3. […] let’s discuss suitcases, carry-ons, and day/touring bags.  We’ll choose bags, and then fill them later.  […]


  4. Jen says:

    I am loving your trip spreadsheets! They are making my trip planning so much easier (and more fun!). I see you reference a Trip Binder a few times in this post. Is there anywhere on your blog that you describe in more detail about your binder? I’d love more details/guidance this way. Thanks so much for sharing your awesomeness!!


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