1. Make a packing list. Packing lists eliminate forgotten items such as toothpaste and socks (cough cough Mike). I tend to itemize my packing lists like so (I'm probably putting too much on here, but I don't want you to forget anything!)
- Clothes: day, night, pjs, outerwear, socks, undergarments (undies, stockings), seasonal and/or activity clothes (beach resorts or ski resorts for example - updated from comments)
- Shoes: day, night, pool/beach, athletic, slippers for extended stays, weather appropriate shoes
- Toiletries and bathroom supplies: hair care (I always forget extra hair ties), dental hygiene, skin care (including sunscreen), makeup, hair removal (tweezers and razors, ladies), nail care (toe nail clippers, boys), medications (preferably Excedrin and Benadryl), band aids
- Accessories: jewelry (nothing too fancy), handbags (one for day and one night - no need for more), sunglasses
- Electronics: iPod/headphones and charger, cell phone and charger, camera and charger, mini battery operated alarm clock (I use my cell phone for this)
- Extras: gum, postcard stamps, earplugs and eye cover, notebook and pens, reading material, mini flashlight (for camping and stuff....)
- Definitely don't forget: drivers license, passport if necessary, all necessary tickets, confirmation numbers, vouchers, etc., money including cash, traveler's cheques, and credit and debit cards. *Call your credit card companies before traveling to another country to avoid your card being denied once there - the CC companies might think it's stolen.*
3. Lay out what you are bringing from the packing list on your now made bed and cross them off the list as you put them there. I organize everything into piles like from the packing list, this way it's easier to fit into suitcases and/or balance weight if bringing more than once suitcase while trying to stay within airline bag weight maximums. Also, make sure all the clothes are folded neatly. When actually packing, save the small things like socks and undies for last as they fit into those tight spaces on the side that nothing else fits into. I also put my hair dryer in the middle so it doesn't bang around. And of course, always put liquids in a Ziploc bag to avoid a complete and total disaster. At this point I also...
4. Make a special pile for things going in my carry on if I am checking bags (not including my purse which I won't include here). In my carry on I always have; sweatshirt (planes are cold!), iPod/earphones, earplugs and eye cover, reading material, notebook and pens (make sure they're not the exploding kind, Mom), the jewelry I'm bringing (don't want to lose that in checked baggage), my laptop, all forms of ID and travel documents. In that little quart sized plastic bag for liquids I put travel size bottles of lotion (3oz), chap stick, face cream, and toothpaste (the toothbrush usually makes it in there too). If I am traveling with a carry on only I have to remember to NOT bring a razor or other sharp objects. I once traveled with my friend who forgot there was a mini pocket knife of her keyring, and security took it away. That was a sad day.
5. Put the bags near the front door, or better yet in the car. I usually end up finishing packing right before I leave so they usually go right into the car when I take them out of my room. But, packing is not the only part of preparing to go on vacation. You have to remember to...
6. Take out all the garbage. Especially remember the kitchen garbage. I have been traveling so often that the only times I take the garbage out of my room and bathroom is right before I leave for a trip. Hey, don't judge. They're just filled with tissues anyway as I'm a chronic nose blower. Speaking of being clean and not nasty...
7. Wash the dishes. Running the dishwasher two minutes before you walk out the door to get in the car counts! If you already ran the dishwasher the night before because you were eager, please hand wash the dishes you use before you leave. You don't want them stinking up your kitchen and awaiting your return.
8. Don't leave laundry in the dryer. You'll just have to re-dry it again when you get home because it will be all wrinkly.
9. Hydrate if you are traveling via air. If you are traveling via air and going to a higher altitude than you are leaving from, start hydrating a few days before.
10. Pack snacks in your carry on, especially if you are spending a lot of time traveling. I'm really bad about this and usually end up buying gross airport food.
11. Make sure someone like a neighbor or friend has access to a key to your house in case of an emergency.
12. Make sure someone back home has your itinerary of hotel locations and phone numbers in case they do need to get in touch with you. This might also be a good time to suggest getting an international cell phone if you're traveling internationally.
13. Plants and pets, make sure you have arranged for someone to water the plants, feed the pets, and change the litter if necessary. When my mom, brother, and I went to Hawaii for three weeks we prepared for my cat by leaving him lots and lots of food in bowls and having our neighbor come once a week to refill/change his huge water bowl that we left for him. He decided that our leaving was not OK so he just moved to the neighbors for three weeks. Silly cat.
14. Double check the list before actually leaving your house. Go through the packing list and remember putting each thing in your suitcase. Double check for your cell phone, ID, and documents.
Did I forget anything? Probably. What is one thing you can't travel without? Let me know what you always make sure you do before leaving.