Packing lists

I usually travel about 5 times a year, which is often enough to get annoyed by inefficiencies but not enough to be really good at fixing them. Earlier this year, I finally decided to upgrade my bag in hopes of making things go more smoothly. While doing my research, I came across the One Bag philosophy and became obsessed with the idea of a packing list.

While I still don’t want to restrict myself to a single bag or commit to a permanent packing list, I really liked the idea of writing out one’s inventory in detail. So for my last five trips (New York, Seattle, Sunnyvale, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh), I wrote out everything I intended to bring on index cards: one for clothing, one for electronics, and one for everything else.

I’ve noticed a number of surprising things from doing this exercise on paper:

  • I procrastinate less. For some reason, it’s hard to open my suitcase and start putting things into it, but it’s easy to pick up a pen and start writing, even though it’s the same decision-making process.
  • I’m less stressed out. Putting things into words, especially on paper, feels like getting to use a “second brain,” which frees up (most of) my regular brain to focus on the next task at hand.
  • I forget fewer things. When I make my packing list and then go off to do something else, my brain keeps thinking about it in the background, which gives me more time to realize that I had omitted something and fix the problem before I actually head to the airport or train station.
  • I can still fit everything. Since a paper list doesn’t make it obvious how much a suitcase holds or how big an object is, I thought that I might get carried away. That hasn’t been a problem, even on a trip as long as two weeks without doing laundry.
  • I learn from my mistakes. When I unpack my suitcase at the end of a trip, I take out my notecards and annotate it to remind myself about things I didn’t end up using. Since I look at my old notecards when writing my next list, this helps me adjust my habits over time.

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