We're traveling in the future (uh uh uh, Internet, I'm not telling when!), so I have been in trip preparation mode ever since we bought our tickets. I can't help it; trip preparation is a compulsion for me! And since I am determined to fit all of my stuff and the boys' stuff into one carry-on and one piece of checked luggage for as long as possible, planning our packing is essential. But I'm convinced that all my anxiety over packing and planning has repeatedly resulted in relatively worry-free travel once we actually leave, so I'm letting this particular obsession run free!
A few years ago, after we had J, it occurred to me, as I was writing yet another list before we left on a trip, that things might go much more smoothly if I typed up a master list and then edited it for each trip and then edited the master list after each trip as I discovered things I wished I'd had or could have skipped bringing all together. So I did just that.
Right now, my master list consists of three major parts: what goes in my carry-on, what goes in my/the boys' checked luggage, and what we want to do when we get to our destination. I save a copy for each trip we take, editing as we go, depending on the season and where we are going. I also make changes as our kids age and certain items leave the list for good (like bottles, for instance. Yay!). Before our trip, I print out a copy of the newly revised list, use it as a checklist for packing, and then throw it into my carry-on, so I can refer to it during our trip and re-use it as a checklist for repacking when we leave. It's also come in handy when our luggage has been lost, because we can tell them exactly what was in our bags.
In addition, long before we even start packing, I hang a reusable shopping bag on the back of the door to the closet where we keep our luggage. Then, as I'm cleaning or organizing (or, you know, looking desperately for something else!) and I come across something I know we might need on our trip, I just drop it in the bag. "Oh, that's where the kids' headphones ended up." Into the bag they go. "Oops, we already had an extra travel package of wipes." Into the bag it goes. "That new DVD for the boys arrived today." Into the bag it goes. By the time I'm actually ready to pack, this bag is usually full. Not everything goes with us every time, of course, but it's convenient to have everything I MIGHT want in one place as I get ready.
Finally, we reach the military precision exercise I call packing. My strategy for both me and the boys is the same: lots of dark colors/neutrals with one predominant color so everything coordinates. And as few pieces of clothing as we can get away with, particularly if we will have access to a washing machine at our destination. And no more than two pairs of shoes per person, one of which we will be wearing. I told you, I am serious about fitting us all in one suitcase! We even bought new luggage recently to make that task easier.
I also feed my obsession because, well, it's fun to "beat" the airlines or at least give them as little of my money as possible!