Pack early, pack often.

I’ve had a number of people say, “Oh, that’s a good idea!” when I describe my process for long trips (especially internationally)—so perhaps it’s time to document it. Over the years I’ve watched all those videos on YouTube that promise you’ll be able to pack your entire closet into a carry-on—if only you use their origami folding system. I’ve consulting the Rick Steves packing list—and wondered who wanted to carry all that?

In the end the system that works for me is to simply start packing a month early—it’s not a terribly active process. When I’m doing laundry and come across a piece of clothing that would be ideal for my upcoming trip—I set it aside. When I think of some piece of electronics, book or travel accessory that I might need—I set it aside. After a few weeks I have a pile of things that is definitely more than any sensible person would actually take on a two week vacation ANYWHERE.

Then it’s time for luggage Hunger Games.

Can you wear all of the (skirts/shirts/cardigans/trousers/etc.) with everything other piece of clothing? I solve coordination issues here the same way I do in the rest of my life—lots of neutrals with a single accent (usually blue or green for me). Do I have enough pieces of clothing that I can easily dress up and still wear daily? The details change a bit depending on destination and season—the particulars of my packing list aren’t important.

What all of this really does is help me avoid that last minute panic that might result in stress and running about the day before you leave. I don’t open my suitcase at my destination and wonder why I thought I’d need various random items. And I rarely spend time hunting down a missing toiletry item in a country where I don’t speak the language—the exception to that being when a nasty head cold left me attempting to pantomime decongestant to a Dutch pharmacist.

For me, travel planning isn’t about scheduling every leisure moment—but planning and researching to avoid stressing over things that you can absolutely control. Even down to packing enough socks.