Packing for a vacation of any kind can be challenging, but if you’re headed out of town during the holiday season, then you may have some extra work to do. There’s the fact that traveling when the roads are packed can be downright frustrating—and negotiating crowded airports and train stations isn’t much better. But with a little bit of advance planning, you can pack with efficiency and potentially save yourself some valuable time in the process.
What’s the secret to expert holiday trip packing? It all boils down to practicality. There’s a certain science to nailing the packing process. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find you work like a machine, picking and choosing only the garments and accessories you need for your trip. The wear-everywhere cardigan sweater? Definitely. A different pair of jeans for every day of the week? Not so much. Here’s what you should pack for your upcoming holiday getaway.
Chaos develops when disorganization creeps its way into the packing frenzy. Before you know it, half of your closet is strewn on your bed, and your open suitcase has a handful of miscellaneous items tossed inside. That kind of disarray can be disruptive to the process, so it’s helpful to begin with a handy list of basics. What to take? At a bare minimum, keep these essentials at the top of your mind as you dig through your closet:
Aim to bring along at least two, including a cardigan and a pullover of some kind, like a cashmere turtlenecks that can easily be dressed up. Layering is key during the coldest months of the year. Bring along at least three or four tops, including both short- and long-sleeved options for variety. That way, you’ll have something to wear everywhere, from the cozy hotel café to the sightseeing excursion downtown.
Bring a variety of pants with you, so you always have a go-to option, including a pair of your favorite jeans, casual leggings, corduroy pants, and flowing black pants for a dressy option. Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you can’t wear a dress! Is there a chance you may go to a nice restaurant for dinner, or are you planning something special? A wrap dress or timeless black dress is always great to have handy. Bring a pair of tights along, just in case.
It’s the cozy extras that will keep you as warm as possible, including a soft flannel or cashmere scarf, a pair of toasty gloves, and a cute beanie. Don’t forget a few pairs of thick socks. Packing shoes can be tricky. Wear boots while en route if possible to minimize luggage strain. Opt for something sturdy and supportive. Add a pair of sneakers, and consider a pair of ballet flats if room allows.
Layering is key throughout the season. If you’re headed somewhere especially cold, you’ll appreciate the addition of lightweight base layers that lock in body heat. A long-sleeved crew neck and a pair of leggings will keep you especially warm. Where you’re going will dictate the type of outerwear you pack for the journey. Arctic-like climates call for a heavy-duty winter coat. Try a packable down coat if you need to save room. A vest is also a great addition to a winter trip. If it’s not quite so cold, you can get away with a light fleece jacket.
If you’re taking gifts along for the journey, make life easier by wrapping them when you arrive at your destination. That’s a biggie since TSA is less likely to search and unwrap your belongings if you're traveling by air. If you need to wrap them before you leave, use gift bags instead—there’s no risk that your packaging will be destroyed.
Most gifts should be packed in a hard-shell suitcase to prevent damage while in transit. In addition, keep anything of significant value, such as jewelry, in your carry-on bag to avoid loss if you're flying. And if all else fails and you don’t think you can travel with your gifts, after all, consider shipping the gifts to the destination in advance, so they’re waiting for you when you arrive.
You’ll feel far more in control of packing if there’s some order to the process. Using packing cubes is a simple way to sort your items as you pack. They’re typically sold in sets containing different sizes, so you can easily reserve one for accessories, one for sweaters and tops, and the other for bottoms and dresses. Part of organization also involves leaving enough space for any souvenirs you may pick up while you’re on the road. Unfortunately, an overstuffed suitcase rarely leaves much extra room for the fun holiday finds you’re likely to pick up. One way around this is to pack a canvas tote bag or any type of foldable bag with a zipper. Stuff it with the souvenirs you pick up and check the bag if you’re traveling by air.
With the right items in your suitcase, you’ll be prepared for anything your travels bring—and you’ll have so much more time to enjoy the actual process and getaway instead of worrying about whether you left anything behind. That’s priceless.