Packing is a Real Trip with a Brain Injury


Ahh… traveling. The mere thought of going on a trip somewhere (anywhere) always felt like a great adventure but now, not so much. Picturing myself lazing on a beautiful beach or wandering around a new city seems like heaven – irresistible. But my brain injury has no problem resisting, and no intention of letting me get off easy. Traveling is a pain in the you-know-what. And the worst part? Packing. Just the thought of a suitcase gives me a stomachache.

I just got back from a trip to Mexico City. I was completely psyched about going, found a flight and bought my ticket. Each document I got (like the flight confirmation, destination information, boarding pass, etc.) I’d carefully put down… somewhere (ok, usually on top of a pile of paper).

folderAfter searching for my flight number once too often, a light bulb went off in my head. Bingo! I needed a “TRIP” folder – one place for every important document. But obviously, I needed more than just a folder. I needed to have a Packing Plan. With help, I managed to do just that.

How does someone who’s casual about day-to-day problems turn into an indecisive, anxiety-ridden mess when faced with preparing for a trip? Packing is a killer, but there’s no way around it. Eventually I had to bite the bullet and start.

Basically, my Packing Plan was a step-by-step guide that raised my confidence and lowered my stress. I admit I’m never exactly relaxed setting out on trip, but this time with my plan, when it was time to go I was ready to grab my bags and walk out the door. Making your own plan isn’t easy, but oh man what a difference it makes. So, roll up your sleeves and let’s get to work.

A Packing Plan

First things first – Make a List.
One more time, say it LOUD –

list-angled-first-mentionMake a List!

(and don’t leave home without it

Bottom line: the more time you spend on your list, the less time you’ll spend packing. “So,” you might ask, “What’s the big deal?” or “How do I make a list?” You can copy mine (download it here) or stick around for the nitty gritty how-to. If you do, you’ll have a custom-made list that’s a perfect fit. You’ve got nothing to lose but the time it takes to read this.

Before you can make a list, you need to answer these questions about your trip. It will help you figure out what to bring and how much to pack.

  1. How many days and nights will you be gone?
  2. What’s the weather forecast for your destination?
  3. What clothes will you need for the activities you have planned – the beach, business, fancy dinners, sightseeing, etc?
  4. What do you use daily? Medication, mobility aid (e.g. a cane), phone, baby wipes (huh? Well, only if you’re traveling with a baby, and that’s a whole other blog!)

Once that’s sorted out, we’re on to the List. Use your answers about weather and activities to fine-tune it. If you’re flying, you’ll probably have a checked bag and a carry-on. Here are the basic items you should pack.



  • Underwear
  • Socks/tights: at least one a day
  • Shoes: two pairs. No fewer, no more
    unless you must. One pair should be comfy,
    but both should be multi-purpose: not too shoddy, not too fancy
    (unless you’re going to a ball one night!)
  • Tops (shirts, blouses, tees, sweaters)2-shoes
  • Bottoms (pants, skirts
  • Outerwear (jacket, coat)
  • Innerwear (exercise clothes, PJ’s)

Personal Care

  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Soap, shampoo
  • Hair brush
  • Hand cream
  • Prescriptions or other medicine (Advil, decongestant, etc.)


  • Check airline rules for allowable size and weight, and for items not allowed on board
  • Meds for the whole trip (it’s safer if they stay with you)pills
  • Photo ID & passport (if needed)
  • Personal care items to use in transit
    • Liquids & gels: maximum 3 oz. each
  • Any electronic devices you want with you
    • Phone, computer, earbuds, etc.
    • Don’t forget chargers!

Traveling clothes & shoes

  • Dress for comfort (pockets are good, too)
  • Sweater or jacket
  • Music, puzzles, a book (something fun to do)
  • Snacks

It’s helpful to make a single sheet with all the information you need in transit: reservation number, terminal, departure & arrival times, flight number, destination address & phone number, etc.

From the List – to a box – to the Suitcase

Packing does not have to be your worst nightmare. The trick is to be methodical and check your list at every step. Start early, go slowly, and above all, don’t panic!

First, put a big box on the floor with your list and a pen close by. As you decide what you’re taking, put it in the box and immediately check it off the list. When most items are accounted for (i.e. in the box), pull out your suitcase, organize the items (checking one more time with your list) and you’re ready to pack. Start at least 2-3 days before leaving. box-to-suitcase-with-shirts
Once the suitcase is ready (or almost), you’re ready to pack the carry-on. Follow the same process: from List and box to Carry-On bag. Put all liquids and gels in a a quart-size plastic bag, and don’t forget to set aside the clothes you plan to wear while traveling.

Every bag should be clearly marked with your name and contact info – inside and out.

Keep these items easily accessible for security checks:

  • The bag of liquids & gels
  • All electronics
  • Your “TRIP” folder with ticket, boarding pass, destination, and packing list.

Arrange your transportation to the airport.

Do yourself a favor. Don’t schlep a suitcase up and down subway steps if you can take a bus, and don’t worry about getting a seat on the bus if you can spring for a cab. Whatever makes you less stressed will also make your trip go more smoothly.

It’s the big day. Are you ready to go?

Stop. Take a breath. Make sure you don’t leave home without these:

  • Meds
  • Photo ID/passport
  • Ticket
  • Wallet 
  • Phone & charger
  • Mobility aid (e.g. cane)
  • Last-minute items
  • Your “TRIP” folder

keysGot something to nosh on? a sweater just in case?  is your transportation to the airport all set? Check that you have all your bags in hand and walk out the door – confident and ready to go.

Travel safely, enjoy your trip, and don’t worry – you can always buy anything if you forgot to pack it!

– Laurie

3 thoughts on “Packing is a Real Trip with a Brain Injury

  1. Jasper Hoogendam January 5, 2017 / 12:54 pm

    I can relate to the need to be intentional. That’s hardest for those who were very easy going before getting an injury that requires detailed planning. It’s not good enough knowing you should make a list. It’s remembering to do it and then doing it.

    I love your line “One more time, say it LOUD –”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Maria Romanas January 23, 2017 / 4:24 pm

    All these tips are wonderful, Laurie. Here are some things I do.

    I used to create a packing list for each individual trip, but I now have a permanent packing list. This packing list is expanded to include what I would need for various types of trips – to warm climate, to cold climate, road trip, trips by plane, etc. I created this list several years ago and sent it to myself on e-mail. This permanent packing list has been invaluable to me.

    I am typically in a hurry to pack, which is almost inevitable since I am typically working up until the moment I need to go. I just search on my e-mail for “packing list” – that way I do not have to remember which folder I put it in when I am in a hurry. I print out the packing list and cross out what I don’t need for this particular trip. Then I start packing what’s left on the list. Usually I can get the job done in about an hour or so.

    It helps that my husband also has in mind that I am going on a trip and usually makes sure that the laundry is done before I need to pack.

    I have a clear plastic make-up bag in which I keep deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, shaver, hair spray, hair product, nail clippers, tweezers, small comb, small hairbrush, etc. I do not unpack this bag between trips. It saves a lot of time and mental energy when I am packing just to throw that into my suitcase.

    I almost always check my luggage and try not to solely use a carry-on. The reason for this is that I do not have to remember to separate fluids into a little baggie for getting through security. I also do not need to go scrounging about looking for these things when I get to my destination. Yes, it costs to check a bag in, but it makes the rest of the trip so much easier.

    I also try to plan my trips so that I am not taking early morning flights or late night flights. Not losing precious hours of sleep is worth paying more for the flight. What’s the point of getting to your destination so tired that you cannot function?

    I always wear tennis shoes or closed shoes with socks when I travel, even in the summer. My balance is not the best, and I often trip or stumble a bit when I am traveling. Closed shoes protect my toes, and socks are nice for getting through security and not having to walk on the bare ground when you have to take your shoes off.

    I find that when I get off a plane, my mind is fuzzy (probably due to decreased oxygen while up in the air) so I sometimes sit down just for a few minutes in the gate area before going on to baggage claim or to the next flight. Another thing I do is to make sure I have adequate time to make a connecting flight. I prefer to wait an hour or two between connecting flights rather than to have to run to make the connection because the first flight has landed late.

    I also have a red folder that I put all my travel documentation in (hotel info, flight itinerary, driving directions, addresses, boarding passes) so I do not lose track of it. I have all of this listed on my packing list as well. I put this folder into the purse that I am carrying on the plane right at the beginning of my packing. I use a larger purse that has an outside zippered pocket so I can get to my travel documents quickly.

    I sometimes attach my ID to my boarding pass with a butterfly office clip so that I am not fumbling when I get to the security checkpoint and so that I do not have to fumble to get the ID back into my wallet until I have completely cleared the security checkpoint and get to my gate.

    Some time ago I went to the fabric section at Walmart and bought a long length of the craziest ribbon I could find (lime green with black polka dots). I tied a piece of that ribbon to all my suitcases and carry-ons. This really helps cut down the stress of having to figure out which bag is mine at baggage claim, and I imagine would make it less likely that someone else would accidentally pick up a bag with such a gaudy ribbon tied to it.

    These are some of the strategies I use to prevent possible problems and cut down the stress of traveling. The more relaxed I am, the better the trip will be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • laurienyc January 23, 2017 / 11:03 pm

      Wow, Maria, your strategies are a great addition. Thank you for offering what works for you, and can help other readers.

      I’ll add one thing to your list from mine: Request a wheelchair. It is definitely a “reasonable” accommodation, and not just because of my balance problems. Without a guide, I lose track of time and space, disoriented – starting with the Security check (where did I put …? which way do I go? What documents…? I can’t find…!), all the way to the gate – crowds, lights, confusion, and exhaustion – trying to navigate my way through the maze to my destination. My mind shuts down – completely overwhelmed and lost. A wheelchair (really the person pushing it) is a lifesaver.

      Thanks again for your input!


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