Imagine this. It’s an average, uneventful week. You’ve got big plans to binge watch your favorite Netflix series this weekend. And your suitcase is in the attic — probably playing hide-and-seek under the Halloween decorations — because you don’t have any travel plans until your vacation in a few months.
Just when you think you’ve got a handle on the next few days, your boss calls you and needs you to hop on a plane tonight for a client meeting tomorrow. Or, your best friend got tickets to a concert or game on the opposite coast, and you can’t miss the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for front row seats. Yes, your last minute flight “bat signal” just went off. And when you’ve got a last minute flight to catch, and not much time to pack, take a deep breath and print this list. We’ve got your back!
First thing, grab your suitcase. Then, set up a packing basecamp in one convenient spot in your house (your bed works great for this since you’ll need easy access to your closet.) Also, try to bring everything you’re going to pack to this one centralized location so that you can see it all together. This will help prevent you from setting something you need to bring on the counter or by the door and then forgetting to grab it in your rush out of the house.
Don’t jump ahead and start cramming things in your suitcase either. Wait until you have everything you need all laid out and then check off the items on your list as you put them in your suitcase. This will help you avoid the, “Did I already pack that-really-important-item?” panic, especially since you’re in a rush.
1. Tune into the Weather Channel. The good thing about a last minute flight or even road trip is that you can check your destination’s weather forecast and it will be somewhat reliable. Rainy? You’ll need a raincoat, boots, and a couple of extra pairs of socks. Cold? Grab a hat, gloves, warm jacket, and again maybe some extra socks to keep your toes toasty. Hot? Lightweight clothes, shorts, t-shirts. And don’t forget your lucky flip-flops. You get the idea, right? You don’t need to pack for every possible weather situation; just pick and choose what you’ll need based on predicted weather.
2. Passport and papers. If you’re flying out of the country, don’t forget your passport. Staying overnight? Print a copy of your hotel reservation.
3. Cover your bases. Send an email to yourself with all of your important travel information.1 This may include a picture of your passport, flight times, confirmations and phone numbers. If for some reason you lose your physical copies, you can still access the information. Plus, by sending it via email you’re covered even if you lose your phone because you can log into your email from another computer, including that dusty desktop in the lonely business center of whatever hotel you’re calling home.
4. Cover the must-haves first. What do you have to have? Some examples include prescription medications (do you need a refill?) or extra contacts. These items aren’t easily procured at the airport shops or once you’ve landed, so do your due diligence ahead of time.
5. Pack specific outfits. If you’ve got a business meeting, you’ll need to pack a full professional outfit; try this method for folding suits or the rolling method for most other clothes.2,3 Or, if your unfortunate traveling circumstance is a funeral, you’ll need to choose a somber outfit. Going to the beach? You’ll need a swimsuit. Think through the events and activities you’ll be doing, and only pack what you have a specific plan to wear.4
6. Maximize each item. Neutrals and solid colors are versatile power houses when you’re tight for time. The same black top can stand alone, but can also be paired under a sweater for two different looks. You can wear dark pants more than one time so you only need to pack a couple of pairs, making sure to bring at least one back-up in case you spill.
7. Don’t go shoe crazy. This is a last minute flight, not the runway at Fashion Week. So, what pair do you find yourself wearing in the most circumstances? Grab those. Those neutral clothes you picked? Pick an equally versatile shoe, stuff them with socks to maximize space, and off you go. You get to wear an additional pair on the plane, but you probably don’t need several additional pairs.
8. Don’t forget to power up! While you can probably find a phone charger on the go, that’s the last thing you want to be worried about as you rush to make your connection. If you’re taking your laptop be sure to grab that charger also. Pack a universal adapter if you’re traveling internationally to make sure you can charge your devices once you land. (Don’t worry, we have an electrical conversion guide.)
9. Follow the rules (At least the TSA-enforced ones): Just because it’s a last minute flight doesn’t give you an excuse to flout protocol. When it comes to liquids, according to TSA you can carry on a clear quart-sized bag filled with mini toiletries as long as they’re each less than 3.4 ounces.5 Anything more than that and you’ll have to stow them in a checked bag. If you’re sticking with a carry-on bag only, know what you can pack and what to leave behind. There is no bigger time suck than trying to get through airport security with a carry-on full of items that they have to confiscate. Need to double check? You can access TSA’s full list here.
Remember, prioritize items that you cannot do without for a last minute flight, such as your travel paperwork, prescriptions, and event-appropriate attire. If you happen to forget a toothbrush in the mad dash out the door, you can always pick one up in your travels. Stick to this list and you’ll be packed and ready to jet off in no time!