Shortly after I got my first Macintosh, back in early 1984, I was heading out for a camping trip. No, I wasn’t going to take the expensive/fragile/non-portable Mac, but I did realize that it would be a convenient way to make a list of things I needed to take. I always made such lists, but before the Mac I usually did them on paper as it was just too cumbersome to use the tools available on other machines of the era. I don’t actually remember specifically, but I must have used MacWrite. The next time I traveled, I realized that using the existing list as a starting point would be helpful. Over the years, I have rarely deleted things but have added to the list whenever I travel. As computers became more portable and then mobile, I could even amend the list when, at my destination, I had an “Oh, snap: I should have packed a wine opener” moment.

I’ve used many tools, including MacWrite, Nisus Writer, Acta (an outliner for early Macintosh systems), OmniOutliner, Opal (essentially the elegantly-simple Acta resurrected for newer systems) and now my beloved Standard Notes with the checklist extension. I’m no longer using anything that locks me in to Apple’s (or Microsoft’s or Google’s or Adobe’s or Amazon’s) proprietary walled gardens.

The list now has decades of accumulated wisdom. There are, not surprisingly, many things on the list that won’t apply to any given trip, but I find that easy to deal with. Step 1 is to bring up the list, uncheck everything, then rapidly go through the list and check off everything that won’t apply to this trip. The list includes camping equipment and formal wear (I actually took one trip where I needed both), stuff for my (now adult) children who now take care of their own packing, stuff I’ll need only if I’m going to an IT conference… you get the picture. It’s all there. So I start out by dispensing with the things I obviously won’t need. It takes just seconds. Then I go back to the top, and start packing and checking off. I’ll skip some things that I don’t want to pack right away (the computer is usually last).

At this point, you might be wanting to see my list. I think not. I can’t think of anything on it that would be embarrassing or problematic, but it still somehow feels too personal.

Start your own! I recommend a program that lets you synchronize your list between a keyboard-based computer and a handheld mobile device, as each has their place in both the packing and maintenance phases. It’s also nice to be able to group items, which the outliners did nicely but Standard Notes does not (but it’s otherwise just so cool that I can live without groups). It’s essential that you be able to check off packed items in some fashion, but still ressurect them for the next trip. I would also lean toward programs that won’t trap your data: make sure data is stored in a non-proprietary format or, at least, is easily exportable.

The important thing, though, is to get started.


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