There's lots articles on vacation packing out there and this post is not meant to be a summary or a comprehensive checklist. But there are some things we've found helpful so you can make your own vacation packing list.
One big determinant of what to pack is the weather. So check it out ahead of time. There's lots of websites that can give you a 5 or 10 day forecast for where you'll be going. And don't forget to look at sites that provide historical averages of temperatures (min, max, average) and precipitation (inches per month). Some good ones are Weather Underground and Intellicast.
Are you staying on the beach the entire vacation? Packing maybe as easy as sandals, bathing suit and tops and cover ups. But that won't cut it if you are going out to the opera one night. On most river cruises, "country club casual" is appropriate for dining venues - collared shirts and dress pants (Dockers are fine), maybe a sweater or jacket. So think about the appropriate dress for your specific location; go through each day's itinerary to be sure you haven't forgotten a specific venue.
Events and activities
Think through the types of events and activities you plan on participating in. Fancy dinners in Vienna call for different clothes than day long hikes in Alaska. Think through each excursion you plan on doing and what clothes would make sense. Most supplliers (cruise lines, tour operators) will provide appropriate wear guidelines on their websites.
It's one thing to be dressed appropriately but another to be uncomfortable. I err on the side of comfort for my vacations and always bring comfortable shoes and soft shirts. Bring sweaters that you feel comfortable in. If I can I bring my own pillow I do - anything to get a good night's rest.
This is what gets a lot of people - they forget about belts, hats (sun or cold weather), gloves, scarfs, night wear, cuff-lings, jewelry or pins, sunglasses, sunscreen and medicines. And don't forget about charging each of your various electronic devices. We try to bring an extension cord with us since outlets are never in the right place. And don't forget electrical converters if you're traveling overseas. These "details" can be a major inconvenience if not packed.
Length of stay and laundry facilities
How to pack for 2 - 3 weeks away? We don't. For these more extended vacations, we simply pack for 7 - 10 days and then find a laundry facility. We don't leave it to chance however - do some research to find the facilities closest to where you'll be. Many ships have laundry facilities and some of the higher categories will actually include laundry services. Many laundromats also include delivery, sorting and folding services so that you simply leave your laundry in a bag. And of course hotels will be happy to provide this service as well (just watch out for the costs).
If you're an exerciser be sure to bring appropriate gym equipment. Try to bring the newer fabrics that can be washed in the sink and dry very quickly. I've seen people bring their own packable yoga mat so that they can do their own session wherever they want. If you run, make sure you bring weather appropriate gear.
Keys to packing
So once you've thought about the weather, your surroundings, events, duration, comfort and if you will exercise - what's next? Here are some keys to vacation packing:
Plan ahead (know the weather, your expected activity, your surroundings)
Plan to dress in layers
Always bring a rain coat / windbreaker
Plan for only 1 or 2 color schemes to enable mix and match
For cold weather - bring silk undergarments (very light weight and effective)
Consider leaving extra room in your luggage so you can easily bring back any gifts you buy while away.
Packing is one of those tasks that many people hate - especially if they don't do it right. A great travel agent can help you address each of the categories above by setting expectations and advising what other clients have worn. This post provides a list of things to think about so you can make your own vacation packing list. With a little planning, you can make your trip even more enjoyable by packing right.