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Maybe you've heard that advice that says to put everything you plan to take on your trip on your bed, then remove half of it. But how do you even know what you should place on your bed in the first place? One way to stay organized and avoid forgetting things is to use a packing list.


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People use all sorts of methods to create packing lists, so it's no surprise that there are quite a few apps to help you create packing lists that are available for your smartphone and tablet.


The Packing (+TO DO!) and Packing Pro apps by Quinn Genzel are two iOS apps that let you create packing lists. Do you travel to the Disney parks regularly? Consider creating some packing lists—not just for big trips, but smaller lists for taking things into the park.

First, the pros for using a packing list:

  • Lets you note what you need to take.
  • Prevents you from forgetting something important.
  • Lets you daydream about your dream vacation, like to Walt Disney World or a Disney cruise.
  • Particularly good when packing for others in addition to yourself, including children.

Cons:

  • Requires preparation in advance.
  • Takes some of the spontaneity out of traveling.
  • If you aren't careful, you could wind up going overboard and adding way too many things in your packing list.

In our app review today, we take a look at two iOS apps: Packing (+TO DO!) and its more robust version, Packing Pro.

How the App Works

The two flavors of the Packing app are very similar. The less expensive Packing (+TO DO!) costs 99 cents, while the more robust Packing Pro is $2.99 (descriptions here apply to both apps unless specified).


The Packing app is pretty intuitive. Tapping around lets you see what you can do. Once you create a number of packing lists, they all populate the main page.

The app lets you create packing list for whatever purpose you have. The most obvious is for a big vacation trip to, say Walt Disney World, but it can be a simple packing list for all the things your child needs for summer camp, or even for a dream vacation you haven't booked yet. Packing lets you customize packing lists, specify how many of what items you need, who they're for, and check them off as you pack them.


The Create New List screen lets you choose how to create your packing list. The asterisks on the 99-cent Packing app indicate that these features require an upgrade.


The same Create New List in the $2.99 Packing Pro app includes all features, including Expert Help and importing from iTunes. Note the features do not have asterisks next to them.

Starting from scratch can be pretty daunting, so Packing helps you by providing some sample packing lists to help you get started (Packing (+TO DO!) includes four sample packing lists; Packing Pro includes eight). Not only does this help save you some time, but it also gives you ideas ("Why didn't I think about packing that?").

Finally, both apps have a master catalog that includes hundreds of items and to-do tasks (Packing (+TO DO!) has 400 items; Packing Pro has over 800). This catalog is organized by category, type, and item, making it easier to find. This catalog is also customizable.

Both apps are universal apps, so they work on both the iPhone (and iPod Touch) and iPad. The iPad version actually has a pretty nice layout and design that makes far better use of the larger screen.

When you first start using the app, the sample packing lists are the easiest and fastest way to go. From the home screen, tap My Lists > from a sample packing list, and choose from male, female, light, and super light lists. Packing Pro also includes sample lists for couples, families, business, and camping trips. If you create a packing list from a template, you're almost done. All you have to do is go through the list in advance and delete the items you know you won't need to pack. As with other iOS apps, swiping an item from left to right displays a Delete button. The lists include things for international travel, for example, so you can safely delete items like passports and international driver's licenses from your list. Note that swiping them out of your list does not remove these items from the master catalog; you can always re-add them if you find out your trip to Florida will include an extra trip to the Bahamas (woo hoo!).


When you select a template, you see four pre-made lists from which to choose.


The Packing Pro version includes an additional four template packing lists, including couple, family, business, and camping trips.

One feature only available in the Packing Pro app is the expert help when creating new lists. When you tap to create a new packing list, tapping "with Expert help" lets you specify the number of male adults, number of female adults, and the number of children. You can also specify how many days your trip is for, whether the temperature will be cold, mild, or hot, whether you are traveling within the country or overseas, whether you plan to prepare your own food or eat out, and even whether you will be doing the laundry by hand or with a machine.


The Expert List in Packing Pro helps you further customize your packing list.

Let's say you're planning two trips to Walt Disney World; one as a big holiday family reunion with everyone staying at a DVC resort, with another trip for just your spouse and children. The expert help feature can let you specify two different packing lists, even if you're going to the same place.


Once you choose a template, you can name your packing list. If you already know when you are traveling, you can set the date as well.

My favorite feature is list sharing. From within your packing list, tap on the gear icon at the top and choose the share icon. You can then share your packing list via email with others, or you can email it to yourself to print out. All the items in your list appear, but those items you've already checked off in your packing list actually get a little checkmark on the side. If you're the type to want a printed packing list to include in your bag, this is an easy way to do it.


Discard items from the template that you know you won't need, by simply swiping the item to display the Delete button. Tap Delete, and the item is removed from your packing list. Doing this does not remove the item from the master catalog or future templates.


As you pack up your items, start tapping on the boxes on the left to check them off. A green checkmark appears, and the text grays out.

If your family members or travel partners also use the Packing App, you can even share the list in app form (this is also the way to share this across multiple devices). This might be good if you are organizing a family reunion trip.


You can export your packing list (either in its entirety or by sections/categories) via the Share icon. This allows you to email the list to others, or print it out easily by emailing it to yourself (and printing either from within your email program or by copying and pasting into a text program). Note that items you have already packed are already checked off.

Observations

A packing list typically requires a bit of organization. Some people, like my husband, never use a packing list. This works for him because he doesn't carry much, and has the philosophy of "if I forget it, I can buy one when I get there." I also know people who use a packing list to help whittle down what they need because otherwise they wind up taking too much stuff.

Although these Packing apps on their own won't help you pack less, it will help you figure out what you do need to take. And actually, as someone who helps people learn how to travel lightly, I am particularly delighted that the apps include "light" and "super light" sample lists. If you have an extended weekend trip or you want to try to travel with just a carry-on bag, I strongly encourage you to give both of those lighter lists a try.

There are quite a few packing apps at the iTunes App Store, but Quinn Genzel's Packing (+TO DO!) and Packing Pro apps are, in my opinion, leaders in the category. The apps are updated regularly, and based on reading the app's web page, it's obvious there was a lot of effort put into not only the app, but the user manual as well. In fact, a "hidden gem" for this app is its amazing documentation (hidden under the "Support" tab at the website). In these days when it's hard to find enough information on software, such comprehensive documentation is a real plus, and the user guide for these apps will help you discover everything you will want to know about how to make the most of these apps.

What Packing Pro has that Packing (+To Do) and does not

So is it worth spending an extra $2 to pay for the more robust Packing Pro app? Take a look at these additional features you get when you upgrade:

  • When creating a new list, Packing Pro includes an "expert help" feature.
  • The current version of Packing Pro includes full iCloud auto-sync support, which is great if you have both an iPhone and iPad. With the larger screen, it may be easier to set up your packing list on your iPad, but having the portability of an iPhone during your travels is very convenient.
  • Ability to import and export your packing list as a CSV (comma-separated value) file that you can open in a spreadsheet program on your computer or other device.
  • File sharing of both the packing list and contents of your master catalog
  • Twice as many sample packing lists
  • Smart list assistant that creates lists based on your trip specifications (number of people, ages of children, etc.).

You will likely be happy with the 99-cent version of the app if you don't have more than one iOS device that needs to be synced together, and you don't travel more than once or twice a year. If you travel more often than that, especially if they are for different types of trips (such as camping trips, family vacations, and business trips), then the extra $2 is definitely worth the upgrade. For less than the price of a cup of coffee, you get considerably more bang for your two bucks.

If you download the 99-cent version and decide you want the extras in the Packing Pro version, you can easily upgrade the Packing (+TO DO!) app so that you only need to pay for the upgrade, instead of the full $2.99 price. And for 99 cents, this is a very handy little app.

App Tester Observations

What do our panel of app testers think about these apps?

Janis K. from Calgary, Alberta (Canada) writes:

I used Packing Pro on my iPad 2. It loaded quickly and ran smoothly. It was very intuitive and easy to use.

I created several packing lists, both from sample lists and from scratch. Either way was easy, but I found that having the sample lists reminded me of some items and tasks that I might otherwise have forgotten.

There is an excellent range of sample packing lists to choose from and the catalog is extensive. The super light sample list was perfect for me and needed very little modification. If what you want isn't already in the catalog, it is very easy to add items.

There were several features that I hadn't seen before and that I found very useful. One was the mid-trip and after-trip to-do lists. I also liked the different ways that the list could be shared and use iCloud syncing. I emailed a packing list for Cuba to a friend. She was very impressed with my early planning. Since she is not an experienced light packer, she was grateful for the guidance the list provided.

I have already recommended this app to several friends and would recommend it to anyone. Extremely useful! I plan to buy a copy for my brother who tends to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, into a huge bag whenever he travels. Perhaps this will help him to be more systematic.

Chris M. from San Francisco writes:

I downloaded the $0.99 version of the app. Since it works on both the iPhone as well as the iPad it was on both devices (iPhone 4 and iPad 2).

To play with the app I used it to start planning for my trip to Orlando for MouseAdventure World Explorers IV! This is a bit of a unique trip since I have to go on a business trip upon leaving Orlando. Since I have to pack a variety of items this app was great to help focus me on organizing all the things needed for both pleasure and business travels.

I liked that the app has categories as well as items to do, arrange or pack. I found the master catalog to be very comprehensive and adding things to the catalog pretty easy (had to add my Annual Passes as required documents!).

I began building my packing list on my iPad and it became immediately apparent that the biggest limitation of the $0.99 version is that my created list would not sync with my phone.

Building the initial packing list does take a little time but the ability to reuse created lists for future trips will greatly increase the utility of the app. I also like that it had a gadget category. Since I often travel with photography gear it is nice that I can build some packing lists to make sure I bring the gear I want or need.

I expect that I will use this app quite a bit and will likely upgrade to the Packing Pro to add some of the additional functionality.

Rick K. writes:

For such a simple idea, Packing is a great app. I always use my phone when making a packing list. Usually I just make a note, and go through it as I pack to make sure I get what I listed. This app goes above and beyond that and is a great help. Being able to check off items that are packed is easy and smart.

The app loads very quickly and I experienced no crashes as I used it. The interface is simple and easy to use and understand. I like that you can make your own items and categories. One category that is not included is camping equipment. I thought this would be built into the app. I go camping very frequently, and that is when I use packing lists the most. [Editor's note: A template for camping is available in the Packing Pro version of the app.]

Overall I think the app is great. A good idea and well executed.

I used an iPhone 5 on iOS 6 for this app test.

App at a glance:

  • App name: Packing (+TO DO!) and Packing Pro
  • Developed by: Quinnscape (Quinn Genzel, developer)
  • Platforms: iOS 5.0 or later iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
  • Cost: Packing (+TO DO!) 99 cents; Packing Pro $2.99. In-app upgrade from Packing to Packing Pro: $1.99
  • Version reviewed: 8.2 Packing Pro; 11.2 Packing (+TO DO!)
  • Size: 30.5 MB Packing Pro; 15.6 MB Packing (+TO DO!)
  • Available from Quinnscape.com
  • Pros: Intuitive interface; thorough and excellent documentation; shareable; templates make list-creation far less daunting; master catalog exhaustive, regular updates
  • Cons: No built-in Bluetooth printing, no completely free version
  • Lani's rating: 4.5 out of 5 for ease of use, availability of two tiers (and ability to upgrade from within 99-cent version). Misses by a half star for not having a completely free version.


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(Send an email to Lani Teshima)

A Hawaii ex-patriate, Lani is our resident copy editor who is a technical writer for a San Francisco Bay Area software company by day. When Lani is not managing the copy editing tasks here, she's out running and training for marathons. After completing all the runDisney half-marathons in 2013, she successfully completed the Walt Disney Marathon Dopey Challenge in January 2014, and is now a regular marathoner. She also maintains her internationally recognized Travelite FAQ. In the occasional spare moment, Lani and her husband, Alex attend baseball games, and drive down to Disneyland.