I usually pack in a frenzy. Sweaters lie strewn across the floor. T-shirts go in, then out, of the bag. I ponder anew what should be with me vs. in my checked luggage. Before I realize it, four hours have passed, morning isn't far away, and I'm about to get jet-lagged even if I'm not changing time zones.

Despite some improvement, packing for my family's annual Thanksgiving trip to New Orleans was only slightly better this year.

"I need three pairs of shoes, Mom," declared my 9-year-old. I took a deep breath, allowed her what I considered an indulgence, found the space in her suitcase and then turned to stuffing my own week-plus wardrobe into one small rectangular cube.

That's when I determined I needed four pairs of shoes. (For the record, I packed two.)

We make this trip yearly, so why do I struggle every time to figure out what to bring?

I could blame confusion that stems from the weather. Last year, a heat wave found my daughter playing soccer in jeans pulled up into makeshift shorts. I could blame the brain clutter caused by my impulse to bring every outfit I think is cute (one I eventually overcome). But, really, it comes down to a lack of attention.

This year, I checked the 10-day forecast for the city (shorts went into the suitcase). In another vast improvement, I did the bulk of my packing a few days before departure.

But next year's packing job promises to be a breeze. Why? I'm making a list of what we use on the trip, what we wish we had and what stays neatly tucked away in the suitcase. That list, when I pull it out next year, will be handy and, no doubt, make me deeply thankful.

Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on Twitter @kerriwestenberg.