Packing Tips

The Art of Travel Packing

Over packing

Yes, that was me!

Do and Don’t of Packing, any trip, any time.  

After 45 years of traveling, I’m finally getting the knack of packing. 
Here’s the deal, multiple or large suitcases limit you, cause you unnecessary stress, zap energy, are an albatross —- unless you have a handy porter on hand.   Husbands don’t count – they get grumpy carrying all your stuff.

Nothing about travel is easy, and airline luggage fees are just the beginning. Massive airports requiring shuttle trains to get from A to B, broken elevators and escalators,  long check-in and security lines,  congested gate areas, full planes with limited overhead storage, flight delays, and short connections, make travel exhausting and frustrating.

My packing epiphany came a few years ago when I met my sister in Rome for a 10-night vacation.  
After picking up my bags on arrival, I saw my younger sister with her smart little rolling duffel bag  and a cute backpack pocketbook.  Alternatively, I was juggling a slightly larger than carry-on size suitcase, a small carry-on, and a backpack! My suitcases fit on top on one another, but you know how well that works! I was the more experienced traveler so what was wrong with this picture?

We made it to our hotel by public transportation, but that was only the beginning. After three days in Rome we were taking a train to Naples, then a bus to Praiano where we rented a lovely apartment overlooking the Meditteranean, the entrance was up 142 steps!!! What was I thinking?  The good news, I learned a valuable, indeed life- changing, lesson.

Tips on how to pack, so you don’t need to hire a sherpa!

1. Choose a sturdy, carry-on size, 4-wheel spinner, and medium size, secure, backpack or handbag. I prefer a backpack because it leaves my hands free with less chance of losing it. (Note: There are backpacks with the zipper on your back so less likely broken into.) Limit yourself to these two pieces and choose what you need to pack carefully.

2. Take the time to create a “to-do” and packing list ( I put mine in an excel spreadsheet, it’s easy to print for every trip.)
Divide the list into sections:

1. Before you go (Inform credit card companies, have your mail held, etc.)
2. Relevant papers and electronics (passport, phone, iPad, chargers, camera, etc.)
3. Carry-on backpack (Media, neck pillow, etc.)
4. Clothing list (add clothing for every occasion so you can check off what you need depending on the trip: beach vacation, city travel,  adventure, warm weather or cold weather.  (Bathing suit, raincoat, etc.)
5. Cosmetics, this list should be well thought out with all occasions covered, however, consider your actual needs when packing. Unless you are in the wilds of Africa or hiking in the Andes, you can buy what you need when you get there.

TIP: Don’t let liquids dictate whether you carry on or not. Use small containers for necessities the first day or so, and buy anything else when you get there.

3. Each trip is different, look at the length and character of your journey. How will you be traveling? Moving most nights, or in one place? What will the weather be like in your location? Will you need dressy clothes, a bathing suit? A warm coat, rain gear? Will you have an option to send out laundry or wash clothes in your hotel or apartment with time to dry?

TIP: A smartphone can substitute for a camera, guidebook, maps, flashlight, kindle, video player, and much more.

2. If you are moving about, or have various activities planned, make a chart of each day of your trip, where you’ll be, what is on the agenda (touring, beach, traveling from one place to another, a special event)?
A daily chart will help you think about your possible needs (Bathing suit, rain gear, layers, a dressy outfit)?

3. Choose a color palette, start with a basic black, beige, or navy, then work around it. I usually have black as my primary and add white, beige or gray tops, then perhaps a colorful sweater or jacket. The trick is to add scarves and jewelry to change it up, or dress it up, and give some variety.

8. Plan on layers – this is especially true when you’re in different climates on one trip. For instance, France in September was cool in Paris, warm in Provence. Same clothes, just different layers. Or Peru in July was cold in the Andes, warm in the lower elevations.

5. Check bag or carry-on? As I get older, it’s harder for me to lift my suitcase into the overhead bins.  I hesitate to ask for help, and I’m afraid one day I’ll injure myself or drop the bag on someone’s head!  There are times when due to scheduling I don’t have a choice, so I suck it up and ask for help. When I have plenty of time and no connection, I’m happy to let the airline take care of it and leave the overhead to those who need it. 

9. I roll my clothes and tuck them into every spare inch. It’s amazing what you can fit into a carry-on size if you take the time. If I roll carefully the clothes stay amazingly wrinkle free.  For trips when you’ll be moving from place to place, I use extra large plastic ziplock bags.  These work as well as commercial packing cubes.

11. Laundry? Laundry service at a hotels or cruise lines can be expensive, but if you’re traveling for 2+ weeks with a carry-on, you’ll need to find a way to wash clothes somehow. When I was in Peru, I washed clothes in the sink almost every night. It was very dusty {who knew} and my clothes got dirty a lot faster than I planned. The secret is to roll the clothes in a towel and squeeze out all the moisture so they’ll dry overnight. I got away with bringing fewer clothes and looked okay.

12.  Cruises.    Light packing works on cruises too – which is a whole different topic. If you have transportation and will be going straight to and from the ship, you can be a little more generous with your packing.
If not follow the same packing rules.

When necessary, I wash clothes in the sink and hang them in the shower or closet on hangers.  Dressing for dinner I wear a pair of black pants and black top,  colorful scarves/shawls and jewelry change the look.  For dressy shoes, I have a pair of lightweight ballet flats with sparkles on them. They pack easily, weigh nothing, and add a little sparkle. I fit in and look dressy without having to pack a steamer truck.

12. The bottom line  – you must be serious about asking “Do I need this?  What’s the chance I’ll need it often enough to carry it?”   I’m talking about things like an umbrella, raincoat, bathing suit, heels, hat, and gloves, etc. When space is tight, you have to scrutinize everything. Can I manage without it? In the unlikely event I’ll need it, can I buy it there rather than carting it around for two weeks just in case?

Smart packing is a huge topic for a good reason.  There’s a plethora of information on the web,  and several sites dedicated solely to packing.   Until some young wunderkind develops teleportation, we’re stuck with air travel and lugging our belongings.  Learning to pack smartly will make your travel less stressful and give you more freedom.

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