"Every journey has a secret destination of which the traveler is unaware."
Even as a seasoned traveler and travel writer, packing still poses problems. Next to the headache of current day airline security, it is the least favorite part of my trip. But over the past two decades, I have learned a few tips that might help you pack smarter so you can concentrate on enjoying the destination.
- Find great luggage in several sizes. One size does not fit all when it comes to luggage. I recommend you invest in at least two bags. I prefer wheeled bags and have one in a 22 inch size that will easily fit in the overhead compartment of most airplanes and a 24 inch version that I check. I use the smaller bag for trips of up to one week--it has an expandable compartment for souvenirs and shopping. I use the larger bag for longer trips, especially those abroad or during winter, when clothing is bulkier. Check out the Modus line from Jansport--stylish, smart and in great colors (sold at Mori Luggage). Be sure and label your bag well: both inside and outside, in case it is lost in transit.
- Keep a packing list. I keep a list of everything I need to pack on my computer. The basic list includes clothing, medicine, electronics and miscellaneous items such as a corkscrew. I have add-on lists for specific types of vacations which require specific equipment, such as a dive or hiking trip. I print out my list and check off the items as I pack to ensure I don't forget anything.
- Pack light. When in doubt, leave it out. That includes blow dryers (most hotels have them or you can air dry your hair) and travel irons, but also clothing. My rule of thumb: pack, then edit two days before the trip, aiming to cut back your stash by half or a third. Trust me, you will not miss an extra shirt or pair of jeans.
- But do accessorize creatively. You can look very chic in the same outfit, with a clever change of jewelry, scarf, shoes or belt.
- Don't leave home without them. A few items are always worth packing because of their functionality. For me these include: Ziploc bags (in several sizes, great for storing wet gear or preventing leakage of toiletries); a corkscrew; an oversized plug and laundry detergent for hand washing small items in the sink (many sinks leaf, so you need the plug); a sewing kit; a tiny umbrella; a sleep mask (many hotel rooms are not sufficiently dark enough to sleep in) and ear plugs (or too noisy); a candle (eliminates musty or smoky odors in hotel rooms); superglue (a lifesaver for broken nails or repairing a loose wheel on baggage); duct tape (covers what superglue doesn't); a small flashlight; copies of my itinerary, passport and health card; a small tube of Vaseline (for dry lips, feet, hands); granola bars, nuts, dark chocolate bars and single-serving cans of tuna (you are rarely fed on planes these days and airport food is notoriously bad).
- Keep a duplicate toiletry kit ready to go. I find it is much easier to keep an always-packed bag of essentials: moisturizer, cleanser, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and toothbrush, makeup, razor and q-tips instead of packing and unpacking for each trip.
- Think small. Trial or travel sizes are available in everything from makeup to hair products to mouthwash and aspirin. Check out www.minimus.biz for a great selection of your favorite full-size products in miniature.
- Stick to a color scheme. Traveling is about simplifying and packing is infinitely easier if you decide to pack only items that coordinate with each other. Start with a neutral (black, brown, white, tan or gray) and then add two accent colors. I have traveled for a month with black, red and turquoise clothing and accessories and looked great the whole time--everything coordinated with everything else.
- Organize your belongings. Pack your suitcase from the bottom up, placing the heaviest items (shoes or sporting equipment) on the bottom and then layer in clothing. To minimize wrinkles and protect against a bag that gets caught in a downpour on the tarmac, I put my apparel inside a garbage bag. Socks, belts and scarves can fill in the gaps in your bag. For longer trips, I swear by Eagle Creek's Pack-It Cubes, which help organize t-shirts, pants, skirts, sweaters and undergarments. You remove bulk by rolling the contents into removable "drawers," soft, see-through mesh cubes that come in small, medium, large and jumbo sizes. They are especially helpful for couples or families sharing a suitcase. You can find them online or at REI.
- Never check valuables. I do lock my bags (with the new TSA-approved locks, which will not be broken by security personnel but rather opened with a special key). But I always tote my travel documents, journal, glasses, jewelry, business cards, medications, camera, laptop and cell phone in my carry-on, packets of Emer-gen-C (buy it at GNC to stave off a cold or shorten flu), along with a paperback book that I leave at my destination for the next traveler. Some travelers carry a change of clothing as peace of mind.
- Smart strategies for traveling abroad. American currency is welcomed most anywhere, particularly in poorer nations. If I am traveling overseas, I keep a lot of crisp, new single dollar bills ($50-$100 worth) to tip and bargain with--the greenback works wonders at markets. In developing countries, you can give children stickers, pens or hard candy in lieu of cash--and brighten their days to come. A universal adaptor is a necessity for converting power--and for $25 or so you can get one that works anywhere on the globe. Try Brookstone or Sharper Image.