Pack It In: tips for all types of travel
"He who would travel happily must travel light."
–Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Preparing for travel can be lot of fun—looking online at all the wonderful places you'll visit, planning all the delicious meals you'll enjoy, anticipating the fun new experiences you will have. But one thing about getting ready for a trip stresses out just about everyone—packing.
Figuring out what to pack, how much to pack and most importantly, how to avoid paying those dreaded excess baggage fees, it's almost enough to make us want to stay home.
Some basic rules can help make the process simpler, and less expensive.
• Plan ahead. Make a list, and lay your items out ahead of time. This allows you to see what outfits you have, how pieces can be combined, and where you can pare down. Most importantly, you won't end up with nine pairs of socks and no shoes to wear them with.
• Pick a base color and work around it. Many people choose navy blue or black (or khaki for summer) and then add tops/shirts and accessories to complete outfits. This way you can mix and match, creating many more options with less pieces.
• Use fabrics that travel well (i.e. wrinkle-free), and where possible, items that can be laundered on the road if needed. Many companies make synthetic fabrics that are lightweight, resist wrinkles, and can be hand-washed and dried overnight. L.L. Bean, ExOfficio, Magellan, TravelSmith, Chico's, Tilley, REI, and many others specialize in clothing made to look good and travel to every conceivable climate in the world, from the desert to the Antarctic.
• Layering is key, so pack pieces that work together and can be layered up or down as weather dictates.
• When packing—roll, don't fold. This helps keep items wrinkle-free, gives you more luggage space, and makes it easier to see what you have in your suitcase. If you're packing in a backpack or deep duffel bag, consider placing a rubber band around each rolled item so they stay together while inside and are easier to grab and move.
• Place socks inside shoes, and put shoes into plastic bags. This gives you a way to pack them later when soiled.
• Consider packing cubes. They come in many sizes and allow you to group small items together (like underwear, socks or t-shirts), and can also keep dirty clothes separate.
• For ladies, the most versatile item you can pack is a lovely scarf. It dresses up any outfit, covers your head or shoulders when chilly, can be a blanket when sleeping, and even a hand-towel if needed.
• Know your airline's size rules before you pack. Sizes and weight limits for carry-on and checked luggage often differ between domestic and international flights, and differ between airlines. Many overseas airlines are very strict with rules. One inch or one pound over the limit can net you a $100 fee. Ouch!
• Hard side or soft side, expandable or not—choose luggage that best fits your travel style. Hard-sided luggage protects the contents, where soft-sided are versatile with many pockets and compartments. Both hard and soft versions can be expandable. Make sure you can lift and carry it—even up stairs, as there may not always be porters to assist you while traveling.
• Always put a luggage tag on any checked bag, including your name and phone number. If you are worried about losing your luggage and want to be able to track it, consider the new RFID tags for luggage that allow you to locate your bags anywhere in the world. Several airlines are about to launch RFID in their bag tags—once fully operational, they should dramatically reduce lost baggage.
• Rolling suitcases are wonderful and can fit any budget. They are made with either two or four wheels, and devotees of both types will tout their superiority. The four wheeled "spinner" style can make trips through the airport much easier, as well as the boarding process, as these bags can roll sideways down an airplane aisle. Remember, the weakest points in any suitcase are the wheels, zippers, and handles, so look for quality pieces that can survive more than one trip around the luggage carousel. If you travel a lot, high quality/higher-priced bags with strong warranties may be a better option over the long run.
• Luggage locks should always be TSA approved, but beware—a determined thief can bypass them, so keep all valuables in your carry-on luggage.
• Keep all valuables and important papers with you at all times. This includes passports and travel documents, electronic devices (and their chargers/adapters), medications, car/house keys, and anything else you cannot live without for an undetermined amount of time.
• Pack at least one set of clothing in your carry-on, so if your checked luggage is delayed, you have something else to wear. Include any toiletries and cosmetics you need as well.
• Remember the 3-1-1- rules and pack liquids and gels in a clear plastic bag, per TSA requirements. Visit the TSA website for a complete updated list.
• Pack an empty bottle that you can fill with water after passing security.
• Socks, an eye mask, and ear plugs can also help for long flights.
Remember, most places you visit have stores, so if you really do forget something important—you can always buy it there. And then you have a fun memory of buying that special item to add to your collection!