First, let me thank my website designer Lindsay for the topic for this week’s blog post. It’s a good jumping-off point for my new series of travel blogs. While I’m not an expert on how to pack for a trip, I have learned a few things over the years, and the hard way. When I left home for college, I packed very few clothes because I planned to shop once I arrived back in the US, and because after living in the tropics most of my teenage years, I didn’t own any winter clothes. My freshman year in Tennessee would certainly demand more than sleeveless dresses, shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops.
While in college I gave little or no thought to how much luggage I hauled back and forth on vacations, as I paid a skycap to assist me or I rented a baggage cart at the airport. This was prior to the popularity of roller bags—a wonderful invention and a shoulder and back saver. Often, when I flew home from some overseas location, I would have several checked bags, most loaded with items requested by my brothers, such as the latest music or the most current novels for my mother, who was an avid reader. No e-books then. Even the longest trip of my lifetime—from Eugene, Oregon to Swakopmund, Namibia—was no challenge when it came to dragging around several suitcases. I checked my bags curbside, and if I was over the baggage size/number limit, Dad paid for them. Thank goodness for the generosity of parents.
However, it was during my college days in Oregon that I learned to pack light. And I learned it the hard way, on a two-week-long backpacking trip near Mt. Hood. When you have to carry it on your back for miles and for weeks, you learn quickly what is really necessary and important to your existence.
After we relocated from California to Texas, my husband began traveling frequently for business—both domestically and internationally. As a freelance writer, I had the flexibility in my schedule to join him at almost a moment’s notice. On my second European trip, I shunned a backpack in favor of a roller bag and packed light, a smart decision, especially when we arrived in Innsbruck. Our hotel was situated in the city center, and the parking garage was blocks away. Later, we discovered that the hotel had a drop-off point, which would have made this chore easier, but suffice it to say we took the difficult way out. I mean, how far could the hotel really be from the garage? We soon found out, and I was glad I had packed light.
Some friends I know own and love their Minaal and Tortuga backpacks, but as I mentioned, I prefer to roll, not carry, my bag. However, I do pack a small lightweight backpack for day trips, and it comes in handy for toting new purchases home, as long as we don’t exceed the bag’s weight limit, which we’ve done on occasion. If this occurs, we purchase a soft duffel or tote. When I pack for a trip, any trip, I limit myself to two bags: one roller and one tote. On outbound flights, I may or may not check my roller. On return flights, if we have made purchases, we usually have checked baggage.
My roller bag is nothing fancy, but it has logged thousands of miles and served me well. It is a Samsonite Southbridge 21” Spinner and is carry-on size. I chose red for easy visibility, and I have a custom name tag—an orange roadrunner—for quick identification. The fabric is durable, lightweight polyester, and the bag weighs a shade over nine pounds. It has four multidirectional spinner wheels for 360-degree upright rolling, so there is no weight on your arm. My model has a handle on the top, side, and bottom, which comes in handy for grabbing it off a moving luggage carousel while trying to dodge a mass of tourists intent upon doing the same thing. It also makes for a quick terminal exit.
I begin packing by placing the heavier items at the bottom, toward the wheels. With the weight at the bottom keeping the bag grounded, it is easier to roll it through those long airport corridors.
Shoes. These go in first. One pair of flip-flops takes up no room to speak of and has many uses, such as “house shoes” in a hotel room. For evening wear, a nice pair of flats goes well with pants or a dress, and they are comfortable to walk in. For versatility, I chose black, and I like ballet flats, which require little room. As for athletic shoes, take anything comfortable and lightweight, qualities that can apply to almost any good pair of walking shoes these days with the new breathable, lightweight materials. They even dry quickly, as I discovered in Avignon when I was caught in a downpour and soaked to the skin. Normally, I wear these on the plane, and I prefer slip-ons for their easy on and off at security clearance, or I loosely lace other shoes for an easy on and off until I clear security. What style I choose depends upon how much walking the vacation entails.
Toiletries. I limit myself to two bags and split the contents—dry items in one and liquids in a clear quart-sized Ziploc bag. Whether I check my luggage or carry it on, I stick to the TSA requirement of 3-1-1 (3.4 ounces) for liquids, gels, and creams. The “dry” bag goes into my roller at the bottom, along with my shoes, and the wet items into my carry-on tote, which I never check. And I keep the Ziploc bag of “wets” easily accessible, zipped into an outer pocket of my roller bag so I can place it in the screening bin before going through security. In the same pocket I stash my belt if I plan to wear one. I put it on after I clear security. I pack a minimal amount of jewelry and only wear small earrings through security. I never pack a hairdryer. Most hotels have them.
Clothes. First, I set aside what I plan to wear on the plane, which is usually anything heavy or something I don’t want wrinkled, such as a blazer I plan to wear to dinners. I love my jeans, so I wear those on the plane unless the flight is unusually long, such as our recent one from DFW to Brisbane, Australia. For the sixteen-hour trip, I wore airplane pants There is an array of options on the market today that are both comfortable and good-looking. They weigh practically nothing and are wrinkle-free.
As far as choosing clothes for a trip, I have three requirements: lightweight, some must be quick-dry, and lastly, versatile, so I can mix and match. I pack black dress pants for dinner wear and two matching blouses, both quick-drying, so I have one to wear while the other dries, if need be. And I bring black yoga pants, preferably capris, for exercising. They are also comfortable for simply lounging around your hotel room or morning walks in search of an early cup of caffeine, or a steamed milk, my preferred way to start the day. And yoga pants are fairly fast drying. I roll my tops, which reduces wrinkles and conserves suitcase space. And I pack several quick-dry ones, which come in handy for a long trip and are easy to hand-wash and dry.
I detest the cold, but over the years I have curbed my desire to pack warm clothes for the inevitable inclement weather, such as our unexpectedly chilly morning in Prague after warm days and nights throughout the entire trip. Traveling is the perfect time and excuse, if you need one, to purchase a nice sweatshirt as a souvenir, which is precisely what we did to combat the chill of the 34-degree rainy morning.
I must admit, I spend more time carefully packing my carry-on tote than my roller bag. As a writer, my priorities are iPad, iPhone, digital camera, and yes, old-fashioned pen and paper as a backup. Depending upon the trip, I may or may not cart along my laptop. My tote has zippered inner pouches and a zippered top to ensure nothing falls out while it travels down the conveyor belt and through the X-ray machine at security. To meet the two-bag carry-on requirement whenever I elect not to check my roller bag, I make room in my tote for my purse, and I always carry on anything I absolutely can’t afford to have stolen: passport, money, credit cards, camera, and of course my iPad and iPhone.
On top of my packed carry-on tote, I place a pashmina. I received this tip long ago from a flight attendant friend. I use it as a rolled-up pillow, a blanket, or I drape over my shoulders if I am chilly. It comes in handy for a number of reasons.
There are many benefits to traveling light, such as saving money. While checking in for a commuter flight from Tasmania to Australia, we inquired about checking our third bag, which was filled with T-shirts for family and friends. “Sure,” we were told, “that’ll be around $100 US.” For one bag? Needless to say, we decided to trade off carrying the cumbersome duffel until we reached Sydney, where it immediately became checked baggage.
Another benefit is not fighting the boarding or disembarking process when using public transportation. If you must carry your bags along for the ride, like we had to in Venice to catch the vaporetto, it is easier to maneuver one bag than two or more. I was amused when I heard one Venetian mutter, “Americans and their damn luggage,” as I was climbing aboard our water bus.
And of course, there are the obvious reasons for traveling light—no lost bags, no baggage claim waits, no standing in line to check your luggage, less physical wear on you, and increased flexibility if you must change flights for any reason—such as in one case where we arrived in the international terminal, then had to walk to the domestic terminal for our flight. Thankfully, we did not have to claim our bags in the international baggage claim before heading to our domestic flight. Due to air traffic delays, we had a tight connection and may have otherwise missed our flight.
I’ll pass along two last tips from friends who do not travel to live but live to travel. Pack a travel-sized bottle of wrinkle-release spray if wrinkled clothes are an issue. Personally, I resort to the hotel iron, and most rooms have one these days. If not, housekeeping is usually most accommodating. Call and ask for one.
Lastly, take along a travel-sized container of Febreze to freshen your clothes, especially your jeans. With all the talk about how bad washing is for them, maybe a long trip is the perfect excuse for not laundering yours. Who better to espouse this philosophy than CEO Chip Bergh of Levi Strauss & Co.? If you must, wash them when you get home.
On that note, I hope you find this blog post helpful as you embark upon your next adventure. Happy travels to all.
Next week: “Europe 2013: Paris, France.”