Some people have nightmares about taking a test they didn’t study for. Others are terrorized by spiders or snakes or any number of grotesque creatures. Falling, running and not getting anywhere, going outside and realizing you’ve forgotten to put on any clothes–there are no limits to what our minds use to torment us while we sleep. For me, it’s packing.
My mind plagues me with all sorts of stressful scenarios: my travel partner is waiting on me to hurry up and finish packing by an unobtainable deadline; I’ve packed in a rush and forgotten the most important piece of luggage such as my passport or the train tickets; I’m running through an airport laden with huge bags trying to catch a flight. It doesn’t matter if I’m leaving for three days or three weeks, being ready on time is my number one priority. This means lists, checks and double-checks, and pre-packing. Yes, you heard me right: pre-packing.
I’ve put so much effort into planning and booking this trip up until this point that I tend to worry a disproportionate amount about packing. It’s really not that big of a deal; it just takes a bit of forethought and a bit of practice.
Step Six–The Pack
Hopefully you are nothing like me and don’t share my baggage baggage, but it still pays to take even just a few minutes to make sure you’re packing appropriately for your trip. I start this process at least one week before my departure date, but again, that’s due to my anxiousness more than any real need for that amount of time.
That said, if you’re taking a trip that requires special gear, or are looking into buying new luggage or even a new camera or anything, be sure to give yourself adequate time to research these purchases.
Check List: check
The first thing I do is make a list of what I need (or want) to pack. I use this awesome list from OneBag.com as a starter, then add or subtract as needed. I try to make sure that everything I bring will fit into one piece of carry-on sized luggage and one smaller day bag or purse. I am not a super light traveler by any means, but I do try to limit the “stuff” I bring on a trip, both to cut down on weight and to lower my risk of losing something or being a victim of theft.
This is what I tend to include on my list:
- Travel documents: passport, copies of itineraries, confirmations/receipts, tickets
- Money: If you are going abroad, it’s always better to exchange cash into your destination’s currency before leaving. Never exchange at airports or hotels unless you absolutely have to, because they offer the worst rates. I also bring credit cards that don’t have foreign exchange fees and try to use those before I use cash.
- Three to four days worth of clothing: Check the weather for your destination and pack accordingly. I expect to wear outer layers like shirts and pants twice, and to do laundry if I need to on longer trips. I try to bring items of clothing that mix and match easily, dry quickly, and don’t show stains. If you’ll be travelling to a colder destination, it’s better to bring layers instead of heavier clothing.
- Comfy shoes: one pair of sandals (flip flops or otherwise) and one pair of tennis shoes/sneakers. I always wear the heavier shoes and pack the lighter ones. I love walking and I want to make sure that I won’t end up with blisters from uncomfortable footwear.
- Daily medication
- Glasses and a few pairs of daily use contacts
- Towel: a must if you choose not to stay in hotels like Jeff and I do.
- Toiletries: I tend to rely on my place of accommodation for things like body wash, shampoo, and the like; even hostels provide basic shower amenities. I bring minimal make-up (concealer, eye liner, neutral eye shadow), a razor, and stick deodorant. Toiletries are the least of my worries because I know I can easily buy whatever I need at my destination (even feminine hygiene stuff).
- Tech: computer, external hard drive, camera and accessories, phone, Kindle. Tech is not necessary at all, but I bring it for several reasons–I like to have something to do on long flights/trains/buses, I want to be able to update the blog, and I like to be able to edit/upload pictures as I go instead of waiting until I get home and have hundreds upon thousands of photos to go through. The more tech you bring, the more space you lose in your luggage, the heavier your luggage becomes, and the more risk you run of having it lost or stolen; weigh the pros and cons and decide for yourself what tech to bring and what to leave home.
- Miscellany: seasonal stuff (swim suits, rain jackets, coats, boots–again, remember to check the weather!!), exercise clothing, cards, pens/pencils, notebook/planner
Your list will look very different, especially if you’re planning on camping or doing some heavy trekking. My list is still undergoing changes and revisions, and by the time Jeff and I embark on our RTW this fall, I’m sure it will have evolved even more.
There are tons of styles of luggage out there, and it’s up to you to choose what fits your style of travel best. Roller cases, duffle bags, backpacks–they all have their pros and cons. For most trips, whatever you have on hand already will be just fine; but if you are in the market for new luggage, do your research and do it well. Luggage can really make or break your trip: when I first came to Japan, my luggage broke, and so I had to carry it through Tokyo Station during rush hour–which was absolutely awful and had me in tears when we finally arrived at our hostel.
For many reasons that I will go over in more detail in a later post, I decided that I wanted a trekking pack for our RTW trip. I spent hours online looking at reviews and how-tos, and then hours in REI and other stores when we were home this past December trying on dozens of packs. I finally found the right one for me–Deuter’s ACT Lite 60+10 SL pack. Paired with a small over-the-shoulder purse/day pack, this is more than enough space for everything I bring with me.
The Art of Tetris
Packing is a puzzle that has multiple solutions–as long as you can fit everything comfortably in your bag or suitcase, it doesn’t really matter how you do it. The more you pack and unpack and pack again, the more refined your system will become, and the quicker you’ll be able to get your bag together in the future.
Different types of trips, however, naturally lend themselves to different methods. If you are going to be staying in one place for several days, weeks, or even months, then you don’t need to worry as much about order since you’ll probably pull everything out of your bag the moment you arrive anyway. If, on the other hand, you’re going to be moving around on a near daily basis, then you want to make sure you organize your luggage so that the things on top are the things you use the most.
Speaking of organizing luggage, I love zipper pouches and cubes, like Eagle Creek’s Pack-It line. I use several of these to keep smaller, loose items like toiletries or underwear all together, when otherwise they could get lost or sink to the bottom of my bag. Ziploc baggies and plastic bags are also great to keep knick-knacks from getting too unruly. It’s a good idea to keep a few of these in your luggage anyway; they take up little to no space and come in handy in a variety of ways (dirty laundry, dirty shoes, etc).
When I set out to pack, I lay out everything on my check list on the floor, grouped by category, and check it off as I put it into my bag. Then I do one last check to make sure I have everything before I walk out the door.
A Note on Checking Luggage
I avoid checking luggage when flying as much as I possibly can. Not only does it save me money as many airlines now charge checked baggage fees, it saves me time when I land and can bypass the luggage carousel, and it saves me from worrying about if the airline will “mishandle” my luggage.
If you do check luggage, however, remember never to put anything of value (like your tech gadgets) into that suitcase, and bring a spare change of clothing with you onto the plane just in case yours is the bag that doesn’t turn up. Be sure to use TSA approved locks; tie some sort of colored band or rope to the handle (that won’t get caught in gears or between conveyer belts) to make your suitcase distinct from others; and keep a copy of your contact information (phone number, address, email) inside the luggage.
What’s something you can’t do without on the road?Remember to follow us on Twitter @SlomadsTravel, and like our page on Facebook! Ready for the next step? Click here to continue to Step Seven–The Trip.