I’ve written posts before about things I do and don’t take with me when I travel and have attempted to help people pack a little bit better. I never said though that I was a great packer because, well, I’m not. I’ve gotten better over time though and am not the horrible over packer that I used to be. But I’m not the image of the 1-bag, carry-on does it all kind of traveler either. I frankly don’t understand how those folks manage it. So I wanted to be real and show you all how I really pack when I travel, what I take and leave at home and why.
First, I almost always check my bags. I’ve tried everything, but I cannot survive a week or more with a carry-on only. I do think that some people have it easier. I’ve seen the clothes my female friends pack and they can roll up into the size of a golf ball. I’m 6’2” and none of my clothes condense easily. And if there’s a business casual event during the trip then I may as well opt for the 1920s style steamer trunk. That being said, if I’m just going on a non-formal sightseeing trip, there are some rules of thumb I try to follow.
Generic = good
Although I own a closetful of branded shirts featuring everything from school mascots to brand logos, I keep my travel wardrobe as generic as possible. Nowadays I usually travel with just a few plain, solid colored shirts that can be used almost anywhere. I made the mistake once of wearing a shirt featuring a baseball team on a trip and spent the entire time locked into sports discussions I didn’t want to have. I don’t even like sports, I got the t-shirt because it was comfortable and cheap. It was a lesson though to try to stay as inconspicuous as possible, to dress appropriately but not to wear anything that will call attention to oneself. Sure it’s a safety issue, but it’s also a convenience issue. I can wear these shirts just about anywhere, which is key when traveling.
The same goes for all of my other garments, from jeans to shoes. I make sure I look respectable but that nothing I take is too new or flashy. My partner and I were traveling in Morocco once and he wore a brand new pair of VERY bright Nikes. Apparently they were popular because every five minutes someone materialized from the shadows who 1) complimented them and then 2) tried to buy them. It was annoying, so from then on I made sure to wear shoes that look ok, but certainly aren’t the latest and greatest.
All praise the Ziploc bag
I swear this isn’t a commercial, although if the fine folks over at Ziploc want to throw me some cash I wouldn’t say no. But the truth is the simple and basic plastic Ziploc bag is one of the best things to happen to travelers since the roller bag. When packing my suitcase I use the larger gallon size bags to store my underwear and socks, and those same bags are perfect for then storing dirty clothes as you travel. They’re airtight, which means smells don’t linger in your luggage and they can compress, which makes packing your suitcase a lot easier. I am an ardent believer in the Ziploc bag and wouldn’t travel without them. My use for them though extends beyond underwear to just about all aspects of my packing experience.
I use them in my toiletries bag to keep liquids from leaking out and in my carry-on smaller Ziploc bags help me keep all of the compartments organized and clutter free. So if you aren’t using Ziploc bags when you travel, it’s time to start. Experiment on your next trip and you’ll see what I mean.
When it comes down to it, packing really isn’t all that difficult. We just tend to make it harder on ourselves than it needs to be; I know that I’m certainly guilty of that. We imagine impossible scenarios where we might potentially need every article of clothing we own and so we pack it, resulting in an assortment of bags that we don’t need and would make a Sherpa cringe.
Today, I only pack for the days that I am gone. Sounds basic, but in the old days I’d pack extra of everything, just in case. I’ve since realized that I never needed these just in case items and if it came down to it, I can always do laundry in a hotel sink or use their cleaning services. Everything else we take should fall into the same category of necessity. I only take a couple pairs of shoes; multi-taskers that can fit in anywhere from a cocktail party to a rock-climbing class. Toiletries are easy, just the basics with sunscreen thrown in if I’ll be outside a lot. No need to bring the medicine cabinet when all you really need is deodorant, toothbrush/paste and a few other items.
Now that we have the checked luggage under control, it’s time to tame the carry-on. I used to use a backpack to take on board planes, but I found that I just stuffed as much crap in there as I could, without organization or much thought really. When I bought a DSLR camera, I bought a new carry-on bag to accommodate it. It is split into a variety of compartments and most importantly, has very limited space. Why is this good? Because it forces me to bring only what I need. I’ve found it is easier to prepare for trips and in two years of using it, have never wanted for anything.
My carry-on bag includes:
- Big camera
- Little camera
- Go Pro camera
- Bag of cords
- Sunglasses/eye glasses case
- Travel power strip
- My medicine bag
- My long-flight bag
- An assortment of smaller stuff, from lotions to pens.
Wow, this seems like a lot now, but it’s not and it all fits snuggly into this awesome bag. Go find your own perfect carry-on bag, use it almost exclusively for travel and force yourself to be organized with it; you’d be surprised how much it improves the travel experience when you can actually find the things you packed.
So that’s about it. It’s basic really when you think about it, but for some reason (and I’m included) packing is a topic that confounds many. What’s important is to not overthink it and instead just be realistic about what you need and don’t need and plan accordingly.
What are your best packing tips?