Pack light by not packing for ‘a trip.’
Instead, look at your itinerary and envision what you’ll be doing each day. From that, decide what to wear that day.
This clarifies whether you can get by with one pair of shoes or need three, or if it’s worthwhile to bring pajamas or a sweatsuit. A woman doing ordinary tourist activities for a week might find that a pair of jeans and a skirt with pockets covers the situation pretty well. Or perhaps just two pairs of pants.
Packing light is about predicting yourself. If you get a handle on the typical weather and your typical activities, every piece will come home as dirty laundry. Pack no just-in-case clothing. In August, take no sweater. In March, take no t-shirt. If you find you’d like to wear one, buy it.
If you don’t break it down by day, it’s possible to pack three dresses and two pairs of heels for a trip that contains only one fine dining experience. You and your spouse may be open to the fun of sleeping in just your underwear on this trip, but if it includes two nights at a distant relative’s home, packing modest nightwear is necessary. Without a plan that gives equal weight to each day, it’s easy to overpack for the activity that looms large in your imagination and underpack for the normal activities of the other days.
Another approach is to select and put on one complete outfit, shoes, socks, jewelry and all, that is comfortable, weather appropriate, and you could see yourself wearing for fifteen hours straight in museums and churches and walking for five miles. Strip and toss into the carry-on. Grab some spare underwear and socks. Done.
Well, not really. Clothes get sweaty, you sit on something, some days will be a little colder, or a little hotter … so add a second complete outfit, plus a third top. Begrudge every additional item.
In today’s casual environment, most men and women could get by wearing jeans every day. Jeans can go 6-20 wearings between washings, and most people look pretty good in them.
Using pockets for storing important stuff on flight day is a rich source for snafus. The very-very important item is put into the jacket pocket, but an hour or two later it makes sense to wear a different jacket for some very good reason. Item remains in the closet at home. Or the item is in the front pants pocket and walks itself out during the drive to the airport, dropping to the carpet unnoticed. Or the sweater or jacket is tossed on the car seat or carried over an arm on the way to the airport so the item falls out. Or once at the airport you spontaneously decide to toss the too-warm jacket into a checked bag. Now that you know, this will never happen to you, right?
Wheeled bags. Heavier items near the wheels and lighter towards the top. The liquids bag can be placed near the handle or in an outside pocket for easy access in airports. It can be integrated during the trip, but will need to be regrouped into a quart baggie for the return trip. Shoes may be near the bottom but not buried.
Duffels. Balance the weight. It rides much nicer on the cross-shoulder strap if the two ends have heavier weight and the middle is soft, with no computers or heels bumping your hip.
Backpacks. Sequence is everything; for the airport, put shoes, electronics and liquids baggie near the top. You don’t want to totally unpack the thing if the TSA wants to look at the radio or shoes way at the bottom of the bag.
Vacuum bags. These may be OK for a one-destination trip or a cruise, but not a sight-seeing tour involving a new hotel every two days. If the bag gets nicked by the zipper or gets a hole, there goes the advantage. I’m a fan of stuffing items into a smaller container. But these things are time-consuming and finicky to roll up. Keep your return flight in mind; if it’s an early flight a long cab or bus ride away, will you wake up at 4 AM to have enough time to compress everything in?
Instead, roll your clothes up into logs, to stand on end or rest on top of each other. Most of your garments will be visible and selectable without disturbing or removing any other clothes.
Pants. Roll them up. Fold the two legs together, then roll up starting with the waist. Or vice versa, doesn’t matter. Skirts and dresses can be folded into thirds and rolled up, or rolled up without folds for a smaller-diameter but longer item.
Shoes. Play around orienting and nesting them until you find the smallest space. To keep them tight, use the big rubber band from celery, asparagus or other veggie. An option for large or heavy shoes is to place one on each side of the luggage, sole to the outside, or even sole up, facing the lid. The other items will bear against the leather upper. If they might get dirty later on, put each in a plastic bag. Be cognizant that shoes with larger heels are often what TSA will wish to look at, so keep them relatively handy to the opening.
Underwear. Put all underwear in cloth bags, such as the kind that come with liquor or shoes. Checked or carry-on, never use clear baggies for underwear and never leave it loose in a corner. Cloth bags for dirty laundry too. When the TSA encounters a cloth bag, they manipulate it, feeling for hard items. If it’s just all squishy clothes and obvious bra underwires, it passes. So mixing your sunglasses, spare batteries, souvenir belt buckles, candles or any other hard item in with (clean or dirty) underwear is an awful idea; it means the TSA may need to dump it all out on the TSA examining table and fish through your undies to check out the mystery item. Yuk!
Tops. Roll them up too. If needed, a few can be folded normally. If your clothes are in rolls, it’s easy to pick out what to wear. You won’t have to unpack into the drawer or hang things up (unless you want to).
Toiletry bag and shoes are going to be the big items. Get those acceptably positioned, then work the rolls around them.
String bags. I’m a huge fan of these. They serve as an easy daybag (and are an allowed size in European museums) holding a raincoat and purchases. They’re the perfect size for stashing dirty laundry. Stuffed with some clothing, they become a pillow.
Liquids quart bag. This will be outside the toiletry bag for now. You’ll use them the whole trip, but on the last day you’ll have to collect your liquids and reconstitute your liquids bag for the return trip. Sigh. Don’t miss any, it can be big hassle. Actually, I think they invented this rule not for terrorists, but for the travelers who don’t baggie their liquids, which then leak into the overhead bins. If they ever discontinue this rule, please continue to baggie every liquid for airplane flights.
Contact wearers. Saline solution and eye drops are not included in the 3.4 oz. bottle requirement, and do not have to be contained within the liquids baggie. You still have to separate out the bottles and declare them during screening, but you can have a bigger bottle than 3.4 oz. To reduce hassle, print out the rule from the TSA webpage and bring along, in case your TSA screener is unaware of it.
Fragile items. Wrap and insulate them with clothing at the center of your bag. Don’t place them in a corner or edge; make sure every side, top and bottom has padding playing interference for the odd bump.
Luggage pockets. These are good places for the paperwork related to your trip, for chargers, kindle and magazines. I prefer to clip my water bottle to the luggage rather than to myself. It bops around a bit, but it’s not as annoying there as on my hip.
Bring what looks good on you, is comfortable and is appropriate for the weather. There will be many photos; this isn’t the time to tie your hair back, go make-up-less, or wear old t-shirts. Dress the way you want to look for posterity.
Mix and match? If you wear exactly the same top with the same bottom every other day for ten days, there’s no downside. If you like the outfit and it flatters you, it doesn’t have to go with any other thing in the luggage.
Consider polyester. Polyester tops hang attractively, never wrinkle, weigh less and stain less. The thin ones can be cooler than cotton in hot weather and don’t show sweat like cotton does.
Cotton isn’t always the best for travel. Cotton changes color when wet, gets clammy, gets stinky, gets salt stains from sweat that are hard to get out. There are better breathable, quicker-drying shirt materials out there.
Travel scissors, the folding kind, are legal for carry-on. How well the rules are understood varies from day to day, by agent or airport. These are legal, and when folded up in the toiletries bag do not draw attention to themselves.
First Aid Kit List
Birth control items
Medication you need
Hand sanitizer/single packs
Liquid ibuprofen (for children)
Copies of prescription for vital medications
Hand Sanitizer. Packing a tiny bottle is fine, but even better is buying a box of individually wrapped sanitizer towelettes. The packets do not need to go into your liquids bag. They’re good for face washing, cleaning a cut, cooling a sweaty neck, and a little cover if touching something unsavory.
Antihistamine. It’s very common to react to something on vacation, even if you’ve never had an allergic reaction before. It’s a real timesaver to have a couple of these in a foil sheet and not have to go hunting for a store that sells it. The standard brands like Claritin, Benadryl, Allegra or Zyrtec are good choices. Benadryl will cause drowsiness, which may allow it to do double-duty for help sleeping. These may react with other medications, so check that out. Try taking a dose several days before the trip to see how noticeable the side effects are, if any.
Ibuprofen is the traveler’s friend. It makes sleeping in uncomfortable chairs possible, it makes sore feet bearable, it makes your functional day a little longer and your mood slightly better. Whether it is earaches, blisters, pinched fingers, sunburn, a bad bruise or losing a filling, it can help you bull through your vacation with some level of enjoyment until you return home. It has anti-blood-clot powers and swelling-reducing powers that acetaminophen (Tylenol) does not. Taking it before a tour improves stamina. It calms sore muscles, relieves headaches, and helps backaches. The pills are small and light and improve quality of life. Don’t travel without them.
Liquid Ibuprofen. I travel with an unopened bottle of baby ibuprofen, the kind with an eyedropper inside. Babies tend to get ear infections when traveling, new parents are by definition inexperienced, so of course they don’t see this coming. I had one too many plane, train or bus trips marred by a child in terrible pain. When it happens, I simply hand over the entire still-sealed bottle to the child’s caretakers. It costs five dollars, what a bargain.
Medication. Keep prescription medication in the original container for the plane flight. Liquid medication larger than the allowed 3.4 oz. size is permitted if it’s in the prescription bottle or you have a note from your doctor. If the medicine needs to stay cold, place it in an insulated bag with frozen gel packs right out in the open, and tell the security screener. Putting prescription medication into smaller baggies, especially mood-changing or pain meds, can look suspicious. Reduce hassle by using only bottles with the name of the traveler on them.
Pack as much medication as you need, plus a few more days minimum. It’s a good idea to split the medication up, some in your purse and the rest in your luggage or in your room. The idea is to reduce risk if ‘something happens’ and in my experience the risk between purse that goes everywhere with you and the bag left alone in the room is about fifty-fifty. If your estimation of risk is different, put the medication in the least risky place. A room safe is the best place to store all medications; daily, take along two days’ worth of medication in case you are waylaid for any reason.
Some countries may require special permission to bring certain medications across their border. To find out if your medication is an issue when traveling internationally, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel