10 Packing Tips for Smarter Travel
We travel. A lot. Much of our travel is by car where trunk space is less of an issue than traveling by plane. The nice thing about car travel is when the trunk is full you can add a roof carrier for those “little extras.” That is especially important when we need to bring along a lot of camera equipment.
However, when flying is involved, now more than ever, especially with the new proposed suitcase size restriction, packing less is best. In the past I was notorious for over-packing. As I travel more, I’m not interested in hauling around a bunch of unnecessary stuff, especially when moving between destinations every few days.
I know there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of articles out there advising travelers what to pack and how to pack in just a few easy steps. There are also entire books on the subject and videos online as well as experts on the subject who are paid to make appearances to talk about the subject that seems to baffle so many. After all, how hard can it be to pack a suitcase for a trip? Whatever happened to simply throwing stuff in a bag and saying, “Let’s hit the road!” Life used to be so easy. Now we agonize over everything.
Packing is all about common sense and if you’ve traveled enough, you probably tend to see a recurring theme. Most of us don’t need everything we’ve packed in our suitcase(s). So, here’s my advice for packing smart and not overthinking it.
1. Forget about that afternoon wardrobe you think you’ll need and wear.
This tip comes from years of packing cruise and resort clothes where you have visions of coming in from the pool or the morning’s excursion and assume you’ll shower and change into this extra outfit you’ve packed and spend a leisurely afternoon lounging around the ship or resort looking very stylish. Okay, this might happen once during the trip, but most of the time, you hang around in your bathing suit cover-up or shorts and t-shirt and before you know it, it’s time to shower and get ready for dinner. If you still think that this afternoon of sundresses or fancy pants is a possibility, then pack one ensemble. One… Unless you’re making professional appearances while on vacation, you will probably not need these extra sets of clothing.
2. What about vacuum bags for packing clothes?
I say no. Pack smart and roll most of your clothes, especially casual items like jeans, t-shirts, and knits. It’s the best way to utilize the space in your suitcase. For dress clothes, I either lay them out on a plastic clothing bag or place them on a lightweight hanger in the bag and then fold them two or three times, pushing the air out of the bag and place them on the top of everything else in the suitcase. This way they are ready to pull out first when you arrive and can be hung immediately and the plastic bag helps prevent wrinkles. I also stuff balled up socks in shoes and in bras so they keep their shape.
Some people use vacuum bags to bring home dirty laundry because dirty clothes are bulkier. If you pack right and launder a few pieces along the way (as necessary), all of your clothes should be dirty at the end of the trip. That’s the objective. If you need some extra space in your suitcase to bring home a few extra goodies purchased while traveling, then bring along a few vacuum bags to condense your dirty clothes. BTW, with hefty carry-on and overweight charges for baggage these days, it’s actually cheaper to launder or dry clean along the way than to bring additional clothing.
3. Buy the tiny sample sizes of your regular toiletries, or find the plastic bottles that you can purchase that are leak and pressure proof (some do tend to explode under pressure).
Also, ask for deluxe samples at the cosmetic counter for your favorite items. I hear it over and over again at the airport security checkpoint from some perplexed flier, “They took my new bottle of $100 perfume and threw it in the garbage. Can you believe it?” Yes, I can and where have you been since 9/11? You can’t take more than a quart-sized bag of 3-ounce containers through security. If they find your gigantic bottle of perfume, fifth of rum, 12 ounces of barbecue sauce, or anything that is larger than individual sizes of 3 ounces of liquid in your carry-on bag, it will end up in the garbage and perhaps, eventually, as a gift to one of the TSA agents.
On your return trip with purchases of larger liquid items, such as 16 ounces of Canadian maple syrup from Quebec or a bottle of Cote du Rhone from the South of France, pack them in your luggage if you hope to have it when you reach your final destination. Wrap the bottles tightly in a towel or better yet, find some bubble wrap and seal it with tape; it’s lighter and stronger. It will all be good if it’s sealed tightly and you will have it to enjoy once you arrive home.
4. Bring lightweight layers of clothes.
Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard this over and over again, but this advice is spot on, especially when packing for cooler temps and unpredictable weather. I recently had a trip from Orlando to New Orleans where the temperature went from the 40s and 50s with rain and wind (brrr…) to over 80 degrees with bright sunshine. T-shirts, jeans, capri pants, lightweight or cashmere sweaters, and light stylish jackets are perfect for this kind of crazy weather and shifts in temperatures. Pack a cute blazer or boyfriend jacket. It’s a great look with jeans and a white t-shirt or crisp white cotton shirt and you can shed the extra layers as the weather gets warmer. Add a scarf and you will have a very stylish look. Scarves make almost outfit and anyone appear chic.
5. Pack neutrals and not bold colors.
Unless you are headed for a tropical vacation (where the clothes will be lightweight and weigh so little, it won’t matter if you pack more), stick to neutral colors that will mix and match easily with other clothes in your vacation wardrobe (like white, cream, khaki, and black). While this may seem boring, the minute you toss in that pair of floral turquoise slacks, it’s all down hill from there. That requires another pair of shoes and a whole other set of accessories, so save those colorful slacks for a driving vacation when you can have an additional suitcase.
If you want a little color to spice up your travel life, then add it with a scarf or some jewelry that can be worn with other pieces. I know it seems boring, but black, white, cream, and khaki make the most sense when traveling by plane, particularly when going abroad. Those basic colors are always in fashion and you’ll look much smarter when you arrive at a chic Parisian hotel rolling in a tiny suitcase than if you are towing a gigantic awkward bag that you can barely maneuver behind you. That is not cool.