Travel Packing 101
Packing is a necessary evil of travel. In the good old days (pre 2009), I would bring unlimited options, and while I had an enormous amount of luggage, I would not only forget numerous basics, but I would also find it hard to locate needed items throughout my trip.
In the past two years, the airlines have really cramped my style. They want to charge me $25 per bag, per direction. That means that with my old way of traveling, I’m tacking on an additional $100 per trip, just for luggage. While it’s sometimes worth it not to have to juggle that extra piece of carryon luggage, I decided it was time to rethink my approach and make tough choices.
I like choice. That means that I don’t want to only have five outfits for five days away. Rather, I want to see how I feel when I wake and choose from a variety of options — like at home. I would bring dozens of tops for every bottom and corresponding shoes would historically merit their own separate piece luggage.
My friend Michele, who travels often for work, offered up her efficient packing system. She lays out her bottoms first. Typically she’ll wear a bottom at least two days each, so you figure 5 days = 3 bottoms (I round up because I do like options). Then she chooses two tops for each bottom to ensure that things will match and you can get multi-use out of each piece. She then selects shoes that go with the outfits. She also sticks to all outfits that go with either brown or black, so she doesn’t have to bring multiple pairs of boots or sneakers, etc.
I tried her system and it worked incredibly well. I extended the logic to jewelry by deciding to only bring either gold or silver items (which get tucked into a cloth jewelry holder that comes with zippered sections and a ring holder for easy transport. This also affects belts, sunglasses, bras and purses too, which are driven by the outfits. While I do have fewer choices with this method, I find that I not only bring less, but I also wear almost everything I pack. In the old days, I’d find a top I loved on site, but realized I didn’t have shoes that matched or a bra that worked with the strap line on that tank.
Another tip I picked up along the way is rolling my packed clothes. I once had a boss who was OCD. She would actually pack all her clothes in Ziploc bags and then suction all the air out to make them as small as possible. That is going too far. Rolling, on the other hand, takes a moment and for some reason I can’t quite explain, does create more space. I think some military person taught me that trick.
During the warm months, I find packing dresses to be the ultimate solution. I can fit numerous dresses (rolled tightly into a bundle to prevent wrinkles) into a carryon luggage, along with sandals and flip-flops. The only caveat is to remember to bring a cardigan that matches them all (nights get cold in dresses) and remember underwear that will offer flattering lines.
I’ve had my moisturizer seized by greedy TSA workers countless times. I wish Neutrogena would make a legal size, so I could carry it through, but often I end up having to buy it again when I arrive at my destination. Rather than worry about my perfume spilling all over my toiletries (and worse yet, clothes) I recently bought a mini roll-on oil of my favorite scent (Kai). Most brands have samples or smaller sizes if you ask at the department store counter. I also invested in a small waterproof bag that I leave packed with miniature basics: shampoo, conditioner, razor, deodorant, lip-gloss, tampons, cotton swabs, sunscreen, a hair tie, Zantac (traveling often means food that upsets my stomach), Advil, eye puffiness cream (traveling can mean late nights and dehydration), night cream, Visine (airplanes and altitude give me bloodshot eyes) and Icy Hot (helps my sore back after sitting on long flights). Rather than grab all those items each trip, I have the bag already to go in my luggage.
Still, there is one item I am notorious at forgetting: my toothbrush. While I’ve tried to use the small travel ones, I find the bristles hard and unfriendly. Recently, I discovered a little plastic covering that clips around my toothbrush and protects it from touching the cosmetics with which it travels. Adding a dedicated travel toothbrush to my basics bag will hopefully ensure I have no more late night hotel arrivals that end in me swabbing my mouth with my finger and toothpaste.
Longer trips warrant additional items. I’ve taken to using noise-canceling headphones, which either make all the drum of the airplane fade into white noise, or give me great sound for the movie or my own laptop entertainment. I find they are invaluable on those cross-country flights that include crying babies or loud-talking travelers. I also now bring my Stress Ball (pictured), which helps keep my lower back and hips from cramping up. I roll those muscles for a few minutes each morning and it makes all the difference. I also bring a few key items to keep my blood sugar in check. I’ll pack an energy bar, nuts with dried fruit packs (available at Trader Joes) and packets of powered electrolytes, which I can add to my water for energy.
Lastly, when packing I always map out my entertainment. I subscribe to dozens of magazines. They pile up in my office and patiently wait their turn to be read. One of my favorite reasons to fly is for the uninterrupted time I get to read these various magazines. I’ll devour my Vanity Fair cover to cover and feel immense satisfaction leaving it on board for the next lucky person to sit in my seat. Typically I bring three reading options: magazines on business, wine and entertainment: a book and my laptop. Depending on my mood and energy level, I’m covered on all fronts.
In an effort to only bring carryon luggage, I’ve had to organize all my belongings into two containers. The first includes clothes, heavier books, toiletries and chargers. The lighter messenger style bag holds the things I need access to while traveling: boarding passes and itinerary (kept in an envelope), wallet, camera, jewelry holder, laptop, lip gloss, magazines, notebook, card reader, e-reader, pens, snacks, business cards and cell phone. This smaller bag I keep under my feet for easy access, while the larger tote goes in overhead or may have to be checked at the gate when flying out of smaller airports (like my home town SBA).
While packing feels like a chore, it’s the unpacking I really detest. Finding a place for all the items I’ve brought feels a bit tedious. I’ve taken to leaving the magazines behind and keeping my basics bag and headphones in the luggage. Most the clothes have been worn, so they go to the laundry. This minimizes my unpacking time and lets me get on to planning my next voyage!