The Travel Insider
 

Travel Planning and Assistance

 

How Best to Pack for Your Travels 1

A compilation of the best packing tips from ourselves and our readers

Luggage

Wherever you're traveling, however you're getting there, and whatever you're doing upon arrival, the information in this series will help make your travels simpler and better.

There's nothing worse than the sick feeling you get, seconds after it has become too late, as you remember something vital you forgot to pack in your luggage.

Following these strategies and checklists will reduce the otherwise ever present stress as you prepare for your future travels.

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Vacation Planning Strategies in General

Packing and luggage (on two pages)

Money
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Traveling Methods
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General and Miscellaneous

About your Luggage and Suitcases in General

1.  Check your suitcases before going on a trip to make sure they don’t have any actual or incipient rips or tears or broken parts that might interfere with their reliable operation on the journeys ahead.  Replace or repair anything that looks suspect.

2.1  Should you buy cheap or expensive luggage?  The hassle factor of something like a zip breaking or a wheel falling off is vastly greater than the money you saved by buying an inferior bag to start with.  Buy good quality luggage – it will be cheaper in the long run.

2.2  But don’t buy ‘showy’ luggage that marks you and your luggage as a valuable target.  Fancy leather finish, gold fittings, prominent brand names - these are all tempting signals to a luggage thief.  See our series and reviews on luggage for much more information.

3.1  Make your suitcases visually distinctive by adding something brightly colored to them, such as the MyTag bag tags.  This not only makes it easier for you to spot them when they arrive on the carousel, but it also prevents other people from either accidentally taking your bag by mistake or deliberately taking your bag on purpose.  If your bag is visually distinctive and unique, other people won't confuse it with their bag, and thieves won't take it because they are more likely to be spotted with your bag and can't then claim it was an innocent mistake.

3.2  Distinctively marked suitcases are also easier for a luggage agent to find if they go missing, or need to be pulled off a flight (perhaps you changed your travel plans).

4.1  Know your weight allowances (typically 50lbs per bag, and two bags per passenger) and weigh your own bags before leaving home.  Because US airlines have an allowance per bag, if you're traveling with one bag that is overweight, split the contents and take two bags.  This means more hassle for the airline, but it keeps you safely clear of having to pay an excess baggage charge.

4.2  If you're buying an airline ticket for travel that doesn't originate or terminate in the US, your baggage limit may be only 44 lbs (20kg) per person (not per bag, but in total, per person!).  Some airlines (notably Aeroflot) include the weight of your carry-on luggage into that entitlement, too.  Excess baggage costs can quickly become very pricey.

4.3  Some European low fare airlines have even lower limits - as little as 33 lbs/person.  Be sure to know your baggage allowances.

4.4  If weight is a problem, or convenience is valuable to you, consider a service such as Sports Express.  This company will collect your luggage from your home and deliver it to your destination for you, saving you the hassle and potential cost of using the airlines.  They're less likely to lose or damage your luggage, and much more responsive if something does go wrong.

5.1  Keep sufficient ID prominently in place in your suitcases so if they get lost, they can easily be matched up with you.  Consider also including a copy of your itinerary so if the bag is lost at the beginning of a trip, it will be easy for the airline to know where to find you.

5.2  Some people recommend keeping passport and other ID copies in your bag, but be careful of exposing yourself to potential identity theft.

6.1  Anticipate the TSA choosing to open and search through your bags.  Anything you can do to make it easier for them to look through the contents of your bag, and then put everything neatly back, is a good idea.  Packing items into clear organizers is a good idea.

6.2  If you're traveling with anything fragile, there is a risk the TSA may not fully repackage it.  You increase the chance of this if it is packed inside an obvious and appropriate container rather than just wrapped up inside a sweater.

Packing Strategies

1. Keep ready a packed kit, perhaps one for you and one for other family members, complete with travel toothbrushes/toiletries, prescription and ordinary medications for about a week, travel size dual voltage appliances and other bits and pieces, so when you prepare for a trip, these items are already packed and all you need to do is add appropriate clothing for the number of days you will be gone.

2.  For packing shoes, put them inside the socks the airlines give away in amenities kits.  Other old tube socks would work as well.

3.  Many of the roll-a-board suitcases have a lining that can be opened with a zipper.  Consider using this 'waste space' underneath the lining for things such as socks, underwear and as many light garments (t shirts, very light pull overs, etc.) as will neatly fit in there.   They can be used to fill the irregular small shapes and spaces, helping you get best use out of your suitcase's space.

4.  Put a return address label (and phone number) on cell phones, cameras and electronic toys that might get lost.

5.  Write contact information on the inside of your children's shirts so that if they are lost and can't easily communicate with people around them (eg in a foreign country) at least they can show someone a phone number and name.

6.  Keep an emergency computer file of information with you.  This would include such things as important contact information, passwords, account numbers, itineraries, and anything else you might want to have access to.

Password protect this (perhaps by zipping it up, or as part of a Word document) and then save it either onto a floppy disk or a USB Flash drive.  Keep this with you, and chances are wherever you are, there'll be a computer with a USB port or floppy drive that can then allow you to access the stored information.

7.  Don't pack anything in checked luggage that you can't do without for several days.  Any essential medications or documents should always be kept in your carry-on luggage.

7.1  Pack a small carry-on with at least one day's change of personal articles plus other items such as :

  • Essential toiletries
  • Essential medication (and prescriptions if you're going away for an extended stay)
  • Photocopy of your passport and passport-size photos for easy replacement should you lose your passport
  • Change of underwear
  • Reading material
  • Telephone/address book
  • Trail mix or other compact high energy food

8.1  To keep things like dresses, blouses and suits from wrinkling, put them on a hanger and inside a bag from the dry cleaner.  Knot the bottom of the bag, creating a little air pillow around the item.  Place gently folded in half on top of the suitcase and of course, take out as soon as possible when you reach your destination.

8.2  (or)  Clothes are less likely to crease if you roll rather than fold them.

9.1  Never go anywhere without ziplock bags in various sizes.  You can put loose change, etc, in a ziplock bag before going through security; and shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, etc., all should go in  ziplock bags.  They are good, too, for keeping light colored/white clothing clean.

9.2  When buying zip-lock bags, get heavy weight (4 mil or thicker) rather than lightweight bags.  They last much longer.

10.  Color coordinate your clothes for maximum utility; perhaps even travel with everything in the same general color scheme.  This allows anything to go with anything else, giving you maximum flexibility.

11.  If you travel to a one place on a regular basis, become a regular at one specific hotel and ask them to store a suitcase of things for you between trips.

12.1  Pack a collapsible lightweight tote bag into your main piece of luggage.  If you buy lots of things while on vacation, you can use it as an extra piece of luggage to bring everything back with you.

12.2  Another approach is to pack one suitcase inside another suitcase.

13.1  Don't forget chargers and/or batteries for all the electronic items you take with you.

13.2  Batteries and film and other similar consumables are generally much better value and much better quality (and fresher) if purchased in the US and taken with you.

13.3  If (when) taking chargers, make sure they can handle the voltage, and take the proper plug adapters to fit the sockets, for the country you're visiting.

14.  Your travel guidebooks obviously age and so should be replaced for each vacation.  This means it is acceptable to consider ripping them up and partially destroying them - for example, if you’re traveling to only Venice and Milan in Italy, don’t take the complete Italian travel book with you, but rip out only the two sections you need (plus perhaps the general sections on the country as a whole).

15.  Travel with a soft hat with a brim that protects your ears and neck from the sun, and which can be readily crumpled up for packing, or to slip in your pocket when you duck into a cathedral, for example.

16.  Consider travel or 'cargo' style trousers with plenty of gusseted pockets to put things in.  These should be washable, and not need dry cleaning, so you can wash them in the shower at night and they'll be dry enough to wear by morning.

17.1  If traveling with a partner, divide your stuff between your respective suitcases, so if one gets lost, you each lose some things but still have other things.

17.2  This also means that if a suitcase is lost, you both may be able to claim up to the airline's limit for the items you each lost in the suitcase, rather than being limited to only one claim from one person.

17.3  You can do this with carry on items such as credit cards and ATM cards also, so if one loses billfold or gets purse pickpocketed, you can continue to operate with the other's cards.

18.  Make an itemized list before you pack so that you can prove what was in your luggage should it be stolen (too difficult to do this under stress.) The list also helps to cut packing time and reduces your chance of forgetting something.

18.1  Digital pictures of the contents of your suitcase can also establish what was lost if you subsequently need to make a claim.

19.  Use the inside of your shoes and sneakers for holding small items. Put each shoe in an airtight plastic bag.

20.  Vacuum bags such as the Eagle Creek Pack-It Compressor Kit are handy for two things: bulky winter-weight clothing such as down jackets, and soiled laundry which has left home neatly folded and pressed and turns into a space-hogging pile of scrunched up fabric as you travel.

20.1  Many readers report the most useful sized Pack-it units are the 20” Pack-it folder, and [full-sized] Pack-it cube. You can probably put all your shirts and pants in the folder and all your underwear, socks, sleepwear, etc in the cube.

20.2  Readers report the folders are very effective at eliminating wrinkles that otherwise appear, even if their clothes are tightly packed.

21.  When traveling a long distance and taking reading material, take magazines for the beginning of the trip. As you finish a magazine, leave it behind for someone else and reduce the weight of your carryon.  Save books, which you may want to keep, for later in the trip.

21.1  If buying books for a journey, consider buying used (ie inexpensive) books and similarly discard them as you've read them too.

22.  Useful rule of thumb and tool for self-control :  Each person on a trip can take no more with them than they can conveniently carry themselves, both upon departure and during the course of the trip while buying things and adding to the luggage's weight and bulk.

22.1  For the very disciplined, apply this rule to children as well as adults.

23.  Print out address labels for everyone you want to send a postcard to.  Then, when you write the postcard, you don’t have to write the address, you just stick on the label.  It may only save 30 seconds a postcard, but 20 postcards is 10 minutes.

Also, since the address is typed, it is much easier for postal services around the world to read the address and send it to the right place.  This also means you can see at a glance who you still have to send postcards to.

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Originally published 2 Sep 2005, last update 15 May 2010
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer
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