Friday, August 16, 2013

Packing Tips for Those on the Go

Gone are the days when you could carry on both a bag & a garment bag, as well as a personal item.  No longer can you check two chock-full suitcases free without regard for weight.

Airlines aren't the only ones imposing weight & volume restrictions on luggage.  Tour companies, trains & buses now limit what you can bring.  Insist on taking more & it can cost you dearly.

It took some bungled packing experiences for me to get the hang of the new rules & to learn how to make the most of the system.  However, now my luggage is not as much a burden as it used to be, & it is a relief not to lug around so much stuff.

Here are some things that have made trekking around the world without running out of clothes easier:

Steps to Isle of Skye Hostel, 800 yds from Bus Stop

1.  The right suitcase makes a world of difference.  Forget that 3- or 5-piece set of matched luggage stored in the garage.  It probably wasn't made for heavy-duty travel & it's probably too big with wheels that are too small.  (If it doesn't have wheels at all, donate it to your local thrift shop.)  Remember, you aren't just getting your luggage from the curbside drop-off to the airline check-out counter.  If you travel like I do, you're going to be hauling it through streets, onto public transportation, up & down countless stairs both over transport overpasses & in hotels (most of the places I stay don't have elevators).  On a recent stop at a hostel on the Isle of Skye in Scotland I not only had a good hike through the streets, but encountered some unusual steep steps to the front door.  Half of the steps were easy-going concrete, but then I encountered an array of gravel divided by horizontal wood beams.  It was a tough go through the gravel bits, even with only one bag to haul.  (Yes, the hostel was worth it, but I did some huffing & puffing to get there.)

What you want is a compact lightweight piece of luggage that holds a lot & has large built-in heavy-duty wheels.  A luggage trolley on a regular suitcase is not a good substitute.  The first time you try to schlep it up a London subway overpass it will become an unbalanced pain in the patoot.

My favorite piece of luggage has a detachable backpack that I can use as a daypack.  It holds my water bottle, lunch or snacks, a jacket or sweater, a compact umbrella, maps & other papers, my Kindle & phone, with plenty of extra room.  I also clip a handy-dandy lightweight tote bag to one of the zipper pulls.  The tote bag zips itself into a compact case less than 4 inches long, yet when opened it holds enough groceries so I can dine in or snack in my hotel/hostel.

2.  Beware huge backpacks!  I once spent a great deal of money on a large backpack designed especially for women, but when I got it all packed I could barely wrangle it off the bed, let alone get it on my back.  I frequently see young folks carrying large backpacks, but even they don't make it look like much fun.  A daypack is fine even for septuagenarians like me, but my large backpack has never made it onto my shoulders.

3.  Zippered organizer bags keep everything easily findable in your suitcase.  bags can be plastic or nylon fabric/mesh.  No more rummaging through an entire bag looking for anything.  Undies are separate from toiletries, as well as from daywear.  Grab the right little bag & what you need is easily accessible.  The 2 gallon plastic Ziplocs are great for shoes, to keep the rest of your goodies clean.

4.  Compression bags are good for the long-haul.  For example, if I've stopped in Iceland (no matter what time of year) I've got some woolies that I probably won't need in more southern climes.  By compacting them I not only save precious luggage space, but repacking (a constant chore when traveling) is much easier.  These aren't the kind that you see on television, where a vacuum cleaner sucks the life out of your belongings.  These are compress-on-the-go plastic bags that you manually press to get the air out of little ports on the far edge.  Surely I look ridiculous as I use a variety of body movements, including barefoot dancing on top to rid the bags of extra air, but as long as I don't fall off & break an ankle the effort is worth the saved space.

5.  Buy & discard as you go.  If you are going to be in one place more than a few days, only pack travel-size toiletries, then buy what you need once you arrive.  The various pound shops (like our dollar stores) all over the U.K. are great places to pick up shampoo, deodorant & such.  Discard leftovers before returning home.  On a recent trek I spent time working as a volunteer on a farm, so packed old jeans & tops, which I then discarded before continuing on to more urban areas.  Afterward I was staying in hostels & needed a towel, so instead of packing one, after arrival I just bought a couple of kitchen towels (tiny towels still get off the wet) for a pound & discarded them as I went.

6.  Recognize that you really don't need everything you want to take.  This is the hardest task to master.  Yes, carry a few sets of undies, but also plan to wash every other evening or so.  No, you don't need that many pairs of shoes--really (though I do recognize that this is more difficult for women).  Two pair of slacks will get you all the way through Europe in a pinch.  Stick with similar colors, so you don't need extra clothes that match.  A woman who packs nothing but 3-4 gray or black tops can use easily packable scarves to create different outfits.  Cool climate?  Dress in layers & use your longjohns as pajamas.  Leave medicine bottles & dispensers at home.  Pack each day's meds in snack-size Ziploc bags & label the date with a permanent marker.  Be creative, be clever, but keep your belongings to a minimum & you'll have a much more enjoyable trip.

Although it is likely you will regret over-packing, no one ever laments "Gee, I didn't take enough stuff."

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