Three months of living out of a suitcase has taught me a lot about packing. For one thing, I’ve learned how to jettison stuff that wasn’t as essential as I’d thought. (Click here to see my original packing list.) Tired of struggling to zip an overstuffed bag, I abandoned a t-shirt and my bathrobe on a Munich street where the homeless would find them. When temperatures dropped to near freezing in the Carpathian Mountains, I bought a cap and gloves, and later a sweater. By then I’d picked up a small daypack to carry train snacks, and I tucked my new acquisitions in there. My biggest packing mistake was bringing a straw hat so adorable I refused to toss it even though it was impractical in the cooler areas, and by the time we hit hot weather again in October, straw hat season was over.
Whether you’re planning a weekend in Paris, a year on the road, or something in between, here are packing tips that will help you choose and organize the contents of your luggage in convenient and practical ways.
1. Lay out all your clothes and all your money, then take half the clothes and twice the money. If you really need something, you can buy it on the road (as we did).
2. Take only bags that you can carry up several flights of stairs. I took one rolling bag and later added a small daypack, mainly for train snacks, including Mentos to share with others in our compartment as a friendly gesture. (They would then make sure we got off at the right stop, which was worth its weight in gold, let alone Mentos.)
3. Always arrange things in the same order. It saves tons of packing and searching time. I folded all my clothes and stacked them on the left side of my suitcase; on the right side went shoes, hairdryer, and prescription pills, with undergarments tucked in the gaps and my toiletry bag on top. The suitcase’s outer pockets contained things that might be needed at a moment’s notice, such as an umbrella and tissues.
4. Carry all your toiletries in one bag. I used Rick Steves’ Large Travelin Toiletries Kit, which has a nice configuration of pockets, although I was disappointed that a seam burst due to my hairbrush being jammed into the top. (I’ll be talking more about travel health and hygiene in a future post.)
5. Dress in layers. Rather than a heavy jacket, I packed a warm fleece, a light rain jacket, and a scarf. When we hit colder weather than expected in Transylvania, I bought a thick wool cap and slim wool gloves. Later, in even nastier weather, I added a sweater I could layer with my other clothes.
6. Roll your socks and stuff them inside your spare shoes. Store your spare shoes in plastic bags, which are less cumbersome, if less attractive, than shoe bags.
7. Choose clothes that don’t wrinkle, have lots of security pockets, and launder easily. Rich and I are fans of Scottevest trousers and vests, shirts by Ex Officio and Jack Wolfskin, and the extremely fast-drying Ex Officio underwear – yes, the ones with the slogan “17 countries. 6 weeks. One pair of award-winning underwear. (OK, maybe two.).” I don’t know who gives awards to underwear, but these have earned my vote.
8. Bring some entertainment. On longer trips, sometimes you need to kick back and watch a movie on your computer. Bring a few on a flash drive or DVDs, or check out the full-length movies and TV shows on YouTube; we spent many cozy nights matching wits with Miss Marple. Two sets of earphones and a splitter gave us superb sound quality. (I’ll talk more about our electronics in a future post.)
9. Lock your bags. We put padlocks on our suitcases and Rich’s daypack, which held the iPad; clips were sufficient on my daypack. At our lodgings, we put essential electronics in one suitcase and attached it to a radiator or other fixed object with a wire and padlock. For more, see 10 Best Ways to Keep Your Valuables Safe on the Road.
10. Carry a small notebook. We used ours for jotting down anything we'd need to ask about and couldn't pronounce; we'd then be able to show the conductor we wanted to get off at Nyiregyháza or ask someone where to find a street called Булеван Деспота Стефана. We also noted destination ideas, local foods we wanted to try, hotel addresses, emails of people we met, directions to speakeasies, and other essentials. It's even handy for making notes about how you packed this time, and what you might do in the future to fine-tune the contents of your luggage, so you can make your trip even more comfortable, convenient, and fun the next time you go on the road.
Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I haven't obtained any free or discounted gear or supplies in return for promoting anything on this blog. I'm just letting you know what products Rich and I consider to be the most useful for our kind of travel. Watch for future posts about electronics, health and hygiene, travel photography, and more. If you have questions or travel tips to share, I'd love to hear from you; please leave a comment below.
11/5/2013 09:24:20 am
Very useful information. No matter how carefully I try to pack - I always end up with things that I don't need :-)
11/6/2013 08:17:24 am
Yes, it's really impossible to predict everything you'll do and precisely what you'll need ... but every time I get closer!
11/6/2013 07:42:52 am
Useful tips! #6 is a great one - I always stuff my shoes full of rolled-up socks and other little things.
11/6/2013 08:37:10 am
25 years ago I used to take fancy outfits, contact lenses, a travel iron and all sorts of stuff on trips. Over the years, I've pared it down a lot. For this trip. the thought of spending three months hauling my bag on and off trains, and up and down long flights of stairs, helped me become even more ruthless. Rich's goal is to go on a trip with nothing but a passport, a credit card, and a toothbrush. Somehow I don't think we'll ever reduce our luggage quite that far.
11/6/2013 07:54:24 am
I continue to love your packing tips and plan to link to them again when I address the subject again on our blog. And above all, I love your 'disclaimer' at the end -- we also still buy our own when it comes to clothes and travel!
11/6/2013 08:42:24 am
Thanks for linking our blogs; TraveInWrite.com is great fun and a good resource, and I'm glad to be part of it. Your Istanbul airfare deal was amazing; can't wait to read all about your visit to Greece & Turkey.
11/7/2013 10:10:37 am
Due to our professional life we have traveled a lot over the past 40 years. Your tips are fine, I agree with all... I wanted to add that I always pack "color coordinated": I decide on beforehand that this trip will be all black and red, or white and blue, and pack accordingly, so everything matches everything, whether I layer or don't have to. More mileage from the same stuff and less hassle.
11/8/2013 11:08:46 pm
You're so right about the color coordination, Susan. On this trip I went almost entirely with blues, from turquoise to royal. It's wonderful to have all your pieces work with each other. Although by the end of the trip I was longing to wear red, just for a change! It was heaven to get home to a varied wardrobe at the end.
11/11/2014 12:35:28 pm
I take old undies/pj's & leave them
11/12/2014 12:00:53 am
That's a great strategy for lightening the load at the end of the journey, Mary. Just in time to make room for any small purchases or to make the suitcase easier to tote home.
11/11/2013 07:38:14 pm
These are incredible, and some of your tips I do myself such as bringing some entertainment, dressing in layers, choosing clothes that do not wrinkle, and rolling you socks. Actually, I roll most of my clothes because it really maximizes space. Thank you for sharing all these!
1/5/2014 02:48:47 pm
Regarding "Mentos to share" in #2, I thought how great for you to share the practice of giving out mementos (from country you live) to those you meet along the way. I always give out post cards, pencils and shirt pins with Nat'l Park logos (from my US state) --mainly to those I've gotten to know or have helped me in some way. Was I ever surprised when I clicked on the highlighted "Mentos" to see what details you included and saw the photo of "Mentos" candy! Sure gave me a chuckle!
11/11/2014 12:39:40 pm
learned to carry suvvies in India. Disney things for kids, postcards from Hollywod/BevHills. Beverly HillsHotel logo tinned mints for special folks.
10/30/2014 04:46:49 am
These are all really great practices. We have most of them implemented for our packing as well!
11/3/2014 08:19:49 am
Thanks, Lina. That means a lot coming from an experienced traveler like you! By the way, I loved your photos of the people of Tibet; the shots are gorgeous, often moving, and so evocative of that culture. A great post!
7/8/2015 12:31:12 pm
So glad to have found your blog and look forward to reading your books. Love all of your tips, especially taking half the clothes and twice the money! Why, oh why, is it so hard to pare down the clothes? I never wear half of what I take...
7/8/2015 01:46:26 pm
It is tough to pare down the wardrobe, Vicki. I struggle with it every time I plan a trip, I have to remind myself the goal is not perfection, it's to improve a little each time.
Leave a Reply.
Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
#1 Amazon Bestseller in Tourist Destinations, Travel Tips, Gastronomy Essays, and Senior Travel
This blog is a promotion-free zone.
As my regular readers know, I never get free or discounted goods or services for mentioning anything on this blog (or anywhere else). I only write about things that interest me and that I believe might prove useful for you all to know about. Whew! I wanted to clear that up before we went any further. Thanks for listening.
TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
Don't miss out!
SIGN UP HERE
to be notified when I publish new posts.