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.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain and currently visiting my home state of California.
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