Packing can be stressful. What should I take? What if I forget something? I can’t guarantee that all stress will disappear if you follow these packing guidelines, but they should help. They have been gleaned from years of traveling, including a lot of stand-by travel as the fortunate relative of an airline employee. A lot of my own stress and a few mishaps have made me think about ways to avoid unpleasantries.
Don’t worry too much about forgetting things
Make sure you have your passport and tickets and your money and credit cards. You can buy a toothbrush! The same friend who gave me that advice also suggested this: when you think you are all ready, take twice as much money and half as many clothes! Not always possible, especially the money part, but worth thinking about.
If you travel often, keep your packing supplies–travel sizes of toiletries, plastic bags, shoe bags, and so on in your favorite suitcase ready to organize for your next trip.
Invest in a really sturdy rolling carry-on and a large-capacity personal item
I like a backpack as my personal item so that I can have my hands free when I need them and because I can carry more weight comfortably on my back than on my arm. My purse is packed away until I arrive. For short trips these should be all you need. You can always check the rolling carry-on if you want to, but you have to check a big suitcase or leave it behind. Ask your airline about rules, limitations, and extra charges for checked bags before you buy, pack, or check that bag. A foldable extra carry-on or suitcase is very useful if you find that your luggage expands during trips because of rushed-up packing or souvenir purchases at your destination.
Having to riffle through everything in the suitcase when you need one item is annoying, so I put things that are alike together to save time. The zippered compartments on the outside and inside of luggage are helpful, but I have never found a suitcase that has enough organizing pockets, so I use mesh laundry bags for different categories of clothing–one for underwear and socks, one for pants, one for tops, one for accessories. I include an extra one for bringing dirty clothes back home. A thick sealable plastic bag for a wet swimsuit or sweaty shirt is also a good idea. Shoes should have their own bag, so you don’t mix shoe sole street germs with your nice clothes. I have a big zippered plastic pouch for toiletries with smaller pouches inside for bath things, hair things, and make-up.
Airline standbys have to be prepared for an overnight stay if they don’t get on a flight, but regular passengers can also experience delays or get separated temporarily from their checked baggage. (I learned this after an uncomfortable night in La Quinta, sleeping in the buff and heading out the next day without face cream or makeup.) So…
Always carry these items in your carry-on or personal item
- change of underwear
- comfortable sleepwear
- small sizes of indispensable toiletries, including a toothbrush and small toothpaste
- swimsuit (opportunities to swim can happen unexpectedly when you get the standby bump)
- socks, and a light jacket or wrap for the flight. Airplanes can be cold even in the hottest weather.
Limit what you pack as much as your fashion needs will allow
You may want to re-think your fashion needs in exchange for more freedom, but that’s your choice. Making a day-by-day wardrobe plan helps me make choices while I’m still at home, not on the road so I avoid hauling unnecessary articles around. Here are my personal basics:
- underwear for every day of the trip if possible. It doesn’t take a lot of space, and it is the one item that I want fresh every day. Laundering in a bathroom sink or a relative’s washing machine is a possibility but not something I want to spend my valued vacation time doing.
- comfortable walking shoes to wear on the trip and just ONE pair of presentable shoes in a go-with-everything color. Shoes take up valuable packing space. A really special occasion like a wedding might call for one more pair of shoes.
- sleepwear, already packed in your carry-on. A bath robe takes a lot of space, so I choose pajamas or a nightgown with a light robe decent enough for sharing coffee on leisurely mornings.
- bottoms (pants, skirts, shorts) in neutral colors, maximum of four. For short trips, limit of two or three. My preferred tone is black, but if you like white or tan, go for it.
- no-iron tops, the fewer the better. It’s okay to repeat. Four or five work for me, with multiple uses on longer trips. It gets boring, but the freedom is worth it.
- an easy-to-wear outfit for an unexpected dressy occasion. For men, a sports jacket that can pass for a suit.
- accessories, as needed
- make-up, bath needs, and hair tools and products. A hair style that can be air-dried is a great asset when traveling. I stopped carrying a hair dryer when hotels started to include them as standard equipment, but if you must have one, invest in the smallest and lightest one that will do the job.