Packing should be a pleasure, not a pain!
Playing around with the contents of my backpack is a well known favourite hobby of mine. Show me a 3-1-1 kit that needs reorganizing and I'll show you a rockin' Friday night! But not everyone feels the same way - in fact, most people hate packing! While I'd like to say they don't know how much fun they're missing, the truth is that there are a lot of seriously un-fun things about packing. Strict rules, tight restrictions, so many packing "gadgets" that don't actually work, and so many challenging destinations - no wonder people hate packing!
Travel bloggers are no exception to packing frustrations, but fortunately their pain and past experience is your gain! I asked 8 travel bloggers to share their best packing tips, accumulated over years of experience. So if you are driving from London to Mongolia, packing a carry on bag for Antarctica, smuggling a bicycle half way around the world, trying to look fancy on a cruise or backpacking bar, or just trying to keep organized, their stories are sure to help.
Flexibility and Organization Rule the Day!
For me, there are two keys to successful light-packing: flexibility and organization. I travel a lot. I sit next to pilots on planes who are horrified by how often I fly. I also can never check a bag, and am often gone for more than two weeks at a time. I have not suffered yet.
Flexibility: If you can only use a particular item in one way, it is useless. (unless it is a toothbrush). Thus, I travel with:
1. A scarf (hat, blanket, umbrella, pillow, towel and, as it always was, accessory.)
2. A pair of black stretch jeans. From work to play with the change of a scarf.
3. A pair of chopsticks. (all take-out food is able to be eaten with chopsticks. Even yogurt. Though that is a challenge.)
Organization: You know all of those little pockets that they build into backpacks? Think of those as your kitchen cabinets. You wouldn't put your pots and teacups together in one drawer and leave five shelves open, would you? No. You would not. Thus, you should USE all of those little spaces for specific needs. A pocket for your earbuds, a pocket for your passport. A pocket for your corkscrew, a pocket for your audio-in cable.
What's that you say? You don't travel with an audio-in cable or a corkscrew? Why on earth not?
The Suitcase Scholar
Heys JetPack Organizer and Packing Folder
I find this is a must-have packing accessory for any vacation, but on trips with multiple destinations it is an absolute lifesaver. This organizer is a 6 shelf hanging unit that allows you to pack and unpack many articles of clothing at once. Fold all your clothes and place them on the various sized shelves, then remove it from the hanger and let it collapse down into a packing folder. Use the compression straps to help tighten the folder down and lock the clothes within the unit into place. The entire folded unit with clothes and all fits right into your luggage. When you reach your destination, simply unclip the straps, unfold the shelf unit and hang it in the hotel closet. No more worrying if you will have enough hangers in your hotel and no more packing and unpacking your luggage one piece of clothing at a time. Simply hang, fold and go!
Dream Travel Magazine
Save a "Bundle" of Space!
In March 2012 I travelled to Europe for an 18 day, 6 country solo trip with a 20L carry on backpack & anti-theft purse. I decided to try the bundle wrapping method I came across online. Your clothes are wrapped tightly into a square to maximize available space and help prevent wrinkles.
Clothes are wrapped around a core object. For me, that was a toiletry case filled with undergarments. You start by laying down the largest, most wrinkle prone shirt and continue with other shirts alternating the direction. Then you lay down pants, horizontal to the shirts, again alternating directions. After all clothes have been laid out, you place the core object and wrap your clothes around it. My ‘square’ filled just over half my backpack. I had room to spare! It’s a little daunting at first, but I had the bundle re-packed in 3 minutes each time.
Andrea's post about this method - http://www.wanderingiphone.com/2013/05/23/my-adventures-in-bundle-wrapping-and-carry-on-travel/
Cruisin' the Cruise Ship with Carry On
I have packed for a 9 night cruise in a small roller bag - including formal night! The key here is folding & rolling. If I'm going on a 9 night cruise, I'm going to need about 18 different outfits - something to wear during the day touring and something different to wear to dinner, not mentioning something to sleep or hang out in the cabin in.
The key to this is to bring half the amount of clothing you think you need. Cruise ships often have laundry sales about midway through the sailing & you'll be able to do a big load of laundry for not much money. The key to packing a gown or tux & not getting it wrinkly? Put it in a simple dry cleaning bag & carry it onto the plane with you. If there's a closet, most airlines will hang it for you. Otherwise, wait to everyone's bags are in the overhead & then lay your garment flat on top of it. Lastly, a good packing tip: choose a color scheme & stick to it! Are you doing brown shoes or black shoes? Take your pick & plan from there!
Middle Seat View
Backpacking Bar Attire
When you’re an adventure nut, it’s hard to justify packing “going out” clothes. Most of my wardrobe is of the athletic variety, but I do hit the bars more often when I’m traveling and I don’t always want to look like a backpacker.
Enter multi-functional clothing. When packing, I try to choose stuff that can be used in several different environments. My favorites are solid colored, dry-fit style tank tops and tees. In Armenia, I almost blended in at the local clubs by pairing a black workout tank with a black skirt, creating one of those infamous “bodycon” dresses that I don’t actually own.
As long as no one looked at my dilapidated sandals (that I also used for easy hikes, walking around town, and everything in between), I was fashionable. Plus, the shirt reeked of smoke the next day anyway, so it was totally okay to wear it hiking.
Love and Clothing Loss from London to Mongolia
I'm probably one of the last people that should be doling out packing advice, because I am TERRIBLE at packing. But one perk to being really bad at something is experiencing the error of your ways, as I did with packing for the Mongol Rally.
The Mongol Rally is a 10,000 mile drive from London to Mongolia. It requires the purchase of a compact car and a whole lot of crazy in your blood. It also requires packing for big cities, sweltering deserts, and below freezing mountain ranges along the way.
My advice for these seemingly impossible travel itineraries, is to only bring clothing you're willing to toss. I'll bet you have plenty of outfits that you loved five years ago and they still have that touch of special -- but their threads won't hold up til next season. Bring those and toss them when you've passed into a new climate. You'll still feel cute and comfortable, but it won't feel like a waste when you ditch them along the way.
Stars on the Ceiling
(Vanessa's Note: I do this too! I often wear something I like that is on it's last hurrah for the first day of a trip. Usually that 'first day' is often a 36-48 hour marathon of flying and sightseeing before I can actually get to my accommodations and change. It's awesome to give a favored outfit a stylish sendoff and it's great to wake up on day two with no laundry to do and a perfectly organized pack.)
The Impossible Packing Tasks
Flying with Sports Equipment: Packing the Downhill Mountain Bike
While roadtripping across Canada this summer, my boyfriend came across a bargain of a deal on the downhill bike he’d been wanting for ages. Thom is a clever bugger and practiced taking apart and putting the bike back together in the summer.
The challenge came in December, when it was time to head back to New Zealand. Except it wasn’t just a flight we were contending with; we had 7 stopovers across Canada on the train in winter before the 3 flights. He bought a hockey bag from Canadian Tire and ensured that it fit in that, which it did quite perfectly. The challenge came with the weight restrictions. Through trial and error, Thom came up with the perfect combination of putting the frame and tires in the hockey bag, and using his clothes to pad the bike so that it didn’t rub the wrong way, and was left to put all the remaining parts and tools in his backpack. He had to pay for an extra bag on each of our 3 flights, which ranged from $20 CAD to $120 USD but the look on the immigration officer’s face in NZ when he declared his bike was priceless.
Life Outside My Comfort Zone
Packing Light for Antarctica
Packing light for expeditions to remote destinations like Antarctica is a tall order. It puts one of my core packing tenets -- that you can always buy something if you end up needing it later on -- out the window. There is no retail therapy in Antarctica and you can’t pop round to the pharmacy if the need arises. In particular, take a supply of any prescriptions or over-the-counter medications you might need, and a spare pair of eyeglasses if you wear them.
It’s also difficult to pack light because many of the necessary garments and gear are bulky and awkward to pack. This means that the usual principles of packing lightly need to be adhered to in a whole new order of magnitude. My number one rule of packing is to be ruthless and only pack essential items. When packing for an expedition I’m talking about if-I-forget-this-I-will-get-hypothermia kind of essential rather than OMG-I-can’t-fall-asleep-without-my-lavender-scented-eye-mask essential. Take only what is absolutely necessary and focus on capturing incredible memories instead of creature comforts or looking good.
A Nerd At Large
I'd love to hear from you! What's your best packing tip for a tricky trip?
If you enjoyed this article, you'll also like these packing posts:
Is Your Bag Really Carry-On?
Anywhere in the World with Carry-On
10 Tips for Keeping Your Carry-On Safe
The Case for Carry-On and Ultra Light Packing
Rucksack Roundup: The Northface Verto 26
Rucksack Roundup: Three Favourite Things I Always Travel With
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