No matter how experienced of a traveler one may be, when packing, there is always this nagging feeling that something important is being left behind.
Packing is considered an art by many and if you ask me, it can be a pretty stressful ordeal if you don’t know what you are doing. I have to admit though- it took me a few years to become efficient in packing, determine the very essentials I can not do without and stop dragging useless stuff all over the world. And yes, I did overpack with unnecessary and sometimes pretty heavy items (irons, dive gear, etc) only to either dispose of it mid trip or bring it back without using it even once.
So, without any further ado, I am gonna share my top Ten Golden Rules I follow religiously when packing:
1. If time permits, I start considering what to pack at least 10 days in advance. This gives me the chance to order some stuff online if necessary (allowing it arrive on time), prescriptions filled, make appointments with my hairdresser/beautician/nail specialist (a good cut will be necessary if it will be a longer trip), complete my medical if necessary for my work (get some shots if required) and even renew documents (God forbid I have lost my passport or realize my visa has expired). In fact, checking your documents should be done at least 6 weeks in advance, but thankfully there are some expensive but urgent renewals if you find yourself in a situation your documents were lost or stolen.
2. Go online and check what the weather forecast will be for the duration of your trip and if it is longer than a week, you may consider searching online for the local tourist web sites, which will offer you a good advice what the weather will be like.
3. If flying, make sure you check the airlines’ baggage policy, as nowadays all airlines have different requirements regarding checked bags and carry-ons. Domestic flights in US charge for 1st or 2nd or both and some even charge for your carry-on. All have different weight allowance, so unless you don’t mind paying extra, familiarize yourself with the weight restrictions.
4. Get yourself different sizes space bags. I prefer the ones that you take the air out by means of a vacuum cleaner. They are mostly great for saving space, but obviously will not reduce the weight. So, you may end up traveling with half full suitcase, but since the weight has already reached the limit, you won’t be able to add more.
5. Every trip is different- from going on an active holiday (skiing, hiking, snorkeling, diving, cycling, fishing, etc), a romantic one, a family vacation or a cruise- you will need different items and gear, however the basic rule applies- do not overpack by taking too many items of the same kind, unless they are underwear, t-shirts and socks. If your holiday is in a 5 star resort or a luxurious liner- you will need more than one formalwear and some fancy shoes, but try to select more universal accessories (jewelry, purses, hats) that will match more of your outfits, not just one, unless of course it is your wedding that will be the highlight of the trip, in which case you are allowed to have an extra bag
When it comes to shoes, no matter where I go- mountains, seaside resorts, cruises- comfy shoes (sneakers), flip-flops and one pair of dress shoes seem to always be enough. Casual clothes that you can mix and match, which also allow you to dress in layers are most practical when going on excursions and during travel. If you are going to a colder climate, you should take a warm, but light jacket or sleeveless coat made of dawn, so you can easily squeeze in a space bag and reduce the size significantly. I avoid traveling in boots, unless they are mountain/hiking shoes applicable to the itinerary, as they usually take a lot of space and don’t get to be worn much. If flying (and unless you are in Business or Premium/1st Class where certain dress code is observed), wear something comfortable that will allow you to contort on your tiny seat without restricting your breathing and keep you warm- planes tend to get really cold when you are not moving much for hours. Also, avoid wearing shoes/boots you have hard time putting on and off- you will have to remove your shoes at the airport when going through security and I don’t know anyone whose feet don’t swell after log flights, so trying to squeeze your painful feet in a tight space is less than desireable. So, good common sense should prevail when packing clothes and shoes for your trip. I like to go online and check photos of people who have visited the places I am going to- good source for these would be Flicker, Pinterest, Instagram and of course Google/ images- the clothes they wear will give me an idea what to pack.
6. Important items that you need on any trip:
– A good camera. The question is how enthusiastic you are about taking good shots and what skills you have as a photographer. If you don’t consider yourself a pro and you have no desire to improve, then your phone camera is just fine. In fact nowadays these cameras in many instances are far better than the small pocket cameras and in the age of the selfies, they are just perfect. If you check on Flicker you will see that the most frequent use of a camera is I-phone 5 and i-phone 6, so great moments can be captured very successfully with your phone camera. However, there is nothing more amazing than having the opportunity to capture that special moment with a good quality camera (Fujifilm, Canon, Nikon, Leica, etc), the results are usually pretty awesome and you will be surprised how much more appealing photography will become for you, especially when you post your pictures on the social media like Facebook, Pinterest and Flicker and you have other people appreciating them too. Throughout the years I have had numerous cameras and even a camcorder, but since the technology in those days was not as advanced and the digital images not all that realistic and great, I soon grew tired of using them and soon found myself relieved not to carry around heavy cameras and lenses. There is lots to be said about cameras and weight, but again if you are an amateur photographer, don’t bother dragging the professional camera if you are gonna use it in automatic mode only those very few times you resolve to lift some heavy weights.
– Sunglasses and a hat. It seems pretty obvious, but if you are going to an area with strong ultra violet rays (closer to the poles, equator, high mountains, snowy environment, sparkling water surrounding), you need a good pair of polarized sun glasses and a hat. If you wear prescription glasses, you can get a pair combining the two and I personally love the Oakly’s, as they are specifically designed for active lifestyle and are perfect for any weather conditions. You will be surprised how many people make a compromise with sun glasses and settle for either fancy or inexpensive pair without the UV protection, or refuse to wear a hat. Exposed to direct sun or UV rays can cause sever migraine, a serious sun or heat stroke, risk of skin cancer and last but not least brand new wrinkles from squinting.
– Sunscreen. It has to be SPF 50+ especially for the face. Get a waterproof one and if you are more health conscious, try to get a sun screen made of natural ingredients, the commercial sun screens are full of parabens and xenoestrogens, which could be risky for those fighting hormonal imbalance and everyone for that matter, as they accumulate in the body as toxins.
– Medication in a pocket size 1st aid kit: containing aspirin, bandaids, Imodium or similar, insect repellent, melatonin if you suffer from sever jet lag, sea-sick pills if you are sensitive to motion and any other medication you may require. I personally take with me a self-made inhaler with essential oils which helps me clear my breathing in planes, cruise ships and other enclosed environments. I even bring my small Essential Oils defuser and a small EO kit (Lavender, Ylang-Ylang, Frankincense, Peppermint, Tea Tree, Lemon, etc) which help me disinfect rooms, repel insects and fall asleep in a relaxed spa-like atmosphere;
– Special cosmetics and toiletries, especially if you are allergic to something, make-up;
– A sawing kit;
– Hair styling tools (only if you are absolutely sure these will not be available in your hotel/ship/rental, B&B).
– Portable iron or a steamer (only if absolutely necessary to unwrinkle something). I prefer to take clothes made of materials that would not wrinkle badly. A small trick I learned when you want to loosen wrinkled clothes is to put them on a hanger and hang on the bathroom door. When taking a shower, the steam will help the clothes loosen up. You can also lightly mist the clothes, pull straight with one hand and with the help of your hairdryer in the other, you can attempt to dry them flat.
– Electronics like: Phone, tablet, e-reader, laptop, i-pod/mp3- try to take as little electronics as possible, however they are all great for communicating with your loved ones and entertaining yourself while traveling and waiting on long lines.
7. Once you have determined everything you want to pack, take one last look and try to eliminate some items that after the second take don’t seem all that necessary. Remember, you will get some souvenirs, so you will need extra room in your suitcase/s. Only then try to assemble everything in your bag.
8. Weigh your bags, if you re going to fly. You can use a small suitcase scales or you can use your own bathroom scale. Make sure you don’t exceed the baggage allowance of the airline.
9. If you are visiting friends, it would be thoughtful to bring a small gift– it is always a nice touch and many times the same trick works on plane or cruiseship crew- a small token of appreciation (a sealed box of chocolates or a bottle of wine) can provide you with some extra attention and amenities.
10. Finally, make sure you try to check-in online 24 hours (or may be less-the airline will advise the time frame) prior to your trip. This will not only save you some time at the airport waiting on a long line for an agent, but also will allow you to choose your seat, make a food selection, use a discount on baggage fees and even upgrade your seat, if possible.