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Years ago I got tired of dragging a heavy bag around. What to do? I learned to pack really light. Besides, as mentioned above, traveling the US for 5-weeks with only a small bag, I took the same suitcase as an exchange student for a summer in Europe. I have kept this up not just to avoid excess airline fees but to avoid lugging extra baggage through subways, train stations and airports. Worst yet is arriving and discovering there is no working elevator or escalator in sight.
Now the new bag fees make it more important to go light. Even overseas flights may have less leg room for stowing a bag, especially since entertainment systems take up more room.
The best solution? Have a good plan for what to take and what to leave at home so you don’t have to check a bag. (An exception is allowed if you are traveling with skis!)
Another reason to pack light? To avoid a trip with a lost bag! I had my bag lost in a non- stop one hour flight abroad!
On the same trip, I was en route to ski in Norway. I arrived, but my bag did not. Stores were closed so I was left with a ski class the next day and no clothes. I went through the lost and found at my hotel. I found a too large coat to pair with my work suit’s slacks. I slipped nylon stocking clad feet in rental ski boots and was off. I really should have followed my own somewhat wry slogan: “If you can’t pack it, figure out how to wear it!”
When you are packing, I always recommend you wear on board the bulkiest or hardest to pack items. On a business trip, it is important to wear something that works for meetings with clients and customers in case your bag is lost en route. In addition, in case of being selected for security, women may be more comfortable if they are wearing slacks not skirts.
Take clothes with pockets that zip or have Velcro. You will avoid time and energy finding misplaced items and those that fell out of carry-on bags mid-flight.
Tip 1. Be sure to check with your airline. Don’t forget connecting flights. Many flights only allow 11 pounds in carry-on’s. Since each bag has its own weight, this leaves little room for packing for long trips. Cold weather tours are even harder. In addition, there may be weight and size restrictions on your one “personal item”. So “know before you go!”
Tip 2. If you must check your bag, wear something hand-washable or easy to clean. In any case, pack things that can be hand washed so you can take less! This worked well for me even in Siberia. My small Soviet era room had overheated radiators just right for drying clothes fast!
Tip 3. Have key items, such as a toothbrush, in a carry-on tote.
Tip 4. Be sure your trip insurance covers lost or stolen items. Check about related costs like out-of-pocket transportation charges to replace items. (When I was robbed on travel abroad, I spent $34 in taxi fare replacing stolen items. My insurance paid in full.)
Tip 5. If you travel in a small jet, you may have to check your bag at the gate or jet way. So don’t pack your passport. Have a case to retrieve your laptop or tablet. See if you can fit some cash (not coins), a photo ID and one credit card in a pocket. This is really important for solo travelers who may have to find emergency funds from home.
Tip 6. If you have a black roller-bag, they can be hard to ID. Add a bright bow. Put a sticker or mark on it. Airport shops often sell a colored strap for the same purpose. If you try that out, be sure the strap can make it through the journey in one piece.
Tip 7. Use your smart phone or tablet to photograph your bag. This helps ID it if it is lost. (You can also take photos of contents. Do be aware that there are limits though on such recovery.)
Tip 8. If you do check a bag and it is lost or delayed, ask about overnight kits and compensation.
Tip 9. The truth about traveling with “small” appliances like coffee pots: ● Even if they are advertised as being universal for global travel, they still may not work abroad. ● In any case, they may need an adapter and/or converter. ● Your hotel or B&B may have a local and workable brand in your room or available as a “loaner”. ● Most are not really as small as they appear in an ad. When they arrive, they may be too large or too heavy for today’s carry-on’s. After going Upriver in the Amazon with limited access to morning coffee without a leap to the top deck, I decided I needed my own travel coffee pot. I found just the right thing on the Internet. When it arrived, I was shocked. My new travel coffee post was the weight of a well-fed puppy! To avoid packing such a “space-stealer”: ● Check with your hotel, B&B or cruise line to see if they provide a kettle/coffee pot in each room. ● Only carry your own in real emergencies! ● If so, use them to pack underwear, bathing suits, socks and small items in sandwich bags. Then fill it up with remaining odds and ends.
Tip 10. Even in warm climates, you may need to cover-up to comply with local customs. In Southeast Asia, men must cover their knees, and women their legs and shoulders, to enter temples and royal palaces. Some locations have a loaner cover-up for visitors to borrow. Other requirements apply in the Middle East at mosques and globally at certain cathedrals. The best solution? Plan to take items that provide coverage but can be used throughout your trip: A sunhat that completely covers the hair may be acceptable for women in certain places of worship. A large designer shawl which can double as a head or shoulder covering. A long cotton skirt, common in the South Pacific and Asia that may also be good to avoid a tropical sunburn.
Tip 11. Consider packing socks even in the tropics. They work well in airport security if you have to take your shoes off. I was glad to have them too to go barefoot across a hot stone entry to a temple in Cambodia. In the Amazon rainforest, socks were also key to avoid scratches and on African safari in malaria zones.
Tip 12. For women: Don’t forget to have a pashmina or light sweater to combat arctic air conditioning.
Tip 13. Cull your electronics. If you can take just a smartphone/mini pad, you will save space for gifts and souvenirs.
Tip 14. Pack only clothes that have a dual purpose. For example, much athletic clothing can be used to sleep in while traveling. This can be a big help. In small hotels, morning coffee may be set out in the lobby rather than available in your room or the latter may be delivered by pricey room service.
Tip 15. Think about the climate. On some trips, I have found it rained lots. Even warm beaches can be cold at night. I have been on a September safari in South Africa with a heavy jacket on. Not the typical idea of safari dress!
Tip 16. Bring a bathing suit even if you don’t swim. Hot tubs and Jacuzzis are generally available in larger hotels even if a swimming pool is not. In tropical areas, a tour may unexpectedly require one as well. My day tour in Central America ended at a hot springs to observe a volcano’s evening activity and meant buying a bathing suit locally. By chance, the gift shop sold suits that looked like a one piece Speedo. Although my new suit had more fabric than is seen in Rio, it was a lot less than I was accustomed to.
Tip 17. Pick a maximum of two colors that can be worn with everything. Roll each one to reduce wrinkling.
Tip 18. Dark colors are best. They can be worn more times than your favorite white slacks!
Tip 19. Take day-to-evening outfits. Pack slacks that can be dressed up.
Tip 20. Use zipper bags to divide up your clothes by purpose or when you’ll need them. You can get them for free when you buy pillows or sheets.
How to do this? Put the key items you need on arrival and for the first night in one bag; Divide up what you need for each segment of the trip;
(Museum hopping? Boating? Hiking? Taking a cordon bleu cooking course?);
Separate casual clothes/athletic wear for sightseeing from dressier clothes.
Tip 21. Avoid filling your suitcase with too many accessories. That large scarf recommended above as head covering can make a nice belt. It can even dress up a workout outfit top to make it more acceptable as street wear.
Tip 22. The one perfect accessory to take: Pack a small “purse-within-a-purse”. The larger purse works well on the flight as your one “personal item”. (On flights, I recommend tossing in a small trash bag. As passengers are required more and more to bring their own sandwich, having a way to hoard trash is very helpful until the flight crew comes through the cabin to collect left over items.) The small one should be flat and work as a shoulder bag. Why is that?
- This is an easy way to have your travel documents ready for airports or immigration. ● You can have your toothbrush and any medicines where you can find them fast. ● It is a great tote for sightseeing to hold a tablet, smart phone and sunglasses. ● This is hard for pickpockets to grab, especially under a coat.
Tip 23. Avoid a nest of bottles. In addition to the limits for carry-on luggage, liquids leak easily. As with clothes you are packing, only take items that serve a dual purpose. For example, bring along a tinted moisturizer with sunscreen. Find a shampoo/conditioner combination or a lipstick/blush.
Tip 24. Where possible, take flat-pack samples of shampoo or cosmetics. They take up less space than bottles and don’t tend to leak.
Tip 25. In areas with malaria or other insect-borne diseases, bring unscented cosmetics, lotions and sunblock.
Tip 26. To replace missing or lost items, buy local brands when you arrive. They are cheaper than imports and easy to find. Do ask for help if you are not sure. You don’t want to wash your hair with laundry detergent, or brush your teeth with shoe polish!
Tip 27. Bring granola bars or snacks. They are great for flight delays and to avoid hotel minibars. I like to bring coffee bags and hot chocolate mix for my room. Even if you have coffee in your room, they often have just chalky, powdered creamers.
Tip 28. Pitch the hair dryer. All modern hotels now have a hair dryer in each room. If you are on adventure travel, you may not have the power to run a hair dryer at all making it useless.
Tip 29. Take a digital or paper copy of plane tickets important hotel, tour documents or vouchers.
Tip 30. Bring a tablet and a smart phone but leave your laptop behind.
Tip 31. Some appliances say that they work on both 110 and 220. I have found that is not always the case. I take both an adapter and converter on trips abroad. Many hotels have only an adapter to plug a device in. Not all of them have a converter.
Tip 32. If you carry your own adapter, note that some destinations have two or more types of plugs. Go online to check it out as you pack.
Tip 33. Don’t forget your chargers and any special items, such as micro SD cards. Throw in a low-tech addition: a small flashlight, if you don’t have one on your phone.
Tip 34. To avoid leaving the charger behind, have a bedside checklist of items to pack up before check out. Keep a list of things in the safe, too.
Tip 35. Be aware that all electronics may not work together. I bought a memory card for my camera while abroad some time ago. I tried to download pictures to my laptop from the card. It stuck. I was only able to remove it with great effort. Somehow, the fit was not the same.
Tip 36. Going boating? Trade your large sunhat for a neutral visor. If you need more coverage, plan to use the large scarf you packed to hold your hat on. Otherwise, you may be chasing your hat over the side!
Tip 37. Don’t forget the odds and ends. Do just say “no” to that faithful umbrella you must leave behind. Substitute an inexpensive slicker sold in flat packs at local drugstores for a few dollars.
Tip 38. Always take 2-3 inexpensive pairs of sunglasses. They can break or get lost right when you need them most.
The hardest part of packing may be separating a fashionista from her favorite Bruno Magli’s or strappy sandals. However, the unfortunate truth is that these mischievous beasts are really notorious “space-stealers”. If you want to travel light with only one carry-on bag, you will have to leave most of them behind anxiously awaiting your return.
How to pack light with shoes?
Tip 39. Think only a pair and a spare!
- Always travel in the hardest ones to pack.
- Be sure you have a second pair in your carry-on bag. On an overnight business trip, the low-heel I was wearing snapped off on a moving sidewalk in the cavernous Atlanta airport. I limped all the way to my hotel. Luckily, I could walk to the nearby mall and buy a new pair at a good price. If you must pack heels, avoid stilettos, and test the heel to be sure it will make it through the trip.
Tip 40. Sneakers take up too much space in a carry-on. Try substitutes if you are not a marathoner: Boating shoes like Top-Siders or their generic cousins take up less space, and fit better into a city setting.
Alternatively, I often sightsee and slip into the gym undetected in a regular pair of flats.
Tip 41. Whatever shoes you take, remember to use that empty space, and pack socks or small items in each.
Tip 42. Leave your high fashion shoes at home unless you plan to go to a black tie event. Wear a pair of dressy gold or silver/metallic flats that go with everything. Let your spare be more serious walking shoes that can make it through a 10-12 hour day of sightseeing.
Tip 43. As a backup, invest $10-$20 in inexpensive fold-up ballet slippers with a carrying case that fits into your tote bag.
Tip 44. Don’t forget the more intricate the shoe or strappy sandals, the more likely they are to break when you least expect it.
Tip 45. If your favorite shoes are accustomed to nestling in a designer shoe bag, be sure to separate them out to pack them flat. By placing each in a separate container, if nothing else, a plastic bag, you save much needed space. Then insert them vertically with one on each side of your suitcase or horizontally on the top and bottom.
Tip 46. On a rainy day in Lisbon, I found that the slick bottoms of my flats were a hazard on steep cobblestone streets and sidewalks. If you have this happen, duck into a mini-mart, and buy a stick of chewing gum. This may not be very chic, but you will be amazed at the traction it adds.
Tip 47. Pack your shoes carefully, and carry flip-flops for the beach!
- I know this breaks my “only a pair and a spare” rule as does the foldup ballet slippers.
- Both can fit in your oversized tote you take on the airplane.
- I learned about this on a trip to an uninhabited Pacific atoll. I found that going barefoot may not always be liberating. While strolling an enchanting beach, I stumbled on someone’s lightly covered barbeque pit! The result? I ended up flying barefoot back to neighboring Aitutaki. Fortunately, the 6-seater, single-engine prop plane did not have a dress code for passengers!
Tip 48. Even in this digital age, take 2-3 cheap ballpoint pens. You will be shocked at all the times you will need to fill out forms and not a pen is anywhere to be found as fellow passengers are trying to borrow one!
Tip 49. A day or two before you leave, try this. Take your bag for a stroll. Then lift it up and down and back and forth a few times onto your bed. Then open it up and see what you should leave back home!
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