Best to Pack for Your Travels 1
A compilation of the best packing tips
from ourselves and our readers
Wherever you're traveling, however you're getting there,
and whatever you're doing upon arrival, the information in
this series will help make your travels simpler and better.
There's nothing worse than the
sick feeling you get, seconds after it has become too late, as
you remember something vital you forgot to pack in your luggage.
Following these strategies and
checklists will reduce the otherwise ever present stress as you
prepare for your future travels.
Please note there are two pages
of tips. When you've finished this page, feel free to move
the second page.
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About your Luggage and Suitcases in General
1. Check your
suitcases before going on a trip to make sure they don’t
have any actual or incipient rips or tears or broken parts that
might interfere with their reliable operation on the journeys
ahead. Replace or repair anything that looks suspect.
2.1 Should you buy
cheap or expensive luggage? The hassle factor of
something like a zip breaking or a wheel falling off is vastly
greater than the money you saved by buying an inferior bag to
start with. Buy good quality luggage – it will be cheaper
in the long run.
2.2 But don’t buy
‘showy’ luggage that marks you and your luggage as a
valuable target. Fancy leather finish, gold fittings,
prominent brand names - these are all tempting signals to a
luggage thief. See our
series and reviews on luggage for much more information.
3.1 Make your
suitcases visually distinctive by adding something brightly
colored to them, such as the
MyTag bag tags. This not only makes it easier for you
to spot them when they arrive on the carousel, but it also
prevents other people from either accidentally taking your bag
by mistake or deliberately taking your bag on purpose. If
your bag is visually distinctive and unique, other people won't
confuse it with their bag, and thieves won't take it because
they are more likely to be spotted with your bag and can't then
claim it was an innocent mistake.
marked suitcases are also easier for a luggage agent to find if
they go missing, or need to be pulled off a flight (perhaps you
changed your travel plans).
4.1 Know your
weight allowances (typically 50lbs per bag, and two bags per
passenger) and weigh your own bags before leaving home.
Because US airlines have an allowance per bag, if you're
traveling with one bag that is overweight, split the contents
and take two bags. This means more hassle for the airline,
but it keeps you safely clear of having to pay an excess baggage
4.2 If you're buying
an airline ticket for travel that doesn't originate or
terminate in the US, your baggage limit may be only 44 lbs
(20kg) per person (not per bag, but in total, per person!).
Some airlines (notably Aeroflot) include the weight of your
carry-on luggage into that entitlement, too. Excess
baggage costs can quickly become very pricey.
4.3 Some European
low fare airlines have even lower limits - as little as 33
lbs/person. Be sure to know your baggage allowances.
4.4 If weight is a
problem, or convenience is valuable to you, consider a service
Sports Express. This company will collect your luggage
from your home and deliver it to your destination for you,
saving you the hassle and potential cost of using the airlines.
They're less likely to lose or damage your luggage, and much
more responsive if something does go wrong.
5.1 Keep sufficient ID
prominently in place in your suitcases so if they get lost, they
can easily be matched up with you. Consider also including
a copy of your itinerary so if the bag is lost at the beginning
of a trip, it will be easy for the airline to know where to find
5.2 Some people recommend
keeping passport and other ID copies in your bag, but be careful
of exposing yourself to potential identity theft.
6.1 Anticipate the TSA choosing
to open and search through your bags. Anything you can do
to make it easier for them to look through the contents of your
bag, and then put everything neatly back, is a good idea.
Packing items into clear organizers is a good idea.
you're traveling with anything fragile, there is a risk the TSA
may not fully repackage it. You increase the chance of
this if it is packed inside an obvious and appropriate container
rather than just wrapped up inside a sweater.
1. Keep ready a packed kit,
perhaps one for you and one for other family members, complete
with travel toothbrushes/toiletries, prescription and ordinary
medications for about a week, travel size dual voltage
appliances and other bits and pieces, so when you prepare for a
trip, these items are already packed and all you need to do is
add appropriate clothing for the number of days you will be
2. For packing shoes,
put them inside the socks the airlines give away in amenities
kits. Other old tube socks would work as well.
3. Many of the
roll-a-board suitcases have a lining that can be opened with a
zipper. Consider using this 'waste space' underneath the
lining for things such as socks, underwear and as many light
garments (t shirts, very light pull overs, etc.) as will neatly
fit in there. They can be used to fill the irregular
small shapes and spaces, helping you get best use out of your
4. Put a return
address label (and phone number) on cell phones, cameras and
electronic toys that might get lost.
5. Write contact
information on the inside of your children's shirts so that if
they are lost and can't easily communicate with people around
them (eg in a foreign country) at least they can show someone a
phone number and name.
6. Keep an emergency
computer file of information with you. This would include
such things as important contact information, passwords, account
numbers, itineraries, and anything else you might want to have
Password protect this
(perhaps by zipping it up, or as part of a Word document) and
then save it either onto a floppy disk or a USB Flash drive.
Keep this with you, and chances are wherever you are, there'll
be a computer with a USB port or floppy drive that can then
allow you to access the stored information.
7. Don't pack anything
in checked luggage that you can't do without for several days.
Any essential medications or documents should always be kept in
your carry-on luggage.
7.1 Pack a small
carry-on with at least one day's change of personal articles plus
other items such as :
Essential medication (and
prescriptions if you're going away for an extended stay)
Photocopy of your passport
and passport-size photos for easy replacement should you
lose your passport
Change of underwear
Trail mix or other compact
high energy food
8.1 To keep things like dresses,
blouses and suits from wrinkling, put them on a hanger and
inside a bag from the dry cleaner. Knot the bottom of the
bag, creating a little air pillow around the item. Place
gently folded in half on top of the suitcase and of course, take
out as soon as possible when you reach your destination.
8.2 (or) Clothes are less likely to
crease if you roll rather than fold them.
9.1 Never go anywhere without
ziplock bags in various sizes. You can put loose change, etc, in a ziplock bag before going through security;
and shampoo, conditioner,
toothpaste, etc., all should go in ziplock bags.
They are good, too, for keeping light colored/white clothing
9.2 When buying
zip-lock bags, get heavy weight (4 mil or thicker) rather than
lightweight bags. They last
10. Color coordinate your
clothes for maximum utility; perhaps even travel with everything
in the same general color scheme. This allows anything to
go with anything else, giving you maximum flexibility.
11. If you travel to a one place
on a regular basis, become a regular at one specific hotel and
ask them to store a suitcase of things for you between trips.
12.1 Pack a collapsible
lightweight tote bag into your main piece of luggage. If
you buy lots of things while on vacation, you can use it as an
extra piece of luggage to bring everything back with you.
12.2 Another approach is to pack one suitcase inside another
13.1 Don't forget
chargers and/or batteries for all the electronic items you take
13.2 Batteries and
film and other similar consumables are generally much better
value and much better quality (and fresher) if purchased in the
US and taken with you.
13.3 If (when) taking chargers, make sure they can handle the voltage,
and take the proper plug adapters to fit the sockets, for the
country you're visiting.
14. Your travel guidebooks
obviously age and so should be replaced for each vacation.
This means it is acceptable to
consider ripping them up and partially destroying them - for
example, if you’re traveling to only Venice and Milan in Italy,
don’t take the complete Italian travel book with you, but rip
out only the two sections you need (plus perhaps the general
sections on the country as a whole).
15. Travel with a soft hat with
a brim that protects your ears and neck from the sun, and which
can be readily crumpled up for packing, or to slip in your
pocket when you duck into a cathedral, for example.
16. Consider travel or 'cargo'
style trousers with plenty of gusseted pockets to put things in.
These should be washable, and not need dry cleaning, so you can
wash them in the shower at night and they'll be dry enough to
wear by morning.
17.1 If traveling with a partner,
divide your stuff between your respective suitcases, so if one
gets lost, you each lose some things but still have other
17.2 This also means
that if a suitcase is lost, you both may be able to claim up to
the airline's limit for the items you each lost in the suitcase,
rather than being limited to only one claim from one person.
17.3 You can do this with carry on items such as credit cards
and ATM cards also, so if one loses billfold or gets purse pickpocketed, you can continue to operate with the other's
18. Make an itemized list before
you pack so that you can prove what was in your luggage should
it be stolen (too difficult to do this under stress.) The list also helps
to cut packing time and reduces your chance of forgetting
18.1 Digital pictures
of the contents of your suitcase can also establish what was
lost if you subsequently need to make a claim.
19. Use the inside of your shoes
and sneakers for holding small items. Put each shoe in an
airtight plastic bag.
Vacuum bags such as the Eagle Creek Pack-It Compressor Kit are handy for
two things: bulky winter-weight
clothing such as down jackets, and soiled laundry which has left
home neatly folded and pressed and turns into a space-hogging
pile of scrunched up fabric as you travel.
20.1 Many readers
report the most useful sized Pack-it units are the 20” Pack-it
folder, and [full-sized] Pack-it cube. You can probably put all
your shirts and pants in the folder and all your underwear,
socks, sleepwear, etc in the cube.
20.2 Readers report
the folders are very effective at eliminating wrinkles that
otherwise appear, even if their clothes are tightly packed.
21. When traveling a long
distance and taking reading material, take magazines for the
beginning of the trip. As you finish a magazine, leave it behind
for someone else and reduce the weight of your carryon.
Save books, which you may want to keep, for later in the trip.
21.1 If buying books
for a journey, consider buying used (ie inexpensive) books and
similarly discard them as you've read them too.
Useful rule of thumb and tool for self-control : Each
person on a trip can take no more with them than they can
conveniently carry themselves, both upon departure and during
the course of the trip while buying things and adding to the
luggage's weight and bulk.
For the very disciplined, apply this rule to children as well as
Print out address labels for everyone you want to send a
postcard to. Then, when you write the postcard, you don’t
have to write the address, you just stick on the label. It
may only save 30 seconds a postcard, but 20 postcards is 10
since the address is typed, it is much easier for postal
services around the world to read the address and send it to the
right place. This also means you can see at a glance who
you still have to send postcards to.
Please continue reading
part two of this series here.
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2 Sep 2005, last update
30 May 2021
This article is
copyrighted by David M Rowell, The Travel Insider LLC.