People assume because of the high volume of flights I take, I must be one Hell of a packer. This isn’t necessarily true, especially because many of my trips are in combination with others and it’s downright impossible to pack light (e.g. in 2007, over a three-week period, I left NYC and flew to Iceland for a week where it never seems to be warmer than 40, then straight to Oktoberfest for a week where it was surprisingly warm then unexpectedly dropped 30 degrees and began to rain puppies and kittens, then all the way back to Tennessee for a wedding I was in, where it was still very mild + I had to pack dresses and heels for the various events…needless to say, my suitcase was massive!).
I get e-mails from people wanting me to share my packing “secrets.” Now, I don’t think I’ve come to any conclusions that haven’t been written about over and over again, but since I’m leaving today on an eight-day trip to another continent in which I need a casual, warm-weather outfit for every day, as well as a “business casual” outfit (which I take to mean FUN! DRESSES!) every night, and I managed a pretty stellar cram job (all in a single carry-on-sized roller!) if I do say so myself, I thought I’d take this time to share my thoughts.
Roll your clothes. I take this same approach to organizing my drawer, as it saves a ton of space, plus things don’t seem to wrinkle nearly as badly. For some reason, rolling versus folding makes it much easier to find what you need. Pack empty plastic grocery bags or baggies to contain dirty clothes.
Pick a general color scheme. This could be hard if you’re gone for weeks, but my general rule of thumb (and I’m a garish dresser with a lot of bright colors in my wardrbobe) is to choose one neutral color that all my outfits will match…for the most part. I don’t tend to wear a lot of black, so I usually try to pack things that will all match one brown/tan pair of shoes and purse. In this case, I packed two pairs of dressy flip-flop sandals, one in silver and one in gold (so they’d pretty much match anything) and just one purse, my white Coach bag, that really will go with everything I’ve brought. Confession: I did kind of cheat this time, because there are two dresses that have black detailing, but I just threw in a light black cardigan that occupied no space whatsoever and can pair them both with the silver sandals. But generally, I stick to all things that match browns and only ever take one pair of heels at most (this time, none!). Not because I don’t love stilettos as much as the next girl, but they just take up too much room.
Pack delicates in a ziplock bag. I’ve taken to rolling my underwear, bras, socks and, in this case, bathing suits all into a one-gallon ziplock, then poking a hole in the bag, squeezing out the excess air and rolling it tight (kind of like those fancy, overpriced spacesaver bags you can buy at Target, only cheaper). Does this save a lot of space? Probably not (particularly because I usually just cram spare socks and panties into any remaining slot, like shoes, as it is). But it does save my sanity—instead of frantically unpacking my bag in search of undies every time I get somewhere (often on my assignments, I’m in a different city/country/hotel every night it seems), I can simply remove the bag and find what I’m looking for without messing the rest of my suitcase up.
Wear your heavy things. Since I work out every day I’m home in San Francisco, I’m often overly ambitious when traveling, thinking I’ll get up at 5:30am before I have to meet the group for breakfast, and hit the gym. This time is no different. I only ever take one set of workout clothes, though, because in reality you don’t actually have to wash them after every session (particularly if you’re just doing an hour on the elliptical here and there). Since I’m only taking a carry-on bag, I’m wearing my running shoes on the plane this time to conserve space (I’ll just swap them for plane socks en route for the sake of comfort). Ditto for my lone jacket, which I’ll probably roll up into the overhead compartent unless it’s really chilly.
Prepare a Travel Kit. I have a kit full of essentials—sleep mask, earplugs, ear buds, Band-aids, nail clippers, Advil, Benadryl, eye drops, Afrin—that I made and house in a small plastic box; it’s surprisingly compact and permanently resides in my carry-on. That way it’s ready to go every time I travel, and I’m not likely to forget it.
Know your flying rules. It still kills me when I see Facebook and Twitter updates (oh wait, you didn’t know? I’m now on Twitter! You can blame Ali…and Susan…but follow me here! Camels&Chocolate wouldn’t fit, so I had to think of something else and thus went with my childhood nickname) or am behind someone in line who gets pissed at the ticket counter person when she finds out that, oh noes!, she’s now being charged $25 for a first bag (or whatever that particular airline’s policy may be) and tries to object. Um, hello! Yeah, the baggage fees SUCK (and no, they have absolutely nothing to do with an increase in fuel prices last year like the airlines claimed, in case you didn’t know, as barrels of jet fuel are typically purchased up to five years in advance), but these rules have been in effect for nearly eight months now. They’re nothing new, and they don’t work on a case-by-case basis. So quit your whining. You’d also be surprised how many people still don’t account for the 3-1-1 liquid rule (in laymen’s terms: one quart CLEAR ZIPLOCK bag, one per person, liquids no more than three ounces in size; once I stupidly took a CLEAR makeup bag that zipped shut and they made me throw it away at security, I kid you not) and hold up the security line by arguing with the airport employee. DON’T BE THAT PERSON. (Truth be told, I actually don’t do what they say at all and surrender my liquids at the security belt anymore; rather, my eye drops, lipgloss, etc. (though always three ounces or less) are dispersed throughout my bag, SANS ziplock bag. And they’ve never once tried to search my bag after it’s gone through the screening. However, just to be safe, I always keep a ziplock bag or two handy just in case I have to pull a last-minute liquids packing job.)
Bring snacks. It absolutely chaps my hide that airlines are now charging for peanuts on domestic flights. Even when I’m flying international, I find the food service subpar, so I always take granola bars and ample 100-calorie snack packs (the oatmeal raisin cookies and chocolate toucan graham crackers from Trader Joe’s are my favorites) to hold me over. (Hey, I’m a growing girl!) Plus, I’ve had so many connecting flights that arrive after the terminal is closed for the night (wtf, airports? Is it so much to ask to keep ONE cafe open all night?) and didn’t leave again until the morning, that I will never again travel without sustenance.
Dress comfortably—and warmly. Duh. But so many delusional travelers still seem to think if you don the stifling business suit and pointy-toed shoes, you’ll be upgraded. Not true (particularly as now in lieu of filling first and biz class seats with those already booked in economy, airlines like Delta are opening them up for last-minute upgrade purchase at the “bargain” price of $250 or so). I have a pair of GapBody yoga pants that are the softest things in the world, and (since I think jeans are among the most rigid, uncomfortable things you could put on your body), I wear them on nearly every flight I take. I then throw on a tank and a long-sleeved J. Crew tee and top it off with a fleece or denim jacket and pashmina (I don’t know about you, but I’m ALWAYS cold on flights). And because some airlines are even charging for blankets now (I’m looking at you, JetBlue!), or else not stocking nearly enough, I finally invested in my own cozy pink Brookstone travel blanket (plus, a commercial pilot friend told me that they often don’t even wash the blankets between uses…ewww! If they are, however, wrapped and sealed in plastic, you know they’ve been drycleaned). On a semi-related note: If you’re in economy but check in early enough, you can often snag one of those coveted extra-foot-of-space exit row seats by just asking (just make sure they’re in the rows that decline; sometimes a sole exit row on each plane will have non-reclining seats). It used to be that you could book these seats when making your flight reservation, but for some reason, the airlines have either stopped allowing this or begun to charge for them in advance.
Know your rights. This one came to me in the 11th hour, but BFF/partner-in-crime Lemon (who will be visiting me in just a week, weeee!), almost got totally screwed by Delta when they canceled her flight over the holidays and rebooked her daaaaays later. Unlucky for Delta, sista knows her shit (plus, she got her super-genius lawyer brother on the phone to read her Delta’s Code of Carriage, which she then cited to them in order to get her money (2x the cost of her ticket) refunded–in cash!). Read her full account of how it unfolded (and how she kicked ass) here, and follow suit should you face a similar dilemma. If all else fails, and the airline won’t listen (it happens, too often), contact the Mother Teresa of Travel, Chris Elliott, who has helped both Lemon and me out in many a time of need.
Keep a copy of your itinerary in your checked back. This insightful one comes from Mrs. Who: “One thing I always do is have a complete itinerary typed and packed in my suitcase in case it is lost. I thought everyone did this until I mentioned it recently and everyone was shocked they had never thought of it. If your luggage tags are lost, they have no way of finding you. And, even if they have your address, they still don’t know you are on that cruise ship—without any clothes to wear!”
Invest in one really great piece of luggage, author and fellow globetrotter May Vanderbilt adds. I’d have to agree. For Christmas 2007, my mom gave me this amazing three-piece Delsey set in powdered blue (pictured below), and it has changed my traveling life. It’s sturdy and easily recognizable on the luggage belt. Plus, the carry-on with its various nooks and compartments is AWESOME. Previously, I always used red or black luggage, which—shocker—are the most common colors used by other travelers. The blue makes it easy to spot (and harder for someone else to make off with), though on one recent flight back to San Francisco, someone on my flight actually had the same bag! She ran after me as I went through customs to make sure I didn’t take hers by accident (I hadn’t; I ain’t that dumb! Still, she was wise to check before I got any further).
To further preserve space, I only take stacks of magazines (and books I don’t mind discarding) for reading material so I can dispose of them (recycle, of course) along the way, and ditto for toiletries; I always use mini-bottles I’ve saved from my previous hotel stay (though the majority of hotels well-stock rooms these days), or purchase them from the $1 bins at Walgreens. I bank on the hotel having a hairdryer (or else go without) and opt for taking either my curling iron or my straightener, but never both (travel’s all about sacrifices, ha). Other essentials include my laptop (always), Netflixed movies for said laptop (or else iTunes TV downloads; this flight, I will finally finish Mad Men season two!), Ambien (prescription sleeping pills), a universal converter, jewelry, sunscreen, bug spray, my LowePro slingback with my DSLR and multiple lenses, my small point-and-shoot for video capability and when I don’t feel like lugging around the big one, underwater camera housing, SCUBA gear (just mask, skin, fins, snorkel, booties) and, of course, a passport! All that in a tiny rolling bag. Aaaaand that’s all I can think of…for now. If you have any tips I failed to mention, please comment below, and I’ll add them to this list and link to your site.