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Well Traveled

A seamless vacation is within your family’s grasp provided you pack like a pro. And with so many factors at play, it’s easy to overpack or underpack, especially if you’ve waited until the last minute.

Gina Conroy
May 28, 2018

You’ve spent months, maybe years planning your dream vacation, or perhaps you haven’t given much thought to your impending trip at all. Your ticket’s been bought, passport acquired and itinerary outlined. You’ve researched all the airline luggage requirements or perhaps measured the cargo space in your car so you know exactly how much luggage can fit. But your excitement comes to a halt when you realize the most daunting part of your trip hasn’t been handled yet. How are you going to cram all the things you want to bring on your great adventure into your suitcase?

While packing may not be the most glamorous part of travel, it is a critical component to a stress-free trip. No one wants to get to their location realizing they forgot their “must-have” hair products that aren’t available locally or realize you have to pay $20 for a box of motion sickness pills so you can enjoy your cruise. Overpack and you have to lug around your heavy suitcase while risking a hefty baggage fine at the airport. Pack too little and you may end up wearing that outfit more times than you’d like because you didn’t plan ahead.

Thankfully, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to pack successfully. Whether driving or flying to your destination, here are some tips that can help any traveler pack like a genius.

While packing may not be the most glamorous part of travel, it is a critical component to a stress-free trip.
‍While packing may not be the most glamorous part of travel, it is a critical component to a stress-free trip.


Research your location
Make sure you not only research the weather during the time of your travel, but the cultural differences of the place you plan on visiting. Are there dramatic drops in climate from day to night? Be aware some countries frown upon shorts or tank tops. While you may not get “arrested” for going outside of the cultural norms, you may be sending messages you’re not intending.


Make a list
You can save yourself pre-vacation stress by making a list of the essentials things you need instead of throwing things into a suitcase the night before a trip. Are you going to the beach? Will you be rock climbing? Planning a skiing vacation where the nights are cold? Don’t forget to put any unique items you may need on your list. Make sure your list includes different sections for clothing, hygiene, medicine, electronics and notebooks. Leave space in each category in case you need to add items.

When Laura Drumb’s two grandsons were due close together in another state, she developed a packing list so when “the calls” came she could pack quickly and get on the road. The list proved invaluable many times, so Drumb keeps it on her computer and prints it out when she needs it. “I mark things out I don’t need for that trip and I pack without forgetting things.”

Packing templates are available online or you can create your own. While on your vacation, you may wish you had a certain item that didn’t make the previous list, so make sure you add that to the list when you get back home.


Pack light
Pack lightweight tops, pants and skirts and wear jeans while traveling. “Chiffon or jersey dresses [a whole outfit in one piece] are lightweight and can double for another outfit with outerwear accessories and scarfs,” says Alipha Khan.

“I was once stuck in Bhutan [located in South Asia] for seven days, but I packed for four,” says Khan. “Thanks to my tops being chiffon I handwashed them, and they were dry in a few hours.”

If you have access to laundry facilities or have packed your travel-sized detergent, or have access to water and soap, traveling with less shouldn’t be a concern.

Lucy Blackledge believes in the power of three when packing. “It applies to everything,” says Blackledge. “Three tops, three bottoms, three shoes, etc.” Going with the rule of three, consider walking shoes, dressy or night shoes, and then something like sandals or boots specific to your trip or location.


Mix and match
“I mix and match outfits to create several looks,” says Catherine Zoller.

Stick to one or two color schemes like black, brown or white. Choose brown or black shoes, not both. While black goes with everything, it may not be the right choice for a beach vacation. And if you must bring your favorite red shoes, make sure they go with several outfits and are comfortable to walk in.


Travel in layers
Layering clothing not only helps you get from one climate to another, but it saves space in your suitcase. Wear big, bulky boots or platform shoes while traveling, and wear your jacket instead of packing it. You can always stuff it in an overhead bin or use it as a pillow or blanket if you get warm.


Folding versus rolling
Most packers agree rolling clothes is the best way to save space and be organized. “It’s easier than stacking clothes in a suitcase, especially when it comes to jeans and thin shirts,” says Carly Booth.

Carol Baudin groups her outfits together and rolls a shirt, socks and undies for each day. “I bring one extra roll in case I need an unexpected change,” says Baudin.

While rolling clothes will save you room, it won’t lighten your load — especially since you’ll be able to fit more in. If weight becomes an issue, invest in soft canvas luggage to lessen the load. This also allows your luggage to fit in tight spaces.

Bailey Wilson prefers packing cubes and has never been more organized. “They’re the best investment ever,” says Wilson. “I use mesh cubes, so I can see what’s in them, which keeps me from digging through my bags looking for a certain item.”


Pack strategically
Pack the thicker items at the bottom, shoes at the sides, and make sure you have the clothes you’re needing first, at the top. If you’re packing a tight suitcase, and plan on living out of it, include a list or diagram of where a particular outfit is. Sounds like overkill now, but it may save you a headache later.

“I like to pack a week in advance, and then repack two days before,” says Nadine Later. “Second repacking leads to more ruthless elimination.”


Troublesome toiletries
Most travelers can get away with travel size bottles or samples of toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, though it’s important to pack them in plastic bags to avoid spillage. For extra protection, place a piece of clear plastic wrap underneath the seal.

“Using a shampoo bar, toothpaste tablets, soap bar and coconut oil for moisturizer is less of a risk of spills, less trouble at airport security, and eco-friendlier,” says Georgia Jeeves who switched to dry cosmetics.

For quick getaways, keep basic toiletries packed so all you have to do is throw your makeup in before you leave.


Souvenirs and gifts
If you like to bring back souvenirs remember to leave room in your suitcase. “I leave about 30 to 35 percent of my case empty for things to bring back, usually unusual spices, snacks or some kind of art,” says Khan.

If you’re packing gifts to give someone at your destination or breakables, wrap T-shirts around delicate items instead of wasting space and weight on Bubble Wrap or paper.


Airport security
You can move faster through security by packing your carry-on in layers so TSA agents can get a clear view of your items. Shoes, clothes, and electronics should be in separate layers if possible. One quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams, and pastes are allowed through the checkpoint in your carry-on or personal item, but these items are limited to 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item. Anything that doesn’t fit in one bag should be in checked baggage.


Carry-ons and personal items
Know what your airline’s requirements are for your personal items and use them wisely. You can shove a pair of tennis shoes and a small purse in a big tote instead of a smaller purse. Never send computers or important items through baggage claim. Pack valuable items like jewelry and a change of clothing in your personal item or carry-on just in case your luggage gets lost.

Most important, don’t forget to keep your airline tickets, itinerary, passport, identification and other important documents close. No one wants to get to the ticket counter and realize all that packing was for nothing if they can’t get on the plane.