As if the holiday season wasn't stressful enough with its onslaught of family obligations, it's also when most people find themselves at the mercy of the TSA and the airport gods. Traveling is a pain, period. It's always going to be uncomfortable and boring. But there are a few ways to make the process work for you, especially if you pack lighter. The decision to travel light will simplify your trip and make your days remarkably worry-free. No more towers of suitcases to deal with, just a bag and a plan. If only families were this easy.
How to Pack
Knowing how to pack is the first step in learning what's important and what's just a burden.
- Don't check a bag unless absolutely necessary: This one probably seems obvious, but it's such a good one it bears mentioning. Checking a bag drastically increases the number of things you have to keep up with when you travel, not to mention it might be for nothing if the bag gets lost. If you want to travel fast and light, only take what can fit in a carry-on and personal item. It's the rule that applies to all of these suggestions: less is always better.
- Consider a duffel: Longer trips need more luggage, but a weekend getaway is perfectly suited to a soft, easily transported duffel bag that you can cram full of clothes.
- Plan to do laundry: Traveling for a week doesn't necessarily mean taking separate outfits for each day. Doing laundry on a vacation is a great way to get more use out of your clothes and get away with packing less.
- Plan to buy stuff when you arrive: You know the stuff you're packing? Wherever you're going, they have it for sale. Guaranteed. Don't worry about finding space for random or extraneous items like batteries or toiletries. Just buy it when you arrive.
- Bundle your clothes: This handy wrap-style packing method gets the most use out of your luggage space.
- "If in doubt, leave it out.": If you think an item might be handy but you aren't totally sure you'll use it, leave it home. If it's something you can't get along without, take it. Anything that raises doubt isn't necessary for your trip, and if you wind up wanting it, you can just buy a replacement.
- If you have to, ship something ahead: Just because you'll be gone a while doesn't mean you have to give up the convenience of traveling light. Pro tip: Ship a box of low-priority items (extra shoes, etc.) to your destination ahead of departure. Your stuff will be waiting when you get there, and you won't have to deal with hauling it around in a bulky suitcase. The shipping is worth the peace of mind.
- It's called layering, people: The best way to get more mileage out of your clothes is to layer your outfits so that a few simple items can be mixed around to provide multiple ensembles.
- Leave half your items behind: It's an old adage, but a smart one: pack your bag, then remove half the stuff and leave it. It's a great way to force you to look hard at what you're packing and why.
- "Never buy if you can borrow.": Some travelers think they need to buy certain supplies before hitting the road, but a key to traveling light is often taking advantage of whatever's around you. Many hotels provide toiletries, for instance, and if you're staying with friends, they can probably help you out, too. Don't invest in things you can naturally come by.
- Use your shoes: If you're packing an extra pair of shoes, stuff them with rolled-up socks, underwear, jewelery, or something similarly small. That way you lose as little space as possible.
- Wear your bulkiest item when you depart: If you're taking a jacket, there's no sense trying to wad it up or pack it. Instead, wear it to the airport and save space in your bag.
What to Pack
Most of these are actually what not to pack. Bottom line: you need less than you think.
- Don't take a Swiss Army knife: Are they handy? Definitely. But they're still a monumentally dumb thing to travel with in a post-9/11 world. If you really, really need to take it, mail it ahead so it'll be waiting when you arrive at your destination. Security doesn't want to have to deal with it.
- Don't take a hair dryer: Chances are you'll be staying somewhere that has a hair dryer, whether it's a hotel or friend's house. They're far too bulky to take on trips, and if you're heading overseas, you might have the wrong voltage anyway. Just leave it at home.
- Get three weeks' worth of stuff in one bag: John Finn can get everything he needs for a three-week tour of Europe in one (!) carry-on bag. If he can do it, so can you.
- Travel shoes: Everyone needs a good pair of travel shoes: something sturdy but comfortable that will see you through any situation. It's a good idea to wear these as you depart, too, since they're too bulky to bother packing.
- Don't take books: Seriously, they're just dead weight. Investing in an e-reader is a smart move, but if you want to stick with paper, take as few as possible, preferably just one. You won't need more.
- Don't repeat yourself: If you want to take jeans, only take one pair. Same goes for shorts and pants. It's needless to take more: if you destroy an item, you can buy a replacement, and if you dirty it, you can wash it.
- Don't take a computer: It's almost guaranteed that you won't need your laptop. You can wait until you get home to transfer photos from your digital camera to your hard drive, and you can check e-mail at an Internet cafe or on a smart phone. Unless you're going for a long time (like, months) and will be working from the road, leave the bulky machine behind.
- Go mini: A lot of items that can be handy on the road come in miniature versions that are ideal for travel. Nail clippers, flashlights, book lights, and even portable clotheslines are available in sizes that will help lighten your load but not leave you wanting.
Traveling With Kids
Parenting's already a challenge. Don't add to it by making your trips a nightmare.
- Don't take too many diapers: Obviously, you'll need plenty; kids are horrifyingly proficient when it comes to pooping. But you only have to pack a small number. The rest you can buy upon arrival. It'll save tons of luggage space.
- Emphasize disposability: Small toys with high reusability are key to keeping children happy while traveling, and you should also focus on items like coloring books that are easily stored and can be tossed when completed.
- Leave most of those toys behind: You always need fewer toys than you think you will. Entertain your kid with a few of their favorites.
- Use a wrap when possible: Carrying an infant in a sling frees your hands to do other things, like carry a bag.
- Don't take too many outfits: Young children and toddlers need fewer clothes than you'd think, plus they're also going to get everything dirty anyway. Take a few items, launder them on-site, and travel easy.