Tips on how to make the most out of your luggage space and travel in style
Whether you are an inexperienced traveler or jet-setter, who hasn't made some mistakes while packing? I'm currently getting ready for a trip to Guatemala, so I thought it was the perfect time to share some of my personal packing strategies that I use for every trip. And packing, when done efficiently, does involve a great deal of strategy! You have to prioritize and negotiate in order to get all of your necessities (and wants) into a limited space.
Some important questions to ask yourself when considering what you will bring:
- What is the purpose of your trip? What types of activities do you have planned? Make sure you have the proper clothing and other necessities for all your activities, and that the proportion of the items you bring match the frequency of the events. If you plan to spend the week at the beach, one swimsuit for the week probably won't cut it, but if you are on business trip, you might be wise to pack one bathing suit in case you have time for a dip in the hotel pool. If you have a range of activities planned, make sure your clothing reflects that. If you will be hiking, swimming, and going out dancing, you will have to make space for all the paraphernalia associated with each plan...that means footwear, clothing, and extras like beach towels or bug repellent.
- Where are you going? When are you going? Researching the weather of the place you are going is crucial. I have made some unwise assumptions about weather in the past. I failed to take the time to check out actual temperatures and yearly weather patterns, and I suffered the consequences. When I moved to Northern Florida for college, I assumed that since it was Florida, that it would be hot all year long. I filled my bag to the brim with skimpy tanks and summer dresses. Little did I know Northern Florida can get really chilly! When The first "cold snap" of the fall came I was out in the cold...literally. So, do your homework and google the weather information! Don't forget to look into any season-specific weather concerns. Is it rainy season? Does it snow often? Is it a tropical environment? Will you travel to different regions that have different weather during the same trip?
- How long will you be there? The length of your stay will help determine how much you should bring. It is much easier to pack for a short stay where leaving something behind probably isn't too big of a deal. Packing for an extended period of time raises the stakes. Every item you bring limits your space. This is where the strategy comes in. See my tips below for how to maximize space.
- What are your accommodations like? This is a good determiner of whether it's ok to pack heavy or if you should pack lighter. If your travel plans are direct, and your room is spacious you can probably afford to over-pack, but if you will be traveling from place to place, have connecting flights, or will be using taxis/public transportation, it is probably better to pack lighter and not have to drag all your belongings around with you. Packing is a balancing act between having all the things that make you feel comfortable and your level of ease of transporting those things. It isn't always an easy to know which is more important. Would you rather suffer it out dragging around tons of bags but have all your most awesome stuff, or would you rather sacrifice some of your style or comfort for a few days and make your travel easier? That's important to consider.
- What footwear is appropriate for your trip? How much will you be walking? Where will you be walking? Will there be special events or activities? Will it be hot, rainy, cold? Will you exercising? Attending some formal event? This is a really important consideration! I once packed a really cute pair of wedge sandals when visiting Guatemala. As I stepped out of my hotel onto the cobblestone streets of Antigua, I nearly broke my ankles! That was the only time those shoes saw the light of day during my trip.
- Are there any cultural or safety concerns related to how you dress? In any country, tourists make a great target for thieves, but some places are more dangerous than others. If you dress in expensive or designer clothing, you might want to tone it down if your style could make you a target for robbery. Also, take local culture into consideration. Some types of clothing that are perfectly appropriate in one place are odd (or even offensive) in another. This is especially true for women. The repercussions for dressing too "sexy" can be anything from just getting cat calls or odd looks to putting yourself in real danger. Especially for Western women, its easy to make those types of fashion mistakes. For instance, in South Korea it is not common to see women in spaghetti straps or strapless clothing. (Short shorts and skirts are fine, however) In the US sleeveless or low-cut tops are perfectly acceptable. As an American in Korea, you won't get into any trouble by wearing those things, but you may get a few creepy old men staring at you. In some places, little fashion errors like that can be a more serious problem. I personally like to try my best to conform to the standards of whatever place I visit. I would rather fit in with the locals than stand out as a tourist.
- What electronics will you need? If you bring a laptop etc, will you have internet access? Are those items likely to be stolen? If you are traveling in a developed country or metropolitan area, the situation for electronics will be quite different than if you are going to a place that is developing or remote.
- Roll clothes, don't fold them. This is pretty common travel advice, but it works. It saves space and makes clothes less wrinkly.
- Consider fabric care when packing. Will you stay in a hotel/bring a travel iron? If you aren't going to have access to an iron, make sure the clothes you bring aren't made of high maintenance fabrics. Even if you are backpacking that doesn't mean you have to look like a backpacker!
- To conserve space, I usually choose a color family I'll wear during the trip, and/or pack neutral shoes, bags, belts and jackets. For a medium-length stay I usually bring a set of brown and black shoes, bags and jackets. I don't care how cute my outfit is, if it looks best with a standout bag or shoes, I leave it home. I try to think like those fashion articles that show you how to combine a few selected pieces to create a variety of outfits. I want the most versatility for the least amount of space. I bring items that easily dress up or down, and that can be worn alone or layered to adapt to different weather. Of course, if I am taking a short and direct trip, then I can include distinctive items like red heels or a mint-colored bag.
- Pack smart. Trade out bulky pieces for lighter smaller ones. I love wearing dresses when I travel. They take up considerably less space than jeans, and you look pretty, too.
- If possible, I try to wear the bulkiest clothing on the plane. If I'm packing one pair of boots, I'll wear those and pack my lighter shoes. Same for the jacket or sweater I chose to wear for the flight.
- Carry a backpack or tote. Although it keeps getting more and more restrictive in the US, most carriers still allow one carry-on and one personal bag (that can fit under the seat). I usually slide my purse into a tote/backpack and use that as my "personal bag." It is also great to have a larger bag like that in case you make a short overnight trip or day trip while at your destination.
- Use every nook and cranny of space! When I pack for a longer trip, I usually carry the largest bag allowed, and pack it just under the weight limit. (Which if you are flying within or out of the US is usually 50lbs) I even put small clothing items like socks or panties into shoes and empty handbags!
- Bring a towel..or don't bring a towel. If you are staying at a hotel, towels are almost always provided. But keep in mind that towels are not always a given at places like hostels or other backpacker-type hotels. If in doubt, pack one. But if you are staying in a hotel that provides clean towels daily, why not save that space for something more useful?
- Don't forget an umbrella! I like to throw a cheap mini umbrella in my suitcase. It doesn't take up much space and it's no big deal if I lose it/leave it behind.
- Make sure to check out the voltage of the country where you will be staying. Pack a converter if necessary, and if you can, bring extras. I never realized how many electronic items I use daily until I was only able to use one plug at a time.
- Travel hair irons and dryers can save space, but I find that smaller tools are much less effective. Is it worth the space you save? It depends on your hair type and style. I sometimes use travel hair appliances, other times I just pack my regular items.
- When shopping for (or considering packing) regular-sized hair appliances check the voltage specifications. Many of the better brands are universal.
- Research the phone situation. Can you use your phone where you are going? Is it expensive? How will you call home? Do you need to? Will you need to make local calls? There are lots of options for staying in touch, and it varies from place to place. I really hate being without a phone. For stays of 3 weeks or more, I sometimes buy cheap prepaid cell phones locally. It depends on where you are traveling and your own phone service, so if you check it out before you go, you might make your life a lot easier, and possibly save money.
- Don't forget to bring along any medicine you might need. I usually bring at least a few cold meds in case I get sick. It is the worst to get sick in a foreign country and not be able to find the type of medicine you like to use.
- Scale down your make-up routine. I usually bring only the basics. I stick with a natural look without too many steps. I also stopped bringing my absolute favorite eye shadows etc. when I travel, after one of my favorite MAC pallets was destroyed from being dropped in transit. Now, my Naked Palette waits for me at home!
- Make sure you store liquids in plastic. I usually use the plastic pouch that came with my suitcase and wrap it with 2 layers of plastic bags. Discovering that your shampoo leaked all over everything during your flight...not a fun way to start your trip!
- For short stays, I like to use samples instead of full-sized products. If you can't live without your favorite shampoo or lotion, you can always put them into a travel sized bottle to save space.
- For longer stays, I like to bring travel-sized personal products that will get me through the first couple of days, but then buy a full-sized product locally. Shampoo, body wash, toothpaste etc. take up valuable weight and space in my luggage. Plus, it is always fun to try out new products.
- But...If you are traveling internationally, don't assume you will find the same "necessities" in all places. For example, there are parts of the world where tampons are not widely used. If you are able to find them, they will likely be expensive. Deodorant is another product that is less common in certain areas. If in doubt, check it out, or if you can't live without it, just bring your own to be sure.
- Use checked and carry-on luggage strategically. If my checked bag is too full, I put heavy items in a carry on to avoid being charged overweight fees. If I have extra space in the checked luggage, I like to put all the heavy stuff in there to avoid having to carry it while transferring planes. I usually volunteer if they offer to check carry-ons for free due to lack of space. But be careful, last time I did that, my luggage arrived 2 days late! Not cool.
- Never, ever, put anything in your checked luggage that you are not willing to lose. Seems common sense, but I've heard so many stories. My coworker had a bunch of silver jewelry that he bought in the Philippines stolen from his checked bag. They also recently busted a theft ring of employees in the Philadelphia International Airport. Please keep your valuables with you! Or better yet, leave them home if you can.
- Don't stress! Packing might be a bit of a pain, but it means you are going somewhere! You don't want to cause yourself inconvenience by forgetting something important. Still, no matter how well you pack, you will probably leave something behind. But don't sweat it too much, that just leaves extra room for souvenirs!