At this time of year, you only have to hashtag #packing and pages of frustration and angst cascade your screen, with it being The Number One Pet-Hate about traveling. So whether you’re off to volunteer in Africa or take an overland adventure, why do so many fear the “dreaded packing”?
I’m very lucky to have traveled a lot, to all continents, and I must confess, I really quite enjoy the packing process. I know, some people call that weird and freaky, but I find it really helps to build the momentum and excitement of the imminent trip. So how, I hear you beg, do I manage that?
1 – Make it fun. First off, I love to make my packing into another personal challenge. I’m not going to let that one little ‘event’ ruin my excitement and adventure of my travels. So, the key is to prepare early enough (NOT the night before, as it really is too late to sort out your work visa then), do a little bit of homework and it can then be fun.
2 – Be like a Brownie or Cub Scout, and “Be Prepared”. In my experience, if you start with a freshly laundered wardrobe, it takes away a lot of pain – mental and physical. Whatever you decide to pack will then be clean, and whatever you leave behind, will be ready to wear when you return – plus it will free up the washing machine for all the desperate-to-be-washed and not-been-washed-in-ages traveling gear.
3 – Get with the locals. Check the weather and altitude at your local destination, and the season you will be traveling. You may be packing an umbrella, rather than a parasol?
4 – Personalise. So, once you’ve checked your passport & visa, vaccination requirements, got your insurance, and confirmed your baggage restrictions for weight and size, it’s time to personalise – not just your clothes and accessories on the inside of your luggage, but on the outside too. So many bags look the same these days, so a unique ribbon, tag or badge could be the answer – anything that will help you choose it out in the audience. Ask them to put a “Fragile” tag on it, which ensures your bags will be put on top of the heap and be first off the aircraft.
5 – Bag it. I’m often asked whether I’d recommend a suitcase or rucksack. And for a trip to Africa, for example, I’d definitely recommend a rucksack – it is so much easier for carrying the weight of your “stuff” between airport, trucks, campsites etc.
6 – Lay it all out. Lay out all of your clothing at home. Remove half of the clothing and three quarters of the shoes. Then pack. Simple. I’ve even heard of people taking photos of the different stages of preparation and adding them to their new travel blog, to incentivise them to reduce more, and see their progress.
7 – Pack light. Never, ever, ever, pack to capacity! Packing a backpack to its full capacity is a disaster in progress, and should be no more than about 75% full. Remember the golden rule for packing a backpack - When in doubt, leave it out! OK, so taking Point 6 a little further…..
(i) Where possibly, keep away from denims. They process dust (and odors), are heavy and take time to dry. Natural cotton and khaki are the way to go.
(ii) Mix and go with. Bring three tops and three bottoms that will match – that is 9 possible outfits.
(iii) Don’t take anything that needs ironing and then roll your clothes in your suitcase or bag to save space – plus it also makes your clothes LESS creased!
(iv) Regardless of where you are going, make sure you have at least one outfit where your knees and shoulders will be covered (this applies equally to men).
(v) Every nation I’ve ever frequented provides detergent – you will be able to wash your clothes and keep on wearing!!
8 – Jimmy Choo or Nike? Shoes are the single most space-consuming item in your luggage. It therefore makes sense to try and limit the space they take up in your bag. I love my shoes, but when I travel, I try to restrict myself to 2 pairs – one pair on (generally the largest) and one in the bag. If you make the right choices, it is possible to manage with just 2 pairs. (If you are staying in accommodation with shared bathrooms, a pair of flip flops is definitely OK though). So that’s one pair of trainers/sneakers (or walking boots), one pair of flats, and a pair of flip flops – I know, I know that’s 3 pairs – but we’re all still trying here J
9. ”Just in Case” items. I love this one, and it’s still one that I wrestle with. Unless it is ‘just in case’ you get sick/get into danger you do not need to pack things just in case….just don’t do it. Leave the fancy clothes behind, and stick to sensible separates in plain colours and fabrics that can be dressed up or down. How often do you return home from your trip, with a third of your suitcase of un-worn items – that Harry Potter fancy dress party just didn’t happen on your trip eh? And do not bring anything priceless or irreplaceable.
10 – Your bathroom cabinet. If you need to bring your own sanitary items, bring smaller packs so it won’t take so much space – decanter large bottles into smaller containers, and only take half a tube of toothpaste rolled up tight, for example. And in nearly all situations, you will be able to stock up on local shampoo, soap and toothpaste, once you are out there. But don’t forget any personal medications you may need.
11 – We love Plastic! It is always handy to have a few plastic bags around certain items, especially toiletries, and when there is torrential rain. Not only does it counter any leaking, the bags can also come in useful to keep dirty clothes in, as garbage bags or even as a makeshift umbrella. Ziplock or other airtight plastic bags are the best.
12 – Hand luggage. The parameters for the size and weight of hand luggage, are constantly changing and vary greatly between airlines. But the constant that I would recommend, is to always put your essentials in your hand luggage so if your main luggage goes missing (which happens with alarming frequency in some countries) you will get by until you get it back.
13 – The little ‘extras’. A little gift from home. Don’t forget to donate something to the local people or area, that will be of value to them – it will also allow space for the souvenirs you are bound to buy. And don’t forget to take photos of your family to show new friends, a notebook & pens for thoughts/diary, a photocopy of your passport/visas/insurance, an emergency phone number, a fleece, and a head torch (you’ll become a fan). Top tip – when packing items with batteries, turn the batteries around so that if the item is accidentally turned on, you won’t empty the batteries.
14- The final count-down. Departure Day has arrived. It’s time to turn off the central heating, lock your windows and doors, empty the trash, check-in on-line, check flight times, and start that adventure.
So, pack light, pack right and have a great trip!