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What to Pack For Vacation: Packing Tips for Packing Light

By Edited May 19, 2015 1 0
Best Way to Pack a Suitcase
Credit: Opensource

The worst thing about preparing for a vacation is not all of the things you have to finish at work before you leave, but the moment you realize you have to pack your suitcase.

Why is this a miserable experience for most?

Well, for one thing it requires a lot of thinking and preplanning. You have to think about what you will be wearing days into the future. How many times do you ever do that unless you are packing for a vacation? Here is where the anxiety begins, but it does not end there.

Depending on how long the trip will be and whether it is by plane, train or automobile, you have to decide how much, and how many bags you will take.

When traveling by car, this may not be an issue unless you are taking a family vacation with kids in one vehicle. At that point, space is at a premium and how and what you pack does matter. Even if you are traveling with one of those luggage racks or enclosed boxes on the roof of your car, you still have to mind what you take.

Types of suitcases matter in tight spaces. I can tell you from experience, if you must pack a luggage carrier or car trunk, make everyone pack soft luggage like duffle bags. Hard cases limit your flexibility.

Traveling by air plane presents a different challenge. With airline fees for nearly everything on the rise, a critical decision for a lot of travelers is whether to check a bag or not.

Whether you are taking a road trip or packing for air travel, there are some basic traveling tips you can follow to minimize the anxiety and help you get the most out of your limited space.   

When Packing a Suitcase, Pack In Stages

Whenever I am going on a vacation, I always set my suitcase out on a bed in an empty bedroom and begin to slowly pack. The extent of this process depends on whether or not I am flying, the climate at my destination and how long of a stay it will be.

Do not wait until the night before you are scheduled to leave to do this. Packing for a trip at the last minute leads to anxiety and bad decisions.

Packing in stages allows you to do one other thing. Reassess your initial decisions on what you are taking. How many times have you arrived somewhere and realized you brought a bunch of cloths that you didn’t need? If you need to create a vacation checklist, go ahead, it might save you some money after you arrive at your destination.

Packing slowly, days, or even weeks in advance allows you a trial run. More often than not, you will end up reassessing your initial thoughts, and pulling out items as you go along. This is especially important if you are going on a business trip. You need a slow packing process so you do not get to your destination and realize you forgot your tie or belt. 

When Flying, Should You Check a Bag?

Carry on bag size
Credit: mjpyro

If you are only going away for a few days, prioritize outfits and get everything in a carry-on. You are allowed a carry-on and a personal item on most carriers, so use them, just be aware of the carry on restrictions and carry-on luggage dimensions that must be followed. If necessary, add some additional items in your personal item bag. Consider it padding for your laptop.

If going by air for longer trips. I highly recommend checking your allotted bags. Some domestic carriers now charge you a fee for even one checked bags, but if you are going for more than a few days, it is worth it in my opinion.

For international air travel, checked bags are free, so given the fact that most people do not fly to Paris, Rome or Rio for 2 or 3 days, I strongly recommend using your checked bag allowance. For most carriers, you can take up to 70 lbs. in your checked bag internationally.

Knowing you have that extra luggage space will reduce the anxiety you feel when packing your bags at home. More space equals more clothing options and personal items to mix and match which is important if you are going to more exotic locations or will be attending multiple trade shows or business meetings. You do not want to show up every day in the same suit and tie.

What to Pack for Vacation - Pack Smart if Traveling Light

If you are dead set against checking a bag, you must focus on packing smart. You need to maximize your limited space.

First, depending on the amount of time you will be staying and the type of events you will be attending, you need a wardrobe to match all occasions. And since your space is limited with a carry-on bag, you have to be smart.

The best advice I can give you is to pack clothing that you are able to mix and match, both style wise and color.

For business trips, pack ties and shoes that go with multiple suits.

For casual events, pack pants that can be worn with multiple types of shirts. For instance, khaki pants go with virtually any color or pattern.  However, if you have a pair of plaid shorts, skip the plaid or striped polo type shirts. Stick with solid colors.  This might seem trivial, but remember, space is limited so you want your wardrobe to go as far as possible with the least amount of possibilities. You cannot take everything you own, so you have to color coordinate so you can mix and match.  If you will be socializing in an upscale setting at night, take a generic navy sport coat which will go with everything from khakis to blue jeans. 

Again, these are good road trip tips as well, particularly if you are traveling in one vehicle with multiple people. If everyone tries to bring everything they own for every possible occasion, that car is going to fill up fast.

How to Pack a Suitcase - Suitcase Packing Tips

One of the best tips for packing a suitcase is to roll up your clothing rather than folding it and laying it flat as you normally would. Obviously you would not want to do this with certain types of pants or shirts, but for underwear, socks and virtually anything else, it is fine and it will save you space in your suitcase because you can stuff it in all of the unused areas of your bag.

As for wrinkled clothing, you are just going to have to get over that. It is going to get wrinkled no matter what you do. Put that out of your mind and accept that you will need to iron your clothing in your hotel room once you arrive. That will help you get over some of the packing anxiety.

Pack Your Favorites

When traveling to other destinations for vacation, you may get the feeling that you need to dress differently than you do at home. Resist that temptation. It’s not the time to try out stuff in the back of your closet that you have been meaning to wear.

Go with what you know.  You don’t want to get to wear you are going and realize you didn’t bring the right shirt to wear with your pants because you were experimenting with new ideas when packing back home.

The one caveat to that would be if you are traveling to a beach location. People there dress differently than people that do not live near the beach. It is more laid back.

Type of Suitcase Matters

How to Pack a Suitcase
I learned a little trick from my many trips to  Brazil. I take regular moving boxes for my checked bags instead of luggage. How?

Well, whenever I go to Rio, I typically take a lot of stuff for my apartment so rather than hauling empty checked bags on the return flight, I discovered that the moving boxes from Lowes or Home Depot are the perfect size for your checked bag limit.

Your checked bags are allowed to be 62 linear inches, meaning any combination of length, width and height of the bag cannot exceed 62 inches. The boxes are a perfect 62 linear inches.

But more importantly, they weigh nothing, so there is no natural suitcase weight going toward your allotted weight limit, typically 70 lbs. In short, you can get more inside. Then when you arrive, simply throw away the boxes and get them out of the way.

While that may be a unique situation that not everyone can utilize, it is something to keep in mind if you are ever taking anything on a flight that will remain at the destination.

Hard or Soft Suitcase?

The answer to that question depends on what you are packing. If you have a lot of clothing a hard case suit case is best because it will limit some of the wrinkling. You definitely do not want to pack business clothing in a duffle bag.

Having said that, hard case suitcases do have a downside when it comes to transporting them in cars. They are less flexible than soft cases or bags so your options of transporting them in car trunks and backseats will be more limited. Even if you are going on a long road trip with family, steer everyone toward using soft cases or duffle bags.

This advice even applies to traveling by air. Once you arrive, you will probably be traveling by taxi from the airport to your destination. Destinations in Europe and South America simply do not have cars as large as what we are used to in the United States so prepare for a smaller taxi than you are accustomed to in the USA. There are no Crown Victoria or Lincoln Towncar taxis that you see so much of in New York City.  

So take that into consideration even if traveling by air. Trust me, I’ve had to ride in the front seat of a taxi in Rio several times because the trunk and back seat were filled with just two checked bags or boxes and a carry-on.

Final Thoughts

How to Pack a Suitcase
Credit: mjpyro

While some of this advice may seem like common sense, you would be surprised at how many people do not know how to pack or travel for that matter. We have all seen them in the TSA line holding up everyone.

There are ways you can pack that can minimize the stress associated with planning a vacation or business trip. Do not wait until the last minute because that will lead to bad decisions. You will either end up at your location with items you do not need, or possibly forget something you did need and find yourself buying it on the fly.

Packing for a trip does not have to be a miserable experience. Rehearse your packing over several days or weeks. This means taking stuff out sometimes as you change your mind. Over time, you are more likely to end up with the things you actually need rather than making quick decisions that lead to bad outcomes.

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