They say half the fun is getting there. A fourth of it is in the planning, preparing, and packing. That’s when you revel in excited anticipation, imagining the possibilities as you pack your board shorts. You can almost feel the sand between your toes as you try on your new water shoes. Well, maybe that’s not the case for all. If you are one of those who, despite the advanced planning, almost always ends up paying for excess baggage and always forgets at least one essential like say, your underwear, then here’s a game plan to go by if you want to take this vacation thing seriously.
1. Start with a good base—your suitcase. Figure out what works best for your itinerary. If it’s a short trip you may just need an overnight bag. You can opt for a small hard-shell luggage that has wheels and can easily be stowed in the plane’s overhead compartment. A duffel bag which is easy to tote around as a carry-on is also a good idea. Keep in mind that carry-on luggage should be a total of 45 inches if you add length, width, and height. Checked bags should be under 62 inches of your total length, width, and height. Some airlines may have different size requirements so double check with your carrier.
Remember that the bigger your suitcase is, the easier it will be for you to pack things that you don’t really need. (Trust us, you can do without the disco ball and the beer helmet). And don’t go so cheap unless you don’t mind seeing your luggage coming out of the conveyor belt held together by packing tape with your hosiery hanging out because your bag fell apart while it was being tossed around. There are reasonably priced suitcases that are not only durable but also lightweight. For hardcase luggage, aluminum is top-notch if you’re willing to pay top dollar. Polycarbonate material for hard-sided suitcases is even lighter than aluminum but these are durable and impact resistant.
You want a bag that you can easily cart around, especially if it’s heavy. Make sure the wheels can handle all sorts of terrain and not just the airport’s smooth floors. It should also be able to swivel easily, allowing you to push and pull in any direction.
Black may be a safe choice, but it is also hard to distinguish from the hundreds of suitcases that go through baggage claim. You may want to choose a distinct color or one with a unique print. If leopard print or neon is not your thing, then get a distinguishing sticker that proudly shows off your alma mater, your favorite band, or your hometown. Have fun with bumper stickers or big eye-catching bag tags. Some even tie ribbons or scarves around handles or attach colorful zip ties and key chains to zipper ends. If you have a bag made of fabric, personalize with patches.
2. Every seasoned traveler has a toiletry kit or even an overnight bag ready all the time. If you always have one ready, you can pick up and go. A dedicated travel bag will also guarantee that you won’t forget anything. It’s probably happened to you at least once when you’ve had more than enough time to pack, and you thought you got everything covered, but when you get to your destination, you realize that you forgot your contact lens solution or toner. Of course, there’s always the local store, but it would be likely that they won’t have the brand that you’re used to.
3. To ensure that you don’t forget anything, make a list and check it twice. Lay out your outfits on the bed before you start stuffing them in the suitcase. When you think you have everything you need, edit away. Prioritize basic pieces that will give you several days’ worth of wear like a little black dress or a good pair of comfortable slacks that will take you from day to night. Think versatility and make sure each piece can be worn easily with other pieces in your bag. Aim to pack light, because you don’t want to be literally burdened with a heavy load when you should be wandering around carefree. This also gives you an excuse to go shopping for a new—and unique—outfit.
4. Go for wrinkle-free fabrics so you don’t have to worry about ugly creases on your clothes especially when you don’t have the time to iron. Go for Tencel or Lyocell (a synthetic of rayon), polyester, knits, spandex, nylon, cashmere, and wool. In most cases, all you need to do to release the wrinkles is hang your clothes for a few hours after unpacking. Shower steam can also help smooth creases, so it may be a good idea to hang your clothes in the bathroom.
5. If you bought a new pair of goggles for the trip, make sure you unwrap them and throw away packaging that can easily take up space. Using different pouches or bags can take up space, too. Do away with toiletry kits and makeup bags. To organize your items, go for mesh or plastic zip bags. They also allow you to easily see where things are so you’re not digging into your bag to find something. Shoe bags can also be bulky and heavy. They may not sound too glamorous but plastic bags are more practical. Another option is to use the fabric drawstring bags that hotels provide for laundry. You may want to invest in vacuum seal bags or clothes compressors. They can dramatically save you space as they tightly pack your clothes by sucking out air.
6. Make use of every space there is, so stuff your shoes with socks, breakable items, or even your kids’ shoes in it. Fill unused corners with underwear or other small articles of clothing. Avoid folding at all cost. Doing so insures creases and wasted space. Practice rolling up your clothes tightly and see how it maximizes space in your luggage.
7. If you want to avoid the lines at the baggage claim, challenge yourself to pack everything in your carry-on and discover how packing light can be very liberating. It will also save you on baggage fees and the risk of losing your bag. After following all these tips and you still forget something like say, your undies, don’t sweat it. You’re on vacation. It’s the time to be free. Go commando.