Summer is here, and so are the vacations we’ve been anticipating for months. But before the fun can begin, we have to conquer packing and get out of our houses without having a nervous breakdown.
Don’t wait until the last minute to start packing. It sounds obvious, but there is always so much to do before a trip — tying up loose ends at work, boarding pets, clearing out the refrigerator — that sometimes we end up just tossing a bunch of stuff into a bag at the last minute.
Start preparing early by making a detailed list of what you need to bring and buy. Then as you’re running errands in the days before you depart, you’ll know exactly what you need. Make your list thorough and include everything from underwear to sunglasses. A week before you leave, take clothes to the dry cleaners. Wash the rest of the clothes you’re packing at least two days in advance.
Write your packing list on a piece of paper or buy a packing list template like Knock Knock’s Pack This! Pad ($6.50, www.knockknockstuff.com) that requires only that you check off the pertinent items for your trip. For people who prefer a paperless method, Packing Pro is a well-regarded app that allows you to update your list on the go ($2.99, available for iPhone, iPod and iPad, www.itunes.com).
Tell family and trusted neighbors where you are going, how long you’ll be gone and how to reach you. Arrange for someone to collect your mail and newspapers or put a hold on them while you’re away.
Remember when we didn’t have to worry about bag fees, long security lines and three-ounce bottles? Although those rules and restrictions have made traveling more of a hassle, they also have the benefit of requiring us to pack more thoughtfully.
The maximum size for a carry-on at most airlines is 45 linear inches (height plus width plus depth), and the maximum weight is 40 pounds. Don’t pack the kitchen sink. Contact your hotel or host to ask whether they provide things like a hair dryer, iron or beach towels. Think through the outfits you’ll need and choose a central color to pack around. Brown, black and tan are good options that can be easily accessorized with brightly colored items. Bring items that can be repurposed or layered to create different outfits. And remember, in many places you can do laundry while you’re away, so pack individual detergent packets and a travel stain-treatment stick. A compact laundry bag will keep your dirty items separate from the clean ones (Reisenthel travel laundry bag, $3.99-$4.99, www.containerstore.com).
Wear your bulkiest shoes, sweater and jacket to save space. Pack any other shoes on the bottom of your bag and put smaller items inside them to save space and keep their shape.
Roll T-shirts, shorts, pants and undergarments. And if you want to be extra-organized, further compact and categorize your clothes with travel organizers like Eagle Creek’s Packing Cubes ($8.50-$42, www.eaglecreek.com). If you’re bringing pressed shirts, skirts, dresses or trousers, place plastic dry cleaning bags between each item to prevent wrinkling or use “packing folders” that allow you to compress many items at once while also keeping them wrinkle-free ($24-$40, www.eaglecreek.com).
Put your liquid toiletries in a clear, sealed, quart-size bag near the top of your suitcase so you can quickly remove it when you go through security. Many stores sell “airport-ready” clear travel kits with TSA-approved bottles for you to fill. Or use a regular resealable plastic bag and purchase travel-size products that are three ounces or less. Human Gear has created the GoToob, a “squeezable tube for traveling,” that is food safe, BPA-free and approved for carry-on luggage ($6.99-$9.49, www.humangear.
Carriers like Stella & Dot’s Bring It jewelry roll allow you to pack your jewelry securely in one place without taking up a lot of space ($39, www.stelladot.com). Buy a lightweight sleeve for your laptop, tablet or e-reader. And a multi-port USB hub allows you to charge several devices at once.
Make sure you’re not packing important or valuable items in the bags you’re checking. Again, this seems obvious, but in the whirlwind of getting out the door, items that should remain with you at all times can end up in the wrong bag. You don’t want to be caught without passports, itineraries or medical papers. And when a child has an accident on a long flight, that change of clothing won’t do any good in the belly of the plane.
Anzia is a freelance writer and owner of Neatnik. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.