There are so many ways to get excited about an upcoming trip and getting all your stuff ready for packing is one of them. Nothing quite rivals the excitement of packing your things and getting all your gear ready for a great adventure. That is, until you realize that you have way too much stuff and that there isn’t a chance in hell that you’ll make it all fit.
Many tend to view packing as a tedious chore that they just ‘need to get done’. But in many ways, travel packing is an art form, and one that is definitely worth mastering. Travel packing is all about finding that perfect balance. You want to make sure that you pack enough, without forgetting any essentials, but at the same time, you don’t pack too much. Lugging around a huge suitcase whilst travelling in extreme climates can be one of the worst experiences in traveling. Arriving at the airport only to have the check-in clerk tell you that your bag’s too heavy is not much better.
In many ways, packing properly can be seen as starting your trip on the right foot. Nothing is more satisfying than traveling around the world without anything holding you back or weighing you down. This page serves a guide to travel packing and aims to provide you with the best tips for packing efficiently and economically.
Suitcase vs. Backpack
The first decision you need make when packing for a big trip is whether you want to use a suitcase or a backpack. Suitcases are generally associated with typically touristic holidays, where you pack lots of stuff into a suitcase that spends most of its time in the hotel. If you don’t plan on moving around a lot, a suitcase might be the right thing for you, as it provides protection and plenty of space.
If you’re a backpacker, however, this is a bit of a no-brainer. The key question that backpackers and long-term travellers need to ask themselves is: big backpack or carry-on backpack? Though some might find it impossible to imagine travelling or months with a small backpack, it is definitely possible and often even preferable. A 40L Backpack is big enough for all your essentials and can be brought onto the plane with you. Having a small backpack has two major advantages in that you spend less money on checking in and you are guaranteed not to lose your luggage.
Though some people feel they need the space of a large backpack, there are some good arguments for the smaller one. If you are on a long trip, you will either have to go dirty from time to time, or wash your clothes regularly. Either way, the 6 extra clothing pieces that you can fit into a bigger backpack might not be worth the cost, especially if you are taking many flights.
Choosing What to Pack
Depending on your choice of bag, you will have a certain amount of space available. The main goal here is to make sure you only pack what you really need. First of all, avoid packing anything that you can easily buy wherever you are going. Shampoo bottle take up space, weight and have a high spill-risk. If you must pack toiletries, try to buy the little travel-containers or reuse and refill the ones you get in hotels. This is a great space saver.
When it comes to clothes, the same applies. Especially if you are travelling long-term, you will always have the chance to either wash your clothes or buy new ones if necessary. If you are travelling to Asia, Africa or South America, you’re better off packing less and buying whatever you might need along the way. If there is a piece of clothing that you just aren’t sure enough, leave it behind. If you end up needing it, you can always figure something out.
Another good rule for packing: Microfiber all the way. Microfiber towels and t-shirts are great because they take up little space and dry very quickly. Some travellers are known to wear the same microfiber t-shirt every day, washing it quickly every morning. Microfiber clothing can be a real space and time saver and if you buy it in black, it looks pretty good too.
Some obvious space wasters are books. If you can afford a kindle or a tablet, you are better off with either than packing a ton of heavy books. When it comes to other electronics and valuables, it’s best to leave them at home if you don’t think you will need or use them. Generally, the best method for avoiding being robbed is to not carry anything worth stealing.
Some things are an absolute must; so it is always important to remember to pack medicine, band aids and pain killers. If you’re travelling to more tropical countries, pack bug repellent and sunscreen, as they are cheaper and more reliable in the West. If you’re traveling in countries with a bad reputation for hygiene, consider packing a plastic bag, tissues and hand sanitizer.
Packing a lot of stuff can often be tempting, but there is nothing more liberating than travelling with light luggage and nothing superfluous.
Making It All Fit Perfectly
Now that you know what you’re packing, it’s time to make it all fit. It is always important to think ahead so that you can pack as efficiently as possible. One of the most annoying things is having to dig through your backpack because your paracetamol has slipped to the very bottom. Always make sure that the things you need the most are easily accessible, while the things you will need the least are at the bottom of your bag.
When it comes to packing clothes, the rolling method is a lifesaver, especially if you are packing a backpack. Rolling your clothes instead of folding them not only saves a lot of space, but it also prevents your clothes from creasing. One of the best methods is to ‘group’ your clothes to avoid having to dig for whatever you need. Basically, all you do is roll a pair of socks, underwear and t-shirt together, saving space and making every day’s outfit easily accessible.
If you’re only packing carry on luggage, make sure your laptop and liquids are easily accessible, as airport security usually asks you to take them out of the bag.
If you are packing shoes and they just won’t fit, try tying them to the outside of the bag. If they do fit, pack smaller objects into the shoes to save space and help the shoes keep their form in the bag. If you’re packing a shirt, try putting a belt behind the collar. This saves space and allows the collar to keep its shape.
If despite everything, you cannot make it fit, consider packing a few objects into a plastic bag. Most airlines allow carry on luggage and a small extra bag for those buying duty free products at the airport. Use this extra bag to your advantage and pack shoes or sweaters into the plastic bag.
If all fails and you feel like a risk-taker, just head to the airport with your over-packed luggage and practice your charm if confronted.
Keeping Your Belongings Safe
The main concern when packing is obviously safety. Nothing is more frustrating than having your luggage lost or your belongings stolen. Unfortunately, this is a risk that we take when we decide to travel, but there are a few measures that can be taken.
If you’re checking in a backpack or suitcase, make sure you make it unique in some way. In the Samsonite-era, every suitcase practically looks the same. Unique stickers or markings can help make your luggage more recognizable. This is especially important because you do not want someone else taking your luggage, thinking it’s theirs.
If you check in luggage, make sure you always keep your valuables in your carry on bag. Checked in luggage often gets manhandled and you don’t want your laptop tossed about.
It is also always a good idea to purchase a padlock for your bag. Even if your bag cannot use a padlock, many hostels offer lockers where you need to use your own lock.
Finally, there is one great little trick that only few people actually know about. Buy a ‘Fragile’ sticker and put it on your checked-in luggage. Not only will this make the baggage handlers take better care of your luggage, but it is also quite likely that they will put it on top of the luggage pile in the airplane to avoid it getting crushed. This will mean that your luggage will be one of the first to arrive in baggage claim.
At the end of the day, how much you decide to pack is a personal choice. Everybody has their needs and should definitely pack accordingly. Generally speaking, if you want to embrace the true nature of travel and life on the road, it is better to pack lightly. Nobody likes to drag around a huge suitcase whilst on a backpacking holiday. People are always quick to over-pack, taking along things that they know they probably won’t use. By using the tips and advice above, you can make sure that you pack everything you need without going overboard. Happy traveling!