I have been packing for myself for over thirty years (maybe more!) but only took charge my packing in the past two years. Whether you travel frequently or every so often these tips might help make the experience less of an ordeal and more efficient and organized!
But wait you say, I have read every article in both Martha Stewart Living and Real Simple about efficient packing. I have purchased the five pieces that allow you to travel through Europe for five weeks (with fastidious use of creativity and deodorant). I have even googled how to pack efficiently and when I saw there were 8,400,000 results I was overwhelmed!!!
How do I know this, I have done the same things. I believed much like Mulder and Scully of The X Files that the answer was indeed “out there” when in fact it was more like The Wizard of Oz - inside of me all the time!
The first step before you can improve upon your packing is to really take note of how you are packing now. First and foremost, how much do you pack “just in case” that comes home untouched? Keep in mind that unless you are going to a remote village or secluded island (where you won’t need many changes anyway) there are stores where ever you go! If not the shop right where you are staying, then a nearby Target of similar variety department store. Perhaps a CVS, Duane Reade or Walgreen’s. Regardless of what you might need in an emergency there is probably some way to get it while you are away. Step 1 – don’t pack for the “what ifs” or “emergencies that might happen”.
Next, pare down your toiletries and make good use of that stash you have of travel sized items. One of the best things I have done to make traveling simpler is to get a multi-pocket travel organizer that has a hanger. Once you have your organizer hang it in your bathroom and leave it there when you go through your morning routine and evening routine – as you use an item either put the travel sized version right in your kit or make a list of what you need to pack. Once you are packed up you should be ready to go – keep this bag packed at all times and replenish when you return from a trip. This will eliminate so much time and money in that you are not starting from scratch each trip, unsure what you need and over buying. The only items that don’t fit in here for me are my hair care, razor and perfume – they all go in zip loc bags but remain on the list tucked into the pocket of the organizer so I don’t forget. Step 2 – Always have your toiletries ready to go – saves both time and money.
If you have a collection of travel bags, free with purchase bags, etc. now is the time to use them. In fact don’t keep them stashed around your room (or apartment, or house) – keep them in your luggage. This way when you pack you have them at hand – if you aren’t using them now you never will so if they don’t make your travel easier in someway give them away. The only items you truly need for efficient packing are zip loc bags (large and small) and plastic from your dry cleaning if you have that (you can also stock up on white tissue at a dollar store or discount store). Everything from toiletries and cosmetics that don’t fit in your organizer to delicate lingerie or sweaters can be protected by one of these items. Packing easily wrinkled items layered with the plastic or tissue will really help your clothes look good when you get to where you are going. When you return home keep all of these items in your luggage so that you don’t have to start the whole process over for the next trip, also unless something has leaked, reuse the zip locs! Step 3 – Having travel bags, zip loc bags, plastic and tissue not only help organize your travel, but keep your items in top condition. Having them in your luggage and reusing them is both time and money savng!
Step 4 – Downy Wrinkle Release Spray!!! - This item merits a step all to itself – I was a doubting Pat until my travel buddy Joan lent me some Downy Wrinkle Release Spray when I was about to pull out the hotel ironing board (I do love to iron but I will discuss that illness with you another time!). I was skeptical but within minutes my pants looked as if I had just steamed them. I have also used this on men’s dress shirts right out of the package and they were ready to wear in no time – and those are some serious packaging creases. This item to me is not only a travel staple, but a household staple – it is available in travel size or you can pick up an inexpensive travel spray bottle and refill from the large size. If you haven’t tried this yet you will be amazed and forever grateful for this tip!
A key change that I made in my packing that has cut down time and the weight of my luggage (who thought 50lbs. was too much anyway??!!) is to make sure that almost everything I bring mixes and matches everything else. This enables you to keep accessories to a minimum and allows you to switch off in case your plans change or something gets stained or in disrepair while you are away. I used to pick a different outfit for each night along with accessories (shoes, bag, jewelry, etc) – now I pick my favorite outft that I definitely want to bring and add only what I can use those basic accessories with (allowing for one or two special cases). One pair of flats, one pair of heels, a day bag, an evening bag and classic jewelry is really all you need no matter how long your trip is. If everything else coordinates with that outfit I have many options for my time away. My travel outfit also fits in so that gives extras without adding to my luggage. Step 5 – Pack mix and match basics that can be dressed up or down in coordinating colors with one set of accessories.
Before you travel find out if there is a washer/dryer in the unit or at the property (or ship, or villa or freighter – you know what I mean!). This can cut down on the amount of nightgowns/pajamas, underwear, bathing suits, tee shirts etc. that you need to pack. Also, a great advantage of this opportunity is to come home with mostly clean clothes instead of a suitcase full of dirty laundry! Step 6 – Check out the laundry facilities where you are traveling to.
Finally, and this has probably helped me the most, don’t wait until the last minute to pack. I always packed last minute and reenacted the scene in The Jerk where Steve Martin is leaving Bernadette Peters and starts taking things he feels he needs. Everything from a matchbook to a paddle ball game start to make the cut in his act of desperation – taking each item and stating “and that’s all I need”: My last minute just in case packing fueled with panic as I was running out of time resulted in some of the worst over packing known to man. It also resulted in my forgetting some key items that while replaceable (see step 1) were certainly right there had I remembered them. Also, by starting a few days ahead of time you can truly eliminate a few more items before you zip up for the last time. Step 7 – Be prepared a few days ahead.
Finally, if there are some vacations or trips that you repeat on a fairly regular basis make a note when you return as to what you actually used and what you might have added or subtracted from your packing. Maybe a trip to the shore didn’t need extra long pants, but a sweatshirt would have come in handy. Perhaps a business trip could use one more casual outfit to run out in the evening to see some sights or get some fresh air. Step 8 – learn from each trip to improve your packing for the next one.
I hope this helps you to take charge of your packing, making any type of travel just a little more stress free.