¨I get ideas about what is essential when packing my suitcase¨
Diane Von Furstenberg
Packing Tips: An Introduction
One of the biggest challenges in my Fifty-Plus Nomad adventures has been packing correctly, and I have made many mistakes, some of which have been expensive and painful. Fortunately, however, over time, packing has become a routine that seldom takes very long, and, usually, I pack things that I use during my trips.
That said, I have learned a lot of tips that should help Fifty-Plus Nomads to avoid my mistakes, including the following:
My Top Packing Tips
Over the years, I have read and heard a lot of advice about how to pack correctly. Some of it has been useful and some not.
My hardest learned lesson from six years traveling around the world is that packing light is often NOT the best advice. Traveling for extended periods worldwide as a fifty-year-old is different from sporting a backpack as a twenty-year-old on a month-long backpacking trip around Europe. I suspect that other Fifty-Plus Nomads will reach this conclusion as well.
That said, a lot of expert packing tips have proven very useful to me over the years. The following text summarizes the top tips that I have learned work well for me:
Expert Packing Tips that I Constantly Follow
The following is a list of tips that I have found on various experts’ websites and books that I have followed consistently. I would recommend that all Fifty-Plus Nomads, whether they are packing light or not, do the following:
- Take only things you can part with. Chances are some of the stuff you pack, particularly garments, will be lost, stolen, left behind, improperly cleaned, etc. (Often in Third World countries clothes are hand washed and beaten, which tends to make them threadbare quickly but extremely clean).
- Make sure you have a comfortable pair of walking shoes, preferably water-resistant ones. If you plan to buy new shoes for a trip, buy them well ahead of time and wear them every day until you leave, to avoid blisters. I bring two closed toes shoes and two pairs of sandals and change them frequently. Travel wears shoes down. It causes them to get smelly and can cause you to get fungus problems if you wear the same pair of shoes all the time. I usually select closed toes shoes that can be used in semi-formal settings and are easy to slip off (like boat shoes) instead of tennis shoes. They can be worn for almost all situations, and are easy to take off in a pinch (like through airport security).
- Pack things in an order that works for you. Put the things that you will frequently use on top so that they are easy to get to, and do not have to refold items. Then pack your toiletry kit away from your clothes (if possible, in a separate pocket) to avoid leakage. Then, use undergarments and socks to tuck in gaps between garments. If your bag has a zippered upper compartment, use that space for dirty clothes. (If not, travel with a dirty clothes bag). I also use dirty clothes to wrap anything breakable that I have bought along the way.
Some Other Ways to Pack Light and Well
- One of the more natural ways to reduce weight nowadays is to limit how many paper items you take with you on a trip. Between smartphone apps and Kindle-like devices, you do not need to take along maps, guidebooks, reading material, etc. That said, I must admit that if I am taking a short trip, I will usually take paper books and maps with me because I find them easier to read and use.
- If you have access to a car, place your clothes on hangers and hang the clothes upon the cars’ backseat hanger rack (usually on top of the window). I have read that there are devices designed for this purpose, but have never tried them.
Toiletries and Medical Items
- Carry small, sample sized containers of all liquid products. I usually can buy another small size container of a similar product quickly in a big box store almost everywhere in the world. I also often take the little bottles of shampoo for hotels (sometimes even mouthwash, etc.) for use later. If I only find large containers of a product that I like, I will buy a smaller container and pour the product into the bottle. When necessary, I will leave the larger container with any leftover liquid in the hotel or bedroom when I leave.
- Small containers not only reduce weight but also help to avoid problems when things leak. I only bring a large container when it can’t leak much, does not weigh much, and is hard to refill i.e., toothpaste.
- Keep all toiletries in a kit (with multiple sections). I got a toiletry kit (from Jansport) that I regularly use, fifteen years ago. Having a toiletry kit (and using small size containers) avoids problems when things leak. Look for a kit with a hook so you can hang it up if necessary. I also find that this helps when I have to wash out the kit after something has leaked. (I even wash the empty kit in the laundry occasionally since after a time it can get dirty).
Pharmaceuticals and Toiletries
- I make sure I have the following toiletries and medicines with me most of the times on the road:
- an antibiotic ointment
- insect repellant
- suntan lotion
- aloe vera (great in case of sunburn)
- anti-diarrhea medicine
- cold medicine
- antifungal cream (like Tinactin)
- Tiger Balm/Ben Gay (for muscle aches)
- Experts usually recommend bringing even more of these products with you. However, I have found that my list works for me because:
- I am inclined to travel in cities by myself (where medical care and supplies are usually relatively easy to find).
- travel to rural areas in groups (I can get help from the guide to negotiate the health care issues in these areas).
- If you are traveling in rural areas by yourself, the experts’ recommended list of medical supplies makes sense. You need to prepare for whatever may happen. (Karen McCann´s Packing Light list (see link at bottom of this page) is the best I have seen).
Tips for Picking the Right Clothes for Your Trip
- Pack easy-care, wrinkle-resistant, quick-drying clothes. I often buy clothes from Sierra Trading Company and Columbia because they meet these requirements. Quick-drying clothes are also useful if you find yourself in a sudden shower without an umbrella or raincoat.
- Some people buy their travel clothes at a thrift store and leave clothes behind along the way. Clothes from a thrift store can be an excellent gift for hotel staff. However, it is hard for me to find enough clothes that are comfortable and ¨respectful¨ at thrift stores. I may try this if I lose weight (thrift stores often do not have many garments for heavier-set men) and have a relatively short trip.
- I try to pack all the clothes for my trip beforehand. Many travel experts recommend that you do not worry about packing all the clothes you need for a trip. They say that you can always buy clothes if needed when you get to your destination. I have found this advice does not work. As a heavy-set man, I have had a hard time finding clothes abroad. Usually, I end up buying ugly, ill-fitting, and expensive clothes that I never wear again. (I presume anyone short or tall would have similar issues).
- I don’t like rolling clothes because I have to re-roll them frequently or else, they get wrinkled.
Tour Company Recommended Packing Lists
- Generally, I do not use many of the specific things that are on most of the packing lists developed by tour companies. I have seen over time that it is better for me not to buy specialized equipment because it is expensive and I will probably never use it again. Instead I try to find a substitute that will serve me in other places as well. A couple of times, for example, I purchased water shoes and found they were not very useful. Nowadays, if a tour company calls for water shoes, I will bring sandals, like Teva, that dry out quickly and can be used in many other circumstances. The only specialized equipment that I bought based on a tour recommendation that I like is a headlamp that I frequently use on nature outings.
Buying Souvenirs on the Road
- Many experts recommend that each time you purchase something, you should get rid of something else. I do not think this is necessary if what you buy is not heavy in the first place. (Particularly if you are not always on the move).
- I would, however, discourage you from buying anything heavy or breakable, at least until you are about to go home. When I was younger, I used to buy a lot of heavy, awkward, or fragile souvenirs and drag them along with difficulty throughout my trip. Many items broke and were often cumbersome. Thank God, I had a stiff back then.
A Few Final Clothing Tips
- 95% of the time if I am flying in an airplane I will wear a long sleeved shirt, long chino pants, and closed toed shoes that can easily be taken off at security. I also have a jacket and/or a sweater either with me or packed in my carry-on baggage. (Rarely, I will wear shorts and a short sleeved shirt if I know that both my departure and arrival points are hot).
I wear this outfit because:
- It looks presentable to airline personnel and immigration officials. Airline officials may give me an upgrade because I look like I belong in first or business class. Immigration officials are likely to let me pass because I look very non-threatening.
- I do not have to worry about the weather. Until I adapted this airplane outfit, I used to freeze or sweat a lot on arrival. I noticed that not many men follow this advice. Not long ago, I arrived in Charleston, South Carolina at eleven thirty at night with many people who had evidently left Mexican beach resorts that morning. Almost every man, except me, was dressed in shorts. When we arrived, it was 22 degrees Fahreheit (-5 degrees Celsius)!
Check Out These Two Books for More Packing Tips
If you need to pack light all the time, here are some great sources for more packing tips
- After looking for a while for an excellent book on packing lightly, I found Pack Light: Quick and Easy Tips for Traveling Everywhere with Exactly the Right Stuff by Karen McCann. Pack Light is concise and I agree with most of its advice. It also has a women’s point of view, which I don’t, and has a lot more detailed advice than you will find in this post.
- I also have found some handy packing tips in Tips from the Cruise Addict’s Wife by Deb Graham.