You've heard the packing adage, "Bring half of what you think you need and twice as much money," right? It's harder than it sounds. Whenever I have to pack for any trip, I end up saving it for the last minute because of the anxiety it gives me. Here are the top ten tips from travel pros on how to make packing --and traveling-- stress less.
Choose your bag wisely
When you carry-on, you have to fit your bag in the overhead compartment of your airline. Sometimes it can be a struggle if you travel alone or if your flight has seating based on check-in order, like Southwest Airlines. But you get the peace of mind of knowing where your items are at all times, so you don't have to worry about the loss or theft that can happen with checked bags. Checked bags sometimes involve a fee, regardless of their size or weight, or can incur additional fees if they're over a certain size or weight (check all three dimensions!). They can take anywhere from 15 - 30 minutes to come out of baggage claim, so if you need or prefer to get in and out of the airport, it's definitely better to carry-on.
If you do go for a carry-on, limit yourself to a bag of no more than 18 lbs. A bag with four wheels that spin in all directions is best, as it's easiest to grab and go.
How do you stay under 18 lbs.? When you pack, think "multipurpose." Regardless of where you're headed or for how long, pack lightweight clothes that are easy to layer. Consider re-usable accessories like scarves and hats for sun protection, too! For clothes, aim for three tops for every bottom, and pack neutral colors so you can mix and match easily. Pack up to a week's worth of wash-and-wear clothing, and plan to do laundry for any time beyond that. If you need to bring jewelry, keep it organized by sliding necklaces and bracelets through straws.
Start by putting heavy things like shoes on the bottom of the suitcase, near the wheels. You should ideally only bring one pair of each type of shoe you need: casual, walking, and dressy. From there, roll your clothes, rather than folding them. This really saves space! If you have clothes that can't tolerate rolling, put them in dry-cleaning bags, especially if they're apt to wrinkling. For anything else, such as belts, put them on the perimeter of the bag.
Play by the rules.
Whether you're traveling domestically or internationally, be aware of all transportation agencies' rules. For the United States, it's the Transportation Security Administration, and they enforce the 3 - 1 - 1 rule: as many 3.4 fluid ounce containers as you can fit in a single, one-quart sealable bag. This bag has to be in your carry-on; they don't enforce it for checked bags. However, there are exceptions: baby food and formula, breast milk, medications, and liquids like water or orange juice in containers over 3.4 oz. for people who have special conditions that might require them. Just a warning, though. The TSA also says that these exceptions are only allowed in "reasonable quantities," so don't push your luck by trying to pack too much! You can easily fit what you need into a one quart bag by filling your containers 3/4 of the way full to remove excess air and avoid potential leaks.
You should also be aware of individual airline, train, ship, or bus rules when it comes to bag weight, dimensions, and the quantity you can bring per passenger, as well as any accompanying fees. Factor in checked bag fees if you plan to bring more bags than are allowed for free or if they are particularly large or overweight; that way you can get an accurate picture of your total cost with ticket price and "hidden fees" included.
Sometimes you can waive bag fees by joining frequent flier programs, but not always. It's best to get yourself an inexpensive luggage scale so you know before you leave home whether you'll need to check or not, especially based on weight.
Never check the essentials
Whether you check any bags or none at all, always keep your most important medications, jewelry, and copies of your travel documents in your handbag, backpack, or other small carry-on.
Don't bring things you know you can find at a hotel, such as shampoo, conditioner, body or face wash, or hand soap. They just waste space. The only "emergency" you should really plan for is if your luggage is lost or stolen; in that case, pack an outfit in a companion's suitcase, where possible.
Misplaced your phone or tablet charger? Before grabbing a new one, ask at your hotel's front desk if they have one you can borrow!
Bring healthy snacks and a reusable water bottle with a filter
Another saying is that there's "no such thing as a free lunch," and that's especially true when you're traveling-- on-board or at the airport, food is especially expensive. Do yourself a favor and bring some healthy snacks, like freeze-dried fruit, trail mix, or a small selection of fruit, cheese, and vegetables. If you also bring a reusable water bottle with a built-in filter, you can fill it up once you're past security in an airport and not have to worry about the waste or crazy pricing of bottled water sold at the airport.
Take pictures of your passport/photo ID and travel documents
Better safe than sorry! Even if you always keep your passport and travel documents on your person, there's still a chance they can get stolen, and this is especially bad when you're abroad. Keep copies of your most important documents saved on your phone where you can access them, and print out copies to store in a separate compartment of your suitcase. (Of course, I personally recommend keeping such photos in Evernote so you can find them easily without scrolling through thousands of photos.) While they don't function the same as your passport, official ID, or travel document, they can help you get replacements in a pinch.
Triple-check your travel arrangements.
If you have a red-eye flight or train, make sure you absolutely know when you need to be at the airport/station. Heard about the people who had a midnight flight and showed up at the airport a day late? Always check exactly what day you need to be at the your departure point in advance so you don't miss your flight or train!