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Traveling Light...Packing Tips

Updated on April 19, 2015
Summer Vacation by Norman Rockwell
Summer Vacation by Norman Rockwell

The Rule of Three

One for today, one for tomorrow and one for back up

Packing Tips...The 5 W's

1. WEIGHT: Consider how far and how often you will be carrying your bag. If you will be carrying it often it's best to err on the side of lighter. Even the smallest things can add up to an uncomfortable trip.

2. WEATHER: Don't underestimate the value of layers. Bring a couple of tops that match everything and can be dressed up or down in case the weather is cooler or hotter than expected.

3. WHO: Consider your travel mate (or mates). What kinds of things are they likely to want to do. If they are hikers and you only brought dress shoes you're going to be depressed (unless you are looking for an excuse to get out of hiking that is).

4. WHERE: Don't forget to check up on the local customs or traditions, especially if you are a woman. In most countries, particularly if you are a woman alone or with only one other girl, it is best to dress modestly, for your own safety and in deference to the religious and cultural rules of the place you are visiting.

5. WAY: Your mode of transportation makes a big impact on what you pack and what you pack it in. If you are going to be on a Thai long boat with your luggage you want your bag to be waterproof. If your being picked up from the airport by tuktuk I'd go with a bag you can hold.

Panic Packing

We've all passed one of those cars on the highway; the rear window blocked by sleeping bags and backpacks, kids squished in the backseat and the ski's, bikes and whatever else could be bungee corded on, attached to the outside.

We were one of those families. My parents chosen weapon of humiliation was a pea green station wagon whose rust spots my father had sanded down and repainted a not quite matching monochrome.

My mother always began our vacation packing with a list, but in the heat of the moment with five girls and my absentminded father whirling around her she panicked and packed everything we could possibly need for any possible situation.

Yes, my mother was a "what if" packer. If you've ever seen one in action you know what I mean. "What if you catch a cold, you'll want that extra sweater," "what if something happens to that swimsuit, you should bring another just in case." Occasionally these extra items came in handy...most often they stayed in our bags.

It wasn't until I signed up for a summer long trail hiking program my junior year of high school that I realized there was an alternative method. The teacher who ran the program was an ex military guy who made us dump the entire contents of our packs (undies and all) on his classroom floor and then proceeded to divide everything in three. Three pairs of underwear, three shirts (one tank top, one T-shirt, one thermal), three bottoms (hiking/swimming shorts, lightweight pants, long underwear bottoms) and so on. I still remember the look on his face when he came to my embarrassingly large pile, I think he was trying not to laugh as he looked at my full set of PJ's, six shirts, two pairs of shorts, swimsuit, two pairs of pants, four tank tops, six pairs of underwear, three bras, six pairs of socks and impressive array of toiletries.

He had one rule; the rule of three; one for today, one for tomorrow, one for back up. And all of those "ones" had to have alternative uses; aka my long underwear were also my pajamas and my quick dry shorts doubled as my swimsuit bottoms. His rules stuck, and I felt a twinge of pride when the next year he passed my considerably smaller pile without even breaking his stride.

I still think of that suppressed smile whenever I pack for a long trip, and I still pack by the rule of three. Thankfully after years of practice I no longer have to dump out my whole bag and sort through every item to make sure it is absolutely necessary, though sometimes I still do, and sadly I always find at least one "what if" item in the bunch. Maybe it's in the genes.

My Basic Packing Essentials

  • Deuter Pro 42 Backpack: It's lightweight, sturdy and fits as a carry on. When I check it I tie all the straps together and put on the rain cover, which not only protects the pack but also makes it easy to spot at the baggage claim.
  • Sea to Summit Stuff Sacks: I bring three, whether I'm hiking or flying; one large for my clothes, and two mediums; one for dirty clothes and one for toiletries. They compress everything and and baring complete submersion keep everything dry. (Note: if you are taking it as a carry on make sure to keep the toiletries bag on the top and have everything in clear Ziploc bag.)
  • Flip Flops: Unless you're going to the arctic in my book flipflops are a staple. I'm a Havaianas fan, they seem to last way longer than any other brand. Bonus, they are easily replaceable so you can buy them when you arrive at your destination and if you're gift filled pack is too full on the way home you can leave them there too.
  • Moleskine Journal: I like unlined so I can sketch. Great for writing down tips from other travellers, contact information for new friends and interesting stories and facts you pick up along the way.
  • iPod Touch/Smartphone: I have to say this is the one piece of tech I am lost without. I use it as a camera, contact log and of course for music. It is also great for emailing home and since more and more coffee shops and airports have free WiFi it saves me having to track down an Internet cafe.
  • Tide To Go Packets: What can I say, I like clean clothes. With these you can wash your smaller items in the hotel sink or tub and then hang them up to dry. Saving time and money.



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    • brownella profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from New England

      Thanks for reading, I'm glad it was useful.

    • Tommy1346 profile image

      Tuan Nguyen 

      5 years ago from San antonio, tx

      Nice info, I don't travel a lot but every time I go is about 10,000 miles. Packing is the most important thing I'd think of. Very thoughtful! Nice Hub.

    • brownella profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from New England

      Yeah, having less luggage definitely makes a difference in your vacation quality.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      5 years ago from California

      Handy! My husband and I went to Europe for three weeks this summer with 1 backpack each--it was great not to cart around so much stuff--


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