'Tis the season to travel, and we've all been here before: It's the night before your long-awaited vacation and you're staring at your empty suitcase, panicking about what to pack. You start with a few of your favorite outfits, and things start getting out of control from there. What if it rains? What if there's a cold snap? Should I bring this extra sweater, just in case? And what about these shoes that go perfectly with that outfit but don't really match anything else? Before you know it, you're hobbling through the airport with a suitcase you can barely close and a carry-on that you pray the flight attendant won't make you try to squeeze into that doll-sized luggage sizer. Avoid this travel nightmare by following these pro tips!
1. Pack only the essentials.
Minimalism is a central tenet of every sphere of organized life, vacation packing included. Check the forecast before you go and pack a small number of weather-appropriate, neutral basics that can be mixed, matched, and layered with several different pieces. Unless your trip involves high intensity cardio activities, you don't need a totally unique top and bottom for every single day. Even then, taking advantage of a hotel's laundry service might be preferable to lugging around your entire wardrobe. A basic rule is to pack enough clothes for a week, even if you're going for two or three. Limit yourself to 2-3 pairs of shoes, depending on activity level (e.g. flip flops, flats, hiking boots). Avoid the impulse to bring anything "just in case." If you really need an extra shirt, you can get one at your destination.
2. Maintain order within.
I recently discovered the wonder of the Eagle Creek pack-it systems. I use compression sacs for bulkier items like beach towels/bags, and folders/cubes to neatly separate tops, bottoms, undergarments, and other travel accessories (e.g. chargers, adapters, toiletries, etc.). Doing so allows me to easily access the type of item I'm looking for, while keeping all of the garments not in use neatly folded or rolled (rolling can save a ton of space!). This system is particularly revolutionary when backpacking, where traditionally the only thing you can see without digging is the last item you placed on top. Furthermore, keeping your belongings neatly sorted and easily visible means that you're less likely to forget an item that could have just been lost in the jumble.
3. Keep all of your documents in a waterproof folder.
Yes, we live in the digital age, but it can't be guaranteed that all of your reservations will be easily accessible at the click of a button. I recently spent a week in Malawi in places where I had no electricity most of the time, let alone Internet access. Having my entire itinerary, as well as price quotes, timetables, and any other information I wanted within arms reach printed out came in handy on multiple occasions. At minimum, make sure you have the following:
4. Leave (or make) some extra room for souvenirs.
One of the highlights of travel for many people is bringing home unique, location-specific souvenirs. Even if you're not a big fan of "stuff," chances are you have a handful of friends, relatives, or coworkers who require some sort of mementos from your trip. You never know how strictly some airlines enforce the carry-on policy (I once had to put on several extra layers of clothing from my backpack to make room for a shopping bag full of souvenirs), so it's better to play it safe and leave a little extra room. Alternately, you can make extra room at the end of your trip by donating retired clothing you packed specifically for that reason. Remember: traveling is much more about the memories you make than what you wear!