[not over] Packing for Travel

I recently stood in the airport security line, watching the passenger in front of me struggle with wangling his things into five bins, awkwardly shoving those plus a rollerboard and duffel bag down the belt.  “How long are you going for?” I asked.

“Oh, just the one night,” he said, noticing my one backpack and one bin (for the laptop. ) “Did you check your bags?”

“Heavens no, I’m only going for four days.”

As one who travels frequently, and has for a while, I make it a rule not to carry more than one bag unless I really need to, and with rare exceptions, I never do.  I realize some people may have medical conditions that force them to travel with special shampoo or dozens of shoes, or can’t lift enough to carry around a bag without wheels, but in my observation, people carry around a lot more than they actually need to.

I recently went through my travel kits and shed about a pound of stuff that is becoming less necessary:  an ethernet cable, a VGA cable, a few audio cables.  I’ve added a DVI cable to what I carry — it seems that hotel televisions will either accept this input (sometimes with a little fiddling) or be so antiquated or locked down that no connection is possible.

I do follow a few simple rules to keep things efficient:

  • Every cable is retractable.  This eliminates tangles and clutter, making packing quicker as well as reducing bulk
  • Everything but clothes in kits.  This serves a few purposes:  it’s easy to find things and tell if something’s missing in a small kit, and each kit serves a specific purpose.  So if I know I’m going to a country with non-US power, I can grab that kit, and I can leave the airplane power kit at home if I know the airplane doesn’t have power outlets (or it’s a short flight.)  It also keeps all the stuff from rubbing on each other.  I use colorful Guatemalan bags for each group of things.Kits
  • Check the weather.  While no forecast is perfectly accurate, it’s senseless to pack everything from a short-sleeved shirt to a parka “just in case.”
  • Stop carrying anything you don’t use.  I periodically go through everything I carry, and if it went on a trip with me and I didn’t use it, it’s probably not going next time.  (There are a few things that are handy to have and compact, like a lens cleaning cloth, that survive the purge, but not many.)
  • Clothes get rolled or bundled.
  • Don’t carry things the hotel has.  If there’s any doubt, it’s worth confirming, but carrying around a hair dryer or iron is pretty ridiculous for most destinations.  I’m usually fine with hotel soaps and shampoos, and carry a small amount of paper shampoo just in case.
  • As few devices as possible.  This is getting easier and easier, as one smart phone can eliminate almost everything else, but I still see people traveling with phones, mp3 players, laptops, DVD players, e-readers, tablets, hand held games, those massive Bose headphones, piles of media and god knows what else.
  • Devices that are as small as possible.  I’ll bring up the massive Bose headphones again — don’t get me wrong, they’re very nice, but they’re a lot to carry around.  Personally I take noise-canceling earbuds, which fit in a shirt pocket.  Laptops are a touchy subject, but there’s little reason to lug around a huge screen if you can plug it into one when you need it, and I’ve seen more than one person struggle with a laptop so large it couldn’t reasonably be opened in the space allowed by a plane seat.
  • Both hands empty.  This has a lot of implications, but essentially, if you have to carry something in your hands, it’s something you have to put down to use your hands, or learn to juggle.  If you’ve ever seen somebody carrying a bag in each hand take a phone call, you know exactly what I mean.  It’s one of the many reasons I prefer a backpack to a bag with rollers.
  • Use the “three things” rule.  People can generally keep track of a grand total of three things at a time, so (for example) it’s best not to have more than three things at a time out from your bag on the plane.  Kits are helpful here, since remembering three kits is three things, and you can check to make sure your kits contain the items they should without losing track of a long list of things.  (My memory is quite good, but I have better things to expend mental effort on than keeping track of a larger number of things.)
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