January 2009

Pack like a Pro

Author:  Sue Borland

It was the usual airport check-in scene—the husband screaming at his wife because her bag was overweight and going to cost extra, the road warrior who insisted he would NOT check any of his three carryons, the teen drama queen who has just had all her supersized toiletry items confiscated from her carryon. Eventually, everyone and everything got sorted out and the chaos subsided. Much of that chaos might have been avoided with better pre-planning on the part of the travelers.

The plane is now at cruising altitude after departing Bucharest, Romania. It has been a most enjoyable week trip to the UNESCO sights in Transylvania, and we have been a very congenial group: six “well-seasoned” (youngest age 62) travel agents and two much younger guys from Exeter Tours. The agents have a total of nearly 200 years in the business, which translates to a lot of packing and hauling suitcases. For this trip, we all managed nicely with one small carryon and one 26- or 27-inch suitcase each, except for the young guys who traveled with only one carryon each. Nobody left anything vital at home, and we all had room to pack the souvenir books we received. Our secrets for packing?

We all adhered to the cardinal rule: Never take more luggage than you can handle by yourself! Porters and luggage carts are not always available, and those long airport walks can be pure agony. Choose your luggage wisely. This is not a time when the costly glamour item is the primary consideration. The wheeled, soft-sided, 27- or 28-inch with expandable zippers and a retractable handle is the choice for most of us. A couple of zippered compartments on the outside are a big convenience. A carryon that will piggyback over the retractable handle works well. These come in a wide price range and are easily found. They are popular sale items, so they need not break the budget.

Now comes the most difficult part—the contents of the suitcase. Ladies, I’m afraid we are the major culprits in this area. Repeat after me: “Less is more!” It is not necessary to take a pair of shoes and matching handbag for every outfit you are taking on your trip; nobody will notice if you wear a pair of shoes more than once. Ditto for handbags and outfits. Most hotels and all cruise ships have some sort of laundry service, so you don’t have to take the entire closet. Choose fabrics that travel and launder well, which means leave the linen at home. Choose to take those marvelous silky, knit fabrics that you can wash in a sink and dry overnight. Frequent travelers base the wardrobe for their trip around one major color, e.g. black, navy, beige, including shoes and handbags. Color is provided by blouses, scarves, etc. Granted, your actual wardrobe will depend on your itinerary and what is needed and appropriate for it—Europe is different from the Caribbean. The rule of thumb on shoes is one for walking, one for evening, and one or two for casual wear. Handbags is one for evening and one all-purpose. Let a clothing item serve dual purpose when possible. Beach sandals can double as slippers, etc. If you have room in your suitcase and did forget something necessary, what a fun reason to go shopping away from home! Do not pack anything “just in case.” That is the ultimate no-no.

Consider the climate at your destination when packing. It is the end of April, so we had to be prepared for warm weather in the city and cooler weather and/or rain in the mountains. We all carried very small, fold-up umbrellas. I always carry mine in a gallon Ziploc plastic bag so I can put it in a tote or raincoat pocket when entering a museum, etc. I also made use of my absolute, all-time favorite article of clothing—a raincoat with a zip-out thermal lining. I needed it with and without the lining as it reached 40 degrees a couple nights. I cannot live without one of these, and I packed it in my suitcase for the trip home. One of the other agents has a very attractive quilted vest with zippered pockets that she found in a regular ladies store. I know it can be found locally, so check out the shops at the Mall and the outlets before your next trip.

If you are concerned about looking like an American tourist on your trip, leave USA logo clothing at home. If you must take it, wear it onboard your cruise ship but not when you go ashore.

For most people, your carryon is most important. Place any and all vital necessities and valuables in this bag: passport, jewelry, money, travel documents, travel insurance information, medication, reading material and a change of underwear. Take a change of clothing, if there is room, in case your checked bag arrives late. Toiletries in three-ounce size containers (a maximum of three containers) must be placed in a quart-size clear plastic Ziploc bag, with one bag allowed per person. I also always include a couple gauze cloths that are pre-infused with facial soap for quick cleanups on the plane. These are found at most drugstores and supermarkets.

Make certain you have a sufficient supply of all medications that you routinely take. Keep them in their original containers so they can easily be identified by security officials and not confiscated. These containers also provide valuable medical information should you need to obtain medication refills during your trip. If you want to utilize other containers, do so after you have reached your destination. Also remember that, in most foreign countries, all medication (even aspirin and anti-diarrheals) must be obtained at a pharmacy.

I queried my travel companions plus my colleagues at Valerie Wilson Travel to get some of their favorite travel tips. We all agree that plastic bags of all sizes are crucial. Several of us pack our clothing in sets in these bags. It helps keep the bag organized and enables security officials to check the contents of the bag without actually handling your clothing.

A few other suggestions, in no particular order, to help make your trips go more smoothly:

• Pack all sharp items in your checked bag. What might be allowed in carryon in the USA may be confiscated in other airports (e.g. my fold-up needlepoint scissors remained at the airport in Munich).
• Buy your bottled water AFTER passing through security.
• Take travel-size toiletries or transfer them from large to smaller plastic bottles.
• Leave the address book at home. Take pre-addressed mailing labels instead.
• Place your home address inside your bags in case your baggage tags get lost.
• Carry a photocopy of your passport separate from your passport. Makes replacement easier if your passport is lost or stolen.
• Lighten your load by taking disposable reading material. You can leave the magazines on the plane, the paperbacks in the ship’s library.
• Take a supply of Band-Aids, moleskin, etc. May save a trip to a pharmacy.
• Take a small alarm clock. Many ships and hotels don’t have them as they are frequently stolen.
• Some people like fanny packs and water bottle slings for shore excursions and sightseeing.
• Consider a money belt that can be worn under your clothing.
• Leave excess electrical appliances at home. Most ships and hotels have hairdryers readily available.
• When packing for a trip, lay out everything you plan to take. Then put half of it back into the closet.

There really isn’t much that you might need on your trip that can’t be purchased elsewhere if you forget to bring it. Lighten your load when you travel, and you will find yourself with fewer hassles and less chance of overweight and second-bag luggage charges.

A few years ago, I received a phone call asking if I would like to join a small group of agents to inspect some new luxury safari camps in Botswana. I was ecstatic as I love the safari experience. Then came the word that, because of light aircraft, we were limited to a total of 16 lbs., including purse/camera bag/etc. My everyday handbag weighed more than that, so I was dubious that I could accomplish this. It required careful planning, but I did it. I never missed what I couldn’t pack, and it was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.

There are wonderful travel experiences waiting for you. Go and enjoy, but PACK LIGHT!

Sue Borland, CTC began her travel career with Bank of Beaufort Travel in 1979 and was the owner of Premier Travel, Inc. prior to joining Valerie Wilson Travel, Inc. in 2000 as an associate agent.

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