Given my line of work as a travel planner, I know my way around a suitcase. The task of packing and unpacking has become a familiar chore – although personally, I take pleasure in it. I find packing to be a cathartic experience, and a way to ensure comfort and control while I’m away from home.
Believe it or not, I pack three-to-four weeks ahead of time, or immediately upon my return from my preceding trip. Why? Because the idea of putting it off and packing the night before gives me the heebie-jeebies, even though start to finish, the process takes me only about 15 minutes.
So whether you travel once every few weeks or once a year, I’m here to share a few tips and best practices to help streamline packing and suggest some important items to include.
Pick your Suitcase:
Reaching for the largest suitcase can be tempting, but the larger the bag, the higher the risk of packing in excess of the airline weight limit… and there are few things as annoying as having to pay extra or open up your suitcase at the head of the check-in line at the airport. Be sure to weigh your bag before you leave for the airport (with a luggage scale, if you have it!) to avoid a frustrating start to your journey.
Are you able to carry on?
If you’re only traveling for two or three days and know that you won’t be transporting liquids more than the three ounces as allowed by TSA, this is the way to go. Obviously, it can save you from shelling out around $50 roundtrip to check your bag (as long as it’s underweight!), and can spare you the hassle of waiting at the luggage carousel.
Is a garment bag necessary?
If you know you’ll need to pull your outfits out of your suitcase, hang them up, and go about your business, this is for you. These can be difficult to manage if you have a lot of items that aren’t clothing (such as shoes or a hairdryer), but saves time with packing and unpacking.
Prepare your “Go-Bag” Items
The key to packing quickly is to have as many items as possible that you typically travel with dedicated just to your trips. The following are a few bags that I have ready to include in my suitcase at all times.
Hanging Toiletry Bag
In smaller hotel or guest bathrooms, a handy hook is clutch. Just open and hang your bag on the towel rack or the arm of the wall-mounted vanity mirror and you’re all set! Here’s what I keep in mine:
I skip shampoo and conditioner since most hotels provide them.
Hair Brush and/or Comb – There are even small portable ones that contract and expand.
Deodorant – Word to the wise – standard solid deodorants are considered just that – solid. So they don’t count toward your liquids.
Hair Spray – Be sure that this isn’t an aerosol if you plan to carry-on.*
Q-Tips – For me personally, the flimsy generic hotel swabs just don’t do it for me, unless I’m in a pinch.
Band-Aids – For nicks and blisters.
Safety Pins – AKA little metal life-savers.*
Toothbrush – Don’t forget to change this and disinfect your bag regularly! When traveling, you’re exposed to more varied bacteria than when you are at home.
Stain Stick – Your outfits need to go a long way – this may help.
Razor with Lather Bar Built-in – this is a busy bee’s best friend. They cost more, but save a ton of time when you’re rushing to refresh or get ready for an early-morning meeting.
Vitamin C Packets – Between the tightly-packed airplane of strangers and varying climates, chances of becoming sick while traveling are much higher than at home.
Headache Medication – A headache while traveling can take you out of commission or cause discomfort for a precious few hours at least.
Lighted Vanity Mirror – Especially for doing makeup.
Moisturizer with SPF-30 or Higher – Even if you’re not beach-bound, you’re not immune to the sun’s rays! Protect your skin out there.
Hair Ties – Oh, the infinite things you can use these for! I can’t tell you how many times a hair tie has saved the day, including the Great Flip Flop Incident of 2015, and the Stuck Zipper Massacre of 2012.
* Consider placing these items in a removable compartment for when you are traveling with a carry-on.
Need an excuse to go shopping? This is worth the trip. When choosing jewelry, it’s a good idea to select versatile pieces that you can mix and match with different colors and styles of clothing – a statement item or two and smaller, more delicate items. Choose precious metals or beaded pieces only, because if you're traveling to a warm climate, you'll want to avoid costume jewelry turning your neck green.
The main event! This is where a lot of travelers become anxious and over-pack, wanting to be prepared for any scenario. Take a few deep breaths, friends, it’s going to be okay. Think of the events you’ll be attending and select any specific pieces you absolutely must bring. If there’s a cocktail party you need to make a grand entrance, set that aside first. Next, select pieces that you can mix and match. Identify a color scheme. This will help ensure that you can maximize the number of ensembles you can curate while you’re away. Select neutral and varied items like tank tops, a blazer, slacks, blouses, and for ladies, a classic LBD, because as Karl Lagerfeld said, "One is never over-dressed or under-dressed with a Little Black Dress."
Geared around your level and type of activity, it’s helpful to include sneakers, running clothes, and perhaps a bathing suit and cover-up.
Some people swear by these. They’re malleable and handy for keeping outfits and items separate and concealing unmentionables. Personally, I use several lightweight drawstring knapsacks that I’ve collected at different trade shows. When I’m preparing to come home, I use these to compartmentalize shoes that have become sandy, bathing suits that are still wet, and dirty clothes. In a pinch, there’s usually a plastic laundry bag in the closet.
Take Care of your Tootsies
This is critical. Be sure to pack comfortable, already-broken-in
shoes. A hectic conference or dream vacation is not the time you want to break in that cute new set of heels. Also, pack multiple pairs and different styles. The best thing you can do for your tootsies while you're traveling is to give them a break from the same pair of shoes. Even when taking these precautions, if you’re headed to a trade show or you know you’ll be out-and-about for long periods of time, you may want to pack some Epsom salt for a nightly soak and an ice pack bag – and definitely lots of Band-Aids!
Oh, and don’t forget flip flops or slippers to wear around your hotel room, at the pool, etc.
And if you forget to pack an essential…
Most hotels have your back. If you forget or need a replacement toiletry item, such as toothbrush, toothpaste, or cotton swabs, you need only call down to the front desk or housekeeping and ask for them to be brought to your room (but don’t forget to tip!). Many hotels even have umbrellas stored in guest room closets and phone chargers available at the front desk. When in doubt, it never hurts to ask!