A recent article in the New York Times has us thinking about packing again, a subject that’s never far from our minds here at Academy Travel.
Fold or roll? Packing cubes or not? Carry-on only or checked luggage? We’ve canvassed for opinions, learnt from your on-tour suggestions, and without further ado offer our top ten tips for efficient packing.
1. Planning stages
If you’re a frequent traveller, consider making a packing list. You’ll never need to think through what to bring again, and you won’t worry about what you’ve forgotten. There are lots of examples online – take a look at Skyscanner, for example.
When it comes to actually packing your suitcase, group similar items together before you slot it all in. This helps identify surplus clothing and toiletries, and speeds up the culling process.
2. Know your baggage limits
If your journey involves domestic flights, remember that your baggage will be restricted to one checked item of 20-23kg. These restrictions apply even if you leave Australia with a generous allowance, so always pack for the lower limit.
If you absolutely can’t manage without more than 23kg, it is cheaper to buy extra baggage in advance. Costs skyrocket once you reach the airport.
3. Clothing: the big cull
There’s nothing more frustrating than unpacking on your return and realising you didn’t wear many items you took. Packing lists can come in handy, helping to eliminate extra items beforehand. But think too about the versatility of your clothing.
Take shoes, for example: they’re heavy and take up a lot of room, so three pairs are almost always enough. Pack a comfortable, waterproof pair for walking; a pair that can be dressed up as needed (ballet flats work well for women); and a spare – consider a comfortable sandal if you’re travelling in warmer months, or a back-up ankle boot or gym shoe if it’s colder.
For women, convertible pieces represent good mileage. Wrap-around tops, pashmina-style scarves, and tunics that can be worn to dinner as dresses are all smart options. Remember, unless you’re enjoying a performance tour, you’re unlikely to need really formal clothing.
Light-weight accessories are also a good way to alleviate boredom: costume jewellery and scarves don’t weigh much but make you feel like you’re wearing something new, and have the added bonus of dressing up essentials for an impromptu performance or elegant dinner. Leave anything valuable at home.
For men, a well-coordinated, light-weight merino or cashmere sweater is very versatile. If it’s very warm, tailored shorts and a smart polo shirt are generally acceptable at dinner in most countries. (In some countries, such as Japan, cultural norms aren’t so appreciative of shorts or sleeveless shirts on men or women.) A simple white shirt, tie and jacket in the bottom of your suitcase will dress up most pairs of trousers, for more formal situations.
Pack items that can be easily layered: for winter or spring tours, light-weight merino items are very useful. And while organic fabrics, such as cotton or wool, are comfortable, don’t discount the convenience of some synthetics. Uniqlo, Patagonia and Kathmandu all offer clothing that will dry overnight without creases. (Which brings us to a golden rule: if it requires ironing, reconsider!) A few “star pieces” made from synthetic fibres go a long way.
Now that you’ve grouped your clothing for packing, cut out at least three items: a pair of trousers, shoes or a heavier sweater. If you really need it, you’ll be able to buy it.
4. Strategise your suitcase
Today’s medium-sized suitcases fit a lot! Place your shoes along the bottom edge and corners, and stuff them with socks or your hairbrush. If you’re bringing books (see below), place them as a bottom layer – keeping heavier items at the bottom makes your suitcase much easier to move.
We’re firm believers in using packing cubes for trips that involve more than one hotel stay. These mesh bags – sold by Muji, Kathmandu and Korjo – are available in small, medium and large. Two small cubes will fit underwear and socks. Two medium cubes will fit shirts and sweaters. One large cube will fit trousers and dresses.
Packing and unpacking with cubes is much faster – simply lift the cubes in and out of the suitcase or hotel wardrobe. How you organise the space inside the cube is up to you: you could roll items like dresses and blouses and then steam them out in your hotel bathroom, or you could fold and stack t-shirts inside the cube.
Remember: no matter how long your trip, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever require more than a week’s worth of clothes. This brings us to our fifth tip.
5. Love your laundry
Managing laundry while travelling is one of life’s little annoyances. We know many Academy Travellers who wash incrementally, drying items in the bathroom overnight. (A strategic use of synthetic apparel can speed up this process.)
If this is your approach, pack a good stain-removing soap such as Sard, bio-degradable travel wash (from a good camping store, Kathmandu or Korjo) in its own Ziploc bag, and a pegless washing line. Once you’ve washed and wrung out your items, roll them tightly in a hotel towel. Squeezing out this excess water cuts drying time.
If doing laundry every night cramps your holiday style, consider strategic use of the hotel service. For this, large compression sacs will come in handy. (Eagle Creek makes sturdy models.) Pop your laundry into these bags, zip them and roll them up to squeeze out excess air, then remove items for laundry service as required. Your laundry is compressed, and kept separate from clean clothing.
And a bit of laundry lore: don’t assume you’ll be able to find a coin-operated laundromat or have time to use it!
6. Ruthlessly edit your toiletries
We’ve come to accept the fact that we never look as impeccable on tour as we do back home. The hotels will provide shampoo, conditioner, soap and body lotion, so unless you’re devoted to a particular brand the essentials await you.
For products you can’t live without, decant into clear plastic bottles to reduce their weight. Travel-sized bottles are available from Priceline, Muji and Korjo. We pack two or three inside Ziploc bags before putting them into our toiletry bag, to contain leaks.
As toiletries are often the last thing packed before checking out, consider leaving them right on the top of your suitcase. In some countries, such as the USA, airport security may be particularly interested in your toiletries, so it won’t be difficult to bring the bags out for inspection if required.
7. Re-think your technology
Modern technology has made travel much easier – but it can also mean a heavy bag of gadgets and cords. Here’s our shortlist:
Smartphone: unless you need to work while travelling or you’re an avid photographer, you won’t need your laptop. So much can be done on smartphones now – and for amateur photographers, that includes travel snaps!
Adaptor: it’s easy to find universal adaptors for multiple destinations. Korjo has a good range.
Powerboard: consider bringing one to charge numerous devices simultaneously. This also means you can bring fewer adaptors.
Travel kettle: if a morning cuppa is an important ritual, a travel jug is a good option if your destination hotels are unlikely to supply one. (In our experience, this is often the case in Italy.) Again, Korjo makes a compact model that comes with two mugs stacked inside. Just remember to bring a Ziploc bag with your favourite tea!
Ironing: while we prefer not to pack items that require ironing, in many countries it is possible to request an iron from the hotel. (Again, in our experience this is often not the case in Italy.)
Hairdryers: it is worth bringing one only if you find hotel hairdryers underpowered.
8. Shortlisting your books
Bulky, heavy but essential! Look for a good all-purpose guide, with sections on history and culture as well as destination information: this could cut down on multiple books. We distribute recommended reading lists for all our tours.
Kindles and other e-readers (and apps for tablets and smartphones) have made holiday reading much easier and lighter. If you have a special interest, however, it can be hard to find books in digital format. Consider photocopying only the pages you need, if you’re interested in a particular museum, artist or cultural movement.
And don’t discount your fellow travellers as sources of good books, either. Exchanging books with other members of your party is a great way to discover a new author, so you only really need to bring one, or at most two, holiday reads.
9. Can you lift it?
While porters are often available and coach drivers generally lend a hand with your bags, there will inevitably be moments on your trip when you’ll be moving them around yourself.
So: if you can’t lift your bag, it’s too heavy!
10. Welcome home!
You’re not going to need your house keys, car keys, long-term parking ticket or Murrays Coach pass while you’re away – but you’ll certainly need to find them quickly on your return. Pack these items into a separate Ziploc bag or clear pouch, and stash it in your carry-on. It will save time when you arrive home jetlagged and tired.
Academy Travel is an Australian-owned travel company, dedicated to providing tailored small group journeys for individuals and associations. Academy Travel is a qualified travel agency. As well as managing your tour booking, our experienced consultants are happy to assist with all aspects of your travel, including international flights, pre and post-tour accommodation and travel insurance.