Tips on packing for your trip
Our vacation packing tips can save you a lot of time. Packing for a trip is almost an art. Everyone learns the more they travel, what they absolutely have to have and what they can do without. By putting a little thought into packing, you’ll reduce your chance of excess or overweight baggage charges and won’t have to worry about lugging all those bags around with you. The first thing you should do is check the luggage restrictions for your airline. You can do that here. Our years of traveling and varied destinations have taught us to pack wisely. Here’s some tips about what we’ve learned that may help you as well.
Do you really need to bring it?
Think about your destination when packing your luggage. What’s the weather like? Where are you staying? What will you be doing while you’re at your destination? Do you really need to bring your best shirt, finest dress or in some cases, the kitchen sink? Our motto is never bring anything we can’t give up or leave behind. Your luggage could get lost. Someone could take clothes from your room. Leave the best stuff at home.
IAH TIP: If you can, take more than one bag , pack a bit of each clothing item in each bag. That way should a bag be lost, you’ll still be able to hit the beach or go out to dinner in fresh clothes when you arrive at your destination. It’s also a good idea to pack at least one change of clothes in your carry-on should all your bags be lost.
How much stuff do you really need?
When we first started traveling, we made sure to bring a change of clothes for every day we were gone. In some cases, two changes of clothes. Those days are long gone. All it does is add up to more weight and luggage to carry around. For warm destinations, you don’t need a different swim suit each day. A different one for every other day is fine. There’s so much clothing options that are made of easy care fabrics, that make travel easy. Whether your staying at a hostel or a five-star resort, you can always find a place that you can do laundry or will do laundry for you.
Everyone has a tendency when packing to overpack. If you have the right travel clothing, you can even wash your clothes yourself, right in your hotel. We always carry a small 3 ounce bottle of Woolite or Tek-Wash in our Ziploc bag. You’d be amazed at what you can wash in your hotel sink. Plus, if you have clothing with the right fabrics, it will dry in no time, even if you’re in the hot, humid Amazon.
IAH TIP: We use compression sacks to maximize space in our luggage. If you pack them correctly, you’ll also minimize wrinkles. They also work great to repack dirty clothes, so they’re separate from your clean clothes.
Is your clothing travel friendly?
The best tip for packing travel clothing is pick anything that’s lightweight, wears well, is low maintenance and easy to care for. And, it should look good without the need to iron when it comes out of your luggage. Here are some of our favorites:
For shirts/tops: Get those made with polyester blends, Coolmax, Cool-dri or wool (yes, there’s summer weight wool as well, that will keep you surprisingly cool). They’re all lightweight and don’t wrinkle.
For pants/bottoms: Light cotton, polyester or those made of sport-friendly fabrics work well. The last thing you want to do is iron and you never know when that unexpected rain shower will hit. Jeans and heavy cotton items won’t dry quickly and you’ll be a wet mess.
For underwear (T-shirts/bottoms/socks): You can’t go wrong with anything made from Merino wool. We’ve traveled in all types of weather and worn cotton, polypropelene, nylon and polyester blends and just about every other “fabric” known to man (or woman). We switched to Merino a couple of years ago and have never looked back. It’s lightweight, can be washed and dried in less than 2 hours and no matter how much you sweat down there or amount of heat you encounter, it never stinks. We’ve worn ours for 2-3 days at a time without washing (not necessarily by choice) and at the end, they feel as fresh as they did on day 1.
For shoes: While you’re on vacation, make sure your feet can relax, too. Comfortable shoes are a MUST when you travel. You never know when you’ll have to run to catch that connecting flight, or walk a lot farther than you thought to that hotel. One bad thing about shoes is how much room they take up in your bag. We try to take just 1 pair of shoes, in addition to the pair we wear on the plane. If it’s a warm weather destination, we’ll also take a pair of sandals. We make sure one pair can be worn in both casual and not so casual situations. (Think all brown or all beige/brown walking shoes) and the other a tennis/outdoor hiking type shoe (think Keens/Ecco).
For outerwear: Regardless of the weather (rain, snow, wind, cool) take something that’s lightweight and packable. A good lightweight jacket that’s made of Gore-Tex with Windstopper, will get you through almost any type of weather from warm to freezing cold. Get a color that matches everything (like black), so that it will go with anything that you have. We’ve taken the same jacket from Antarctica to Thailand. Sure, they cost more than a regular jacket, but if you only need one, it’s a worthwhile investment.
Some of our favorite brands for travel clothing are ExOfficio, North Face, Cloudveil, Arctyrex, REI, Helly Hansen and Icebreaker.
IAH TIP: Check out our GEAR REVIEWS section for some of our favorite items. We’ll also tell you where you can find these brand names at great prices.
For a lot of incidental needs, check out Minimus. Minimus has just about everything you can think of in travel size. From cosmetics to health care, food to survival items, Minimus has it.
Another great source for nifty packing and travel items is Flight 001. You’ll find them not only on the web, but also in San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Sidney. A store geared to all things travel related, Flight 001 has some hard-to-find items. While it is somewhat expensive, they do have good sales from time-to-time to customers who sign up for their email list.
IAH TIP: Look on our LINKS page in this section for more places to find great deals on everything you need for your trip.
Size and type of luggage
Our motto with luggage, is to take the right type of luggage for wherever we’re headed. One thing we’ve learned over time is to pack light and pack wise. If we do a good job at that, we don’t have to take a lot of luggage on a trip. You certainly don’t want to be lugging a ton of luggage around with you as you travel from location to location. It never ceases to amaze us at the number of tourists who look like they’ve packed for a 9 month stay and they’re only on vacation for a couple of weeks. Here are a few things to consider:
When it comes to size of luggage, you have several things to consider. Most airlines now have size limitations on checked luggage. Plus, don’t just consider the requirements of the airline you’re departing on, but also those you’ll be connecting to. Size and weight restrictions on international airlines differ from those of US airlines. There’s nothing that can ruin a trip faster than paying sizeable additional fees every time you catch a flight. Charging for excess or overweight baggage is at the discretion of the airline. Don’t think that if you aren’t charged for one portion of your journey, you may not be charged on another leg. The most notorious for this practice are South American airlines like TAM, Vario, LAN and Aerolineas Argentina.
You’ll also want to consider what your transportation arrangements are when you reach your destination. Remember that taxis in locations in Europe and Asia are much smaller than those in the US. If you take a two or three large bags, you could actually finding yourself paying for two cabs, one for you and one for your bags. If you’re traveling with friends, consider what their bringing for bags as well, especially if your sharing the same transportation.
IAH TIP: Don’t forget that different airlines have different size requirements for luggage. Make sure to check before you start packing.
Hard or Soft?
We almost always take “soft-sided” luggage. You can squeeze it, stuff it, squash it which allows you to fit it in the most unaccommodating spaces and give you that little extra room when you need it. While “hard-side” luggage may be sturdier, its definitely less flexible. Whichever you choose, try to get luggage of various sizes. For some trips, you’ll find you would rather have a small and medium sized piece of luggage than one large. Sometimes, it’s the other way around. Having a good variety of luggage styles and sizes will help you prepare for any adventure. Also, make sure your luggage is in good shape. Wheels should roll and handles should be sturdy. The last thing you want is for your bag to fall apart at the airport or worse, while your rolling it around town.
IAH TIP: We usually pack an additional smaller soft-sided bag inside of a larger piece of luggage. It’s easy to do because it packs very flat and takes up very little room. That bag comes in handy as an additional carry-on, a bag for wet clothes or an additional checked bag if your have more purchases than you planned on. It can also serve as an emergency backup bag, should a piece of luggage get damaged on your journey.
Light is Right
In addition to worry about size, you need to worry about weight. Airlines have continued to be more restrictive on not only how many bags you can check before incurring a fee, but also how much they weigh. If you pack light, you won’t have an issue. One other thing to keep in mind is that you weight on your return trip may be different. Think about all those great souvenirs you’re going to buy. That shirt. That knick-knack. If you pack too close to the weight limit on your outbound trip, you may find yourself in trouble on the return trip.
IAH TIP: If it makes sense, we will pack two smaller bags and pack them one half to three quarters full, so we not only have room for purchases on our trip, but we’ll also stay under the weight and size requirements.
Tag your luggage
Make sure you tag each piece of luggage with your regular name and address, along with a cell phone number or a number where you can be reached at your destination. If your bag is lost, it has a much better chance of catching up with you if the airline can contact you. If you put just your home number on the tag, who will be there to answer it if you’re half way across the world? As a secondary precaution, put a large piece of paper in each piece of luggage with the same information. That way if the tag comes off, airline personnel can still find your information when they look in your bag.
IAH TIP: Keep your airline bag tag receipts until you have reclaimed your bag at your final destination. That receipt is the key to getting any lost or misrouted bags to you quickly.
Carry-on luggage can be a pain. First, it’s hoping that by the time you board, you have a place to put it in the overhead bin. Next, it’s just one more thing you have to lug around and keep track of in the airport, in the taxi and elsewhere. We limit ourselves to two carryons max. If we’re not taking our camera gear, we limit ourselves to one.
What’s in your carry-on
And..that’s a SMALL carryon. We leave the rollerboard at home and usually take just a backpack as our carry-on.
What goes in your carryon
No matter what your destination, you should always pack a days worth of clothing in your carry-on. You don’t have to pack your “best outfit”, but you should throw in underwear, socks, shirt and shorts or pants. You never know if your checked luggage is going to take a different route to your final destination. It’s happened to us a few times and unfortunately, seems to be happening more often. If you’re headed to a warm destination, throw in a swimsuit. If your bag is delayed, the last thing you want to do is be tied up in your hotel room or sitting by the pool in jeans and long sleeve shirt when it’s 102 degrees. Headed to a cold destination? Throw in a sweater or jacket.
IAH TIP: Note that foreign airlines can be far more strict in enforcing carry-on bag restrictions than US airlines. Make sure any variables you’re carrying on aren’t in a bag that may have to be checked.
One thing you’ll want to have in your carry-on is your Ziploc bag full of liquids. Pack it in an easy to reach part of the bag, so you’re not holding up the security line. Remember, your checked bag may not be at your destination when you get there, so always put your Ziploc in your carry-on. And remember, the 3-1-1 rule (Maximum 3 oz liquids, 1 qt Ziploc bag and 1 Ziploc per person) applies in many areas beyond the US. That includes most parts of the European Union (EU) and many parts of Asia.
IAH TIP: We always pack a couple of extra quart-size Ziploc bags in the bottom of our backpack. That way, should ours break, we have a backup. While most US airport security checkpoints have extra bags on hand, many international airports do not.
Last modified: January 4, 2014