When you’ve spent more than a decade on the road, you get asked some pretty interesting questions. The one query I get most, though, is about packing: what to take, what to leave, where to put it. I’ve taken scads of trips, but every time I get back, I know I could have gone even lighter. Let’s save you some trouble and start with the basics of my lessons learned.
The 10 rules of packing
1. The Golden Rule: Take half of the clothes you were planning to bring and twice the money. I cannot stress how true this is.
2. Take only what you can fit in a carry on. We’ve all lost luggage before, and it’s a pain. But when it’s 3 degrees in Poland and you’re rocking those horrible sweats you insist on wearing on long flights, hearing “as soon as we find your bag, we’ll send it to you” can really put a damper on your first day. And — no offense to the Polish — but having to buy an entire wardrobe in Warsaw might not be exactly how you want to spend your travel pennies. This also means you’ll have luggage with wheels, which is worth its weight in gold.
Brownsville, Texas: 1938
Women in period dress greet travelers arriving on a Pan Am flight.
3. If you simply must check luggage, ask them to put a “Fragile” sticker on it, which helps ensure your bags will be put on top of the pile and be first off the plane. Also, yours is not the only black suitcase, so slap a sticker or red ribbon on it — anything that will help you pick it out in the crowd. Think airport security is scary these days? Try making it through customs with someone else’s bag.
4. Mix and match. Bring three shirts and three “bottoms.” That’s 9 outfits.
5. Books are sexy. So are vinyl records. But save yourself the extra pounds and fill your Kindle with every book/country guide you need and stick to your iPod.
6. Don’t be a diva. If you’re the type who has to travel with your own hair dryer (and won’t use the hotel’s), then I might suggest a weekend in the Smokies over the Alps.
7. Jackets and sweaters take up a lot of precious bag space and weigh you down. Unless you’re going to Russia in winter, layers work just as well.
8. If you can bear it, stay away from jeans. This is huge and I should have moved it up to number 2. They absorb dirt (and odors), are bulky and take days to air dry. Cotton and khaki are the way to go.
9. If it’s important and can’t fit into your daypack, leave it at home. Stuff gets stolen no matter where you go. As big as a pain as it is, I am constantly carrying my computer, cameras, etc. on my back — and in crowded places, as ridiculous as it looks, in front of me.
10. Every country I’ve ever visited sells soap. And shampoo. And socks. And t-shirts. I.e. What you forget, you can buy.
One last thing: those plastic gardening shoes that somehow made it into the acceptable mainstream of fashion footwear? Do your country a favor … and don’t.
- Nat Geo Expeditions