Packing For Life

When we think of packing, the first thing that comes to mind is travel. Because to be a good traveler, you have to be able to pack to travel successfully. This is where we either embrace the task or just simply pack haphazardly. If you are a woman, this can be especially challenging “Ò how many shoes do I bring? Will this be casual or formal? Will I be cold and need a sweater? We men, we have it down to a science – a suit or a Sport Coat, a tie and maybe a pair of jeans. I once traveled on a business trip with a colleague for a week in Texas, and all he packed was five shirts, two ties and one suit. For a week, he wore the same shoes and suit, and only changed his shirt. He had a simple light carry-on and flew through the airport. He checked into the hotel two hours before I did. While I was waiting for my luggage, he was grabbing a cab to the hotel. 

This is an extreme example, but there are things that one can learn from this. Packing lightly does move you quickly and serenely. not checking in luggage helps, you exit the airport at lightning speed. I recommend this for short trips and business trips if possible. Here less is more and if you are traveling with other co-workers or clients, you do not want them to wait for your 45-pound luggage to come down the conveyer belt. Be a professional and limit yourself to only two carry-on’s one being a garment bag. If possible, for that presentation send any materials ahead by courier to avoid extra baggage. Any hotel will gladly hold your items until you check-in.

Over the years, I have become an expert at successfully packing for a business trip or vacation. 

The best way to begin deciding what to take along is to answer these questions:

How long will the trip be?
Is it business, pleasure or both?
What will I be expected to wear?
Will I have access to a washer and dryer or laundry services?
Foreign or domestic?
Will I be buying clothes and shoes while on this trip?

Travel writers and columnists always caution us to pack lightly. Under certain conditions, you can pack lightly, and then sometimes you cannot. For example, a ten-day conference in Amsterdam in the winter involving black tie events, parties, and business meetings will require you to pack heavily: tuxedo, evening gown, formal shoes, jewelry, business suits, overcoats and some casual wear. A five-day visit with your sister’s family in Miami would only require a small carryon. Your sister has a washer and dryer, and you don’t need warm clothes. So, this should be your thought process before deciding what to bring along.

I recently went on a ten-day pleasure trip to Rome. Here is a schedule that I used to plan:

One Month Before

Start holding onto hangers and plastic dry cleaning bags. You will use these to pack. Check your passport. Be sure it is valid. Research your destination on line and buy a good guidebook or two.

One Week Before

Bring in your final round of dry cleaning to be ready a couple of days before departure. If going abroad and you need to bring an electrical appliance, you will need an adapter and a currency converter. Travel and hardware stores carry these.

Choose a good book or two for the plane, for poolside, and for bedside.

If going to Europe or any other foreign destination, you may want to rent a cell phone here in US from your carrier that can be used abroad.

Get a bit of cash for the country of your initial destination — maybe $100-200 worth. You don’t want to wait in line to exchange money upon arrival. If you have the cash, you can just jump into a taxi and go. It’s easier for tipping as well. However, foreign ATM’s will dispense local currency to you once you arrive, and usually you will get the best possible exchange rate from your own bank.

Two Days Before

Make sure your laundry is done and that you have enough clean underwear, socks, sportswear, bathing suit, etc. Ladies should buy nylons and review makeup needs including moisturizers and hair care products to name a few. Select the luggage that you will use. In most cases, I take one checked bag and one carry-on bag. If you are planning to shop on your trip, be sure you have some space available or throw a piece of empty soft luggage into your bag.

Start envisioning ensembles that you can mix and match. Those hot pink jeans maybe fun, but they cannot be worn with many other things. In the end, it is a highly personal decision. If you plan to go clubbing at night, you might really need those jeans! If you are going to several three star restaurants Paris in one week, you will need a suit and tie or sport coat, and a couple of elegant dresses, evening bag, and the right shoes. Shoes can make or break a trip, so if you will be walking a lot, do not take new shoes! Buy a month in advance and break them in or use your old reliables. Please don’t wear sneakers, shorts, and tank tops abroad — you cannot even enter a church dressed like that. They’re fine for the beach resorts, but in foreign cities, such an outfit is considered crass and too informal by the locals. Show the world that people from the USA have class!

One Day Before

The day before, I pack everything including all of my toiletries. However, I leave my toiletries in my bathroom until just before departure and pretend that I am now on my trip. This allows me to have all my toiletries ready to pop into my luggage, and to be sure that what I use that last day is everything I will need for my trip.

Shirts, dresses, blouses, skirts and suits should be hung on the hangers from the dry cleaner (they’re light) and covered individually or in two’s by the plastic. Hang these clothes in your bag first, and then pile in your sport clothes, underwear, shoes, jeans, and sweaters into the remaining pouches and side pockets. Having the clothes on hangars allows you to unpack quickly at your destination. If you don’t have luggage that you can hang things in, just fold the items in half and put them into the suitcase — the plastic reduces the wrinkling. With this type of luggage, always put your items on hangars in last and on top. Most good hotels will lend you an iron if needed and often have express pressing service. However, beware the cost of having your hotel do your laundry. One bag of laundry could be as expensive as one night in the hotel.

Take a small bottle of water in your carryon, a book, breath mints, tissues, Tylenol or Advil, Imodium and any games or gadgets that you like, and a toothbrush and toothpaste for longer trips. Do not rinse your mouth or toothbrush in the airplane bathroom! Take a bottle of water in with you. Keep in mind those long corridors at the airport and be sure you can handle the weight of your carryon. Don’t forget your sunglasses and your reading glasses or your address book for writing postcards.

Go back to my initial questions, and really think about what you will need, what will be weather appropriate, and the length of the trip. Once you take care of yourself, children can offer some difficulties. Usually pre-adolescent girls will want to pack too many things. Be firm and limit the number of items, explain the weather conditions, and then allow the child to select her own wardrobe. A fun way to handle this is to buy each child his or her own little suitcase. Allow one toy or stuffed animal per child.

Bon voyage!

And there you have it.