Sure you have heard this before, but there is no harm in stressing that having your luggage organized and ready to go the day before you leave will save you a lot of grief as you head out on your travels, especially if you’re traveling by air. And even if you do end up throwing things in your bag in a mad dash at the last minute, you will want to take the following information into account.
Choose your bags wisely
No matter what transportation method you are using to conduct your travel, you will want a bag that is convenient to bring along. It’s very easy to find a suitcase with a handle and wheels these days, and if you don’t have one, consider it a good investment. Don’t have time to pick one up? Borrow one from a friend.
For your carry-on bag, you may want to consider a suitcase with a handle in a smaller size, so you can easily navigate the aisle of the airplane or train, or the road at the rest stop if you are traveling by car. If you don’t want to go with another suitcase, you can go with a sturdy shoulder bag – not one that will make your arm ache after two seconds of holding it. A duffle bag or messenger bag can fit the bill, or even better, a backpack.
*If you need to take more than two bags to fit everything you’ll need, you may want to consider shipping some items ahead of you instead. It will make your travels a lot easier.
A good way to pack your bags is to make a list of everything you want to pack before you get started. Here are some suggested categories to use:
Clothing. Think about what you will be doing on your trip and what the weather will be like where you’re going. For example, if you’re going on a business trip, don’t forget to pack your suit. If you’re going to the beach, a swimsuit and beach towel. If you’re going to Seattle, a raincoat. Don’t forget socks, shoes and underwear.
Toiletries. These are the items that many people tend to forget: a hairbrush, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, etc. Don’t forget nail clippers, a razor and tweezers.
Medicines. This includes any prescriptions plus over the counter stuff you may need, like headache medicine, allergy pills or antacids.
Electronics. Don’t forget to bring your laptops, camera, cell phones and MP3 player if you plan to use them. (Don’t forget any necessary cables and chargers either.) Be sure to put each item in a padded case so that it does not get damaged in transit. Also remember that you will have to open your laptop case and have it scanned before you carry it on a plane.
Making Everything Fit
If you tend to over pack, here are some tips for you:
- Put all of the clothes you think you’ll need in a pile – and then pack only half of it. If you end up desperate for something to wear (which probably will not happen) you can always do laundry, or hey, buy more clothes.
- Roll up your clothing before packing it, just like you roll up a sleeping bag. This will seriously save you a lot of space since everything will be more compact.
- Use sample sizes of toiletry items, especially if you are going on a trip that is less than one week long. (Bonus, you can take these in your carryon on the plane.)
- If you’re traveling in a group, you don’t need to bring six hairdryers or four cell phone chargers. It will save you space to just bring one of these items and share it.
Packing for Air Travel
Always contact your airline to see what the limitations on the size and weight of your luggage are. And remember, a 400 pound suitcase will probably not pass as a carryon bag. They may measure you bag to ensure that it will have to fit under the seat or in the overhead bin. Also note that many airlines are now charging extra for any checked baggage at all.
You also need to consider the 3-1-1 rule, whether you are traveling domestically or internationally. Don’t put any liquids in your carryon besides bottles of a three ounce size or less. Put them in a see-through bag no bigger than a quart in size that is easily accessible so that you can take it out and run it through x-ray. Larger bottles of liquids will be confiscated by airport security. (Lotion, jam and other semi-solid liquids still count.)
Check the FAA website before you leave to determine exactly what other restrictions are in effect. Obviously you cannot bring a gun or a machete in your carryon bag, but nail scissors and other seemingly nonviolent items are also prohibited.
Packing for International Travel
Find out what identification you will need to cross the border – and to get back to the United States. Starting on June 1 of 2009 you will need a valid passport for all international travel, Canada and Mexico included, and some countries require a visa for entry as well.
Customs restrictions also dictate what you can bring in our out of the country. Some items that may come under scrutiny are alcohol and tobacco; produce, plants, seeds and flowers; drugs (legal – and of course – illegal), and products from companies the U.S. has trade embargoes with (such as Cuban cigars). You will also have to declare your purchases when out of the country and may be taxed if your items total $800 or more.
And finally, things you absolutely do not want to forget:
- Prescription medication
- Glasses or contact lenses (if needed)
- Passport and/or other forms of ID
- Money, credit cards and/or travelers checks
- Tickets (plane, train, concert, what have you)
- Reservation numbers and addresses for hotels
- Children (Who hasn’t seen Home Alone?)