You booked your flight, reserved your hotel and rental car, and consulted with friends and other travelers on the best places to vacation. Now all that's left is to actually get there. There is just one lingering activity to tackle before you head to the airport and board your flight – the tedious chore of packing. But the goal is a simple one: pack what you need, leave behind what you don't, and don't forget your toothbrush. If it were only that simple.
Your destination will ultimately determine what items are essential, and what items are frivolous for packing (you won’t need your Ugg boots in Mexico). When forced to choose between what you need for your trip and what you want to bring, the immediate reaction is to just cram it all in the suitcase. It’s possible you’ll wear the Hawaiian print shirt that’s been tucked away in your closet for over a year. It’s possible you'll go running on the beach and must bring an extra pair of shoes, even though you haven’t been to the gym all season. While it's true that vacations can bring out the best in us – you might get the urge to take the aqua-aerobics class at the hotel pool – over-packing is a wasteful exercise. Airlines upped their over-weight luggage and extra baggage fees so it costs more to pack more these days, and where will you put the souvenirs you've purchased when it's time to come home?
Packing doesn't have to be complicated. While every traveler's packing style is different the basic rules still apply. Take our tips on proactive packing and lessen your luggage load before boarding the flight to your next vacation destination.
The many faces of beauty products
The most over-packed item in most suitcases is the makeup bag. As most women know, the weather can dictate a lot when it comes to skincare and hair styling. But that doesn't mean you should pack your entire beauty regime.
- Go with the flow on vacation. Leave behind the big bottles of hair gel, straightening serum and frizz-control. Grab a few travel-sized items from your local drug store and rely on those to get you through.
- Most hotels supply toiletries including shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion. Use them! They are complimentary and you can get more if you run out.
- Many daily products have multiple uses and what better time to put them to use then on vacation. For example, did you know that hair conditioner makes a great shaving lotion?
Leave the family heirlooms at home
Simply put, if you can't imagine life without it, leave it at home. Most hotels have in-room safes, but you can never be too careful. Your grandmother's pearls and your father's high school ring are better left at home or in the bank vault.
- International travelers are targets for thieves and there is always the likelihood that your luggage gets lost. Better to be safe than sorry.
- If you absolutely must bring your fancy jewelry, make sure you take out the appropriate insurance before you leave.
- It’s best to keep jewelry and family heirlooms in your carry-on luggage to avoid the risk of losing them in a lost-luggage situation.
Keep your clothes to a minimum
This is the most difficult of all the packing chores – what to wear. No one wants to run out of clean underwear or get a red wine stain on your only pair of khaki pants, but there is a happy medium when it comes to packing clothes.
- One rule of thumb to remember: Unless it's stained or soiled, it can be worn again. Double-up your outfits based on the amount of days you're staying. For example, if you’re going away for 10 days, you need five outfits.
- Do the wash. Grab a bottle of Woolite® or hand-wash laundry detergent and do your wash in the sink one night. You'll wake up the next morning with clean clothes that you won't mind wearing again.
- If you're not a celebrity at home, you won't become one on vacation. Keep the outfit changes to a minimum. A simple cardigan or evening jacket can turn a daytime outfit into a nighttime affair.
- Pack shoes that can be worn with multiple outfits. The general rule is: one pair of shoes per anticipated occasion. For example, you'll need one pair of walking shoes, one pair of beach shoes, one pair of evening shoes and one pair of casual shoes.
- Unless your vacation is in the Antarctic, shed the wool sweaters. If the local weather changes from what was forecasted, you can always buy a sweater or sweatshirt at your destination.
The travel industry has some pretty awesome travel gadgets, though fairly unnecessary for certain types of travelers. Learn to live without when you're on vacation. Every traveler and every trip is different, but in general it's best to keep the gadgets to a minimum.
- What works at home doesn't necessarily work abroad. If you absolutely must have your flat iron, your curling iron, your electronic toothbrush, your book lights and your portable DVD players, you must also make sure you have converters and adapters for all of these goodies.
- Identify the essential gadgets and pack those first. Essential gadgets include cell phones, PDAs, chargers, cameras, gadgets for the baby and any must-have medical devices. Once the necessary gadgets are packed, determine what other gadgets you need based on how much room is left in your suitcase.
Back to basics
One of the best things about being on vacation is adapting to the culture and region in your destination. This means learning to live without some of the fundamentals of home, and for some travelers, it's an opportunity to adapt to a simpler lifestyle. Here are some last-minute packing tips to remember before you set off on your next journey:
- Pack one book. You can buy more when you reach your destination or at the airport. If you're absolutely certain you'll need more than one book, consider books-on-tape or download e-books to your iPod or MP3 player.
- Don't pack things you can buy in your destination. This includes extra feminine products, diapers, pain relievers, razors, etc.
- Buy travel-size items. You'll either discard them before leaving your destination or you'll find a spare inch or two in your suitcase when coming home.
Congratulations! Now you know how to pack. Next time you go to grab your suitcase, remember these best packing practices and enjoy your trip.