Packing for the Journey

No matter the destination, nearly any journey begins with packing. How and what to pack are essential questions, from the selection of the right baggage, to managing the load once the journey begins. There are countless factors that influence what to bring on your journey, and how to pack it all, so a little forethought can help to ensure that you’re prepared on the road.

The first choice to make when packing for your trip is the baggage. For me, the choice depends on where I’m going, for how long, what my mode of travel is, and whether it’s for business or pleasure.  And while this is not a discussion of the best brands or models of bag, some strong consideration should be given to what sorts of bags you need, and how they can be used for different kinds of trips. On short trips for pleasure, I’ll usually go with a small roller bag and a backpack with necessities. Longer trips obviously require larger baggage. And trips for business often require a slightly different configuration, depending what materials or equipment I need. Regardless of my destination, I have two bags that I always bring along, and which in fact I never unpack: my backpack and my toiletries bag. The backpack contains cords and cables for electronic devices, ear plugs for noisy flights and loud hotel air conditioners, a pair of back-up sun glasses, ear buds, a pen, and a few other comforts and accessories. My toiletries kit contains travel-dedicated copies of the standard items I use at home, including a full-size tooth brush and proper razor, tooth paste, deodorant, hair product, nail clippers, and other items. By never unpacking those bags, storing them at home in their pre-packed state, I ensure that I never get on the road lacking any of these essential items.

After selecting the proper luggage, it’s time to actually begin packing it. I pack in reverse order: the first items to go in are the last ones I plan to use.  Seasoned travelers should be skilled at predicting what they’ll actually need on the road. I pack in outfits– pants/shorts, shirts, ties, jackets, and outerwear– making a plan for each day’s needs, and factoring in days when I’ll need more than one outfit. Consider the weather, as well. Wet socks are a miserable experience. In fact, depending on the nature of the trip, I generally bring a complete set of extra undergarments (socks, undershirts, etc.) beyond what I actually expect to use, in case things don’t go as planned. I often don’t use them, but they’ve saved me countless times, and they barely take up any room. And don’t forget something to sleep in. If that means your skin, then so be it, but I generally travel with some kind of sleep or lounge clothes, for one main reason: if I need something from the hotel at the end of the day, and a valet, housekeeper, bellman, or other hotel worker has to bring it to me, I don’t want to have to put on regular clothes again to answer the door (and whoever is bringing it to me doesn’t want to see me undressed). Not all hotels have robes available to use in the room, so a comfortable pair of sleep pants and a soft shirt are generally enough to protect your modesty and that of the hotel staff.

I usually have at least 3 pairs of footwear. First is comfortable athletic-style shoes which I generally wear for the travel portion of trip, and which are easy to slip off and on in airport security. Next are my “utility shoes,” by which I mean the appropriate footwear for whatever situation I’ll be in, related to my reason for travel. They could be dress shoes, work boots, or any other shoes for conducting your business on the road. Finally, I always bring along a lightweight pair of flip flops for lounging around when the day is done. I don’t do slippers, but many people do, and they can be a welcome comfort for road-weary travelers. For dress shoes, I generally select in advance one color of shoes, and coordinate my clothing selections based on that, to prevent having to pack multiple pairs of dress shoes. Black is highly versatile, but other colors may be appropriate, depending on your style. Men often have it easier in this regard than women. But regardless of your shoe selections, I shouldn’t have to tell men to match their leathers. Finally, when packing shoes, I always either wrap my shoes in a plastic grocery bag, or pack them in a dedicated shoe compartment in my bag. I don’t want my clothes rubbing up against my shoes. It’s rough on the clothes, and unsanitary.

Once I finish packing, I assemble all of my baggage in one place and make sure everything is secure, that the zippers or closures all function properly, and that I can carry and manage it all myself. I can usually handle two large suitcases, a backpack and laptop bag, but I rarely travel that heavy. Self-sufficiency on the road is important for me, but individuals who require assistance in transporting their baggage should check for arrangements for assistance in advance.

Finally, I double-check that I have any required travel documents, identification, or other important articles, make sure my phone is charged, and that I have my watch, wallet, keys, and other pocket-necessities. I double-check the locks on the doors and windows, turn off the lights, and walk out the door.

One last note: I make no effort to pack light for the sake of packing light. Some people consider packing light to be a goal unto itself. I don’t. I favor, rather, packing efficiently. I don’t want to bring things I don’t need, but neither do I want to need things I didn’t bring. I generally don’t re-wear clothes, and I take no pride in packing for 10 days in one small bag. I pack the things I need and want, and they take up the space that they take. Other travelers differ on this point, and you should make up your own mind.