Pat here: As writers, the wenches travel. We travel for research. We travel for conferences. We travel for fun. So we thought we'd exchange a few of our favorite travel tips and see what happened–and apparently, it's all about the luggage! (Personally, I've always craved Terry Pratchett's suitcase with legs!)
I could write a whole column about this myself! But I'll stick to saying that it's best to never have more luggage than you can control with your own two hands. I've seen inexperienced travelers juggling half a dozen different bags of different sizes, which is a recipe for disaster.
Ideally, you should have a wheeled suitcase, preferably a four wheeled spinner model because they're easier to move around. Then maybe a carry-on with a strap that can slide over the handle of your suitcase. And easy, secure ways to handle your documents and money. If you're carrying a handbag, cross body is the only way to go, and zippers are your friend. For international flights, I use a passport carrier which hangs around my neck and can hold passport, a credit card, money, and boarding passes. Very handy!
I have the carry on which can slide onto the handle of my suitcase, and it's large enough for me to tuck my cross body handbag inside. I love this one, a Volganik Rock cross body multi pocket travel bag.
It's nylon and super lightweight, with plenty of zippered pockets of just the sorts I need. One for my wallet, one for my cell phone, small pockets for lipstick, keys, etc. There are two full width large zippered pockets that can hold a book, an e-reader, a hat, a scarf, and a couple of small souvenirs, all at the same time if necessary. Plus two spacious end elasticized end pockets to carry my sunglasses and one end and a water bottle at the other. The bag comes in two sizes and needless to say, I have the large one. But—featherweight!
If you're the kind of traveler who can go anywhere with just a carry on—you're a more efficient traveler than I am. <G>
This year I tried using "packing cubes" on my recent trip to the USA for a conference and writing retreat. Packing cubes are small zippered bags of varying sizes, sometimes with a net "window", that fit inside your suitcase — you can see two of mine in the photo of my case. I watched a couple of videos about them and thought they were worth a try. Now I'm convinced. I used one cube for pants, one for underwear, another for "conference clothes" — the more formal, dressy clothes I needed for various events — dinners, cocktail parties, signings, etc. The last was for casual tops and other bits and pieces. The netting window meant I could see at a glance which cube contained what. I also used a small zippered waterproof one for my various connection and recharge cords.
Using the packing cubes made it easier to find what I wanted and kept the contents tidier. Whenever I moved location, the repacking was minimal and easy. And one time, when I was staying with a friend, they really came into their own. My friend's guest room was up three flights of stairs, but having the packing cubes meant I only needed to pull out one pre-packed cube containing all the clothes I needed, and my toiletries bag. I happily left the big heavy suitcase down the bottom of the stairs and trotted upstairs with my packing cube in hand.
Laundry can be another problem when traveling. I use a colored plastic bag for dirty laundry, and hand wash when I can. And though a washing machine is available in some places, they don't always have good washing powder. I once had clothes ruined because the "washing powder" I was given was pure bleach. I now carry a pack of DIZOLVE laundry detergent strips (see the packet in my photo.) They look like sheets of blotting paper (and weigh about the same) and you just rip off a section and toss it in with your wash. They completely dissolve, and they're eco-friendly, biodegradable, hypoallergenic etc. AND they work really well, giving you a good, clean wash. I keep a packet in my case at all times.
For my trip to Canada and the US this summer I took only one small wheeled suitcase for three and a half weeks travel. I’d worked out in advance where I would be able to wash my clothes and made sure I had a supply of enough clean ones to see me through one week! I also packed some great travel washing gel which worked wonders. Oh, and I rolled up my clothes rather than packing them flat. Lots of people told me you can fit more in this way but I’m still not totally convinced!
I also took tiny versions of all the shampoos and hand cream etc that I would normally use, which made a huge difference to the weight of my bag. I wrapped them in separate little plastic bags rather than in one big toilet bag so I could squeeze them into small spaces.
My other advice would be that if you are flying, remember not to have any pointy items in your hair! I once had my favourite hair slide confiscated because the people on security thought it could be used as a weapon!
Let it be said that I am NOT a good packer for traveling. I dither, I fret—what if I need this, what if I need that . . . But as the days of oodles of steamer trunks (and the retinue of servants to carry them) are long gone, I’ve tried to figure out a system for taking what I need in a reasonable-sized suitcase. One thing that’s help is making sure different pieces of clothing go in various combinations—so color coordinating is good. I wear a lot of black, which helps. A pair of basic black pants and a black skirt (a slinky knit that won’t wrinkle is preferable) can be dressed up to fit most occasions that call for a polished appearance. A nice knit sweater or top finishes off the look. Comfortable clothes for walking/exploring is always a must, as I love to ramble in a new place. I always throw in a pair of jeans, but try to make sure I have presentable tops—dressy T-shirts for summer, turtle necks and synchilla vest for cooler weather. I also need to bring gym stuff for workouts, but thank goodness the new lightweight silk stuff packs really easily and can be stuffed in all the small nooks and crannies. Lastly, a selection of scarves and funky necklaces can really add a a dash of style and take up very little room. So that’s my method!
When I travel I’m accompanied everywhere by a retinue of electrical wires. The telephone charger, the ear buds, the kindle, and computer wires. In the dark of my suitcase the wires get up to all sorts of salacious activities. I know this because I arrive at my destination with everything all twisted up together whicheverway.
So I carry them chastely, each in its own baggy. In use, if I can, I let only the two ends peek coyly out of the bag and never let the sneaky, snaky wire loose at all. In the midst of travel I am not in the mood to wrestle with complication.
Also, I carry aspirin in with my toiletries. And in my rucksack.
Did I mention the rucksack?
Doesn’t have to be a backpack necessarily. Can be a pretty carrying bag with pictures of cats on it. But the over-the-shoulder, carry-everywhere bag, pioneer-lady-in-C21 has to be big enough to hold my computer, that sweater you need because some indoor spaces are cold enough to welcome Nanook of the North, and a water bottle. And a peanut butter sandwich. And aspirin.
Unlike Mary Jo, I can generally travel with a single carry-on roller-board and a large under-seat bag similar to the one she suggests—if I’m only to be gone a week, and the climate won’t change drastically. For quick travel like that, I choose a couple of colors—blue and black are usually compatible, plentiful, and I have tons of choices. For dressy, I have wrinkle-free travel slacks, jackets, and tops that I can simply roll up and stash between clothes stacks. Jeans and knit tops work for most casual uses, and if the colors are interchangeable, I can mix and match with colorful scarves. I have a knit travel jacket with tons of pockets for stuffing boarding passes and passports and even bottles of water—after I’m through TSA! Shoes are always an issue. Sandals are easy to pack. If I’ll need heavy shoes, I wear them. And I love Arcopedico shoes for walking. They’re super light, and they pack like a dream.
Because we travel frequently, we invested in a Global Entry pass. If we remember to enter the number when we buy our plane tickets, we get the TSA pre-check line and zip right through customs when we return—a huge bonus at the overcrowded LAX airport. Global Entry only costs slightly more than TSA pre-check, $100 vs $85, and is good for five years.
Do you have any travel tips? Pitfalls to avoid?