Photo (C) E Lipes
Team, let’s step right into the circle of trust today, and begin with the biggest truth I have: If I could pay a dude to pack for me, I would totally, absolutely do it. I wouldn’t even question where this person came from (maybe from Craigslist or off Ebay; I live life on the bleeding edge) because if this Personal Assistant (That has a ring to it, huh? Would trademark.) has come to take my battered luggage out of my aching hands, then I am not about to count the teeth in his/her trusty steed’s head. You feel me?
Sadly, very few of us can afford the pay scale such stalwarts command, but that’s why you all have an Equipment Manager instead.
The Unsinkable Carry-On
Murder the thought that you’ll pack everything you need right now. In fact, salt that thought’s bones and then run it over with a Zamboni, because it is a filthy lie. Travel is like life on a Jetsons’ conveyor walkway (sometimes literally) and there will always be that oily nitwit who stands exactly in the middle of your path. Your plane could be delayed, your luggage might get sent on without you, the entire wing of Heathrow airport could lose power forcing you to climb two escalators, journey to four different gates, ride a bus around several empty airplanes on the concourse before seat hopping your way around the plane you’re allowed into which will then abandon you in Chicago O’Hare for the back-half of 48 hours-worth of insomnia.
(One day there will be an entire post on my travel kharma, which I want you all to print out, laminate, and read when you think ‘how could this get worse?’)
Accept that something might go wrong, breath out the nerves, and side-step to freedom, because it’s time to talk strategy.
Pulling Double Duty
We haven’t come together this fine day and/or night to talk about what to pack when you’re in it for the extended vacation. This is about the short hop, the weekender, the trip you take when the stars align and you have some expiring miles and a three day weekend, and it’s all about making the most out of the largest small bag your airline of choice will allow on to the plane. (Like dating, size restrictions vary, so it’s always a good idea to check ahead on the airline’s website to make sure you won’t have to do some highly embarrassing underwear transfers at the departures desk). This is the suitcase that doesn’t just carry your clothes, but acts as a secondary purse as well.
My carry-on is my last line of defense before an often confusingly expensive array of chain restaurants, ill-lit bars, and bizarre duty-free choices that airports seem to breed like jaded minks. I try to make sure I carry certain items on each trip not just because I like them, but because there’s a security in the familiar when traveling that cannot be beat. I am never prepared for every eventuality (no one expects to have to explain why your mom’s carrying two salt and pepper shakers and a spare pair of flip flops after all) but I’m prepared to face every eventuality and that’s more important.
The only true must-have is cash. Say it with me, folks, “Cash Looks Good With Every Thing.” Stow it in your purse, keep it in your sock, make a special coat pocket, I do not care, but never rely solely on charge cards, checks, or the goodwill of the cashier who also doesn’t know when they’ll get an ATM in their corner of the world, HA HA HA. Things happen, and being able to buy that bottle of water, new magazine, or replacement headphones is a luxury not to be overlooked. Have at least enough to cover a meal.
Remember, ‘if it doesn’t fit in your purse, stick it in your carry-on’ only works if you’re not already groaning beneath the weight of a wheeled tyrant. Computers, ebook readers, and anything containing your personal information goes in the most accessible (to you) pocket of your luggage or purse. Things you need on the plane like food, reading material, portable dvd player, or what have you should be in the front pouches of your luggage so you can pull them out just before you’re boarding.
Embrace the love of resealable bags. I’m not just talking about those overpriced vacuum packs they sell at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, but the ones that come 15 per box at the dollar store. Everything liquid needs to be locked down and labeled like it’s Gatorade and your overpriced D-man just came down with the Mumps. Keep your hand sanitizer bottles at home and invest in a pack of wipes. I recommend Boots no7 unscented wipes for your face and (in a pinch) under your arms as well. Keep your skin care and make up in your purse, also in bags, so that you can pull them out without making a fuss. Once you’re past security, you can put them in your suitcase if you want to. Accept that airports are weird about toothpaste and either leave it at home or buy the tiny ones. Further, always make sure you’re allowed to actually take the things you want to take by checking the appropriate website. Airline restrictions are notoriously fickle and not a little ridiculous, and sometimes can restrict purchased items by amount, by weight, or even by country.
Everything you pack must be for a specific event or reason. Clothes may make the woman, but if you’re traveling out of your carry-on the clothes need to step up to the plate. Lay your shirts out flat and roll them like cigars, and then do the same to your pants, skirts, underwear, socks, and whatever else you’re bringing. Dresses should be folded once and laid out flat. Utility must never give way to fashion when you’ve got a limited wardrobe, but that doesn’t mean you shiv fashion in the back. Interchangeable complementary colors are the name of the game, blues and greens, reds and blacks, etc. etc. Stick everything in resealable bags with a dryer sheet, and press the air out. If you’re taking different shoes, they go in first wrapped in plastic bags, and then you pack around them. Maybe you’ll do this a couple of times before the suitcase fits right to you, maybe you’ll only need to do this once; it is absolutely okay to repeat this packing step as many times as necessary to be comfortable.
Walk around your house with your packed suitcase at least once (after you’ve checked the airline’s website weight restrictions obsessively. You know we all do this). Yes, you will feel and look like an idiot, but there is method in my rookie hazing madness! I did it! I often look like an idiot! You need to be able to lift your luggage, you need to be able to carry your luggage, and feeling the weight of what you’ve already packed is a good way to judge whether or not you’ve packed too much. Sometimes good packing is about realizing you don’t need 15 books and a Best of Queen tape ‘just in case’ after all.
No game plan can cover every mistake, traffic jam, or unintended meeting between your lap and the unsecured end of a sugary crepe, but what I’m gearing you up for here is to be the attacking forwards of your own travel experiences. The right combination of preparedness, situational awareness, and a certain amount of reckless abandon will take you at least as far as the boarding gate. And if you’re worried about how to handle the dreaded Long Haul Flight to keep from getting sent to the great Sin Bin in the Sky, then check in with me next time on The Equipment Manager, I’ve got just the defensive pairing you’ve been looking for.